Source Documents/Traveling - A guide to traveling in Europe

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This document is taken from one of a series of publications produced by the European Union as part of its "Citizens First" information campaign. The aim of this guide is to give an idea of your rights as a EU national traveling in another Member State of the European Union. Note please that it does not describe all of your rights and obligations, which may vary according to your individual or family circumstances and that only the texts of official legal instruments (treaties, regulations, directives, decisions, etc.) are authoritative.

Contents

Citizens first

As a citizen of the European Union you have certain rights and opportunities which you may not always be aware of. Did you know, for instance, that you can travel freely in any EU country, simply on condition that you are in possession of a valid passport or identity card? And were you aware what rights and opportunities are available to you as a consumer traveling in the Single European Market?

The EU is publishing this series of guides explaining your rights so that you can make the most of the opportunities available to you. The guides also point out the conditions attached to your rights. The scope and diversity of these rights are such that a brief description of them cannot hope to take in every individual situation.

Rights and Obligations

Every year increasing numbers of European citizens travel within the Union, for the purposes of tourism, visiting friends or relatives, work or training.

As a citizen of a Member State of the European Union, however, you are no ordinary tourist or traveler: you are entitled to certain rights, such as the right to enter and live temporarily in another Member State. You are also entitled to certain benefits and safeguards as regards purchases and private transactions, and health care.

There are accordingly many reasons why you should feel at home anywhere in Europe.

N.B.: This guide covers only the rights of EU citizens as travelers within the Union. Please note, however, that when traveling outside the European Union you may, in the event of sufficiently serious circumstances, obtain consular protection from the authorities of another Member State if your Member State of origin does not have a consulate or embassy in the country you are visiting. For more information on the detailed arrangements and the conditions applicable, please consult the fact sheet on "Consular Protection for EU Citizens" and the legislative fact sheet on "Diplomatic and Consular protection" on the European Commission website.

Consumers

When you travel to another country you often have the opportunity to buy goods and services. Although you may not always think about it, you should be aware that you are entitled to certain rights and opportunities as a consumer traveling in other EU Member States.

Transport

Air Travel

As an air traveler you may already have been the victim of overbooking of seats on certain flights.

You should know that you have certain rights if you are denied access to an overbooked scheduled flight, provided you have duly presented yourself for check-in within the required time limit, and have a valid ticket and a confirmed reservation for the flight in question.

In such circumstances, the air carrier must, immediately after boarding is denied, pay compensation in cash, or, with your agreement, in travel vouchers and/or other services.

Moreover, you have the right to choose between:

  • reimbursement, without penalty, of the cost of the ticket for the part of the journey not made, or
  • re-routing to your final destination at the earliest opportunity, or
  • re-routing at a later date at your convenience.

In addition, the air carrier must offer free of charge the cost of a telephone call (or a telex or fax message) to your place of destination and meals and refreshments depending on waiting time. If you are held up for one or more nights, the carrier must also offer you hotel accommodation.

In the event of boarding being denied on a flight sold as part of a package tour, the air carrier must compensate the tour operator who has concluded the contract with you and the tour operator must pass on to you the sums thus received.

However, you enjoy these rights only in the case of scheduled flights (for example, charter flights are exempted) from an airport located on the territory of a Member State of the European Union and subject to Community law.

The information in question must be made available to the public at the carrier’s agencies and at check-in counters, and air carriers must provide each passenger who has been denied boarding with a form setting out the compensation rules concerned.


Vehicle hire

If, when visiting another EU Member State, you decide to hire a motor vehicle, you also have certain rights as a national of an EU country. You need only present to the car hire firm the driving license issued to you in your country of residence. Your driving license is as a proof of your right to drive the same types of vehicle everywhere in the EU as those you are entitled to drive in the country which issued your license.

Moreover, the car hire firm may not include in the hire contract unfair clauses, e.g. waiving any liability on its part in the event of an accident caused by an inherent defect in the vehicle or motorbike or due to poor maintenance. Unfair clauses are unlawful throughout the Union and cannot be invoked against you


Package travel

If you purchase a package deal, Community legislation gives you rights which are applicable in all countries of the Union.

The term "package" means a service that is offered for sale at an inclusive price, covers a period of more than 24 hours or includes overnight accommodation and combines at least two of the following:

  • transport;
  • accommodation;
  • other tourist services not ancillary to transport or accommodation and accounting for a significant proportion of the package.

Community legislation lays down various rules concerning consumer information, terms which must be included in the contract, strict conditions under which the prices quoted in the contract may be altered, and the conditions under which the contract may be rescinded or cancelled. The rules also concern certain aspects concerning the consequences of non-performance or improper performance of the contract, including liability and guarantees in the event of insolvency or bankruptcy of the service provider.


Personal purchases

VAT and other taxes

You are entitled to buy goods and services for your personal use in another Member State under the same tax rules as apply to nationals of the country concerned. You can take your purchases home with you without having to pay additional VAT or excise duties. There are some exceptions to this rule, however, principally with regard to the purchase of new means of transport and business-related purchases.

When you return home, your purchases cannot be inspected at the border except on grounds of public policy.

Moreover, if you transport large quantities of alcohol or tobacco (i.e. more than 800 cigarettes, 10 liters of spirits, 110 liters of beer or 90 liters of non-sparkling wine), you may be required to show that the products are for private use (for example, for your wedding or that of your son or daughter, i.e. events which may justify large-scale purchases).

In addition, three Member States (Denmark, Finland and Sweden) apply more restrictive rules in the case of alcohol and tobacco.


