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 whether the UK manages to secure an exit deal from the European Union (EU), and what terms are laid down in that agreement.
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.
The situation with Brexit right now
Brexit, the UK’s departure from the EU, was voted for in a June 2016 referendum and was due to happen on 29 March 2019. This deadline has since been extended twice and now stands at 31 January 2020. The UK could leave the EU before this date, if it agrees to a deal that is approved by parliament. It could also leave the EU without a deal, or request another extension.
Current Prime Minister Boris Johnson has negotiated the terms of a new withdrawal agreement, but whether or not this passes into law depends on the results of the UK’s upcoming general election, set for 12 December. If a deal is enacted to leave the EU, the UK would enter a transition period that ends on 31 December 2020. During this period, the UK won’t be a member of the EU but virtually all EU rules and regulations will continue to apply.
Deal or no deal
How your travel plans are affected by this ongoing saga will depend very much on whether the UK secures an exit deal on or before 31 January. If it does reach an agreement, little will change in terms of how you travel – regardless of where you’re coming from – in the next year. If there’s a no deal, the outlook is more unclear but measures are already in place to contain any impact on the tourism industry.
Is it OK to travel after Brexit?
In a word: yes. The uncertainty around what will happen with Brexit is causing a lot of confusion, but ultimately, you shouldn’t shelve your plans for a European escape.
The Association of British Travel Agents has confirmed that, even in the case of a no-deal Brexit, 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 working on contingency plans to minimise disruption.
If a deal *is* secured, nothing will change in terms of how you travel until 2021, when the transition period is complete. 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. 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 online tool.
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.
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, even in the event of a no-deal. 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.
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 Brexit deal that is negotiated.
How will Brexit affect flights to and from the UK?
Halting flights is not in anyone’s interests, so airlines have already got back-ups in place to keep travel as consistent as possible under EU and UK law – even in the event of a no-deal. This means it’s very unlikely that passengers will be stranded, or flights grounded, the day after a no-deal occurs.
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.
How will Brexit affect Eurostar routes?
Eurostar says it expects to maintain services on its existing basis, timetables and terms and conditions following Brexit; whether or not the UK leaves with a deal.
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 deal, 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.
Will Brexit change requirements for travel insurance?
Yes: the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) available to UK citizens may become invalid under Brexit. This makes it all the more important for Britons travelling to Europe to get good healthcare insurance. EHIC covers pre-existing medical conditions, whereas many insurance policies do not. The NHS says that, if a no-deal Brexit happens, you should purchase insurance “just as you would if visiting a non-EU country”. In the event of a ratified withdrawal agreement, EHIC will continue to be valid to 2021.
Travellers from outside the UK should purchase comprehensive travel insurance as before, but check the policy to ensure it covers both the UK and Europe (given they will be separate entities).
What impact will Brexit have on the exchange rate?
Uncertainty over Brexit has already seen the pound fall to its lowest level since 1985 and if a no-deal happens, its value will plummet further. 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.
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 if a Brexit deal happens until the end of the transition period in December 2020.
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 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.
How can I protect myself from the potential fallout of Brexit?
Make sure whoever you are travelling will refund you in case of any Brexit-related problems, delays or cancellations.
If you’re travelling on or the day after Brexit, get comprehensive travel insurance that covers both the UK and Europe (if you’re an international visitor) or that includes pre-existing medical conditions (if you’re travelling from the UK to Europe).
In the event of a no-deal, plan ahead and leave more time for possible delays. Also seek advice and updates from official channels wherever you can.
If 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.
Recap: How does Brexit affect UK citizens travelling to Europe?
If there’s a deal, 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.
Recap: How does Brexit affect worldwide citizens travelling to the UK and Europe?
If there’s a deal, travel as normal until December 2020; then follow advice from your country’s embassy.
If there’s no deal, contact your travel operators for news or advice on any potential delays that will affect your movements between the UK and Europe. Your passport and visa requirements are unlikely to change, but it’s definitely worth checking with your embassy before you travel. Buy comprehensive travel insurance and make sure it covers both the UK and Europe.
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.
If a Brexit deal goes through, 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 here, 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, 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: Flash Pack, Shutterstock, Linh Nguyen on Unsplash