I've read https://europa.eu/youreurope/citizens/travel/entry-exit/non-eu-family/index_en.htm and some of the linked documents. I can't quite understand where does the following warning comes from:

If you live outside the EU and your non-EU family members accompany you or travel to the EU country of your nationality, EU cross-border rules do not necessarily apply and your non-EU family members might be charged visa fees.

I specifically cannot find any information about the above in this directive: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/HTML/?uri=CELEX:02004L0038-20110616&from=EN#tocId44

Could someone clarify this for me:

  • what is the source of this warning - is there another directive?
  • and specifically - when they say "rules do not necessarily apply" - what is the meaning of "do not necessarily", where can I find the conditions and the scope of whether they apply or not?

1 Answer 1


The directive does in fact state as much, in article 3(1):

This Directive shall apply to all Union citizens who move to or reside in a Member State other than that of which they are a national, and to their family members as defined in point 2 of Article 2 who accompany or join them.

That's the source of the warning on Europa.eu: By default, the rules simply do not apply in your own country. But the CJEU has created a bunch of exceptions so they cannot simply write that the rules do not apply at all. The most famous of these cases, the Surinder Singh case, extended freedom of movement rights to everybody who is returning to their country of citizenship after exercising those rights elsewhere. That's why the advice mentions living outside the EU. For if you do live in the EU, there is a good chance freedom of movement rights do apply to you and your family, even in your own country.

That's not the only exception carved out by the court. Unfortunately, if you go beyond the obvious scope defined in the directive (Union citizens in a country other than their own), understanding exactly when freedom of movement rules do or not apply requires tracking an ever evolving case law.

Finally, some member states have also extended the same benefits to their own citizens' family in national law. In other words, the rule do apply, not because the EU requires they do but because the country decided so. That's another way in which they can effectively apply beyond the scope initially defined in the treaties and directive.

To find out more, it can be useful to look up your country's public information website about entry and visas. Some of them do a good job of reflecting current EU law or, at least, the country's interpretation of EU law. It would also reflect national rules that are as advantageous when they exist.

  • 1
    "to their own citizens" or "to their own citizens' family members"? I know that the derivative rights exist for the benefit of the citizen, but the effect of the derivative rights is most directly felt by the family member. It's a fine distinction, obviously. Maybe "to their own citizens and their family members" is the most precise way to say it, though it's certainly the least concise.
    – phoog
    Nov 12, 2021 at 7:46
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    I would perhaps add an explicit response to the question "where can I find the conditions and the scope of whether they apply or not," noting each country's conditions are usually to be found in that country's public information about visa fees. It is harder to find in some cases than in others, however.
    – phoog
    Nov 12, 2021 at 7:54
  • Thank you, that's very helpful! Can I ask for a small clarification - does "returning to their country of citizenship" mean returning to reside in the country of citizenship or does it also include occasional visits - to see family etc. Nov 12, 2021 at 10:46
  • 2
    @PawełBadeński It includes occasional visits (covered in article 5 and 6 of the directive). As an example, the 2014 McCarthy decision (case C‑202/13, there is an earlier completely unrelated McCarthy case regarding freedom of movement) was about short visits (and a bunch of other issues but there wouldn't be a case if freedom of movement did not apply in the first place).
    – Relaxed
    Nov 12, 2021 at 11:33
  • @phoog You're right it makes more sense to emphasise family members in this context.
    – Relaxed
    Nov 12, 2021 at 11:35

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