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Here's what Brexit means for European travel

  • Travel 101
  • By Rachel Lane
  • Published 13 January 2021
  • Revised 28 February 2024
  • Published 13 January 2021
  • Revised 28 February 2024

The freedom of movement that we have enjoyed for decades in and around the European Union has ended at the beginning of this month. Although, post-Brexit travel back and forth into the EU is still a-okay to do, there are a few notable changes to our travel habits that we ought to get familiar with, to help travel plans run smoothly into 2021.


The good news is our old European Union, burgundy-coloured passport is still suitable for use, if it falls within two major brackets. 

  • More than six months away from expiry: If you are travelling from the UK to other EU countries and Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, or Switzerland, you must have at least six-months left on your passport on the day of travel. However, when travelling from the UK to Ireland you can continue to use your passport if it is valid for the length of your stay because Ireland is part of the Common Travel Area.
  • Issued within the last nine years: On the day of travel, passports must be less than 10 years old, even if you have 6 months or more left on the expiry date. This seems an odd rule given that most passports are generally issued with a 10-year valid period. However, it is because of the way the UK renews passports with up to an extra 9-months on top of the usual 10 years - if unexpired time from a previous passport is carried over. Passports that were issued with a life of longer than 10 years will be invalid after the 10-year cut off date.

If you need a new passport, the government is advising that you should apply in plenty of time ahead of your scheduled travel dates to avoid any travel disruption. 
 

Know your passport expiry dates

The good news is our old European Union, burgundy-coloured passport is still suitable for use, if it falls within two major brackets. 

  • More than six months away from expiry: If you are travelling from the UK to other EU countries and Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, or Switzerland, you must have at least six-months left on your passport on the day of travel. However, when travelling from the UK to Ireland you can continue to use your passport if it is valid for the length of your stay because Ireland is part of the Common Travel Area.
  • Issued within the last nine years: On the day of travel, passports must be less than 10 years old, even if you have 6 months or more left on the expiry date. This seems an odd rule given that most passports are generally issued with a 10-year valid period. However, it is because of the way the UK renews passports with up to an extra 9-months on top of the usual 10 years - if unexpired time from a previous passport is carried over. Passports that were issued with a life of longer than 10 years will be invalid after the 10-year cut off date.

If you need a new passport, the government is advising that you should apply in plenty of time ahead of your scheduled travel dates to avoid any travel disruption. 
 

Healthcare while abroad

If you are travelling to the EU, you may already have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), if so, that will remain valid until its expiration date. 

As of the 1st January 2021 the requirements have changed for the new EHIC which means that most of us will now not qualify to be able to apply now or renew our old cards. The only clear exceptions to this are if you are a UK student studying in the EU, a British State Pensioner who lives in the EU or an EU national that resides in the UK. These people can apply for the new UK EHIC that they can use from January 2021 throughout the EU, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. Those who do not fall in any of these brackets should instead look now to apply for a free Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) instead. The GHIC will grant you access to emergency state-provided healthcare while you are travelling. 

If you are going to Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, or Switzerland you cannot use either the GHIC or the old EHIC to get medical treatment, so make sure you have comprehensive travel insurance that covers any pre-existing conditions.

Please remember also that these cards do not work as an alternative for travel insurance and you must make sure you have appropriate travel insurance for you needs, including cover for emergency medical treatment and associated costs. 

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We are quite used to slipping through the border easily when we enter the EU on holiday. Post-Brexit things are set to change, for example, you may now be asked to show a return or onward ticket, demonstrate you have enough money for your stay, as well as using separate lanes in passport control from the EU, EEA, and Swiss Citizens. This means, UK nationals will no longer be able to use fast-track passport control and customs lanes, so be sure to allow for extra time when crossing the UK border.

Changes at the border

We are quite used to slipping through the border easily when we enter the EU on holiday. Post-Brexit things are set to change, for example, you may now be asked to show a return or onward ticket, demonstrate you have enough money for your stay, as well as using separate lanes in passport control from the EU, EEA, and Swiss Citizens. This means, UK nationals will no longer be able to use fast-track passport control and customs lanes, so be sure to allow for extra time when crossing the UK border.

Visas and work permits

Tourists are currently able to stay up to 90 days in any 180-day period without a visa. For most EU countries that will be a 90-day total of travel across all countries in the EU. So, for example, you can enjoy a 4-week trip in Spain and then travel for a further 4-week holiday in France straight after without needing to apply for a visa. This means that for most short tourist trips to EU countries, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, there will be no need to apply for a visa ahead of travelling.

