The thought of travel, especially on holiday, inevitably raises the spectre of the UK leaving the EU on 29th March and questions about the implications for UK passport holders. The country may already be in the departure lounge for Brexit, but before you plan your next trip, for business or pleasure, you may have some questions.
It is a sad fact that when we searched Google today (11th March 2019) for Brexit travel questions, the UK Government site only appeared half way down the third page of listings! The BBC site is an informative and comprehensive source of top-line information. We have taken the liberty of listing some key facts below, from the site. The full text is available here.
The UK is due to leave the EU this month, right before the Easter holidays. We still don’t know how Britain will leave the EU – with a deal, or without.
If the UK leaves with Theresa May’s deal, then there will be a transition period until the end of 2020, in which little will actually change. If not, then there will be even more questions about what’s happening after 29 March.
Am I OK to book a holiday in the EU?
You might be wondering if it is safe to book at all, given the dire warnings from some about what could happen in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), which offers advice to travellers and represents travel agents and tour operators, advises: “There is nothing to suggest that you will not be able to continue with your holiday plans after 29 March. Even in a no-deal scenario, the European Commission has said flights to and from the UK will still be able to operate.”
It says that those who book a package holiday with a UK-based travel company will have “the most comprehensive consumer protection” as they will continue to be covered by Package Travel Regulations, which entitle them to a full refund if the holiday cannot be provided.
“The best way to protect your holiday is to book a package. It is the travel provider’s responsibility to make sure your holiday is provided and to offer an alternative or refund if it cannot be delivered,” ABTA says.
And as for travelling by plane, the government has said that “flights should continue” as they do today, if there is no deal, adding: “Both the UK and EU want flights to continue without any disruption.”
What documents will I need?
The main question most people want to know is whether or not they will need a visa to get to Europe.
You can breathe a sigh of relief – to some extent – as the European Commission has said UK holidaymakers won’t need a visa even if there’s no deal, ABTA said. However, British people will need to apply for – and buy – a visa waiver to travel to member states after Brexit whether there’s a deal or not.
The ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorisation System), which will cost €7 (£6.30) and be valid for three years, won’t come into force until 2021 though. It’s not just for the UK but many non-EU countries.
In a no deal situation, the European Commission has proposed that you wouldn’t need a visa for short stays in the EU. Visitors would be able to stay for up to 90 days out of any 180-day period, the government has said. You might need a visa before travel if you intend to stay in the Schengen area for more than 90 days though out of that 180-day period.
These rules would come into effect from 29 March 2019.
If there is a Brexit deal, EU citizens and UK nationals will continue to be able to travel freely with a passport or identity card until the end of the transition period in 2020.
When that ends, the European Commission has offered visa-free travel for UK nationals coming to the EU for a short stay, as long as the UK offers the same in return.
But nothing changes in terms of travel to and from the Republic of Ireland. British and Irish citizens will be able to continue to travel freely within the Common Travel Area – the UK, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey, the government says.
Will there be bigger queues at the airport?
It might be a bit too soon to say “without knowing whether it’s a deal or no deal”, says ABTA.
The government says from 29 March, if there’s no deal, most people won’t experience any difference to security screening at airports.
The European Commission has proposed measures to avoid there being any extra security or screening of passengers from the UK when they’re transferring to onward flights at EU airports.
Do I have to get a new passport?
We believe that a critical check to make is on the validity of your passport, as it is quite complicated. This is what the BBC web site says about that issue.
No deal? If the UK leaves without a deal, then new rules will apply. You’ll have to check if your current passport meets those rules and renew it if not.
Basically, British passport holders will be considered third country nationals as part of the Schengen agreement. Other third country nationals are those from places that aren’t in the EU or European Economic Area, like the US and Australia.
So according to the Schengen Border Code, passports from these countries have to have been issued within the previous 10 years and be valid for another three months from the date you plan to depart the Schengen area, which makes up 26 European states.
But because you’re allowed to stay in the Schengen area for up to 90 days, the government is advising you make sure your passport is valid for at least another six months after your arrival.
However, it is also possible that some people with up to 15 months left on their passports could be prevented from travel, the government said.
Between 2001 and 2018, adults who renewed their UK passports before their old one had expired were allowed to have the time left on the old passport added to the new passport, up to a maximum of nine months. This means some people’s current passports may have initially been valid for 10 years and nine months. But, those additional nine months will not be valid for travel to Schengen countries in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
ABTA advises people to check their passports now to see how long they’re valid for.
If there’s a deal, your passport will be valid until its date of expiry for anywhere within the EU.
The UK Government’s web site provides official advice regarding passports at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/passport-rules-for-travel-to-europe-after-brexit
What about the European Health Insurance Card – EHIC?
About 27 million people in the UK have Ehics – which entitles the holder to state-provided medical treatment in the EU and other countries which have reciprocal healthcare agreements with Brussels. They cover pre-existing medical conditions and emergency care.
The scheme will continue during the transition period, if the withdrawal agreement is ratified.
If there is no deal, then in theory the cover provided by an Ehic would cease to exist.
If there is no deal, the advice for those travelling on or after 29 March 2019 to EU countries as well as Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, is to buy travel insurance to cover health care “just as you would if visiting a non-EU country”.
But there could be attempts to put emergency measures in place for UK citizens, or for there to be reciprocal arrangements with individual EU countries. It’s unclear at the moment what the outcome might be.
Are there any changes to insurance?
ABTA says it’s worth making sure what your travel insurance covers and checking the terms and conditions.
For any trips to the EU, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein after 29 March, travellers should make sure their insurance policy covers any possible disruption, the government says. If you already have insurance sorted, then your insurer should let you know if there are any changes that might affect you after the UK leaves the EU.
What will happen with compensation for airline delays?
That’s set to be the same as it is now once the UK leaves the EU – so passengers will be entitled to assistance or compensation if there are boarding problems, delays or cancellations.
What about ferries and Eurostar?
Ferries are covered by international maritime convention so there won’t be any changes, says ABTA.
It’s the same for Eurostar – you’ll still be protected by EU regulation on rail passengers’ rights, as that’s being brought into UK law.
Are mobile phone charges changing?
There’s currently a system in place so you can travel in the EU and won’t be charged extra for roaming – so you can use your mobile for calls, text and data like you would in the UK.
If there’s no deal, that wouldn’t be guaranteed any more – so we could see the return of roaming charges.
The government has said it would introduce a law to cap charges at £45 a month.
If there is a deal, that would be on hold until the start of 2021 and it would then be up to the networks to decide what to do next.
As we have said earlier, we are grateful to BBC journalists for researching this information and sourcing comments from ABTA. Business travel, especially for conferences, incentives and other special events, is our specialist area. We support our clients by attending to the details in the planning and being prepared to deal with contingencies when they arise. Every independent traveller should do the same before they enter the Brexit departure lounge.