Travelling to Europe After Brexit

For UK citizens there are a number of key changes to European travel after Brexit, including new rules for passports, visas, and pet travel, as well as new restrictions on what goods can be taken in and out of the UK and the EU.

Rhiannon Philps Published on 25 February 2021. Last updated on 04 October 2021.
Travelling to Europe After Brexit

Travel to Europe from the UK has been significantly affected by Brexit.

Now there is no longer free movement between the UK and the EU, UK citizens visiting Europe after Brexit will have to meet new regulations and should be prepared for more checks and longer waits at borders.

While some elements of travelling after Brexit have not changed, there are many new rules surrounding passports, health cards, visas, pet travel and duty-free goods.

In this guide, we explain some of the things you need to know about travelling in Europe after Brexit, so you are fully prepared for your next trip abroad.

Currently, there are strict rules and restrictions on travel due to COVID-19. Check the latest updates on gov.uk.

Passports after Brexit

You can continue to use your existing passport to travel abroad after Brexit.

However, for visits to most European countries, it will need to have at least six months remaining and be less than 10 years old. Even if it has more than six months until it expires, if your passport is over 10 years old you will need to get a new one.

If you are travelling to Ireland the rules have not changed. You can continue to use your existing passport to travel to Ireland up to its expiry date, as long as it doesn’t expire during your visit.

UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC)

The UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) replaced the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) in January 2021. You will still be able to use your existing EHIC, but once it expires you will need to replace it with a GHIC.

Like the EHIC, the GHIC will allow you to access emergency and necessary healthcare in the EU for free or at a reduced cost.

However, despite its name, the GHIC is only valid in EU countries, and cannot be used in Norway, Iceland, Switzerland or Liechtenstein.

It is free to apply for a GHIC and it should arrive within 10 days. You can apply for a GHIC on the NHS website.

A small number of people will be able to apply for a new UK-issued EHIC instead of a GHIC, including EU citizens living in the UK, frontier workers and UK students studying in the EU. For a full list of who is eligible for an EHIC, see the government website. This EHIC will cover you in the EU as well as Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

The GHIC is not a replacement for travel insurance, as travel insurance will offer more comprehensive medical cover. Some travel insurers may require you to have a GHIC to be eligible for their cover.

Travel insurance

Even with a GHIC and your compensation rights, you should not forget to take out travel insurance before travelling abroad.

Make sure you have sufficient protection and check what types of disruption are covered, as not all insurers will cover delays or cancellations related to Brexit or coronavirus, for example.

» COMPARE: Travel insurance

Do I need a visa to travel to Europe?

UK citizens don’t need a visa for short stays in the EU, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland or Liechtenstein. You can travel and stay in any of these countries for up to 90 days in any 180-day period without a visa, whether that’s as a single trip or made up of multiple trips.

Trips to the non-Schengen, EU countries of Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania are not included in this limit. They have their own separate 90-day stay limit.

Ireland is also an exception to this rule, so UK residents can travel to and from Ireland without restriction as they did before Brexit.

However, from 2022 things are set to change. British citizens will need to apply for an ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorisation System)– a visa waiver – for short stays anywhere in the Schengen Area.

An ETIAS is valid for three years and allows you to travel to the participating European countries for short-term visits of up to 90 days in a 180-day period. It costs €7 (around £6.10) and you will be able to apply online. Your application should take no more than 10 minutes to complete and will be processed within 96 hours.

If you want to stay in Europe for longer than 90 days, you will probably need to apply for a visa or permit from the country you will be visiting. Check with the country’s embassy to see what you need to do.

Driving in Europe

If you’re planning to drive to an EU country, there are some changes to be aware of, including:

  • You may need a UK sticker on your vehicle.
  • You will need to carry your log book (V5C), or a VE103 Vehicle on Hire Certificate if you hire or lease your car.

However, your UK photocard driving licence will still be valid for driving in the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, so you won’t need to purchase an international driving permit (IDP).

For more information, see our guide to driving in Europe after Brexit.

Before driving abroad, it would still be a good idea to take out European breakdown cover so you can call for help should something happen on your travels.

» MORE: What do you need to drive in Europe?

Taking goods into the EU

Restrictions on what you can take into EU

When travelling to the EU after Brexit there are restrictions on what you can bring with you.

For example, you can’t take any goods that contain meat, milk or their products into the EU, even if it’s for personal consumption.

There is an exception for powdered baby milk, baby food, and other specialist foods required for medical reasons. These items must weigh less than two kilograms, be in unbroken packaging, and not need refrigeration.

You are also able to take up to 20 kilograms of certain fish products and up to two kilograms of other animal products like honey.

Border controls will check what you are bringing into the country and seize any goods that are not allowed. For more information on what you can bring in, check the European Commission website.

Duty-free allowances

When you leave the UK to go to an EU or non-EU country, you will be able to buy duty-free goods at airports, ports, and international rail stations once you have gone through the security checks. This means you won’t need to pay UK tax or excise duty on alcohol and tobacco goods that you buy and take with you.

However, the EU sets limits on how much you can bring into a country without paying tax or duties. These are:

  • 16 litres of beer.
  • 4 litres of still wine.
  • 1 litre of spirits over 22% vol. or 2 litres of fortified or sparkling wine.

