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What Brexit Means For You

Changes in Travel Arrangments

Technically the UK has left the European Union. But from the traveller’s point of view, nothing significant has changed during the transition phase. This came to an end at 11pm GMT (midnight Central European Time) on 31 December 2020.

One exception is for Ireland, where relatively little changes. Freedom of movement to and from the UK (and smaller islands) is guaranteed under the provisions of the Common Travel Agreement. The most significant effects involve taking pets across the Irish Sea, the reintroduction of customs controls between the island of Ireland and Great Britain, and the possible need for a “Green Card” to extend motor insurance cover to the Republic.

For everywhere else in Europe, the most critical changes are detailed below. For clarification, the Schengen Area comprises almost all the EU countries except Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland and Romania – plus Andorra, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, San Marino, Switzerland and the Vatican City.

If you have a burgundy passport with “European Union” on the cover, it will continue to be valid as a UK travel document. But it loses all its EU powers. From the start of 2021, European rules on passport validity become much tougher – and there are several different interpretations of the rules.

You need to have at least 6 months left on an adult or child passport to travel to most countries in Europe (not including Ireland).

If you renewed your current passport before the previous one expired, extra months may have been added to its expiry date. Any extra months on your passport over 10 years will not count towards the 6 months needed.

Border formalities when entering the EU
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.

But immigration procedures will be slower, and British travellers will no longer have any guarantee of entry.

At present, all that a border official can do is to check the travel document is valid, and that it belongs to you.

From 1 January 2021, the official is required by EU law to conduct deeper checks. They may ask for the purpose of the visit; where you plan to travel and stay; how long you intend to remain in the EU; how you propose to fund your stay; and whether you constitute a threat to public health.

Careful with your snacks and sandwiches: travellers will not be able to take meat, milk or products containing them from the UK into EU countries from 1 January 2021.

There is an exemption for powdered infant milk, infant food, and special foods required for medical reasons, if they weigh less than 2kg and are packaged proprietary brand products for direct sale to the final consumer.

Length of stay
From 1 January 2021, as the UK chooses to become a third country, the EU’s long-standing “90/180 rule” takes effect for British travellers.

For holidaymakers and 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.

Example: if you spend January, February and March in the Schengen Area (totalling 90 days), then 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 overstay?
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 a 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 calculate how much remains.

Business travellers
People travelling to attend meetings, trade fairs, etc can continue to travel to most EU countries without additional paperwork – bearing in mind that any time spent in them will be subtracted from the “90 days in any 180” total.

But each nation is able to impose its own stipulations on business travellers from third countries.

For trips to Cyprus, Denmark, Hungary and Malta, you will need a business visa or work permit "in case the short-term business visitor supplies a service”.

Other EU countries, too, will take an interest in the reason for your business trip. If they deem it is to “supply a service” then they may also require you to apply for a permit or visa.

Tour guides
Each EU member makes its sovereign decisions about people from “third countries” (now including UK) working as tour guides in their country.

In key nations including Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, France, and Spain, it appears they are simply not permitted.

In Greece, they are allowed to guide if they hold a diploma from the Tourist Guide Schools of the Greek Ministry of Tourism. In Italy, the question of permission is devolved to each region.

Initially British travellers will not need to apply in advance for permission to enter the EU. But from 2022 (or possibly later) British visitors will need to register online and pay in advance for an “Etias“ permit under the European Travel Information and Authorisation System. This is a relatively light-touch visa, akin to the Esta used by the US. It will cost €7 (£6) for a three-year permit. The 90/180 rule will continue to prevail – limiting the amount of time that can be spent in the Schengen Area.

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 strict limits.

For alcohol, the amounts are generous: 4 litres of spirits or 9 litres of sparkling wine, 18 litres of still wine and 16 litres of beer, which should 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. But the previous practice of buying large quantities of cigarettes or tobacco in countries such as Belgium or the eastern European states will have to cease.

If you exceed any of these limits, you will pay tax on the whole lot.

There is a limit of €430/£390 – for all other goods, from Camembert to clothing. Unlike travelling from the UK to the European Union, there are no restrictions on meat and dairy products in the other direction.

Health care
For more than 40 years, British travellers have benefited from free or very low-cost medical treatment in the EU and its predecessor organisations. The European Health Insurance Card (Ehic) and the document it replaced, the E111, have proved extremely valuable for many elderly travellers, and/or people with pre-existing medical conditions.

Your Ehic will continue to be valid if you’re travelling to the European Union, but the card will no longer apply among the EU hangers-on (Switzerland plus the EEA trio of Norway, Iceland and plucky Liechtenstein). But elsewhere, in the 27 nations of the European Union, holders will continue to be able to get free or reduced-rate health care into the future.

The government now says: “Your Ehic will continue to be valid if you’re travelling to the EU.”

The card will no longer apply among the EU hangers-on (Switzerland plus the EEA trio of Norway, Iceland and plucky Liechtenstein). But elsewhere, in the 27 nations of the European Union, holders will continue to be able to get free or reduced-rate health care into the future.

The NHS says: “Unless you’re eligible for an Ehic from 1 January 2021, we are not currently issuing new cards.” Instead, if you need treatment abroad you should get a provisional replacement certificate (PRC).

You, or a companion or family member, must call NHS Overseas Healthcare Services on +44 191 218 1999 during working hours (Monday to Friday, 8am-6pm). You must have your National Insurance number and the name of the hospital or other medical facility that is currently treating you.

The UK government is promising a "Global Health Insurance Card” (Ghic) from an unspecified date in the New Year. It may also cover the hangers-on and other countries, and there has been speculation that it may live up to its word and be worldwide – or at least intercontinental.

