Brexit day: What you need to know about travelling to or from the EU

Jan 31, 2020

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After years of back and forth, Friday 31 January 2020 is the day that the United Kingdom will officially leave the European Union. As of 11 p.m. GMT, the U.K. will end its 47-year relationship with the EU. But what does Brexit mean for travellers? Will U.K. citizens be able to continue to travel freely throughout Europe? Will flights continue to operate as scheduled?

Thankfully, there is little for U.K.-based travellers to be concerned about in the near-term. As of Friday night’s exit from the EU, very little is expected to change for the U.K., as the country enters a “transition period”. Most EU laws will still apply, including the free movement of people, which allows U.K. citizens to travel freely throughout other EU member-states.

According to ABTA, a U.K. travel trade association for tour operators and travel agents, “everything will remain the same and you can continue to travel as you do now until at least the end of December 2020”.

Flights, ferries and trains

Flights will continue as normal for the remainder of 2020 during the U.K.’s transition period. The government has advised passengers travelling by air not to expect any delays for flights between the U.K. and the European Union.

“Flights will continue and you should not experience any difference in security screening”, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office said on its dedicated Brexit travel page. “Passengers flying from the UK will continue to transfer to onward flights at EU airports without extra security screening. This will also be the case at airports in Switzerland, Norway and Iceland. There will be no impact to direct flights to non-EU countries”.

EasyJet has a dedicated Brexit page on its site, advising passengers that “regardless of the outcome of Brexit you will still be able to fly between the UK and the EU. Even if there is no-deal the European Commission and the UK government have said that UK airlines will still be able to operate flights between the UK and the EU”.

Passengers make their way towards the Baggage reclaim and flight connections in Terminal 2 having arrived at Heathrow Airport in London on July 16, 2019 (Photo by Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images)
(Photo by Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)

British Airways is advising passengers that travel will not be affected as of 31 January, and all flights will continue to operate on a normal schedule.

Related reading: British Airways: Brexit outcome won’t affect our flights

In addition to air travel, ferry services and cruises between the U.K. and Europe will continue to sail as normal, as will coach journeys and train trips — including on the Eurostar.

Your U.K.-issued passport will continue to be valid for travel across Europe, noting that it does need to be valid for the duration of your trip. During the transition time, you will not need a visa to visit any EU country. That said, it is advised to check the entry requirements for the country you’re planning to visit.

Potential changes after the transition period

By the end of December, free travel to Europe might be a different story. By then, the government plans to have reached a permanent free trade agreement with the EU. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, travel regulations may — though are not guaranteed to — change.

Travellers may need a visa to visit some European countries on a longer-term basis. The government has said that as of 1 January 2021, tourists on short stays (up to 90 days) will not need a visa to travel to the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. However, the government has said that “You may need a visa or permit to stay for longer, to work or study, or for business travel”.

During the transition period, if you have a U.K. driver’s license, you’ll be able to use that for driving in the EU. However, as of 1 January 2021, you may need an international driving permit. Also during the transition period, you’ll be able to use your phone without roaming fees in EU countries, though that may change as of 1 January 2021.

U.K. travellers’ EHIC (European health insurance card), or the replacement to the old E111 form, will continue to work during the transition period. So, if you need medical treatment while in the EU through the end of 2020, you’ll be able to access state-provided care. However, as of 1 January 2021, that may change.

Europe is the number one overseas destination for U.K. travellers, with more than 58 million trips each year, according to ABTA. In the near-term, if you’re travelling to Europe, you can expect your trip to go on as planned. In the future though, European travel as we have come to know it may change in the case of a no-deal Brexit. However, for the duration of 2020, you can expect seamless travel between the U.K. and Europe.

Featured photo by by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

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