At the request of the European Commission, EFSA prepared the general guidelines for surveys of plant pests, describing the legal, international and scientific context in which the surveys are designed, the basic principles implemented for surveillance of quarantine pests and introducing the concepts needed for the design of statistically sound and risk‐based surveys. Three types of specific surveys are addressed: detection surveys for substantiation of pest freedom, delimiting surveys for determining the boundaries of an infested zone, and monitoring surveys for prevalence estimation when measuring the progress of eradication measures or for confirming a low pest prevalence area. For each survey, the survey parameters are introduced and their interactions analysed showing the importance of the assumptions that are taken for each one of them: (i) the aims of the survey are defined as the confidence of detectinga given pest prevalence(design prevalence), this reflects the trade‐off between the acceptable level of the risk and availability of resources that determine the strength of the evidence to support the conclusion of the survey;(ii) the target populationis addressed in terms of its structure and size,including the risk factors;and (iii) the method sensitivityis defined as the combination of the sampling effectiveness and the diagnostic sensitivity. EFSA's RiBESS+ tool is introduced for calculating the sample size using the survey parameters as input values for a statistically sound and risk‐based survey design. The mathematical principles behind the tool are in line with the International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures. The survey design is flexible and can be tailored to each pest and specific situation in the Member States. Once the survey is implemented following this approach, the conclusions allow surveys to be compared across time and space, contributing to the harmonisation of surveillance activities across the EU Member States.