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Note – the next wave of applications has been suspended until further notice. Sign up to my mailing list below if you want to hear about future updates.
If you’re not familiar with DiscoverEU, it’s a European Union scheme offering a free interrail pass for EU citizens or those legally residing within the EU at the age of 18.
If successful in the application, they will receive a pass allowing them to travel in Europe for one month during the travel window.
To date, there have been over 70,000 free interrail passes available to young Europeans through the scheme with application windows open twice per year. The total number of applications has been over 350,000.
The scheme was due to finish at the end of 2020, however applications were suspended during 2020 so it’s expected that wave 5 and wave 6 will not take place in 2021 instead. It’s yet unclear whether the scheme will continue beyond this.
What is Interrail?
An interrail ticket (also known as an interrail pass) allows rail travel within participating European countries. This can either be a continous ticket from 15 days up to 3 months or a flexible ticket with a set number of travel days ranging from 3 days within a month up to 15 days within 2 months.
There are two types of pass:
- A global pass which allows rail travel across any of the 31 participating countries.
- A one-country pass which is limited to a specific country chosen when purchasing.
DiscoverEU Free Interrail Pass Scheme
Starting in 2018, the European Union’s DiscoverEU started offering free interrail passes or equivalent fixed tickets to 18 year olds who are EU citizens or legally residing in the EU.
The program “seeks to offer all young people, regardless of their background and including young people with reduced mobility, a chance to travel abroad”.
Candidates will either receive a one month global interrail pass which allows travellers to visit more than 30 European countries, or alternatively they’ll receive fixed tickets for travel within 2 participating countries in the one month period (for regions that interrail doesn’t cover).
The scheme is the brainchild of German politician Manfred Weber who is convinced that encouraging young people to travel will help break down cultural barriers and build a generation that is much more inclusive – I couldn’t agree more!
DiscoverEU is currently running as a pilot and is due to end after 2020, however proposals are currently being considered by the EU for extension and even expansion of this scheme by integrating it with Erasmus. Manfred Weber hopes that one day the free interrail passes will be available as a standard procedure to all EU citizens as an 18th birthday present.
Passes are allocated to each country by quota according to their population, in the latest application round, the UK received 7.5% of the passes available, equating to about 1,500 passes.
In order to be eligible for the scheme, you must meet the following criteria:
- Be an EU citizen or legally residing within the EU
- Be 18 years old to apply for free rail travel, there are cut off dates for each round
- Round 1: Must be 18 as of 1st Jul 2018
- Round 2: Must be 18 as of 31st Dec 2018
- Round 3: Must be 18 as of 1st Jul 2019
- Round 4: Must be 18 as of 31st Dec 2019
- Round 5: Must be 18 as of 1st July 2020
- Be willing to become a #DiscoverEU ambassador – this involves documenting your travels on social media or in a presentation at your school.
- You must not have applied in previous application windows
Round 1 [NOW CLOSED]: Offering 15,000 free interrail passes
- Applications open: 12th June 2018 – 26th Jun 2018
- Eligibility: Must be 18 as of 1st Jul 2018
- For travel dates: 9th July 2018 – 30th Sept 2018
Round 2 [NOW CLOSED]: Offering 12,000 free interrail passes
- Applications open: 29th Nov 2018 – 11th Dec 2018
- Eligibility: Must be 18 as of 31st Dec 2018
- For travel dates: 15th April 2019 – 31st Oct 2019
Round 3 [NOW CLOSED]: Offering 20,000 free interrail passes
- Applications open: 2nd May 2019 – 16th May 2019
- Eligibility: Must be 18 as of 1st Jul 2019
- For travel dates: 1st August 2019 – 31st January 2020
Round 4 [NOW CLOSED] : Offering 20,000 free interrail passes
- Applications open: 7th Nov 2019 – 28th Nov 2019
- Eligibility: Must be 18 as of 31st December 2019 (i.e. your birth year is any date in 2001)
- For travel dates: 1st April 2020 – 31st August 2021 (Extended)
Round 5 [POSTPONED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE]: Offering 30,000 free interrail passes
- Applications open: 12th March 2020 – 26th March 2020
- Eligibility: Must be 18 as of 1st July 2020 (i.e. your date of birth is between 1st July 2001 and 30th June 2002)
- For travel dates: Yet to be announced
How Do I Get a Free Interrail Pass?
