The EU is giving away 35,000 free rail passes to young people.
Dubbed DiscoverEU, the scheme is part of the Erasmus programme and aims to nurture cultural connections in the European Union. It will offer 18-year-olds the chance to explore Europe’s heritage and history while meeting people from across the continent.
Here’s who’s eligible and how to apply.
DiscoverEU: How to apply for a free EU rail pass
You can apply online to be in with a chance of winning a free rail pass.
Applicants must be 18-years-old on 1 July 2023 to be eligible - meaning your birth date must fall between 1 July 2004 and 30 June 2005. Proof of identification is required at the application stage.
The scheme is open to legal residents of the 27 EU member states or Overseas Countries. Residents of third countries associated with Erasmus can also apply. These include Iceland, Liechtenstein, North Macedonia, Norway, Serbia and Turkey.
Applications for the free rail passes opened today (15 March) on the European Youth Portal and will end on 29 March at midday.
Once you have passed the eligibility check, which covers your age and nationality, you will need to take a quiz with five multiple-choice questions. These cover general knowledge about the European Union and other EU initiatives aimed at young people.
You will also be asked to give more information about your travel plans. This includes when you plan to travel, whether it will be the first time you have travelled alone without your parents, what you would like to learn from the experience and how you will finance your trip. This information will not have any impact on the selection process.
You cannot apply if you have previously been given a DiscoverEU pass.
How will the free rail pass scheme work?
Rail passes lasting up to one month will be awarded for travel between 15 June 2023 and 30 September 2024.
At the application stage, you can choose to either travel alone or with a group of up to five friends. If you choose to travel as a group, you can share your application code with your friends to allow their registration.
The travel pass can be used in your residency country only for one outbound and one inbound journey. It must include travel to at least one other country eligible under the scheme. The overall journey can last from one day up to a maximum of one month, including up to seven travel days.
Participants will generally be eligible for a pass worth up to €251 in second or economy class. The amount may be raised for applicants travelling from remote or overseas regions.
In some cases, coach and ferry passes will be included too. To ensure young people living in remote areas or on islands are not excluded, flights may also be awarded in exceptional cases. The most sustainable option will always be favoured.
If you’re one of the lucky awardees, you will also be given a European Youth Card (EYCA) valid for one year. This offers discounts for cultural visits and activities, learning, nature, sports, local transportation, accommodation, food and more across the EU.
How will applicants be selected?
Applicants will be selected up to the available budget and ranked following the correctness of their replies.
There is a quota of travel passes set for each country. If a country has fewer applications than the quota, the remaining passes will be distributed to countries with a higher number of applications.
If there are too many eligible applicants, a ‘first come, first served’ principle will apply - meaning earlier applications could be favoured as a last resort.
Successful applicants will be notified by email after the selection period has ended in May.
They will then be connected with an EU contractor who will take care of the travel bookings and payments. Passes purchased directly by the selected applicants will not be reimbursed.
Is anything expected in return for the free rail passes?
When you apply for a free pass, you must agree to become a ‘DiscoverEU Ambassador’. This means you are encouraged to report back on your travel experiences through social media or school and community presentations.
The scheme’s app will allow you to create a customised map of your itinerary with statistics on the number of trains taken, number of countries visited and CO2 savings, which can be shared on social media.
Young travellers will also need to report back in an online survey after taking part in the scheme.
Are there any other free rail pass schemes in Europe?
French and German citizens under the age of 27 will soon be able to apply for free train tickets between the two countries.
It has been announced that 60,000 free rail passes will be made available to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty.
Spanish citizens and tourists in Spain of all ages can also take advantage of a free train travel scheme until December 2023.