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What you need to know about post-Brexit travel to Europe

Rules on travelling to and from EU countries changed on 1 January 2021. We answer 10 key questions regarding the new regulations, from pet passports to the new Global Health Insurance Card and more.

Published 8 Jan 2021, 12:00 GMT, Updated 10 Jan 2022, 15:14 GMT
While many normal travel procedures are unchanged, there’s plenty of new red tape to navigate following the ...

While many normal travel procedures are unchanged, there’s plenty of new red tape to navigate following the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union.

Photograph by Getty Images

The free movement rights of UK citizens in the EU expired at the end of 2020. A year since changes were made to regulations impacting travel to and from the Continent, there’s still some confusion over red tape. While a few pre-Brexit provisions remain intact, there are some evolving changes to navigate. We help you find your way… 

Is my passport still valid?

Since Brexit transition ended, British passport holders are considered ‘third country nationals’ in Europe. Adherent rules about passport expiry dates and limits on length of stay apply in most European countries. Therefore, to travel to the EU a British passport must be:

  • Valid for at least three months after the date you intend to leave the EU country you’re visiting.
  • Issued within the previous 10 years.

NOTE: These two requirements are not dependent on one another. Should British travellers have an extended expiry date over 10 years on their passport this can be counted as part of the three months required from their intended departure from the EU. Some older British passports were issued for up to 10 years and nine months (to allow credit for any ‘unspent’ time when renewing a passport). Since 2018, however, standard adult British passports have been issued with 10 years’ validity.

The previous, burgundy-coloured British EU passports began to be phased out back in March 2020, replaced with the new blue design that recalls pre-EU British passports.

Are there exceptions for Ireland?

EU passport rules won’t apply for trips to Ireland as it’s part of the British Isles' long-established Common Travel Area. Read more.

How long can I stay?

Up to 90 days in any 180-day period within the Schengen Area, plus up to another 90 days in Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania. You may need a visa or permit to stay for longer, to work or study, or for business travel.

Do I need a visa?

British nationals will soon have to apply for an ETIAS (European Travel Information Authorisation System) visa waiver to travel to Europe. The system is expected to be launched on 1 January 2022. It will, however, become completely effective and obligatory for travellers only by the end of 2022. This document grants permission to enter and is similar to applying for an ESTA to visit the US, which electronically checks the eligibility of visitors ahead of travel. Read more. 

What about my pet?

UK pet passports will no longer be valid. Dogs, cats, ferrets and guide dogs will need an animal health certificate from a vet that shows they’ve had the required vaccinations and medical procedures, obtained 10 days before travel; adherent vet visits should begin at least a month ahead of travel in order to complete in time for departure. Read more

What queue do I use at passport control and customs?

EU fast-track passport control and customs lanes are no longer open to British nationals. On arrival in an EU country (except Ireland) you may need to show your return ticket, and prove you have enough money for the duration of your stay.

Can I use my mobile without incurring call roaming charges?

Mobile phone roaming charges may now apply in the EU and Schengen Area; contact your provider to check. Many of the main UK mobile phone networks will reintroduce roaming fees in February 2022. 

Can I still drive in Europe with a British licence?

Yes, but you’ll also need supporting documents. These include a V5C logbook if driving your own car, and a green card from your insurer (applied for six weeks before departure) to prove your vehicle is still covered outside the UK. Full insurance papers and, in some cases, an international driving licence (acquired at post offices for £5.50) are required, too. Read more

What happens if I need medical assistance while away?

Any European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) issued before the end of 2020 will be valid until its expiry date (found on the front of the card), and UK citizens can now apply for a Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC). This will cover chronic or existing illnesses, routine maternity care and emergencies. It’s always advisable to take out travel insurance with medical coverage that includes repatriation, notably for those that have pre-existing conditions. Read more.

Can I shop duty-free?

Yes. British passengers travelling to EU countries can now take advantage of duty-free shopping, and limits on duty-free tobacco and alcohol products will increase. However, the sale of such items as electronics and clothing will now be subject to tax. Read more.

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