Individual EU countries set different limits for tobacco products, which can range from 40-200 cigarettes and 50-250g of tobacco.

You can carry other goods worth up to €300 per person, or €430 if you travel by air or sea.

Bringing goods back from the EU

When you return to Great Britain from the EU you will no longer be able to bring back unlimited duty-paid goods.

Since January 2021 there are limits on how much you can bring back to Great Britain without paying any extra tax or duty, as long as they are for personal use or a gift.

Items you are allowed to bring back tax and duty-free include:

  • 42 litres of beer.
  • 18 litres of wine (not sparkling).
  • 9 litres of alcoholic drinks (including fortified and sparkling wine) up to 22% alcohol.
  • 4 litres of spirits and liquors over 22% alcohol.
  • 200 cigarettes.
  • 250g tobacco.

Other than alcohol and tobacco, you can bring up to £390 worth of items without paying tax or duties.

There are also controls on the amount of cash you can bring from the EU to Great Britain (not Northern Ireland). You will need to declare if you are carrying more than £10,000.

If you go over these allowances, you will have to declare your goods online before arriving in the UK and pay the required tax and duty on all your goods, not just the amount that goes over the allowance limit.

You won’t need to declare your goods if you’re travelling between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, as long as you’re a UK resident and you paid the necessary taxes and duties at the time of purchase (i.e., you didn’t buy them in a duty-free store).

You can bring back unlimited goods from the EU to Northern Ireland as before, as long as you have paid tax and duty in the country you purchased them from, and they are for personal use.

You can check if you need to declare your goods here.

Roaming after Brexit

Leaving the EU means UK residents are no longer guaranteed free mobile phone roaming when they visit the EU. Network providers can theoretically now add roaming charges for using your mobile in the EU, although most have said they will not reintroduce them so you should not see your phone bill rocket when you next go on holiday.

The UK has also adopted the EU law that aims to protect individuals from incurring large data charges unknowingly while abroad. It sets a £45 monthly limit that UK citizens can be charged for using additional data abroad. After this, providers must contact you and ask if you want to opt in to continue using data.

Check with your provider to find out more about any roaming charges that they may introduce.

Pet travel

You can no longer use pet passports that were issued in Great Britain to take your pet to the EU or Northern Ireland. Pet passports issued in Northern Ireland or an EU country will still be valid for travel.

If you want to take your pet (dog, cat or ferret) from Great Britain to Northern Ireland or an EU country, you will need to make sure it:

  • Has a microchip.
  • Gets a rabies vaccination at least 21 days before travel.
  • Gets an animal health certificate no more than 10 days before you leave. You will need a new certificate before each trip you make to Northern Ireland or the EU.

If you’re taking a dog directly to Northern Ireland, Ireland, Finland, Norway or Malta, it must also get tapeworm treatment one to five days before you arrive in that country.

When travelling with a pet, you need to arrive at your destination through a designated travellers’ point of entry.

To give pet owners time to meet the new regulations, there won’t be routine checks on pets travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland until 1 July 2021. From this date, pet owners will need to fully comply with the rules.

Requirements for taking a pet between Northern Ireland and the EU are currently unchanged after Brexit. However, your pet will still need to be microchipped, have a rabies vaccination and a pet passport.

For more information on pet travel, see the government guidance and regulations.

Passenger rights and compensation

Passengers on flights, trains, ferries or other modes of transport shouldn’t experience any change in their rights or eligibility for compensation if their journey is cancelled or delayed.

Even though the UK has left the EU, the UK has adopted the laws on compensation and other related issues so existing rights have been carried over.

The UK compensation laws will cover flights that are departing the UK, arriving in the UK with an EU or UK airline, or arriving in the EU with a UK airline.

If you fly to/from a country in the EU or EEA and/or on an EU-regulated flight, you will still be able to claim compensation under the EU261 regulation as this is not limited to EU citizens.

For more information on your rights, you should check with your airline or transport provider.

You will also continue to have protection if you purchase package holidays from a travel firm that then goes bust, whether you buy from a UK-based company or from a firm outside the UK that specifically targets UK travellers and holidaymakers. However, if you buy a holiday from an EU business that isn’t targeting UK customers then you may not have the same protection.

Travel money

Exchange rates have not changed significantly since the Brexit trade deal was agreed on 24 December 2020. You don’t need to approach currency exchange differently as a result of the UK leaving the EU.

You should also still be able to use your debit card or travel credit card in the EU. Any existing charges will still apply, and you’ll be able to find these out from your bank/card provider if you are unsure.

Border controls

UK citizens travelling to Europe post-Brexit will have to use separate lanes at border control rather than the lanes for EU, EEA and Swiss citizens.

You should also be prepared for stricter checks, as you may need to show proof of a return or onward ticket and that you have enough money for your visit.

Next steps

To make your visit abroad less stressful and as smooth as possible, you should start planning and preparing well in advance.

Before your trip, check out the latest guidance from gov.uk on travelling to your chosen destination, particularly as the coronavirus pandemic means there are different rules about travel, testing and quarantine for each country.

Image Source: Getty Images

About the author:

Rhiannon is a financial writer for NerdWallet, with a particular interest in personal finance and insurance guides for consumers. Read more

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