I caught the travel bug on my first interrail adventure across Europe so I was delighted to hear about a new initiative by the EU that would help other young people do the same.
If you’re not familiar with DiscoverEU, it is a new European Union scheme offering a free interrail pass for EU citizens or those legally residing within the EU for their 18th birthday.
To date, there have been almost 50,000 free interrail passes available to young Europeans through the scheme. The most recent round of applications was open in Nov 2019 for travel in spring/summer 2020.
It is expected that the scheme will continue as a pilot until the end of 2020, however it is part of a wider EU proposal that could eventually see all 18 year olds receive this incredible opportunity.
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.
Find out more about the various passes available on the interrail website
The 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”.
The scheme typically offers successful applicants a standard ‘7 travel days within one month’ global interrail pass. This allows travellers to visit any of the countries accepting interrail passes with the caveat that you must begin in an EU member state and visit at least one other member state.
Not all successful applicants will receive a standard interrail pass. If your travel plans require flights (e.g. Malta or Cyprus), includes countries that do not participate in the Interrail scheme (Estonia or Latvia) or are complicated for other reasons, you may be better off asking for fixed tickets which can be chosen once you’ve been accepted on to the scheme. See below for more information on this.
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 – 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] :
- Applications open: 7th Nov – 28th Nov
- 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 October 2020
Round 5 [NOT YET ANNOUNCED]:
- The following details are an estimate based on previous timings.
- Expected to open in May or June 2020
- Expected eligibility for those 18 as of 1st Jul 2020 (i.e. born between July 2001 – June 2002)
- Expected travel dates during the second half of 2020
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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.
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 will need to complete this before the stated deadline (see top of this article). 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.
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.
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.
The final part of the application requires that you share some initial details on your travel plans so it’s helpful to have an idea. 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? (this must be within the period specified)
- Which will be the starting country of your trip?
- How many countries are you planning to visit? (options are between one and four)
- Whether it is the first tine that you’ll be travelling without your parents
- Which would be your favourite country to visit?
- How many times did you travel abroad in the last 12 months?
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Eligibility for a Free Interrail Pass
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
- 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
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:
- Flexible travel option **recommended** – You’ll receive a standard ‘X travel days within one month’ global interrail pass (usually 7 travel days within a month). 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.
- Fixed travel option – 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 a flight or countries not in the Interrail scheme such as Estonia or Latvia.
Apparently 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.
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.
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 for the next round are expected to begin in May or June and will likely be open to those who are 18 as of 1st July 2020. Check back or subscribe to keep up to date on this,
I have reached out to DiscoverEU and they have confirmed that citizens of nation states at the time of selection can apply. As Brexit will take place on 31st January 2020, it is unlikely that British citizens will be eligible for future applications.
Yes, citizens of Estonia, Malta and Cyprus will still be able to apply for free interrail passes despite the fact that the global interrail pass is not valid here. When providing travel plans, you may need to use the fixed travel option or a combination of fixed and flex – a representative will help with your booking.
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.
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