Travel to Europe will be very different from 1 January 2021: Here are the government’s new regulations

Sep 18, 2020

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated with new information.

In July, we wrote about some big changes coming to the way we travel to Europe. As an overview, travel to Europe for U.K. citizens is about to get more restrictive due to the U.K. officially leaving the EU on 31 December 2020, following its one-year grace period.

On Friday, the U.K. government launched a campaign to help U.K. citizens prepare for the changes well in advance, so as not to have any unwanted issues when travelling to Europe after 1 January 2021.

It’s important to know the changes coming so you don’t get turned away from trying to enter a country’s borders, which was once a more seamless process. The government said that these restrictions could change, so it’s important to check back for updates after 1 January 2021.

For further information, be sure to visit to make sure you’re as up-to-date as can be.

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In This Post


U.K. citizens will no longer be able to travel to the countries in question with fewer than six months of validity before expiry on their passport. Passports will also have to be fewer than 10 years old, even if they have more than six months remaining before their expiry.

Related: These are the most powerful passports in the world this year

If you try to travel within six months of the expiry date or with a passport that’s more than 10 years old, you might be refused entry to a country.

An exception to this new restriction is Ireland, as you’ll still be able to travel to as long as your passport is valid for the duration of your stay.

It’s worth noting that due to COVID-19, passport renewals are taking longer than the usual three weeks to process.


As always, travel insurance is one of the first things you should think about when going away. Until now, as a Brit travelling in Europe, we were all entitled to some healthcare cover with the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Now, even if yours is valid for longer, your card will only be valid until 31 December 2020.

It’s worth noting that the EHIC card also provides cover for existing health conditions, which may not be the case with many travel insurance providers.

Related: Does my travel insurance cover COVID-19?

For that reason, after 31 December 2020, you’ll want to ensure that you’re covered with a third-party insurance provider.

Driving abroad

From 1 January 2021, you might need an international driving permit to drive in some countries. In other words, your U.K. driver’s licence that you have long been able to use to hire a car in the EU or drive into the continent from the U.K. may not be valid.

Related: 5 epic European road trips for a summer holiday

If you want to drive your own car, you may also be required to have a green card to be allowed to drive in some countries.

Travel disruption

When faced with denied boarding, cancellation or long flight delays, we are currently protected by the European regulation EC No 261/2004, or, EU261 as it’s widely known. The great news is that these consumer rights as a U.K. traveller will not change from 2021 when we have officially left the EU, meaning you should still be able to claim a refund or compensation on flights to and from the EU. However, it’s not yet clear if that same protection will apply to flights to or from destinations outside of the EU.

Related: Can I claim EU261 compensation if my flight was delayed or cancelled because of coronavirus?

Additional protection by way of comprehensive travel insurance is always helpful in these situations, too. However, it’s worth noting that some travel insurance policies only cover certain types of disruption, so it’s worth double-checking what you’ll be covered for.

Pet travel

For many U.K. pet owners, taking a pet dog or cat abroad is currently a fairly easy and simple process, depending on the destination country. You’ll get a pet passport for your animal, detailing several pieces of required information such as its description and vaccination details. If travelling by air, the airlines require a health check five days prior to travelling and your pet is good to fly.

The existing pet passport will no longer be available to travellers from the U.K., and the new process will take longer —around four months. So, you’ll need to plan further in advance if you want to take your pet on holiday in the EU.

Entering other countries

Tourist stays of up to 90 days in any 180-day period will not require a visa, however, a permit or visa may be required for extended periods of work, study or even business trips. These changes will not apply to travel to Ireland.

There may also be changes when passing through border control. This could include having to show a return ticket and proving you have enough funds for your stay. U.K. citizens will also no longer be to use the EU, EEA and Swiss citizens customs lanes when arriving in a different country.

Using your phone abroad

Depending on your mobile network, you might no longer be covered for phone usage throughout the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. It’s advisable to check what new charges may apply with your particular network operator before travelling after 1 January 2021.

Related: Using your phone abroad: Top tips for mobile network roaming

A slight comfort is that there’s a law in place that protects you from spending more than £45 in charges unless you opt in to spend more.


It’s also going to be more complicated when travelling with large sums of money or with certain goods for business purposes. As of 1 January 2021, you will need to declare when taking £10,000 or more (or equivalent) between the U.K. and any other country. The use of goods for business or selling abroad may also have to be declared.

Related: Brexit will bring big changes to duty-free shopping from January 2021

Bottom line

As of 2021, there’ll be many more things to consider before jumping on a plane, train or in your car to Europe. When the stricter regulations on passports, driving and even travelling with pets will come into force on 1 January 2021, trips to Europe will now require a little more planning time to make sure you have everything in check before you leave the U.K.

Featured image by honglouwawa/Getty Images

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