Europe travel guide: what you need to do


How to get the best cash rates, guide to visas and power plugs in 45 countries and why you should ask for vee-fee when you want free Wi-Fi in Europe.

Europe 2

Europe planning and preparation


How to get the best cash rates, a guide to visas and power plugs in 45 countries, and why you should ask for vee-fee when you want free Wi-Fi – download the Europe travel guide.

Visas and passports

Australian passport holders may or may not need a visa, depending on which country in Europe they're visiting and for how long.

Schengen countries

The Schengen area is made up of 26 European countries that share similar entry and visa laws. Australian passport holders can visit any countries within the Schengen area visa-free for up to 90 days over a 180-day period for the purpose of tourism.

There's often very little or no border control between Schengen countries, but it's important for Australian travellers to get entry and exit stamps on their passport to prove that they aren't overstaying their 90-day limit. Travellers can even be fined for not having a stamp from their initial port of entry into the Schengen area.

Tip: You may be refused entry if you have less than three months' validity left on your passport beyond your intended date of departure from the Schengen area.

Non-Schengen countries

Non-Schengen countries, including the UK and Ireland, have their own rules. Many still allow Australians to visit without a visa, but some may require you to apply for a visa.

Tip: The Schengen area is not to be confused with the European Union (EU). Some non-EU countries are part of the Schengen area and some EU countries are not.

If you want to visit Europe for more than 90 days, you can split your time between Schengen and non-Schengen countries, and consider using the UK as a base to maximise your time. See this guide to long-term travel in Europe for tips.

Visa rules by country
Country Schengen Rules for Australian tourists
Albania x No visa required for up to 90 days
Andorra x No visa required for up to 90 days
Austria No visa required for up to 90 days within a 180-day period
Belarus x Visa required
Belgium No visa required for up to 90 days within a 180-day period
Bosnia Herzegovina x No visa required for up to 90 days
Bulgaria x No visa required for up to 90 days
Croatia x No visa required for up to 90 days
Cyprus x No visa required for up to 90 days
Czech Republic x No visa required for up to 90 days
Denmark No visa required for up to 90 days within a 180-day period
Estonia No visa required for up to 90 days within a 180-day period
Finland No visa required for up to 90 days within a 180-day period
France No visa required for up to 90 days within a 180-day period
Germany No visa required for up to 90 days within a 180-day period
Greece No visa required for up to 90 days within a 180-day period
Hungary No visa required for up to 90 days within a 180-day period
Iceland No visa required for up to 90 days within a 180-day period
Ireland X No visa required for up to 90 days
Italy No visa required for up to 90 days within a 180-day period
Latvia No visa required for up to 90 days within a 180-day period
Liechtenstein No visa required for up to 90 days within a 180-day period
Lithuania No visa required for up to 90 days within a 180-day period
Luxembourg No visa required for up to 90 days within a 180-day period
Macedonia X No visa required for up to 90 days
Malta No visa required for up to 90 days within a 180-day period
Moldova X No visa required for up to 90 days within a six-month period
Monaco X No visa required for up to 90 days
Montenegro X No visa required for up to 90 days
The Netherlands No visa required for up to 90 days within a 180-day period
Norway No visa required for up to 90 days within a 180-day period
Poland No visa required for up to 90 days within a 180-day period
Portugal No visa required for up to 90 days within a 180-day period
Romania X No visa required for up to 90 days
Russia X Visa required
San Marino X No visa required for up to 90 days
Serbia X No visa required for up to 90 days
Slovakia No visa required for up to 90 days within a 180-day period
Slovenia No visa required for up to 90 days within a 180-day period
Spain No visa required for up to 90 days within a 180-day period
Sweden No visa required for up to 90 days within a 180-day period
Switzerland No visa required for up to 90 days within a 180-day period
Ukraine X Visa required
United Kingdom X No visa required for up to 180 days
Vatican City X No visa required for up to 90 days

Important: The above chart is a guide only. Visa rules can change so you should always check with the embassy of the country you're travelling to.

Entry requirements may vary from country to country, for example you may need to prove you have enough money to support yourself or you may be denied entry if you have a criminal history or have overstayed a visa in the past. Again, always check with the relevant embassy.

While most European countries are easy to gain entry to as a tourist, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus have strict visa rules. To be issued a Russian visa, you'll need a tourist confirmation letter from a travel agent or hotel detailing your itinerary for your entire stay in Russia.

