How travel will look in the near future is the question on everyone’s lips, and as Europe begins to reopen its borders to travelers from outside the continent, the European Union has announced the launch of its EU Digital Covid Certificate – set to allow freedom of movement around the bloc.
Already, nine countries are using the scheme to issue certificates, with more expected to join before the scheme officially launches on July 1. The EU’s Parliament voted overwhelmingly to approve the scheme on June 9.
“The EU will be on time to open up again this summer,” said Thierry Breton, commissioner for internal market, in a statement.
So who is eligible for the certificate, and how do you get it? Here’s what to know.
What is it?
This is what will hopefully be opening up travel within Europe this summer, and easing the pressure on travelers for multiple testing. Currently, travel between two EU countries and you’ll have to meet each of their individual rules for entry – which might mean daily testing if you’re driving through, or taking the train around the continent.
The certificate, however, will log three things: the holder’s vaccination record, negative tests, or a record of previous infection – which should make travel easier.
It’ll be valid in all EU member states, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. Switzerland is also looking likely.
Is this the same as the EU Covid vaccine passport?
Yes – it’s the EU-wide scheme for travel within the bloc. Also known as an “immunity pass” or “health pass,” although the EU Digital Covid Certificate is the official (and more bland) name.
Is it a digital or a paper certificate?
That’ll be up to the holder – you can choose from either. Both will contain a “digitally signed QR code” which can be scanned on entry to a country. It’ll be both in the national language of the country issuing it, plus English. Member states have agreed on a common design.
How does it work?
Each issuing body has been allocated a digital signature, which is embedded in the QR code; border staff will scan the QR code to see the data, although no personal data will be seen – nor will personal data of the holder go through the gateway which nations are using to verify signatures.
When does it start?
The scheme officially starts July 1, with member states being allowed an additional six weeks if they need. However, with European countries vying for visitors, it looks doubtful there’ll be any stragglers. In fact, nine member states are already issuing certificates.
Note that the European Parliament still must vote on the scheme to make it law, but it’s expected to pass by a large majority.
The scheme has been in the planning process since March, and was provisionally agreed on May 20. The EU Gateway went live on June 1 – it allows certificates to be verified across borders.
Which countries are using it?
As of June 8, there are nine EU member states signed up: Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Lithuania, Poland and Spain. Expect others to join before too long – countries which rely on tourism are trying to lure tourists back before their rivals. Already 22 countries have successfully tested the gateway, according to the European Commission.
Who is eligible?
EU citizens and their families, and legal residents, according to the official word so far.
However, an EU spokesperson has told CNN that the bloc expects to open the scheme up to non-citizens – including Americans. Access will depend on individual countries providing certificates for their visitors. More information is expected to be released before the official launch on July 1.
The UK is also reported to have been in negotiations. Travelers from the UK are not yet exempt from EU-wide restrictions, because of the Delta variant, first found in India, and now dominant in the UK.
The EU has also said that it is “working to make sure that the certificates can be compatible with systems in other countries,” for holders traveling outside the bloc.
Do I need to be vaccinated to get it?
No. The certificate will also store recent recovery from Covid-19, as well as negative test results – including lateral flow, as well as PCR.
Do I need to be fully vaccinated?
Not necessarily – the certificate will log whether you’ve had one or two doses. It’s up to individual member states to decide whether the certificate is acceptable with just one.
Does which vaccination I received affect the certificate?
Yes. Only vaccines approved for use in the EU count – so if Sinovac or Sputnik V, for example, wouldn’t count. At least, that’s the bloc-wide rule; individual countries can tweak the rules.
Currently, the EU has approved AstraZeneca, Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson.
How many people have already got it?
More than one million people had already signed up by Tuesday, according to the European Commission.
Is there a charge for it?
No, it’s free. Make sure you get it through the official channels – doubtless spurious sites are already being built to get you your certificate for a fee. The EU has also promised that the certificates will be easily obtainable.
How do I get the certificate?
Individual countries will issue their own certificates, whether via a portal, through health authorities or at test centers. Expect more information to be announced nearer to launch.
Can I definitely move freely with it, or are there extra country-specific restrictions?
The EU has said that holders “should in principle be exempted from free movement restrictions,” and asked that member states “refrain from imposing additional restrictions” on holders “unless they are necessary and proportionate to safeguard public health” – for example if a new variant causes concern. States wishing to enforce new restrictions must justify their decision to EU authorities.
Of course, that doesn’t stop them from imposing extra restrictions on those without the passes.
Are countries operating their own schemes?
Each country will run its own scheme, under the umbrella of the European scheme.
Do I need an app?
Most likely. The EU isn’t producing a single app; countries must sort out their own system.
How secure is it?
The EU says that information stored in certificate QR codes can be verified “without the processing of personal data.” Although the certificate itself contains data including name, date of birth and vaccine/recovery dates, it is not seen when being verified, or stored in other states. Only the valid digital signature will be checked.