Although the UK has left the European Union for some while now, at almost the 11th hour the UK and the EU struck a Brexit Deal which will mean that travellers will need to put measures in place to minimise disruption from the 1st January 2021.
The transition phase comes to an end at 11pm GMT (midnight Central European Time) on 31 December 2020.
After that, life for British visitors to the EU becomes very different. The one exception is for Ireland, where very little changes: notably customs and motor insurance rules.
For everywhere else in the EU, these are the most critical changes with some further updates below from our recent Brexit blog post.
You may need to renew your British passport earlier if you’re travelling to an EU country, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland.
British travellers must now meet the strict rules on passport validity for visitors from “third countries”. In particular, passports issued by non-member countries are regarded as expired once they have been valid for 10 years.
While the expiry date printed in the passport remains valid for the UK and other non-EU countries around the world, within the European Union the issue date is critical.
On the day you travel, you’ll need your passport to both:
- have at least 6 months left
- be less than 10 years old (even if it has 6 months or more left)
Border control: you may have to show your return ticket and money
EU fast-track lanes for passport control will no longer be open to British travellers, although countries that receive a large number of visitors from the UK, such as Spain and Portugal, may make special arrangements. The process is likely to be slower, and with no guarantee of entry.
At present, all a border official can do is to check that the travel document is valid, and that it belongs to you.
At border control, you may now need to:
- show a return or onward ticket
- show you have enough money for your stay
- use separate lanes from EU, EEA and Swiss citizens when queueing
Length of Stay
From 1 January 2021, the EU’s long-standing “90/180 rule” takes effect for British travellers, as the UK chooses to become a third country.
For business travellers who normally stay a long time in Europe, it has significant effects. You may stay only 90 days (about three months) in any 180 (six months) in the Schengen area – comprising almost all the EU countries except Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania. (Ireland is also non-Schengen, but is part of the Common Travel Area with freedom of movement to and from the UK and smaller islands.)
Example: if you spend January, February and March in the Schengen Area – totalling 90 days – you must leave the zone before 1 April and cannot return until 30 June.
You will then be able to spend the summer in Europe until 27 September, when you must leave again. You may not come back until Boxing Day.
Any time spent in the Schengen Area up to the end of 2020 does not count. So if you spend December in Spain, the clock does not start ticking until New Year’s Day.
The European Union has a useful online “short-stay visa calculator”.
The UK government says: “Different rules will apply to Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania. If you visit these countries, visits to other EU countries will not count towards the 90-day total.”
British citizens can stay as long as they like in the Republic of Ireland.
People who have a work or residential visa for a specific EU country will be treated differently.
What happens if I over stay?
In general travellers are given three days’ grace. Any longer than that and they are likely to be handed an entry ban for one year. This applies throughout the Schengen Area – not just the country in which you overstayed.
Can’t I just nip across the border and ‘re-set the clock’?
No. The 90/180 rule applies to the entire Schengen Zone. If you leave the zone (for example by returning to the UK or crossing from Slovenia into Croatia) that exit will be recorded on the central database.
When you return, the frontier officials will check to see how much of your allowance has been used and remains.
Visas for short trips: you will not need one if you’re a tourist
If you’re a tourist, you will not need a visa for short trips to most EU countries, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. You’ll be able to stay for up to 90 days in any 180-day period.
Different rules will apply to Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania. If you visit these countries, visits to other EU countries will not count towards the 90-day total.
You may need a visa or permit to stay for longer, to work or study, or for business travel.
Check each country’s travel advice page for information on how to get a visa or permit.
Travel to Ireland will not change from 1 January 2021. You’ll also be able to work in Ireland in the same way as before.
Returning to the UK
Previously there were no limits on the value of goods you could bring in from European Union nations. From the start of 2021, the European Union will be treated the same as the rest of the world – which means that there are now restrictions.
For alcohol, the limits are 4 litres of spirits or 9 litres of sparkling wine, 18 litres of still wine and 16 litres of beer, which hopefully will see you through at least an evening. Arrivals to the UK will also qualify to bring in 200 duty-free cigarettes.
“Anything that increases the availability of tobacco is a negative step for public health,” the British Medical Association says.
