The right to free movement
All EU citizens and their family members have the right to move and reside freely within the EU. This fundamental right is established by Article 21 of the Treaty on the functioning of the European Union and Article 45 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
The conditions for the exercise of the right of free movement and residence within the territory of the Member States by EU citizens and their family members are set out in the Free Movement Directive 2004/38/EC:
- EU citizens can live in another EU country for up to three months without any requirements other than holding a valid identity card or passport.
- In order to stay in another EU country for more than three months, EU citizens have to meet certain conditions depending on their status (for example worker, self-employed, student, etc.) and may be asked to comply with administrative formalities.
- EU citizens have the right of permanent residence in another EU country after legally residing there continuously for five years.
- Family members of EU citizens, either EU citizens or nationals of a non-EU country, have the right to accompany or join EU citizens. They may be asked to comply with certain conditions or formalities.
EU citizenship and the right to free movement are taken into consideration regularly in the judgments of the Court of Justice.
More information on free movement in the EU
Additional documents on the Free Movement Directive
Since the adoption of the Free Movement Directive, the Commission has published the following:
In 2023, the Commission adopted the “Guidance on the right of free movement of EU citizens and their families”. The guidance integrates the relevant rulings of the Court of Justice of the EU delivered since 2009 and provides for the necessary clarifications on specific issues that have been identified when applying the EU free movement rules. The new guidance adopted in 2023 replaces the 2009 Guidance on better transposition and application of Directive 2004/38/EC .
To help national authorities fight potential abuse of the right to free movement, the Commission published, in 2014, a Communication to address the issue of alleged marriages of convenience.
Family members of EU citizens
Family members of EU citizens, either EU citizens or nationals of a non-EU country, have the right to accompany or join EU citizens in another EU Member State. They may be asked to comply with certain conditions or formalities. The following persons are defined in Article 2(2) of the Directive as ‘core’ family members:
- the spouse;
- the partner with whom the EU citizen has contracted a registered partnership, on the basis of the legislation of any Member State, if the legislation of the host Member State treats registered partnership as equivalent to marriage;
- the direct descendants (notably children) who are under the age of 21 or are dependant as well as those of the spouse or partner as defined above;
- the dependant direct relatives in the ascending line (notably parents) and those of the spouse or partner as defined above.
Travelling to and living in another EU Member State
You can find more information on various questions that may arise in the context of travelling to and living in another EU Member State under the following links:
- Your Europe is a portal with information for EU citizens and their families
- Your Rights has information to help citizens and businesses to defend their rights
- Social security rights: information on social security rights abroad
If you think that your right to free movement has been violated, the most effective means to assert your rights is to file a complaint with a court at national level. Only national courts can award you reparation for damage suffered. You may also wish to contact a local solicitor to provide you with legal advice. In addition, the EU’s SOLVIT service can also help you work with your national authorities if you encounter difficulties.
Regulation on identity cards and residence documents
EU citizens frequently use identity cards to exercise their right to free movement to travel to other Member States, but also to establish their identity in everyday situations, such as contacts with public authorities or with airlines, banks or the healthcare sector. Residence documents support EU citizens and their non-EU family members when exercising free movement and when they need to prove their residence in an EU country.
To help EU citizens and their family members to exercise their right to free movement, as well as contribute to the fight against the use of fraudulent documents and false identities, Regulation 2019/1157 on strengthening the security of identity cards of EU citizens and of residence documents issued to EU citizens and their family members was adopted.
Since August 2021, Member States are required to issue identity cards and residence containing a highly secure contactless chip with the holder’s photo and fingerprints. Identity cards currently in circulation that do not conform to these new standards will have to be replaced within five or ten years, depending on their security level. .
The Regulation does not require Member States to issue identity cards. In addition, Member States will continue to decide whether to make the holding of identity cards voluntary or obligatory.
The Commission has to report to the European Parliament, to the Council and to the European Economic and Social Committee on the implementation of the Regulation in the Member States. The first implementation report was adopted by the Commission on 20 September 2023.
The list of the competent authorities with access to the biometric data as established in Article 11 (7) of Regulation (EU) 2019/1157 can be found here.
EU Digital COVID Certificate
To facilitate travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, the European Parliament and the Council adopted the EU Digital COVID Certificate Regulation. When an EU country waived pandemic-related travel restrictions for people with proof of vaccination, test, or recovery, the EU Digital COVID Certificates guaranteed that all EU citizens holding them could benefit from those exemptions. Since August 2022, Member States have lifted all intra-EU travel restrictions, including the requirement to present an EU Digital COVID Certificate. The Regulation expired on 30 June 2023 and is no longer in force.