EU Digital COVID-19 certificates and free PCR tests this summer

In order to facilitate the safe and free movement of people within the EU, the European Commission introduced the Digital Covid Certificate which should be available in all Member States as of 1 July 2021. This EU Digital Covid Certificate was made available in Belgium on 16 June 2021.

The way to free and safe travel within the EU

The current pandemic has obviously had an impact on many aspects in our daily lives, such as public health, work, social activities and our ability to travel abroad, as different EU Member States introduced various restrictions. The EU Digital Covid Certificate could therefore help lift the current restrictions in a coordinated manner throughout all Member States.

Travelers holding an EU Digital Covid Certificate should in principle be exempted from travel restrictions unless the public health situation requires proportionate measures. If there are any new concerns over new Covid-variants, for example, Member States must inform the other countries and the European Commission of any decisions taken.

Three types of EU Digital Covid Certificates - a common EU standard

In view of the gradual lifting of the current restrictions, the European Commission decided to issue three different Digital Covid Certificates:

  • A certificate proving that a traveler has been fully vaccinated. This will be readily available to those who have received the first dose of the vaccine, although most EU Member States will require both doses to have been administered and for this to be stated on the Covid Certificate.
  • A certificate proving a negative PCR-test result. This should be obtained shortly before the travel date. Please make sure to check the information provided by the authorities of your country of destination.
  • A certificate proving recovery from COVID-19. This is for travelers who have recovered from COVID-19. The validity of this type of Covid Certificate will be 180 days for most countries of origin.

These three types of Covid Certificates are in principle available in digital and paper formats and will be drafted in a local official language (e.g. Dutch, French or German for Belgium) and English in order to be valid in all other EU Member States. All certificates issued by EU Member States follow a common European standard format. The certificate contains data such as name, date of birth, date of issuance, information about the vaccination, COVID -19 test or recovery from COVID-19, and a unique identification code (QR code). EU Member States will be able to scan this code and verify that the certificate is valid and ensure that the data is treated in a safe and secure manner. Destination countries are not allowed to keep this data. All health data will remain the property of the country where the certificate was issued.

New agreements on a European level

The validity of the Covid Certificates will depend on the type of certificate and the destination EU Member State where it will be used. Therefore, it’s  crucial to always check the applicable measures in the country of destination beforehand. Consequently, the European Commission has proposed aligning several measures within the EU:

  • Fully vaccinated people with a vaccination certificate linked to a Covid Digital Certificate should be granted an exemption from mandatory travel-related testing and quarantine, as long as the last dose was administered 14 days prior to date of travel.
  • People who have recovered from COVID-19 and who have received 1 dose of a vaccine - normally administered in 2 doses - should also be considered fully vaccinated. In this case, a recovery certificate could be combined with a vaccination certificate to prove this.
  • Minors traveling with their parents should be exempt from quarantine if their parents are not required to quarantine (e.g. because they have been vaccinated) to ensure family unity. Children under the age of 6 should also be exempted from travel-related testing.
  • PCR Tests should have a standard test validity period of 72 hours.
  • Countries can still impose additional rules if local outbreaks or variants emerge.

For more information, please make sure to visit the European website Re-Open EU. We also strongly advise you to verify the information provided by the Belgian Federal Service External Affairs (for now only available in French and Dutch).

Will other measures remain in place?

Despite the introduction of EU Covid Certificates, the following measures still apply for Belgium:

A Passenger Locator Form needs to be completed 48hrs before your date of return. Based on the form, you will be instructed as to whether a PCR test is required (e.g. when travelling from a red zone country).

No obligations to quarantine or test will apply when returning to Belgium from a green or orange zone. The status of a zone can always change during your stay! Therefore, please make sure you check the status regularly.

Upon return from a red zone:

Travelers in possession of a Digital Covid Certificate (vaccination certificate with full vaccination [+ 2 weeks], test certificate with recent negative PCR test [< 72 hours] or recovery certificate) do not have to go into quarantine.

Those who are tested immediately upon arrival (day 1 or day 2) do not need to be quarantined upon receipt of a negative PCR test. This condition is a requirement for all those over the age of 12. Children under 12 are exempt from testing requirements.