If you're visiting Europe for any reason other than for tourism (for example, to study or work) then it's likely you'll need a visa.

When does your passport expire?

Most countries require that you have a certain amount of validity left on your passport. For Schengen countries, you'll need three months' validity from your intended date of departure from the Schengen area. In many other countries, the minimum limit is six months' validity from your date of arrival.

Vaccinations

The risk of contracting a dangerous disease in Western Europe is comparable to the risk in Australia, however the risk of water-borne and diarrhoeal illnesses can be higher in parts of Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean. Rabies is still a problem in some parts of continental Europe, as are some diseases spread by ticks and insects.

The Travel Doctor recommends you make sure your routine vaccinations are up to date. See their Western Europe and Eastern Europe fact sheets for more information on specific shots you might want to consider. Your vaccination needs will depend on your own health status, where you're travelling to, and when, so speak to a doctor with experience in travel health.

More about health and safety in Europe.

Phone and internet

Global roaming and coverage

Phone coverage varies throughout Europe, but you should be able to stay connected in most places – unless you're climbing the French Alps or camping in rural Romania, for example. Your Australian phone will usually pick up on compatible European GSM networks, but as most travellers know, the cost of phone calls and internet access can be astronomical if you use your phone overseas.

Check with your telco for global roaming rates and tips on keeping costs low:

Tip: Switch off data roaming on your phone before you leave Australia. Likewise, switch off your voicemail and ask friends and family to text you rather than calling (you'll be charged if you answer incoming calls).

Cheaper roaming

A Travel Pass from Telstra, a Travel Pack from Optus or a $5-a-day roaming rate from Vodafone are all add-ons that you can use with your existing account while overseas. They're not particularly cheap, but they'll save you from any nasty bill surprises and can be a good option if you're only visiting Europe for a few days or weeks and you want to keep your own number.

Local SIM

If you're planning to spend more than a few weeks in Europe, or if you just want cheaper rates and don't mind having a different phone number while you're on holidays, consider buying a local pre-paid SIM once you arrive in Europe. Companies, rates and set-up will depend on which country you're in. You may be required to show ID to register, so the easiest way is to find an (English-speaking) phone store employee who can help you. Or better yet, most major airports will have shops or booths ready to help you get set up.

Remember: If you buy a SIM in one European country, you'll be charged global roaming rates as soon as you cross the border into another country. If you're travelling through many European countries, consider a travel SIM (see below).

Travel SIM

Pre-paid travel SIMs can be bought from some Australian travel stores, phone stores and post offices, or ordered online before you leave the country. Rates won't be as cheap as a local SIM, but they can be a smart option if you're travelling to multiple countries and don't want to pay even higher global roaming rates or buy a local SIM every time.

Remember: Your phone will need to be unlocked to accept a SIM from another network.

Beat global roaming bill shock – our guide to unlocking your phone and changing your global roaming settings.

Wi-Fi

Free Wi-Fi is plentiful in some areas and unheard of in others. Sometimes you'll be expected to pay, and in rural areas it often simply won't be available. Generally in the cities you'll find free Wi-Fi in all hotels and most franchises such as Starbucks and McDonald's. To search for free hotspots, try wificafespots.com or download an app such as wefi or Wi-Fi Finder (Apple or Android).

Tip: Wi-Fi is pronounced "wee-fee" or "vee-fee" in much of non English-speaking Europe. In Germany it's called W-LAN (pronounced "vay-lahn").

If you really want to stay connected, consider a portable pocket Wi-Fi device, a dongle or a data SIM. Or look for a local mobile plan with generous data allowance so you can tether your phone to your other device(s). The best place to find what you need is at the airport when you first arrive in Europe. Phone and tech shops at airports will have the best options for travellers who don't want to sign up to a long-term plan.

