Visiting Europe from January 2021: A guide for British travellers

With the end of the Brexit transition period fast approaching and no deal with the EU in sight, it seems that Brits will have to be prepared for some changes in travel to Europe in 2021.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has stated that he now believes it is “very, very likely” that the United Kingdom will not reach an agreement with the European Union on a trade deal once the country’s exit from the EU is finalised on December 31, 2020.

2021 marks the first year that the UK will be completely outside the EU and its single market. The Union’s laws and regulations will cease to apply to England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and British citizens will no longer be considered citizens of the EU or enjoy the rights that come along with that status.

This means that Brits travelling to EU countries will face additional hurdles, much like other nations outside the European bloc. The additional problem of the coronavirus pandemic will complicate matters even further for third-country nationals like Britons in 2021.

In 2022, the EU is planning to introduce an electronic visa waiver for third-country nationals, which will likely include Brits, while the United Kingdom is said to be planning to do the same for Europeans, in the form of the UK eTA.

From January 2021, here are the things you need to know about travelling to Europe.

Update your UK passport

The first thing to do is to check your passport. Under the EU’s policy for visitors from third countries, passports must meet certain criteria to be considered acceptable for entry.

Your passport must be less than 10 years old and must continue to be valid for at least 6 months after the day you travel to Europe.

If your passport does not meet these conditions, you will not be allowed to pass through border control into an EU or Schengen member country (4 non-EU countries also abide by the same travel laws as part of the Schengen Area: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland).

One notable exception is the Republic of Ireland. British citizens are able to visit Ireland under the terms of the Common Travel Area (CTA) as long as their passport is valid (even if it will expire in less than 6 months).

If visiting another EU or Schengen country, it is a good idea to check your passport well in advance and renew it if necessary.

Travel and health insurance

After 31 December 2020, European Health Insurance Cards (EHICs) held by Brits will no longer be valid, since they will no longer be EU citizens.

This means that UK nationals will not be automatically covered for healthcare in European Union countries and will be charged if they need emergency treatment unless they are covered by insurance.

When buying a travel insurance policy, you should check carefully to make sure that it covers your needs. In particular, if you have a medical condition, be certain that your policy covers its treatment, since many do not cover pre-existing issues.

Driving in the EU in 2021

British travellers are likely to need additional documentation to drive legally in the EU from 2021.

Until now, UK driver’s licenses have been valid anywhere in the EU, since it is the Union’s policy that citizens of all member states should be able to travel and drive freely throughout the bloc. However, once the United Kingdom is fully separated from the Union, it will be a third country and the benefits of being a member will disappear.

Some European countries require third-country nationals to carry an international driving permit (IDP) as well as their license in order to be able to drive.

If you are thinking about taking your own vehicle to Europe, you may also need a GB sticker and a “green card” to legally drive it in EU or Schengen countries.

Travelling to the EU with pets

Taking pets from the UK to the EU will become more complicated from 2021 as Brits will no longer have access to the existing pet passport scheme.

As with other non-EU countries, British pet owners will have to follow a 4-month process, which will involve several trips to the vet and potentially a number of tests and vaccinations.

The exact procedures will depend on whether the UK is listed under the EU Pet Travel Scheme or not. The country has submitted an application to the European Commission and is waiting to hear the outcome.

Will I need a visa for the EU?

The good news is that if you are visiting the European Union as a tourist, you will not need a visa. The UK will join a number of third countries that are visa-exempt for short stays for leisure, meaning that all you need is a valid British passport (that meets the criteria outlined above) to take a flight to an EU or Schengen country.

The maximum length of time you can spend in the EU without a visa is 90 days within any 180-day period.

If you want to stay longer than this and/or you plan to work, study, or conduct business in an EU or Schengen country, you may need a visa or permit to do so.

Ireland is a notable exception — as part of the Common Travel Area with the UK, Brits are free to live and work there visa-free, just as Irish nationals can live and work in the UK.

It is worth noting that in 2022, the Schengen Area plans to introduce an online travel authorisation system for visa-exempt travellers called ETIAS. Although not a visa, British visitors to the EU will most likely be required to register their details with this system before going to any country in the Schengen Area.

Arriving in the EU from the UK from 2021

Border control may look a little different after 2021 for Brits arriving in Europe. UK passport holders will no longer be able to use the EU/EEA/Swiss passport lane when queuing up, instead joining the line for third-country travellers.

Certain countries may ask Brits to show a return or onward ticket and proof of sufficient funds to cover their stay before permitting them to enter.

It is advisable to check exactly what you will need at border control for the particular country you are travelling to before setting off.

It is also worth knowing what you can’t bring into the country with you. From January 2021, you will not be able to bring any meat, milk, or products containing either into the EU.

Free roaming to end

EU citizens enjoy free mobile roaming throughout the European Union. However, since the UK will no longer be part of the EU from January 2021, free roaming will not be guaranteed to British citizens abroad.

You should check with your operator to see what your situation will be.

Effects of COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic has had far-reaching effects on the travel industry and British travellers planning to head to EU countries in the new year may well be the next victims.

The European Union’s current policy towards third countries is to impose travel bans on those it deems to be high-risk. With the UK still suffering a high infection rate and thousands of ongoing cases, it will almost certainly be on the EU’s red list in January.

It remains to be seen how the new year will unfold, but the introduction of a number of vaccines offers hope. The first, the Pfizer vaccine, has already rolled out in the UK and will hopefully bring the virus under control. Once this happens, Europe may well decide to open its doors to British holidaymakers once again.

