Travelling to Europe after Brexit: what you need to know

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From visas to border delays, your must-have info for travelling to Europe after Brexit

Like it or loathe it, Brexit is set to reframe the UK’s relationship with the wider world – with a direct impact on the travel industry. How exactly this takes shape depends on the terms of any trade deal that the UK secures with Europe, following its departure from the European Union (EU) last month.

Below, we’ve pulled together the most likely scenarios for how Brexit will change travelling requirements for UK and international citizens. The outlook is constantly shifting, so we’ll update this piece to keep pace with events. This piece was last updated in February 2020.

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The situation with Brexit right now

Brexit, the UK’s departure from the EU, was voted for in a June 2016 referendum and was originally due to happen on 29 March 2019. This deadline was extended twice to 31 January 2020. Prime Minister Boris Johnson negotiated the terms of a new withdrawal agreement, and this passed into law last month (at the end of January 2020), following the majority win of his Conservative government in the UK December election.

This means the UK has now left the EU, and has entered a transition period that ends on 31 December 2020. During this period, the UK won’t be a member of the EU politically but virtually all EU rules and regulations will continue to apply.

The priority for the UK now is to negotiate a trade deal with the EU by the end of the transition period in December 2020. If it fails to do so, the UK will enter a no-deal Brexit.

How does this affect your travel plans?

Little will change between now and December for travellers coming to and from the UK. But what happens beyond that depends on the terms of the future relationship mapped out in negotiation talks.

It’s in everyone’s interests to protect the tourism industry, and keep it running as smoothly as possible. The worst outcome is that the UK cannot secure a trade deal but – for now at least – that risk has subsided.

The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) says it’s working to ensure that the public can continue to travel with the same rights and freedoms as they have today. Any potential changes here will mostly affect UK and EU citizens, as opposed to those travelling from further afield.

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One big area up for debate is reciprocal healthcare between the UK and the EU. The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) currently allows reduced cost or free state healthcare for UK and EU citizens travelling in European Economic Area countries and Switzerland. This remains valid to December 2020, but it’s not yet clear what will happen when the transition period ends.

The same goes for EU identity cards: they remain valid for travel to the UK for now, but it’s not yet guaranteed that they will work after December. Those who travel to work between the UK and the EU (for example, seasonal ski staff) may also find their rights affected via any trade deal or lack thereof.

Trade talks will also focus around  a comprehensive air service agreement to protect European flights. This will help firm up contingency plans drawn up by airlines and associated industries to avoid any delays in the event of a no-deal

The pound is also likely to be affected by the process of UK-EU talks, and any deal agreed. Any downturn is bad news for UK travellers, but good news for everyone else.

How exactly all this pans out depends on the terms of a deal agreed over the course of the following months. If a deal is not reached, the outlook is more unclear. However, measures are already in place to contain any impact on the tourism industry.

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Is it OK to travel after Brexit?

In a word: yes. The uncertainty around Brexit has caused a lot of confusion, but ultimately, you shouldn’t shelve your plans for a European escape.

Now that the UK has left the EU, and entered a transition period, nothing will change in terms of how you travel until that period ends on 31 December 2020.

This means that flights, ferries, trains and other routes will continue to operate between the UK and Europe. Providers across the industry are taking bookings as usual, and all normal passport, visa and insurance rules apply – regardless of where you’re travelling from.

What happens after December depends on the terms of any trade deal agreed between the UK and the EU. Meanwhile, a weak pound is actually an incentive for international visitors to get in while the going’s hot (so to speak).

By all means travel, then, but do so with the following knowledge tucked under your hat…

How will Brexit affect passport requirements for Europe?

As a British citizen, the UK government advises that you should have at least six months left on your passport in order to guarantee travel to Europe after Brexit kicks in on 1 January 2021. It also has to have been issued within the previous 10 years. If you’re from the UK, you can see whether your passport is valid for travel after Brexit using this by checking this info portal.

Citizens from other countries will continue to require a valid passport to enter the UK and travel onwards to Europe. Check with your country’s embassy for more details.

