Driving in Europe: What are the Covid rules and checks at road borders?

Danish border police checks documents at the Danish-German border
Danish border police checks documents at the Danish-German border. Illustration Photo: Axel Heimken / AFP
What are the latest Covid-19 rules if you are driving across borders within the EU and how strict are the border controls in reality? Here's the lowdown.

Numerous readers have been in touch with us to ask about the situation on road borders within the EU.

There are those who intend to drive from the UK to Italy or those who drive from Sweden down to Germany, but all ask similar questions: what are checks are being carried out, will my health pass work and where can I get a test if needed.

One reader who said they have done numerous cross-border road trips told The Local: “It’s been interesting to take a trip across Europe by road during the pandemic. The anxiety for making sure we have all paperwork is always high, but we constantly seem to not need anything.”

But just in case you are travelling by road across Europe, here’s a quick rundown about the rules in place in the countries we cover as well as what readers have told us about the reality on the ground.

READ ALSO: Crossing borders: How we drove across Europe by van during the pandemic

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See also on The Local:

France

France operates a traffic light travel system for entry which we have explained in full HERE.

The rules state that if you’re coming from an EU or Schengen zone country you will need to present a negative Covid test (PCR or antigen, done within the previous 72 hours) only if you are unvaccinated. Fully vaccinated arrivals only need to show proof of vaccination.

If you are coming from the UK in a car and you are not vaccinated you can only enter France for essential travel (see full list of accepted reasons here). Fully vaccinated arrivals will need to carry proof of vaccination should they be asked.

In theory all arrivals in France, including those coming by road, need to present a declaration that they are free from Covid symptoms. In reality this is rarely asked for, but in order to avoid hold-ups at the border you can find the form here.

National vaccination cards or the EU digital pass are accepted at the border, but once in France you will need the health pass if you want to stop off at venues including cafés and restaurants.

The health pass requires proof of either; fully vaccinated status, recent recovery from Covid or a recent negative test – full details here.

READ ALSO How tourists and visitors can get a Covid test in France

The EU digital pass is accepted for the French health pass, but if you’re coming from a non-EU country you will need to either acquire a French QR code or, if you were vaccinated in England, Scotland or Wales, upload your NHS pass to the French TousAntiCovid app. Once you have uploaded your details to the French app, you then have a code that can be used across the whole EU. 

Anecdotal evidence from readers of The Local suggests that there are few Covid checks carried out at the border if you enter France by road from neighbouring EU country.

If you are checked and you don’t have the correct documentation you could be denied entry and forced to return as one traveller from the UK can attest to.

READ ALSO Revealed: How strictly is France enforcing Covid rules at the border?

Italy

All travellers entering Italy from within the European Union need to be able to prove their health status using their Covid health pass or green certificate.

The Italian health ministry states that all arrivals must have a copy of a digital health pass from any EU country showing that they have:

  • completed their Covid-19 vaccination cycle
  • or recently recovered from Covid-19
  • or have taken a molecular or antigen swab test within the 48 hours prior to entering Italy, with negative results. 

Italy also accepts equivalent health certificates from the UK, US, Canada, Israel and Japan for entry without quarantine.

These health certificates are accepted for entry at the border as well as for entry to many leisure and cultural venues under the ‘green pass’ system once in the country.

If you have been in a ‘list D’ country (including the UK and US) within the past 14 days, you must show proof of vaccination or recovery AND a recent negative test result – full details here.

All arrivals in Italy, including those coming by road, also need to present a passenger locator form (dPLF). In reality this is rarely asked for when travelling by road, but in order to avoid any hold-ups at the border you can find the form here.

READ ALSO: How tourists and visitors can get a Covid test in Italy

Anecdotal evidence from The Local’s readers suggests that few Covid checks are being carried out at the border when entering Italy by road from a neighbouring EU country.

However in case a check finds that you do not have the required paperwork, you could be denied entry or, in some cases, arrivals who began their journey in a non-EU country could face the requirement to undergo a five-day quarantine period. Find more information about the rules here.

Spain

Spain’s land borders with France and Portugal are currently open.

In principle, this means there are no or very few Covid controls by police on either border.

However, Spain’s Foreign Ministry does state that all arrivals by land – train, bus, car –  “who are 12 years of age or older, coming from countries or risk areas” must have one of the following:

  • proof of full vaccination with EMA or WHO approved vaccines completed more than 14 days prior to arrival
  • a negative antigen test (taken in the last 48 hours) or negative PCR (in the last 72 hours)
  • proof of recovery from Covid-19 in the past 6 months (valid from the 11th day after the first positive diagnostic test for a total period of 180 days)  

So if you were stopped, you would be expected to produce one of these documents or an EU Covid health pass, although anecdotal evidence from readers and Twitter users suggests checks aren’t happening at either the Portuguese or French border currently. 