With the end of the Brexit transition period fast approaching and no deal with the EU in sight, it seems that Brits will have to be prepared for some changes in travel to Europe in 2021.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has stated that he now believes it is “very, very likely” that the United Kingdom will not reach an agreement with the European Union on a trade deal once the country’s exit from the EU is finalised on December 31, 2020.

2021 marks the first year that the UK will be completely outside the EU and its single market. The Union’s laws and regulations will cease to apply to England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and British citizens will no longer be considered citizens of the EU or enjoy the rights that come along with that status.

This means that Brits travelling to EU countries will face additional hurdles, much like other nations outside the European bloc. The additional problem of the coronavirus pandemic will complicate matters even further for third-country nationals like Britons in 2021.

In 2022, the EU is planning to introduce an electronic visa waiver for third-country nationals, which will likely include Brits, while the United Kingdom is said to be planning to do the same for Europeans, in the form of the UK eTA.

From January 2021, here are the things you need to know about travelling to Europe.

Update your UK passport

The first thing to do is to check your passport. Under the EU’s policy for visitors from third countries, passports must meet certain criteria to be considered acceptable for entry.

Your passport must be less than 10 years old and must continue to be valid for at least 6 months after the day you travel to Europe.

If your passport does not meet these conditions, you will not be allowed to pass through border control into an EU or Schengen member country (4 non-EU countries also abide by the same travel laws as part of the Schengen Area: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland).

One notable exception is the Republic of Ireland. British citizens are able to visit Ireland under the terms of the Common Travel Area (CTA) as long as their passport is valid (even if it will expire in less than 6 months).

If visiting another EU or Schengen country, it is a good idea to check your passport well in advance and renew it if necessary.

Travel and health insurance

After 31 December 2020, European Health Insurance Cards (EHICs) held by Brits will no longer be valid, since they will no longer be EU citizens.

This means that UK nationals will not be automatically covered for healthcare in European Union countries and will be charged if they need emergency treatment unless they are covered by insurance.

When buying a travel insurance policy, you should check carefully to make sure that it covers your needs. In particular, if you have a medical condition, be certain that your policy covers its treatment, since many do not cover pre-existing issues.

Driving in the EU in 2021

British travellers are likely to need additional documentation to drive legally in the EU from 2021.

Until now, UK driver’s licenses have been valid anywhere in the EU, since it is the Union’s policy that citizens of all member states should be able to travel and drive freely throughout the bloc. However, once the United Kingdom is fully separated from the Union, it will be a third country and the benefits of being a member will disappear.

Some European countries require third-country nationals to carry an international driving permit (IDP) as well as their license in order to be able to drive.

If you are thinking about taking your own vehicle to Europe, you may also need a GB sticker and a “green card” to legally drive it in EU or Schengen countries.

Travelling to the EU with pets

Taking pets from the UK to the EU will become more complicated from 2021 as Brits will no longer have access to the existing pet passport scheme.

As with other non-EU countries, British pet owners will have to follow a 4-month process, which will involve several trips to the vet and potentially a number of tests and vaccinations.

The exact procedures will depend on whether the UK is listed under the EU Pet Travel Scheme or not. The country has submitted an application to the European Commission and is waiting to hear the outcome.

Will I need a visa for the EU?

The good news is that if you are visiting the European Union as a tourist, you will not need a visa. The UK will join a number of third countries that are visa-exempt for short stays for leisure, meaning that all you need is a valid British passport (that meets the criteria outlined above) to take a flight to an EU or Schengen country.

The maximum length of time you can spend in the EU without a visa is 90 days within any 180-day period.

If you want to stay longer than this and/or you plan to work, study, or conduct business in an EU or Schengen country, you may need a visa or permit to do so.

Ireland is a notable exception — as part of the Common Travel Area with the UK, Brits are free to live and work there visa-free, just as Irish nationals can live and work in the UK.

It is worth noting that in 2022, the Schengen Area plans to introduce an online travel authorisation system for visa-exempt travellers called ETIAS. Although not a visa, British visitors to the EU will most likely be required to register their details with this system before going to any country in the Schengen Area.

Arriving in the EU from the UK from 2021

Border control may look a little different after 2021 for Brits arriving in Europe. UK passport holders will no longer be able to use the EU/EEA/Swiss passport lane when queuing up, instead joining the line for third-country travellers.

Certain countries may ask Brits to show a return or onward ticket and proof of sufficient funds to cover their stay before permitting them to enter.

It is advisable to check exactly what you will need at border control for the particular country you are travelling to before setting off.

It is also worth knowing what you can’t bring into the country with you. From January 2021, you will not be able to bring any meat, milk, or products containing either into the EU.

Free roaming to end

EU citizens enjoy free mobile roaming throughout the European Union. However, since the UK will no longer be part of the EU from January 2021, free roaming will not be guaranteed to British citizens abroad.

You should check with your operator to see what your situation will be.

Effects of COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic has had far-reaching effects on the travel industry and British travellers planning to head to EU countries in the new year may well be the next victims.

The European Union’s current policy towards third countries is to impose travel bans on those it deems to be high-risk. With the UK still suffering a high infection rate and thousands of ongoing cases, it will almost certainly be on the EU’s red list in January.

It remains to be seen how the new year will unfold, but the introduction of a number of vaccines offers hope. The first, the Pfizer vaccine, has already rolled out in the UK and will hopefully bring the virus under control. Once this happens, Europe may well decide to open its doors to British holidaymakers once again.