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How will Brexit affect visa requirements for Europe?

According to the European Parliament, UK travellers won’t need a visa to travel to the EU after Brexit. So as a UK citizen, you’ll be able to stay in the EU for up to 90 days in a 180-day period without a visa, providing you aren’t working or studying there.

Currently, citizens from a number of countries including Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand and Japan can travel to the UK without a visa. This is unlikely to change after Brexit, but the situation is fluid: check with your country’s embassy for the latest advice.

However, requirements for both UK and international visitors will change under the enactment of ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorisation System) in January 2021. This visa waiver system will be a requirement for British citizens and 60 other nationalities who can currently visit Europe visa-free.

Travellers from these countries will need to complete an ETIAS application before they visit Europe. ETIAS has been developed to improve security and border control, but the UK’s inclusion in it depends on the terms of any trade deal that is negotiated.

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How will Brexit affect flights to and from the UK?

Halting flights is not in anyone’s interests, so airlines have already got back-up plans in place to keep travel as consistent as possible under EU and UK law – even in the event that a trade deal fails. This means it’s very unlikely that passengers will be stranded, or flights grounded, if a no-deal Brexit happens after the transition period ends on 31 December.

Flights between the UK and Europe are expected to continue operating under contingency plans, and the UK government and European Commission have both given assurances that this will be the case.

However, these measures would only be temporary, and it’s unclear how long they would last. The industry will need to work hard to ensure both regular routes and reasonable prices are maintained in a Brexit era, for UK and worldwide visitors.

The travel industry is currently working with the UK government and EU member states to make a comprehensive air service agreement part of any deal on the table. British aviation companies are pushing to to operate flights between the UK and EU without barriers, although the EU has argued that UK airlines cannot have the same rights and benefits as an EU member state.

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How will Brexit affect Eurostar routes?

Eurostar says it’s maintaining services on its existing basis, timetables and terms and conditions following Brexit. It’s working with border authorities on both sides of the Channel to ensure services operate as normal, whether or not the UK leaves with a deal on 31 December.

How will Brexit affect ferry and coach routes?

Ferry routes operate under international maritime rules, meaning they will continue to sail as usual. Coach journeys to European countries are also expected to operate, and companies are taking bookings as normal.

Will Brexit cause delays at ports and borders?

If the UK exits Europe without a trade deal on 31 December, queues and delays at passport control are likely in the short-term. The government predicts that EU entry points such as St Pancras, Folkestone and Dover will see increased immigration checks and traffic bottlenecks under a no-deal scenario, while border checks at UK and EU airports may also cause delays. This could be an issue for both UK travellers and international visitors using the UK as a gateway to Europe.

The European Commission has put forward measures to avoid additional screening of UK passengers when they’re transferring to onward flights at EU airports.

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Will Brexit change requirements for travel insurance?

Yes: the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) remains valid for now but it’s not clear whether it will continue to be after 31 December. The UK and EU are currently working on an agreement for reciprocal healthcare but it may not happen.

This makes it all the more important for Britons travelling to Europe and Europeans travelling to the UK to get good healthcare insurance. EHIC covers pre-existing medical conditions, whereas many insurance policies do not.

Travellers from beyond Europe should purchase comprehensive travel insurance as before, but check the policy to ensure it covers both the UK and Europe (given they are now separate entities).

What impact will Brexit have on the exchange rate?

The economy likes certainty, and so we can expect the exchange rate to fluctuate in response to any developments over trade negotiations this year. This follows a pattern we’ve already seen: the pound fell to its lowest level since 1985 amid Brexit chaos last year, but picked up again when the UK left the EU at the end of January. If the UK fails to reach a deal with the UK  by December, its value will plummet once again.

This is good news for international visitors coming to the UK; tourism numbers have already soared in recent years, as visitors rush to take advantage of the weak pound. However, it’s less helpful for UK citizens travelling to Europe, for obvious reasons. If that’s you, here are some savvy currency tricks you can use to reign in spending abroad and minimise the hit. The pound’s value may rise if a Brexit deal is secured, depending on how that happens.