READ ALSO: What happens when tourists get Covid-19 while on holiday in Spain?

For arrivals by air or sea, the general entry requirements in Spain for arrivals from the EU are the same ones stated above and Covid documentation checks are always carried out.

Spanish health authorities don’t classify whole EU countries as being “at risk” for Covid infections but rather regions, which means that in theory people travelling from areas that are considered low risk don’t have to present proof of their Covid-19 health status.

READ ALSO : What are the rules for travel between Spain and France this autumn?

However, most of the EU/EEA area is classified as “high risk” by Spain’s Health Ministry currently (check updated list here under “zonas de riesgo”).

Therefore for those arriving in Spain by car, it’s still advisable to carry proof of vaccination or a Covid health pass (paper or digital), although you won’t need this to access restaurants and bars as is the case in France. 

The health control form that has to be filled in by all international travellers before arriving by air or sea in Spain does not apply to those driving to or through Spain. 

Germany

All travellers coming into Germany – regardless of where they’re arriving from and what means of transport they’re using – have to present proof of Covid vaccination, a certificate of recovery from Covid-19 within the last six months, or a negative Covid-19 test upon entering the country. Children under 12 are exempt from this rule. See our article on the latest German travel rules for more details. 

For those travelling by road, Germany has been conducting random spot-checks on its road borders since August 2021. However, anecdotal evidence suggests drivers are not stopped that often. 

PCR tests taken within 72 hours of arrival and antigen tests taken within 48 hours of arrival are accepted by the German Health Ministry, and foreign vaccination certificates will also be accepted as long as the vaccine is approved in the EU. Mix-and-match vaccines are also accepted.

The rule does not apply to people travelling through Germany without stopping. It also doesn’t affect commuters, or for short stays of less than 24 hours.

Germany’s public health authority, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), keeps a close eye on virus variants, infection rates and the speed of rising cases in foreign countries in order to decide whether a country should be put on its ‘risk list’. An up-to-date list of the countries considered high risk can be found here.

If you’ve spent time in a country on the risk list in the past 10 days, you should first check whether it’s classified as a ‘high-risk’ or ‘virus variant’ area. In both cases, you’ll need to fill in a registration form on the Digital Entry Portal. There are, however, exceptions to this rule – if you’re only travelling through Germany on your way to another destination and don’t plan to stop there, you don’t need to register or quarantine.

If you are coming from a ‘high risk’ area and are fully vaccinated or have recovered from Covid, and submit proof on the Digital Entry Portal before arriving in the country, you will also be exempt from having to quarantine. If you only have a negative test to hand, you will need to quarantine for 10 days after arriving from a high-risk area, though this can be shortened to five days if you take another negative test.

Currently no countries are in Germany’s ‘virus variant areas of concern’ category where stricter entry and quarantine rules apply. 

If you need to get a Covid test in Germany, you can visit any local testing centre (Testzentrum / Teststation) for a rapid test, which generally costs between €10 and €20, or a PCR test, which can cost between €40 and €120, depending on the vendor and how quickly you need it.

Austria

Austria’s land borders are open at present, with permanent roadblocks discontinued in late summer. 

However, authorities have been carrying out random checks to ensure people entering are compliant with Covid rules. 

In order to enter Austria, you need to be compliant with the 3G rule. 

This means you must be fully vaccinated within the past year, recovered within the past six months, or have tested negative. 

This needs to be either in English or German. It can be paper copies of proof, while it can also be electronic proof, i.e. apps

Keep in mind that those entering with a test (i.e. who have not been vaccinated or recovered from the virus) will need to quarantine for ten days, although they can leave after five days with another negative test

Anyone arriving with a negative test needs to fill out this pre-travel clearance form

There are two broad categories of test and they apply for different time periods.

The antigen tests, which you can get done at pharmacies, doctors and testing centres (aka test streets) across the country, are valid for 48 hours.

PCR tests – which take longer but are considered the ‘gold standard’ when it comes to testing – apply for 72 hours.

If you do not have a test upon arrival, you can do one within 24 hours in Austria.

READ MORE: What are the rules for entering Austria right now?

Switzerland

Regardless of where you are entering Switzerland from, border controls will be open. 

While Switzerland put up road blocks at certain times during the pandemic, at present border rules are enforced through random checks on and around the Swiss border. 

To enter Switzerland by road you need to A) be Covid compliant and B) fill out an entry form. 

Anyone entering Switzerland from another country is required to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19, have had and recovered from the virus recently or complete two negative tests. This applies to people entering by road. 

People who have not been vaccinated or recovered will need to show evidence of a negative PCR test (not older than 72 hours) or a negative rapid antigen test (not older than 48 hours).

Once in Switzerland, you will need to take another test between four and seven days after entry. If the stay is less than four days, the second test is not necessary. 