Power plugs

Power plugs by country
Country Voltage Frequency Plug type
Australia 230V 50Hz I
Albania 230V 50Hz C/F
Andorra 230V 50Hz C/F
Austria 230V 50Hz C/F
Belarus 220V 50Hz C/F
Belgium 230V 50Hz E
Bosnia Herzegovnia 230V 50Hz C/F
Bulgaria 230V 50Hz C/F
Croatia 230V 50Hz C/F
Cyprus 230V 50Hz G/F
Czech Republic 230V 50Hz E
Denmark 230V 50Hz C/E/K
Estonia 230V 50Hz C/F
Finland 230V 50Hz C/F
France 230V 50Hz E
Germany 230V 50Hz C/F
Greece 230V 50Hz C/F
Greenland 230V 50Hz C/K
Hungary 230V 50Hz C/F
Iceland 230V 50Hz C/F
Ireland 230V 50Hz G
Italy 230V 50Hz C/F/L
Latvia 230V 50Hz C/F
Liechtenstein 230V 50Hz J
Lithuania 230V 50Hz C/F
Luxembourg 230V 50Hz C/F
Macedonia 220V 50Hz C/F
Malta 230V 50Hz G
Moldova 230V 50Hz C/F
Monaco 230V 50Hz C/D/E/F
Montenegro 230V 50Hz F
The Netherlands 230V 50Hz C/F
Norway 230V 50Hz C/F
Poland 230V 50Hz C/E
Portugal 230V 50Hz C/F
Romania 230V 50Hz C/F
Russia 220V 50Hz C/F
San Marino 230V 50Hz F/L
Serbia 230V 50Hz C/F
Slovakia 230V 50Hz E
Slovenia 230V 50Hz C/F
Spain 230V 50Hz C/F
Sweden 230V 50Hz C/F
Switzerland 230V 50Hz J
Ukraine 230V 50Hz C/F
United Kingdom 230V 50Hz G
Vatican City 230V 50Hz F/L

The electricity in European countries runs at the same (or very similar) voltage and frequency as Australia, so you can use your Australian appliances in Europe without fear of frying them.

Australian type I electrical plugs are incompatible with any sockets in Europe, so you'll need an adaptor. The type C plug - with two rounded prongs - is the most common in Europe. It's referred to as the 'Europlug', but as you can see from the chart above, plugs and sockets do vary from country to country.

  • Type C plugs are compatible with types E, F, J, K and N, so the Europlug really is the only adaptor you'll need for most of Europe.
  • If you're travelling to the UK, Ireland or Malta, you'll need a type G adaptor.
  • If you're travelling to Switzerland or Liechtenstein you'll need a type J adaptor.

Tip: Consider a universal adaptor if you're travelling to a number of different countries or if you're stopping over in Asia or the Middle East.

Money

Not all countries in Europe use the euro - in fact not all countries in the European Union use it. The euro is legal tender in 19 out of the 28 EU countries. These are: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain.

Some non-EU countries and territories also use the euro in agreement with the EU. These include: Andorra, Monaco, San Marino, Vatican City, Kosovo and Montenegro.

All other countries in Europe use their own currencies.

Check xe.com for the latest exchange rates.

Tip: The euro doesn't necessarily have the same buying power wherever you go. Prices still fluctuate between euro countries. For example, €10 will get you a lot further in Slovakia or Greece than it will in Finland or Austria, where the cost of living is much higher.

Important: Tell your bank about your travel plans two weeks before you leave. Card activity in a foreign country could be mistaken for fraud and you could find your account frozen.

Credit cards

MasterCard and Visa are widely accepted in Europe, American Express is less common. Always have some cash spare, as credit cards may not be accepted in smaller shops, taxis and in rural areas. Remember you'll be charged a foreign transaction fee by your bank when paying with a credit card, and the vendor may add a surcharge too. Talk to your bank about the best card to use overseas - some offer credit cards for travellers with no, or low, fees.

ATMs

ATMs are widely available in Europe and almost all will accept foreign cards and offer instructions in English. Thanks to EU regulations, the fees for using ATMs in EU countries are fairly reasonable. Of course, your own bank will probably still charge you foreign transaction/conversion fees as well.

ATM tips:

  • Look for official bank ATMs and try to avoid cash machines labelled Travelex, Euronet, Moneybox, Cardpoint, and Cashzone. These independent ATMs have higher fees and can offer up a confusing choice of conversion options which could cost you more.
  • If an ATM offers you the choice of paying in Australian dollars or local currency, always choose the local currency. Likewise, if asked to "lock in" or "guarantee" your conversion rate, choose "proceed without conversion".
  • ATMs aren't called ATMs in Europe. Ask for a "distributeur" in France, a "cashpoint" in the UK and Ireland, and a "bankomat" almost everywhere else.
  • Westpac customers can avoid withdrawal fees by using Global ATM Alliance partner banks (a 3% foreign transaction fee still applies):
    • Barclay's Bank in the UK, Portugal and Gibraltar
    • Deutsche Bank in Germany, Spain and Poland
    • BNP Paribas in France and Italy

Money changers

You'll find money exchange counters at airports and in most tourist areas, hotels, banks and some post offices. You're unlikely to get a good rate changing cash before you leave Australia, but if it makes you feel safer to have a few euros (or pounds, krone etc) in your pocket when you land, go ahead. Otherwise, the airport ATMs are usually your best bet.