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How will Brexit affect smartphone roaming charges?

At the moment, EU citizens including the UK don’t have to pay for additional roaming charges when travelling to another EU country. This will continue to apply until the end of the transition period on 31 December.

It may well continue beyond that, and also in the event of a no-deal, since the decision ultimately comes down to phone operators. Most UK networks have indicated that they will not bring back charges, regardless of how trade negotiations turn out. The government has also pledged to introduce a law that will cap roaming charges at £45 a month.

If you’re travelling from further afield, you may want to purchase a prepaid SIM card or data bundle, in order to avoid the usual international data fees.

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How can I protect myself from the potential fallout of Brexit?

Basically, you can sit tight on any travel plans made to 31 December 2020, when the UK’s transition period for EU withdrawal ends. Nothing will change between now and then. But if you’re making plans beyond that, make sure whoever you are travelling will refund you in case of any Brexit-related problems, delays or cancellations.

In the event of that Britain exits the EU without a trade deal on 31 December, plan ahead and leave more time for possible delays – especially if you’re travelling immediately afterwards. Also seek advice and updates from official channels wherever you can.

If a no-deal happens and you’re travelling as a UK citizen to Europe, research currency tips that will help the poor exchange rate stretch further. If you’re travelling to the UK and Europe from further afield, try to order only as much cash as you need in the UK – so you can avoid exchanging pounds for Euros.

Whatever happens, and wherever you’re travelling from, check the small print of your insurance policy. You want to be covered in both the UK and Europe, and for pre-existing medical conditions. Bear in mind you may also need to complete an ETIAS visa application after 31 December 2020.

If you’re travelling as a UK or EU citizen after 31 December 2020, be aware that your EHIC card for free or reduced healthcare may not work, and you’ll need six months’ validity on your passport.

We’ll let you know more on all the above details as they are clarified.

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Recap: How does Brexit affect UK citizens travelling to Europe?

You can travel as normal until December 2020; then follow government advice.

If there’s no deal, make sure you have at least six months’ validity on your passport, and get comprehensive travel insurance that covers pre-existing medical conditions. Check with your network for advice on roaming charges and be strategic about how you travel in order to sidestep possible border delays.

Whether or not there’s a deal, you’ll probably need to apply for a three-year ETIAS card in order to travel to Europe in 2021 and beyond. Keep posted for further advice on this.

It’s also worth noting that Brexit will affect UK driving licences and the current Pet Travel Scheme, meaning both driving abroad and travelling with pets may become more expensive/difficult to do in post-Brexit Europe.

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Recap: How does Brexit affect worldwide citizens travelling to the UK and Europe?

Travel as normal until December 2020; then follow advice from your country’s embassy.

If there’s no deal on 31 December, contact your travel operators for news or advice on any potential delays that will affect your movements between the UK and Europe. Your passport requirements are unlikely to change, but you may well need to fill out an ETIAS visa application for travel to certain EU countries. Check with your embassy or tour operator before you travel.

Buy comprehensive travel insurance and make sure it covers both the UK and Europe.

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Travelling to Europe after Brexit: final thoughts

No-one can predict exactly what will happen with Brexit, but you shouldn’t let it get between you and your dreams of a European adventure. The travel industry is buoyant, and providers across all spheres (hotels, transport, customs) are working to make the transition as smooth as possible.

For now, nothing will change with travel until the transition period ends in December 2020 – and more guidance will be issued in the meantime. A no-deal spells more uncertainty, but even in this scenario, immediate travel between the UK and Europe is likely to be subject to delays rather than anything else. It’s very unlikely that, if you’re travelling in Europe during a no-deal Brexit after 31 December 2020, you’d find yourself stranded.

Wherever you’re travelling from, the best thing you can do is stay aware and up-to-date with developments. Leave plenty of time to check ahead on visa and passport requirements, and scour the small print of your flight/train/boat bookings to ensure you’re covered in the case of any Brexit-related cancellations.

So, go ahead and make good on that wish-list escape to Europe: just stay tuned as you go.

Images: Shutterstock, Unsplash

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