There are slightly different rules when travelling to Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, or Romania. These destinations do keep to the 90 days in a 180-day period, however, will not count periods of travel in other EU countries towards that total. Instead, these four countries allow you to stay up to 90 days in one destination, regardless of other EU travel you have done within that 180-day duration.  

For business travel you may need to apply for a visa, work permit or other documentation if you are planning to stay longer than the 90 days. Work permits will also be needed if you are transferring from a UK branch of a company to a different country (even for a short period), providing a service to a client in another country or providing services in another country as a self-employed person. You can learn detailed foreign travel advice to individual destinations.

Starting in the year 2023 British visitors will need to register online and pay ahead of travel for an ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorisation System). This is a similar system to the ESTA visa that is required for entry into the US, improving security by tracking individuals' travel in and out of the country. 
 


You are unable to take any meat, milk or products containing meat or milk into EU countries, so forget packing any cheese and ham sandwiches for your journey. There are some exceptions to the rule, including travelling with infant powdered milk, infant food and foods that are required for medical reasons. Find out more about the rules on the European Commission Website

As for the types of goods you can return to the UK with, passengers from EU countries can take advantage of duty-free shopping, but limits on tobacco and alcohol will increase. There will also no longer be tax-free airport sales of goods like electronics and clothing.

Contraband

You are unable to take any meat, milk or products containing meat or milk into EU countries, so forget packing any cheese and ham sandwiches for your journey. There are some exceptions to the rule, including travelling with infant powdered milk, infant food and foods that are required for medical reasons. Find out more about the rules on the European Commission Website

As for the types of goods you can return to the UK with, passengers from EU countries can take advantage of duty-free shopping, but limits on tobacco and alcohol will increase. There will also no longer be tax-free airport sales of goods like electronics and clothing.

Driving abroad

If you are planning on taking your own vehicle with you abroad, you will need a Green Card and a GB sticker. This is simply so your car can be easily identified and so that you have proof your vehicle is insured while you are away. A Green Card can take up to six weeks to be issued from your insurer, so it is worthwhile making sure you do this well ahead of time. Note, you should also always carry your driving licence, logbook, and valid insurance documents with you when you are taking your own car overseas.

The good news is that most UK motorists will not need an International Driving Permit (IDP) to drive in the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, or Liechtenstein. You may need to apply for a permit for some other European countries however if you only have a paper licence (not a photocard) or if your licence was issued in Gibraltar, Guernsey, Jersey or the Isle of Man. There is much more information on IDPs to learn.

 


From January 2021, the EU-wide ban on roaming charges for phone calls and internet usage will no longer apply, giving mobile companies the opportunity to bring back large charges. The UK government says it will cap the maximum spend for mobile data use while abroad at £49 per month unless the user positively agrees to pay more. While the four main UK operators have said they have no plans to reintroduce roaming charges, it is worth while checking with your provider to see if you are likely to incur any additional costs prior to use. 

Using your mobile in the EU

From January 2021, the EU-wide ban on roaming charges for phone calls and internet usage will no longer apply, giving mobile companies the opportunity to bring back large charges. The UK government says it will cap the maximum spend for mobile data use while abroad at £49 per month unless the user positively agrees to pay more. While the four main UK operators have said they have no plans to reintroduce roaming charges, it is worth while checking with your provider to see if you are likely to incur any additional costs prior to use. 

Pet Passports

The old EU pet passport scheme now no longer applies, and instead you will need an Animal Health Certificate (AHC) for your pet. These rules will apply throughout most European countries including when travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
AHCs will be issued by a vet and are valid for up to four months. From one certificate you may take a single trip into the EU, onward travel within the EU and re-entry to Great Britain.
Travellers taking their pets are advised to allow at least one month to arrange an AHC and the relevant procedures, as all pets must be microchipped and have a rabies vaccination among other inoculations ahead of travel.

As of the 1st January 2021 the EU now includes the following countries:

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Bulgaria
  • Croatia
  • Cyprus
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • Netherlands
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Romania
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Sweden
The European Economic Area (EEA), is a free-trade zone created in 1994, composed of the states of the European Union together with Iceland, Norway, and Liechtenstein.

One thing is for sure, these minor changes to our arrangements when we travel in and out of the EU are going to have very little impact upon our overall holiday experiences. If you have any questions about upcoming travel into the EU or are looking to organise some future getaways, please feel free to call our personal travel managers today on 0203 816 0985, or make an online enquiry
 

Tagged: Europe
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