Duty-free purchases

As of 30 June 1999, when traveling within the European Union you may no longer buy tax-free products at airports, on airplanes, ferries and in the two access terminals to the Channel Tunnel. Tax-free purchases are thus limited to travelers entering or leaving the Union.

Tax-free purchases are strictly regulated and the sale of tax-free products is restricted per person and per trip.

Accordingly, your tax-free purchases may not exceed EUR 90 in value.

Moreover, quantitative limits apply to certain products. Generally speaking, the limits are:

  • 200 cigarettes; or 100 cigarillos or 50 cigars or 250 grams of smoking tobacco;
  • one liter of spirits over 22 degrees proof or two liters of fortified wine, sparkling wine;
  • two liters of still table wine;
  • 50 grams of perfume.

The salespeople at tax-free shops will be able to provide information on the limits applicable to you.


Unfair terms

Irrespective of the EU Member State in which you, as a consumer, conclude with a business enterprise a contract for the purchase of goods or services, you are protected against unfair terms in that contract.

A contract term is in principle regarded as unfair if it causes a significant imbalance in the parties’ rights and obligations arising under the contract, to the detriment of the consumer. For example, you might buy a domestic electric appliance where the standard terms applied by the seller disclaim liability in the event of late delivery of the product, or stipulate that the firm shall in no way be liable for consequential damage caused by hidden defects.

If you come across unfair terms you have the right to challenge them or to ignore them - they do not bind you.

The conditions under which these terms are invalid are specified in the rules of each Member State.

When there is doubt as to the meaning of a written term (including standard terms) in your contract with a business enterprise, the interpretation most favorable to the consumer will prevail. This derives from the general rule whereby, if some or all of the terms in a contract are in writing, they must be drafted in plain, intelligible language.

Personal Data

Personal data is sometimes requested when you conclude a contract for the purchase of goods or services in another EU country (e.g. purchasing an airline ticket or taking out an insurance policy).

Most Member States have rules covering the protection of personal data which aim at preventing the use of this data in a way harmful to your privacy, but the scope and arrangements for such protection vary from one country to another.

In order to remove obstacles to the free movement of data, while protecting individuals against any violation of their privacy, the Union has adopted legislation designed to guarantee certain rights throughout the EU, in particular, the right to be informed about the use to which the data is put, the right to challenge data and, in certain cases, the right to give prior agreement on the use of personal data.

To find out the details of the Community or national rules in force, you should apply to the independent bodies responsible for the protection of personal data in each Member State for any help you may require.

Right Enforcement

Disputes of a contractual nature

You are not without the possibility of a remedy in the event of your being faced with a dispute of a contractual nature while traveling in another EU country (e.g. acquisition of goods or services which are unsatisfactory or which do not correspond with the description given).

Often the problem encountered can be resolved amicably and free of charge simply by complaining to the supplier, manufacturer or distributor of the product or the service provider concerned. However, if you fail to get satisfaction, you may wish to consider the following possibilities for remedies.

Several countries have introduced simplified procedures for consumer disputes where it is not even necessary to consult a lawyer. Moreover, recognized consumer organizations and certain administrative bodies sometimes have the right to sue in order to protect collective interests.

Reliance on such remedies or out-of-court procedures will often help you avoid the costs and the - sometimes considerable - delays associated with going to court.

If you have to sue in courts other than those of the Member State in which you are domiciled, remember that you cannot be discriminated against on the grounds of nationality. For example, no security or bond to cover court costs can be required of you simply because you are not a national of the country. And you also have the right to legal aid under the same conditions as apply to the nationals of that country.

Save for a handful of exceptions - and without needing to rely on a particular legal procedure - a court decision handed down in one Member State will be recognized in the other countries of the European Union. To have your decision enforced (for example, payment of damages) in another Member State, you must submit a request to the court having jurisdiction (generally the court of the losing party’s country of domicile).


Disputes with an administrative authority

If you consider that a national, regional or local authority has wrongly interpreted your rights under Community law, or that they have discriminated against you or members of your family, you should assert your rights by complaining to the administration concerned.

For instance, if you experience difficulties with regard to: entry in the territory; excessive administrative checks and formalities not relating to public order, public safety or public health; or tax questions in connection with your purchases, you are not without protection.

If, after you have informed it of your views on the matter, the administration concerned still does not give you a satisfactory reply, you may of course appeal to the authorities in your own country (in some cases, via, for instance, your country’s consulate or embassy in that Member State) so that they can help you to exercise your rights.

You should start by following national procedures, because you have a variety of possibilities open to you and you may be awarded compensation. National courts must ensure that rights based on Community law are respected and, where necessary, set aside any measure which infringes it.

In addition, there are also ways of raising your case at Community level.

You can complain to the European Commission. If the Commission considers your complaint well-founded, it can contact the national authorities concerned to ask for an explanation and to request that the infringement of Community law be terminated. If the Commission is not satisfied with the response of the national authorities, it can open infringement proceedings against the country concerned. This may lead to the case being referred to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

You may also present a petition to the European Parliament or raise your case with a Member of the European Parliament, who can put questions to the Commission and the Council. Their reply to the question must be made public.

You can also contact the European Ombudsman, but only if your complaint is concerned with maladministration by one of the Community Institutions (e.g. the European Parliament, the Council or the European Commission), or by any decentralized body of the Community (e.g. the European Agency for the Evaluation of Medicinal Products). Generally speaking, "maladministration" means administrative irregularities or omissions.

The European Ombudsman cannot deal with complaints concerning national or local administrations.


Source: European Commission