Test centres are located across the country. You can also get tested at airports, pharmacies and hospitals. Click here to find a test location. Please note that as of October 11th, testing is no longer free – and can cost 

In Switzerland, most places charge 134 francs for PCR and 47 for a rapid antigen test.

Everyone entering Switzerland – other than cross-border workers or those transiting through to another country – is required to fill out Switzerland’s entry form for travel.

READ MORE: Here is the form you need to enter Switzerland

Please keep in mind that if you are arriving from somewhere outside the EU/EFTA countries, you will not be allowed to enter Switzerland unless you are vaccinated against Covid. 

However, the country you are entering from is more important than your citizenship, i.e. Americans living in France who cross into Switzerland will be counted as entering from France, not the United States. 

Whoever violates these rules could incur a fine of 200 francs for entry without a test certificate and 100 francs for an incomplete form.

Once you are in Switzerland, you will need to get the Covid certificate to access bars, restaurants, events and other things. While passes from all EU countries are accepted, those from outside the EU – including the United States, Israel or the United Kingdom – are not. 

People from outside the EU can get the Swiss Covid certificate with proof of vaccination, however this is no longer free. Click the link below for more information. 

Rule change: Swiss Covid certificate no longer free for US/UK visitors 

Sweden

If you’re travelling to Sweden from one of the Nordic countries (if you’re driving this will most likely be Denmark – although the Nordic countries also include Norway, Finland and Iceland) you don’t have to worry. It is currently possible to travel freely to Sweden from any Nordic country without presenting a Covid vaccine pass or a negative test, regardless of your original point of departure.

Just to be clear: This is not a sneaky loophole in the law where you take your chances and drive across the border, hoping not to be caught in spot checks. It is perfectly legal and you can read more about it on the Swedish police authority’s website. However, it is worth bearing in mind that if you’re travelling by ferry, the ferry company may have its own separate rules.

If you’re driving to Sweden from another neighbouring EU country, for example by ferry from non-Nordic states Germany or Poland, you may have to show a vaccine certificate, negative test or proof of recovery from Covid-19.

Note that vaccine certificates are only accepted if they were issued in the EU (the EU’s Digital Covid Certificate) or in an “approved” or “exempted” third country (vaccine certificates issued in an exempted third country are not valid for entry directly from that country unless it is also on the list of approved countries, but they are however accepted if you’re travelling to Sweden from another EU country).

You don’t need an exemption to enter Sweden directly from an EU country, even if you originally entered the EU from a non-EU country from which Sweden still bans tourists. This is because Sweden considers you as having entered Sweden from the transit country.

You can read more about Sweden’s entry rules and the difference between “approved” and “exempted” countries on the police authority’s website. These rules are currently in force until October 31st, but be aware they may be extended beyond that date.

Denmark

Police controls at Danish borders undertaken as a measure to prevent the spread of coronavirus will end on October 25th, as the country moves to normalise its Covid-19 entry restrictions. As such, all border controls after that date will be security related.

However, temporary border controls in place in Denmark since 2016 are to be extended into 2022, the government confirmed this week

Denmark cites the treat of Islamist terrorism and organised crime in its justification for retaining the border controls, which focus on land borders with Germany as well as the Øresund Bridge crossing to Sweden, which is also technically a land border. Harbours with ferry services connecting to Sweden and Germany will also be the subject of checks.

This means you could face spot checks at borders, but for security reasons, so you won’t be asked about Covid-19 infection or vaccination status.

Norway

All of Norway’s land border crossings are now open, having fully reopened on October 6th. 

Norway operates with a colour-coded travel system for quarantine which you can take a look at here

Currently, residents from EU, EEA countries, and the UK can enter Norway for whatever reason they wish. Quarantine will depend on vaccination status and what colour country you are arriving from. Different rules, which you can read about here, apply to those from outside the EEA, entry is still restricted for most ravellers from outside the EEA. 

Fully vaccinated travellers with EU and UK vaccine passes aren’t subject to any entry requirements. Those with other vaccination certificates aren’t classed as vaccinated, unfortunately. 

Travellers from red and dark red countries will need to quarantine at a suitable location until returning a negative PCR taken at least three days after arrival (somewhere with access to a private bedroom, bathroom). Alternatively, they can stay at a quarantine hotel, which costs 500 kroner for adults and 250 for kids aged between 17 and 10. 

In addition, those from red and dark red countries will need to get tested upon arrival in Norway. If you pass through a border crossing where testing isn’t available, you will need to get tested within 24 hours of arriving in Norway. Testing will be provided by the municipality or for free by some private providers, info on the nearest official test centre will be provided at the border.

For those who need to test and quarantine, you will also need to fill out the entry registration form, which you can look at here.

If you don’t meet the rules and requirements to enter Norway, you can be turned away or fined. 


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