To exchange cash on the ground, look for the usual Forex or Travelex exchange booths, use a bank, or try a postal bank in a post office (you'll often find the best rates here).

Travellers' cheques

Travellers' cheques aren't as popular as they used to be. They're becoming harder and harder to cash, and the fees are often much higher than for using credit or debit cards. If you like to use travellers' cheques for the money security, consider a travel money card or cash passport. They can be pre-loaded with foreign currencies, cancelled at any time if lost, and used just like a credit or debit card (although the fees may be higher).

Tip: Carry at least two cards and more than one currency (euros, pounds etc). Split your money and cards between separate bags. That way if you lose one, you have a back-up.

VAT (value-added tax) applies to goods and services in most European countries. This tax should be included in the advertised price. Foreign tourists can reclaim the tax paid on some goods, depending on the country and the circumstances. You'll usually need to shop in specific stores that can give you the right paperwork (look for signs reading 'Tax Free'), then use the paperwork to apply for a refund at the airport. See this guide for more information.

Tipping practices vary from country to country. Generally a tip at a hotel or restaurant is appreciated, but not compulsory. It's best to tip in cash rather than as an add-on to your credit payment - that way the server is sure to receive it. See cntraveler.com for a country-by-country guide to tipping etiquette.

For more advice on overseas spending, see our travel money guide.

Travel insurance

Travel insurance is essential no matter which country you're visiting. Buy your insurance at the same time as you book your trip, that way you'll be covered if you have to cancel for some reason before you go.

Australia has reciprocal health care agreements with the UK, Ireland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland, Italy, Belgium, Malta, Slovenia and Norway but these are not a substitute for travel insurance.

For more information read our buying guide and to choose the best cover, see CHOICE's travel insurance reviews and comparisons.

Tips:

  • If you're planning on skiing, bungee-jumping or doing anything else potentially bone-breaking, make sure your insurance covers it. Most policies won't, so you'll probably need to purchase extra cover.
  • If you're planning on driving, check what your travel insurance policy covers so you don't end up paying for the same insurance again with the car hire company.
  • Remember, anything that happens to you while under the influence of drugs or alcohol is unlikely to be covered by insurance.
  • Keep a print-out of your travel insurance details with you at all times while on your trip.
  • Share your insurance details with family or friends before you leave.

Handy links and apps

Consider adding these links and apps to your phone, tablet or laptop before you go.

Tip: If possible, choose apps that work offline so they won't chew up your mobile data or stop working when you're in remote places.

  • Travel apps can provide you with maps, booking services, itineraries, recommendations and more. Try Triposo or search around for other recommended apps based on your travel plans.
  • The European Consumer Centres Network provides a handy app (scroll to the bottom of the page) that translates the EU consumer rights from English to the local language when dealing with travel problems like cancelled flights.
  • Currency conversion apps help you work out costs in Australian dollars.
  • Translation apps help with communication - some even include speech recognition.
  • taxi.eu is the main taxi-ordering app. Uber is also active in more than 30 European cities.
  • Moovit (Apple / Android) is a public transport planner app covering more than 500 cities worldwide.

Tip: To save a map onto your mobile device for offline use, select the area on Google Maps then select 'Save offline map' from the menu and follow the directions on the screen. Your GPS positioning will still work on the saved map, even when you don't have access to the internet. Alternatively, go to 'Offline maps' in the menu and select a city.

Websites

  • www.visiteurope.com for general advice and inspiration
  • ricksteves.com for in-depth travel tips for US travellers, but much is relevant to Australians.
  • seat61.com for detailed information on rail, bus and ferry travel worldwide.
  • rome2rio.com for working out how to get from A to B by any means of transport, anywhere in the world.
  • smartraveller.gov.au for the Australian government's latest advice on the safety of the region you're travelling in.
  • xe.com for the latest currency exchange rates.
  • wikitravel.org/en/Europe for crowd-sourced information on culture, travel tips and more (may not always be accurate).


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