The Independent is trying to find out more, including when the scheme will start and how it will work.

EU nationals in the UK will be able to apply for a British Ehic card, as will UK students studying in the European Union – and some British pensioners who live in the EU, plus their families.

UK motorists will not need an International Driving Permit to drive in the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein. But if your driving licence was issued in Gibraltar, Guernsey, Jersey or the Isle of Man, you may need an IDP to drive in some EEA countries from 1 January 2021.

EU nations will be able to come after UK drivers for offences including speeding, failure to wear a seatbelt, failure to stop at a red light, not wearing a motorbike helmet or using bus lanes.

Motor insurance
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 demonstrates you meet the minimum cover requirements for the country you're visiting.

The UK government says: “You should plan to carry one for the vehicle you’re driving in the EU, EEA, Switzerland, Serbia or Andorra, from 1 January 2021. This includes driving in Ireland.”

If you are towing a caravan, you will need an additional Green Card and possibly extra insurance.

The government warns: "You must carry a physical copy of your Green Card when driving abroad. Electronic versions of Green Cards are not acceptable.

“If you need a physical copy of your Green Cards, contact your vehicle insurance provider at least six weeks before you travel. Or, you can now print green cards yourself."

UK airlines will be able to continue to fly to the European Union and vice-versa. But the EU brochure on the agreement says: “British carriers will no longer be able to fly on routes within the EU." That is why easyJet set up an Austrian subsidiary, to allow the airline to continue to fly intra-EU links.

Some airport disruption may occur if significant numbers of British travellers are denied boarding due to the changed passport rules. But the collapse in air travel triggered by the widespread restrictions on UK flights means very few passengers will be flying early in the New Year.

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.

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.

Mobile phones
From 1 January 2021, the EU-wide ban on roaming charges for phone calls and internet use no longer applies to people with UK mobile phones. Providers will be free to impose whatever fees they wish.

But all the big providers have told The Independent they 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.”

Should these or other providers introduce roaming charges, the government says it will cap the maximum for mobile data usage while abroad at £49 per month unless the user positively agrees to pay more.

For many years British travellers have been able to take a cat, a dog or even a ferret abroad with minimal formalities. But pet passports will run out at the end of the year, making journeys with cats, dogs and ferrets to the EU more complicated.

And for the first time, taking a pet to Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK will involve red tape – and a rabies vaccination for the animal – due to the “border in the Irish Sea” that the government has agreed to.

While animal owners from Northern Ireland will continue to have access to the EU’s pet passport scheme, those in England, Wales and Scotland will need to obtain an “animal health certificate” in advance of every visit to the European Union and Northern Ireland, showing their pet has been vaccinated against rabies.

In addition, for entry from Great Britain into Northern Ireland and the republic, as well as to Finland and Malta, pet dogs will have to be treated against Echinococcus multilocularis – an especially unpleasant tapeworm.

After the Brexit transition phase ends, owners in Great Britain taking their pets to Northern Ireland will need to get an animal health certificate issued by an official vet attesting to a rabies vaccination.

Coming home will be the same as now. “There will be no change to the current health preparations for pets entering Great Britain from the EU from 1 January 2021,” says the UK government.

Five steps to take when travelling to Europe from 1 January 2021
1. Check to see if your passport will still be valid
If you have a British passport, you will need to have at least six months left on your passport and your passport must have been issued within the last 10 years.
You can use the Government’s passport checker to see if you need to renew your passport.

2. Take out travel insurance with adequate healthcare cover
We always advise travellers to take out comprehensive travel insurance with sufficient healthcare cover, including cover for existing medical conditions and any activities you plan to do. ABTA has advice on finding the right travel insurance.

If you have a European Health Insurance Card it will be valid up to its expiry date.

3. Make sure you have all the documents you need to drive in Europe
Green cards for insurance – if you are driving your own car in Europe, you will need to obtain and carry a physical Green Card for your UK car insurance to be valid in the EU. These cards will be available from your car insurance provider. You may be charged a small fee to cover administration costs. The ABI advises you apply for a Green Card at least a month before you are due to travel. You may also need a Green Card for your trailer or caravan, so check with your insurer.

GB car stickers – you will need a GB sticker for your own car when driving in the EU after the transition period ends.

Driving permits – if you have a paper licence or your driving licence was issued in Gibraltar, Guernsey, Jersey or the Isle of Man you may need an international driving permit (IDP) to drive in some EU countries and Norway from 1 January 2021. These are available from the Post Office.

4. Get the necessary vaccines and certificate to take your pet abroad
Your pet passport will no longer be valid, instead you will need an Animal Health Certificate and you pet will need to be mircrochipped and vaccinated against rabies. If you wish to take your pet abroad you should speak to your vet in advance to make sure you have these in place before you are due to travel. Full details can be found at gov.uk.

5. Check your mobile phone company’s policy on data roaming
Rules around mobile data roaming are changing meaning you may face charges when using your phone abroad, including for making calls, sending messages or using the internet. Check with your mobile phone provider about their data roaming policy.
The UK Government also has advice for people travelling to the EU after 1 January 2021.

Other things to be aware of when travelling to Europe
If you are going on holiday you won’t need a visa for short trips to Europe.
At border control you may need to show a return ticket and that you have enough money for your stay.
When going through passport control you may not be able to use the EU or EEA lanes.
You won’t be able to take any meat, milk or any products containing these items into the EU. There are exceptions for powdered baby milk, baby food, or pet food required for medical reasons.

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