If you exceed any of these limits, you will pay tax on the whole lot. There is a limit of €430 – roughly £400 – for all other goods, from Camembert to clothing.
Your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will continue to be valid if you’re travelling to an EU country.
You can use a UK passport to get medically necessary healthcare in Norway (for example emergency treatment, or to treat a pre-existing condition).
If you’re travelling to Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein, you should get appropriate travel insurance with healthcare cover before you travel. Make sure it covers any pre-existing conditions that were previously covered by your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).
You can read advice on buying travel insurance with the right cover here.
UK-issued EHICs after 1 January 2021
Some people can apply for a new UK EHIC that they can continue to use from 1 January 2021 in the EU, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. People who can apply for the new card include:
- UK students studying in the EU
- some British State Pensioners who live in the EU and their families
- EU nationals in the UK
Find out more about the new UK EHIC here.
At present, there is no legal agreement for any flights between the UK and the European Union from 1 January 2021.
The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, says: “The government’s priority is to ensure that flights can continue to operate safely, securely and punctually between the UK/EU at the end of transition period, regardless of the outcome of negotiations.
“Air travel is vital for both the UK and the EU in connecting people and facilitating trade and tourism, and we are confident measures will be in place to allow for continued air connectivity beyond the end of 2020.”
Some UK airport disruption caused by tough new passport rules may occur in the first few days if significant numbers of British travellers are denied boarding.
Ferries / Eurotunnel
Your rights as a passenger using Eurotunnel’s cross-border shuttle services will remain unchanged.
The EU regulation on passengers’ rights is now UK law. It will continue to protect passengers on ferry services.
Ships will continue to sail and trains will continue to run, but the National Audit Office (NAO) warns that motorists taking their cars to France on ferries from Dover or Eurotunnel from Folkestone face waits of up to two hours once the Brexit transition ends – and that queues could be “much longer” in summer.
Your rights as a rail passenger using either domestic or cross-border rail services will remain unchanged.
The EU regulation on rail passengers’ rights is now UK law. It will continue to protect passengers on cross-border rail services.
Passenger trains linking London St Pancras with Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam will continue to run – but because of travel restrictions applied in response to the coronavirus pandemic, services are currently extremely limited.
You may need extra documents from 1 January 2021.
You might also need an international driving permit (IDP) to drive in some EU countries and Norway if you have:
- a paper driving licence
- a licence issued in Gibraltar, Guernsey, Jersey or the Isle of Man
Check with the embassy of the country you will be driving in.
Under the European Union 2009 motor insurance directive, any vehicle legally insured in one EU country can be driven between other European nations on the same policy.
From 1 January you will need a “Green Card” – an official, multilingual translation of your car insurance that demonstrate you meet the minimum cover requirements for the country you’re visiting.
Insurers will generally provide them free of charge, but require around two weeks’ notice.
From 1 January 2021, the guarantee of free mobile phone roaming throughout the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway will end.
Check with your phone operator to find out about any roaming charges you might get from 1 January 2021. However, we understand that all the big providers do not intend to bring back roaming charges.
O2 says: “We’re committed to providing our customers with great connectivity and value when they travel outside the UK. We currently have no plans to change our roaming services across Europe, maintaining our ‘Roam Like At Home’ arrangements.”
3 says: “We’ll give you free EU roaming just the same.”
EE says: “Our customers enjoy inclusive roaming in Europe and beyond, and we don’t have any plans to change this based on the Brexit outcome. So our customers going on holiday and travelling in the EU will continue to enjoy inclusive roaming.”
Vodafone says: “We have no plans to reintroduce roaming charges after Brexit.”
A new law means that you’re protected from getting mobile data charges above £45 without you knowing.
Once you reach £45, you need to opt in to spend more so that you can continue using the internet while you’re abroad. Your phone operator will tell how you can do this.
For many years British travellers have been able to take a cat, a dog or even a ferret abroad with minimal formalities.
From 1 January 2021 you will not be able to use the existing pet passport scheme. Instead, you’ll need an animal health certificate (AHC) for your pet. Allow at least 1 month to arrange this and relevant vaccinations.
Follow the guidance about pet travel to Europe from 1 January 2021.
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