With less than six months until the end of the UK’s Brexit transition period, the government has launched a public information campaign to help travellers prepare for the changes.
Called The UK’s new start: let’s get going, the campaign – also running under the hashtag #CheckChangeGo – will appear across numerous communication channels and will target UK citizens intending to travel to Europe from 1 January, 2021,the day after the transition period ends.
It also addresses UK nationals living in the EU, and EU, EEA or Swiss citizens living in the UK. There is also coverage of issues affecting businesses, primarily importers from and exporters to the EU.
Here we outline what it’s revealed about European travel from 1 January 2021, with tips on ensuring your future European travels run as smoothly as possible.
What will change on 1 January 2021?
During the transition period, which we are in at the moment and which lasts until 31 December 2020, we have travelled across Europe as normal. But new rules and changes are set to come in from 1 January 2021, when travel to EU countries (plus Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) will change for UK citizens as a result of the UK leaving the EU.
The government has set up a page outlining these changes. It says the page will be updated if anything changes. It also allows you to sign up for email alerts to receive the latest information.
The key points include:
PASSPORTS – Check yours is valid – and less than 10 years old
At the moment, if you travel to an EU country, your passport needs to be valid for the duration of your stay. However, from 1 January 2021, your passport will need to have at least six months left on it on the day you travel, and be less than 10 years old.
The second point is worth double checking as, until September 2018, the UK allowed citizens to roll over any extra months left on a passport following an early renewal. This could be up to nine months.
So, you’ll need to look at your passport’s issue date and not its expiry date as, for countries within the EU, the crucial date will relate to when it was issued – and this must be nine years and six months ago, or less (to allow for the six months mentioned above).
The government says: “Any extra months on your passport over 10 years may not count towards the six months needed.”
While it’s always worth thinking about your passport’s validity well ahead of a holiday, don’t rush to renew a passport right now unless you need to. The government advises: “It is taking longer than the usual three weeks to process applications because of coronavirus (COVID-19). Do not apply unless you need a passport urgently for compassionate reasons, for example if a family member has died, or for government business.”
These rules will not apply to travel to Ireland, though, where your passport needs to be valid only for the length of your stay.
VISAs – will you need one?
The government says you won’t need a visa for short trips to EU countries, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland if you’re travelling as a tourist. You’ll be able to stay for up to 90 days in any 180-day period.
It adds: “You may need a visa or permit to stay for longer, to work or study, or for business travel.”
Rules on travel to Ireland will not change, meaning you’ll be able to work in Ireland in the same way as before.
EHICs – What’s the impact of no more European Health Insurance Cards?
Current European Health Insurance Cards (EHICs) will remain valid until 31 December 2020. These allow you to benefit from free or cheap medical treatment (on the same terms as a local) while in Europe.
While it’s always been important to take out comprehensive travel insurance, without this added protection from an EHIC, you need to make sure the medical section of your policy is adequate for your needs.
The government says: “It’s particularly important you get travel insurance with the right cover if you have a pre-existing medical condition. This is because the EHIC scheme covers pre-existing conditions, while many travel insurance policies do not.”
As a result of this change, travel insurance premiums may rise to cover an increase in the cost to insurance providers.
That said, the availability, scope and cost of travel insurance may still change as a result of coronavirus, with any future outbreaks likely to limit the cover provided. Anyone buying insurance now or in the coming months should pay close attention to the terms of and conditions of their policy.
For example, while medical cover may be provided for the cost of treating coronavirus while overseas, there may be exclusions relating to the cancellation or curtailment of a trip because of the pandemic.
If you already have travel insurance, it is also worth checking what cover it provides against coronavirus-related risks.
DRIVING – Will I need a special licence?
At the moment, to drive in Europe, you need a full UK driving licence. The government now says: “You may need extra documents from 1 January 2021. You might need an international driving permit (IDP) to drive in some countries.
“If you’re taking your own vehicle, you might also need a ‘green card’ or other valid proof of insurance and a GB sticker.”
UK car insurance policies automatically provide a minimum of third party protection for drivers in Europe, and it has always been possible to upgrade this to comprehensive cover where necessary.
Given this, insurers would struggle to justify increasing the cost of cover across the board, although some may levy an admin fee – typically £25 – for those needing proof of insurance.
MOBILES – Will I pay more to use my phone in Europe?
From 1 January 2021, the guarantee of free mobile phone roaming throughout the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway will end.
At the moment, there are no indications that phone companies are in a rush to change this, with EE, as an example, saying on its site: “We don’t have any plans to change the inclusive EU roaming you enjoy today, now that the UK has left the EU.”
It does add that, if the government doesn’t reach a trade deal with the EU by December 2020, it “will need to do individual deals with each of the 27 EU countries. This includes 144 operators, in total, but we will continue to do everything we can to provide inclusive roaming to you in the long term.”
It’s worth checking with your mobile phone company whether it plans to implement any roaming charges after 1 January 2021, though.
The government has introduced a new law to protect UK consumers getting mobile data charges above £45 without knowing. It says: “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.”
PETS – Can I still take my animal to Europe?
If you take your pet away with you, you will no longer be able to use the existing pet passport scheme. Instead you’ll need to follow a new process, which the government says pet owners should allow at least four months to arrange.
It explains the new process on a dedicated page but also says that pet travel requirements will change depending on which categorisation of a ‘third country’ the UK becomes on 1 January 2021 (a ‘third’ country is one that is not a member of the European Union and whose citizens do not enjoy the European Union right to free movement). Find out more here.
CONSUMER RIGHTS – What about my rights when travelling?
UK citizens have financial protection against a holiday company failing under the EU Package Travel Directive.
Talking about what will happen should your travel company go out of business after 1 January 2021, the government says: “You’re protected if you buy a package holiday and the company goes out of business. You get this cover even if it’s an EU company, as long as the company targets UK customers.”
You should always, however, look for travel insurance that comprehensively covers you should things go wrong. If you don’t book a package holiday, for example, consider policies that cover ‘end supplier failure’ or ‘scheduled airline failure’ so you’re protected financially should a company you’re travelling with fail.
The government also states that you’ll still be able to claim compensation from credit card providers if your travel company fails and you’ve paid using this method, saying: “You’ll continue to be able to claim for payments between £100 and £30,000.”
FLIGHTS – what protections will I have?
Travellers departing from an EU airport or arriving at an EU airport on a flight operated by an EU airline also have certain welfare and compensation rights regarding delayed and cancelled flights under EU Regulation 261/2004. Find out more about this on the Civil Aviation Authority’s website.
On its checks page, the government says: “Your consumer rights will not change from 1 January 2021. This means that if your travel is cancelled or delayed you may be able to claim a refund or compensation.”
It again points out the importance of comprehensive travel insurance regarding delays and compensation, saying: “Some travel insurance policies only cover certain types of disruption. Check your provider’s terms and conditions to make sure you have the cover you need if your travel is cancelled or delayed.”
Is there anything else that I should consider?
Border control may feel a little different after January 1, 2021. According to the government, you may 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.