Upon return from a very high-risk zone ("variants of concern"):

  • Mandatory quarantine of 10 days with PCR testing on day 1 and day 7 will apply.
  • People who have been fully vaccinated or have already tested negative in the country of origin are also required to quarantine in order to avoid dangerous new variants from spreading across the EU.
  • Only individuals who have Belgian nationality or have their main residence in Belgium are currently allowed to return to Belgium if they have stayed in or visited a high-risk zone in the last 14 days. 

For more information on traveling during the pandemic, visit the Belgian Info-coronavirus website.

How to apply for an EU Digital Covid Certificate?

Travelers can request a Covid Certificate through the new CovidSaveBE-app (also available in English), on the Flemish Regional Civil Profile website (available in Dutch only) or on the Federal Health website (available in French, Dutch and German) .

To obtain your digital certificates, you will need either your (Belgian) ID card, PIN code and card reader, or another activated digital key (e.g. ItsMe-app).

You can also receive a vaccination certificate by regular post by contacting the Helpdesk of the region where you where were vaccinated:

Flanders: 078 78 78 50 (9am to 7pm on weekdays)

Brussels: 02 214 19 19 (9am to 5.30pm on weekdays and from 10am to 5.30pm during weekends)

French-speaking Community (Wallonia): 071 31 34 93 (9am to 7pm from Monday to Saturday)

German-speaking Community: 0800 23 032 (9am to 5pm on weekdays)

You should account for a waiting period of approximately 1 week between the day you placed your order and the day you can expect receipt.

Please make sure you have access to your Covid certificate at all times during your trip abroad. When travelling by plane it will be requested at the moment of check-in. The certificate is available online but it’s a good idea to download a copy on your smartphone or tablet so that it’s also available when you are offline, or alternatively print a paper version as a backup. That way you won't have a problem if you don't have an internet connection while travelling.

Free PCR-tests this summer?

The Covid certificate is free of charge. However, there is a cost associated with the test that relates to the Test Certificate. This test costs an average of EUR 46.81 (normal/non expedited testing) if you are registered with a Belgian Health Fund (ziekenfonds/mutuelle). For all children and adolescents between 6 and 17 years of age and for all adults who have not yet had the opportunity to be fully vaccinated, the cost of a PCR test is reimbursed up to a maximum of EUR 55. A claim for reimbursement can be lodged a maximum of 2 times, during the months of July, August and September 2021.

As of Monday 28 June 2021, all Belgian nationals and residents with a National Number will be able to register for a free PCR test through the national e-Health website using an e-ID card and an e-ID card reader. This website, however, is only available in Dutch, French and German. When registering for the free PCR test, applicants will receive a PCR-test code (valid for maximum 10 calendar days) and should also make their own reservation for a time slot - taking into account the required validity time frame which is mandatory for the country of destination. Some countries of destination may require proof of a PCR test taken a maximum of 48 hours or 72 hours beforehand. Therefore, we cannot emphasize enough to always check the requirements of the country of destination upfront.

Although the Belgian Government will provide two free PCRT-tests during the months of July, August and September 2021, only specific applicants will be eligible to take the test free of charge (i.e. if they are still waiting for their first vaccine invitation or haven’t yet received their second dose). Applicants who refused any of the available vaccines will not be entitled to a free PCR-test.

What does this mean for foreign nationals?

For people who do not have a Belgian national number (are not registered with their local municipality [commune/gemeente]) or BIS number ( a number which can be obtained via a limosa declaration or at a local municipality), a TER number/Covid ID can be created so that they can still take a Covid test. This number is specially designed to allow foreigners who are staying in Belgium for a short period of time (but more than 48 hours) and who have no residence status to take a test. It is not possible to request certificates for Covid tests run off the back of a TER number/Covid ID. Belgian medical practitioners can request such a TER number. 

Foreign nationals who are registered in Belgium or are in the process of registering with their municipality (with the intention to stay more than 90 days) and who have obtained a national number or a BIS number will also be invited by the Public Health Services to register for a vaccine. The invitation will be sent by letter as well as by email via the Vaccination Code Database (if the email address was made available to the local administration). Foreigners living in Belgium for more than 90 days who have not yet begun the registration process and who are staying at a temporary address, should contact the municipality closest to their temporary address and register to receive a BIS number. This will allow the local authorities to put the applicant on the list of people awaiting vaccination so that they can receive an invitation via letter or email according to their age group and level of priority.

Bart Elias - Partner, PwC Legal BV/SRL

Pascale Moreau - Partner, PwC Legal BV/SRL

Eva Draps - Manager, PwC Legal BV/SRL