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 to permanent residence in another EU country after legally residing there continuously for five years. They may be temporarily absent (for example due to an illness, to study or because of a posting).
- 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.
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 2009, the Commission published Guidelines for better transposition and application of Directive 2004/38/EC. As mentioned in the 2020 EU citizenship report, the Commission is currently reviewing the guidelines in order to improve legal certainty for EU citizens exercising their free movement rights, and to ensure a more effective and uniform application of the free movement legislation across the EU.
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 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 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. The Regulation introduced minimum common security standards, making identity cards and residence documents more secure and reliable in order to facilitate free movement rights.
Since August 2021, Member States are required to issue identity cards and residence documents in a format that complies with the requirements set out in the Regulation. 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. Security features of identity cards have been aligned with those of passports, meaning that both types of travel documents contain a highly secure contactless chip with the holder’s photo and fingerprints.
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. Member States can also maintain their national design features and e-government services. However, all new identity cards have to comply with the new security standards and will feature an EU flag with the two-letter country code of the issuing Member State.
The EU Digital COVID Certificate and travel restrictions linked to the COVID-19 pandemic
On 14 June 2021, the European Parliament and the Council adopted the EU Digital COVID Certificate Regulation. The EU Digital COVID Certificate established by the Regulation is proof of vaccination, test or recovery and is legally valid EU-wide.The Regulation is in force until 30 June 2023.
Since 1 July 2021:
- Every EU citizen has a right to obtain an EU Digital COVID Certificate proving their vaccination, negative test for SARS-CoV-2 infection or recovery from COVID-19 following a positive test.
- Non-EU nationals legally staying or resident in the Member States and who have the right to travel within the EU are also eligible to receive such a certificate.
If a Member State accepts proof of vaccination, testing or recovery to waive certain restrictions to travel to their territory, they are obliged to accept the EU Digital COVID certificates issued by other Member States under the same conditions.
A separate Recommendation adopted by the Council covers the question of restrictions on free movement within the EU during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the lifting of such restrictions.
However, as the Recommendation is non-binding, each Member State has some discretion in how to apply it. Therefore, while every Member State has to accept the certificate as valid proof, there is some variation in the consequences for the holders.
In this context, many people have asked the Commission questions about the EU Digital COVID Certificate, travel restrictions related to the pandemic, and other related questions. For this purpose, the Commission has developed an FAQ seeking to cover the issues raised most frequently. The FAQ is updated regularly based on questions received.