Once applications open, you’ll need to follow the below process to submit an application. This may vary for each application window.
Step 1 – Application Form
Once applications for the free interrail scheme open, you need to visit the European Youth Portal where there will be a user friendly application process.
You’ll also need to provide your date of birth, your nationality and your email address. At this point you can also specify if you wish to travel independently or with a group of friends.
If travelling with friends, you can create a new group application or join an existing one. To join an existing application you will need a joining code from whoever started the group. There are a maximum of 5 persons per group application – the application will be treated as one application.
Step 2 – Personal Details
You’ll receive an email with a link to the next step of the process. You’ll need to provide further personal details such as gender, occupation, disability information, etc. At this point you’ll also need to provide either your passport or national ID number.
Step 3 – EU Quiz Questions
Next you’ll need to answer 5 quiz questions about the EU such as ‘When will the next European Parliament elections take place?’.
If you look carefully there will likely be helpful hints on the page itself or you can refer to google. If you’re joining a group of friends, only the person who created the group will need to answer these questions.
Step 4 – Trip Details
The final part of the application requires that you share initial details on your travel plans. These questions are NOT part of the application criteria. Questions may be along the lines of:
- In which time period would you like to start your travel?
- Where will you be starting your trip?
- How many countries do you plan to visit? (options are between one and four)
- Will this be your first time travelling without parents?
- How many times did you travel abroad in the last 12 months?
TOP TIP: Join the DiscoverEU Facebook Group where you can find helpful information, interviews from those who have previously travelled with DiscoverEU and meet others on the scheme.
If successful, you’ll be contacted by the EU or one of their contracted agencies to confirm your travel plans. You’ll have two options:
Option 1: Flexible travel **recommended**
You’ll receive a global 30 day interrail pass, this is usually one of the flexible passes which allows 7 travel days within the 30 day window. This is the best option as it allows you to remain flexible as to where you go and when. You will need to make any required train reservations yourself but this is very simple through the interrail app or at a train station.
Option 2: Fixed travel
This is much more complex and will remove a lot of the freedom you get on an interrail adventure, it is also limited to a maximum of 2 countries. You’ll provide exact dates and times of the journeys you’d like to take over the course of one month, up to the value of €260. This option would be useful if your trip includes Cyprus or Malta which will require flights or if you plan to visit countries not in the Interrail scheme such as Estonia or Latvia.
For both the fixed and flexible travel options, you can travel for up to one month. You are required to begin your journey in an EU member state and visit at least one other EU member state during your trip.
UPDATE: Some readers have highlighted that it’s possible to have combined fixed/flex tickets if your plans allow, speak with the contractor arranging your booking or drop me a comment below for more info.
How Long Do I Have to Use My Free Interrail Pass?
There are set travel dates for each round of applications, these are outlined at the beginning of this article. Your trip will need to last between 1 and 30 days.
Applications were supposed to begin on 12th March 2020 however this was postponed. Applicants who missed out should get a chance to apply in 2021.
Applications in future waves will not allow British citizens to apply. It is unclear whether British citizens who missed out when wave 5 was postponed will be able to apply once it re-opens.
A global pass allows rail travel within Austria, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Macedonia, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Turkey and Great Britain. The pass also allows travel on some trains passing through Monaco and Liechtenstein as well as ferry crossings between Greece and Italy.
There are a number of EU countries or regions where a standard interrail pass is not valid or where railways do not exist, this includes Latvia, Estonia, Andorra, Cyprus, the Faroe Islands, Gibraltar, Malta and San Marino. You can still travel here with the DiscoverEU program but you’ll need to book fixed travel tickets through the contractor managing your application.
The European Youth Portal has a huge number of FAQ’s from queries about the programme to technical issues encountered during application – find it here.
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Kieren is the avid traveller behind the blog. His adventures have included Interrailing through Europe, road tripping the US and backpacking SE Asia.