What's changing with the EU's new travel rules for COVID certificates?

What's changing with the EU's new travel rules for COVID certificates?

As of February 1, countries within the European Union, including Germany, have agreed to uniform rules regarding the validity of COVID certificates. Here’s how it could affect your travel plans. 

New simplified rules should make inter-European travel easier

The EU Council has agreed that, in future, countries should base their travel rules on the individual person’s immunity status, rather than the region they are travelling from. This means that those with a valid EU COVID certificate - which proves they are either fully vaccinated, recently recovered, or have tested negative for coronavirus - are able to travel freely within the bloc, without needing to test or go into quarantine, no matter the situation in the country they’re travelling from. 

France’s European Affairs Secretary, Clément Beaune, explained that the aim of the recommendation is to “take into account the advantage of the individual situation of people, especially vaccinated people, and limit for them as much as possible travel restrictions in Europe.” 

Validity of COVID certificates reduced to nine months across EU

The new recommendation, which was adopted by the European Commission before the Christmas holidays, includes a reduction of the validity of vaccine certificates, and clearer guidelines on the length of validity of the recovered status. As of February 1, the new rules are: 

  • Vaccination certificates issued within the EU should be valid for a maximum of 270 days (nine months).
  • Booster shots can be used to extend the validity of vaccine certificates - currently, the extension is unlimited until further evidence can be used to make an informed decision.
  • EU citizens and residents who have not been vaccinated can travel using a recovery certificate or recent negative test result (within the last 24 hours for a rapid antigen, and 72 hours for PCR)

The change means that anyone who finished their primary course of vaccination last summer will soon be considered unvaccinated if they have not had a booster shot. For instance, if someone had their second BioNTech shot on August 1, 2021, their certificate would remain valid until April 28, 2022. After that, they would need a booster shot or have to follow the rules for unvaccinated passengers in order to travel. 

Anyone who had their second vaccination before May 7, 2021, should get their booster shot as soon as possible. 

Despite recommendation, patchwork of rules remains across EU

Although the rules have been adopted by all member states, they are non-binding and can be implemented as countries see fit. It’s likely that there will be some inconsistencies across the bloc. Here in Germany, for instance, the government recently reduced the period of validity of recovered status to 90 days, whereas the EU rules stipulate that it should last 180 days. 

Germany also recently decided to no longer class people who have received a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as fully vaccinated, meaning that they need another dose of the shot, plus a booster, to retain their vaccination status beyond the 270 days. 

In Italy, the government is introducing a limit of the validity of vaccination certificates, but has opted for a maximum validity of six months, rather than the nine advised by the European Commission, whereas the Netherlands looks set to implement the limits recommended by the Commission

As more and more countries release the details of their own implementations of the rules, things are likely to get more complicated. Before travelling (or even booking a trip!) it’s worth checking the latest rules with your destination country. 



Abi Carter

Abi studied History & German at the University of Manchester. She has since worked as a writer, editor and content marketeer, but still has a soft spot for museums, castles...

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