UK Foreign Office finally gives clarity on British passport rules for European travel

May 16, 2022

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It’s been a long time coming, but the British government has finally clarified what constitutes a valid passport to enter the European Union.

For two years, confusion has reigned over how to tell if your passport will be accepted by European border guards after the rules changed following Brexit when Britain left the E.U.

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At first, even the British Foreign Office appeared to sow confusion, issuing inaccurate and widely-misinterpreted advice on its website.

That misinterpretation, in turn, filtered down to airlines, whose staff have since been known to erroneously deny boarding to Brits despite their documents clearly meeting E.U. criteria.

But now, after the fiasco even led some passengers taking airlines to arbitration, the Foreign Office has updated its advice.

The new advice reads: “If you are planning to travel to an EU country (except Ireland), or Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Andorra, Monaco, San Marino or Vatican City, you must follow the Schengen area passport requirements.”

Related: When will Brits need to pay to enter Europe and how much will ETIAS cost me?

According to these requirements, your passport must be:

  • issued less than 10 years before the date you enter the country (check the ‘date of issue’)
  • valid for at least 3 months after the day you plan to leave (check the ‘expiry date’)

It adds: “You must check your passport meets these requirements before you travel. If your passport was issued before 1 October 2018, extra months may have been added to its expiry date.

“Contact the embassy of the country you are visiting if you think that your passport does not meet both these requirements. Renew your passport if you need to.”

Why the issues?

Our advice is to apply for your new passport as soon as you can to avoid any potential holdup (Photo by Peter Cade/Getty Images)

Prior to 1 October 2018, the U.K. had a policy that allowed credit for “unspent” time when renewing a passport. This could add an additional nine months to a passport’s expiry date.

As a result, some passports renewed early were set to expire 10 years and nine months after their issue date, rather than the usual 10 years.

Then Brexit happened, and the European Union told “third-country nationals”: “You will need a passport valid for at least three months after the date you intend to leave the EU country you are visiting [and] which was issued within the previous 10 years.”

Related: How and when to renew your passport

Now for the even more confusing part: these two requirements are INDEPENDENT of each other.

Problems occurred when the Home Office issued advice that wrongly told passengers that the two conditions are dependent on one another. That meant people who had secured extensions for their passports — and therefore had more than nine years and nine months left on them – could, in theory, be denied entry to E.U. countries.

In September last year, the European Commission confirmed to The Independent that the U.K. government’s interpretation was wrong, reiterating that a passport must simply meet the two conditions independently.

In other words, your passport only needs to be less than ten years old from the day you leave the U.K. That ten-year threshold can expire while you’re away, so long as there are three months left on your passport from the day you come home. 

Why you should leave plenty of time to renew your passport

The crisis even drove Prime Minister Boris Johnson to threaten to “privatise the arse” off the Passport Office if the delays continued. (Photo by Adrian Dennis-WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Confusion over passport rules spurred on increased applications for new documents which have been compounded by serious staffing shortages in the Passport Office. This has been exacerbated further by a surge in new applications by travellers who had put off renewing their passports when they couldn’t travel during the pandemic.

The crisis even drove Prime Minister Boris Johnson to threaten to “privatise the arse” off the Passport Office if the delays continued.

As a result, the government has warned holidaymakers to leave plenty of time for their new passport to be approved and sent out.

Related: Just how bad is the passport backlog?

On its website, it says you should allow up to 10 weeks for a new passport to arrive. If you’re applying from overseas, you should expect to wait longer.

However, The Times newspaper reported last month that this window was being “repeatedly breached” with some applicants enduring waits of up to five months. We’ve also heard from TPG U.K. readers who have had delays on getting their passports beyond the 10 week period.

So our advice is to apply for your new passport as soon as you reasonably can to avoid any potential holdup and ensure you receive your new document in time to travel.

Featured image by Getty.

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