Travelling to Europe after Brexit? 7 things to know before you go

Travelling to Europe after Brexit? 7 things to know before you go

Wait, don’t go! This isn’t a political post, more of a practical one. Whether you love it or loathe it, Brexit is coming and it’s going to be here by the end of the month (so they say). And regardless of your political persuasion, whether you’re an ardent Brexiteer or a passionate Europhile, or even if you’ve blocked all the news websites and deleted Facebook to avoid all mention of it, change is coming. And as you know from this year’s travel wish list post, I’m big on planning when it comes to travel. As the saying goes: ‘if you fail to plan, you plan to fail’.

So without further ado, and (disclaimer) with absolutely no guarantee that anything I write in this post will even be true in 24 hours time (anything could happen, right?), here are 7 things that may change when you travel to Europe from the UK after Brexit (or they may not, all TBC). And remember, you’ll need to get your act together much quicker if the UK leaves the EU without a deal on 31st January 2020 instead of going into a transition period until the end of 2020 (still not confirmed at time of writing). And please, always double-check the official government travel advice before you travel to the EU after Brexit:


I’ve put this right at the top of things you need to know before you travel to Europe after Brexit because it’s so important to know what your healthcare options are when you’re abroad. Every UK citizen is entitled to a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). This is a card that entitles the holder to receive basic healthcare as they would in their own country. As we have free healthcare at point of access courtesy of our wonderful NHS, this means you can get treated for free in any EU member state. I’ve used this myself in Italy and Germany and it’s really a great arrangement for UK citizens as you don’t need to pay for treatment and then claim back under insurance like you would in countries outside of the EU. However, this is one thing that will almost certainly change after Brexit. The official line is that it will be down to individual member states to decide whether they will continue with reciprocal pre-Brexit healthcare arrangements or whether they will require UK citizens to pay for healthcare up front.

Recommendation: Make sure you’ve taken out a comprehensive travel insurance policy for trips to Europe, the same way you would when travelling to countries outside the EU. The EHIC has meant that you could typically get away without buying travel insurance (as long as you didn’t care about losing your possessions or flight cancellations!) because it would cover you for emergency treatment. I know that a lot of people don’t bother to take out insurance for Europe to save money. But after Brexit there will be a risk that you’ll be faced with astronomical medical bills if you need any treatment whilst travelling uninsured.

In terms of finding insurance, I always use a price comparison website and read company reviews to narrow the choice down to a trustworthy insurer (there are some dodgy ones out there). If you’re planning on taking several trips a year, it’s likely to be more cost-effective to take out an annual policy than insuring individual trips. With the added bonus that you only have to pay once and can then forget about it for the rest of the year! There are also several banks that offer travel insurance as part of their benefits for holding a current account with them, so check with your bank before taking out a policy.

2. Visas and passports

There have been a lot of rumours circulating for the past three years (how has it been that long?!) about entry requirements for UK passport holders to EU countries after Brexit. As you may know if you’ve travelled a lot outside of the EU, visa applications and processes can vary wildly from country to country. Up until the point the UK leaves the EU, UK citizens will be able to travel to any EU country without any additional travel authorisation under the freedom of movement rules. When we’re no longer part of the EU, this arrangement will no longer apply.

But no need to panic! This is probably one of the things with the most clarity at the moment, and that’s that UK citizens will (probably) need to apply to travel to EU countries under the European Travel Information and Authorisation (ETIAS) scheme. This new visa waiver programme will also be a requirement for citizens of countries like Canada and the USA and will be implemented by 2021. To make sure you’re authorised to travel to EU countries, you’ll just need to have filled in a form and paid the fee then travel on your passport as usual. This pretty much mirrors the ESTA for the USA and the ETA for Canada.

As per standard requirements when you travel to other countries outside of the EU, your passport must be valid for at least 6 months before you travel to the EU after Brexit. It will also need to be less than 10 years old (even if it has more than 6 months remaining) unless you’re travelling to Ireland.

Recommendation: Head to the ETIAS website and familiarise yourself with the requirements. They’ve already posted some updates for UK citizens and this will be the official place to make sure you’re authorised to travel to EU countries. Key information is that the ETIAS visa waiver will be valid for up to 3 years for UK citizens and it will be compulsory for all UK citizens travelling to the EU from 2021 (assuming we have actually left by then). In the interim between the UK leaving the EU and ETIAS implementation, it is thought that UK citizens will be able to travel to the EU as we do now, without any travel authorisation. It will also be really cheap – so far it doesn’t look like the exact fee has been confirmed but it’s likely to be around 7 Euros.

One point to note is that tthe ETIAS will only be valid for stays of up to 90 days in Europe, which is very common for this type of visa waiver programme. Whilst you’re unlikely to take a normal holiday that lasts more than 3 months, you’ll need to do more research into your options if you’re planning to visit for longer than 90 days for any reason.

3. Hiring a car in Europe

Currently, the only requirement to hire a car in Europe as a UK citizen is to rock up at the car rental office and show them your driving licence. After Brexit, things seem to get a lot more complicated. And for car hire it seems like there isn’t a one size fits all answer either. Individual EU countries will have different requirements: the main things you need to know to work out what you need will be: a) have we left with or without a deal; b) how long is your stay; c) do you have a photocard or old paper licence? The good news is that really, all you need to know is whether or not you need to apply for an International Driving Permit (IDP). Similar to the ETIAS, this is already something you may be familiar with if you’ve hired a car in a non-EU country.

Recommendation: Check the table on this page for the specific country or countries in the EU you’re planning to hire a car in. If you do need an IDP, you can apply for one at the Post Office. They cost £5.50 and to apply for one you’ll need to take along your full, valid UK driving licence, a passport photo, the licence fee and your passport as proof of ID if you have an older paper licence (not required if you have a photocard licence). Apparently, you will not require an IDP to drive in Ireland even in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

4. Driving your own car

Aside from making sure you meet all the driving permit requirements for the country you’re travelling to (see above), you’ll also need to make sure your own vehicle is compliant on roads in the EU after Brexit if you’re planning on doing a road trip. The only advice I can find on this is in the event of a no-deal Brexit, so I’m not sure what would happen in the event of a deal. But anyway, you’ll need to have a motor insurance green card (or two if you’re towing a trailer), your logbook or V5C if you have one or a VE103 if your car is hired or leased to show you’re allowed to use it abroad. This also applies to you if your car is a company car. Finally, you will be required to display a GB sticker on the back of your car, even if you have GB plates, unless you’re in Ireland where this won’t be required.

Recommendation: Maybe you should try hiring a car when you’re there instead of taking your own? Just kidding. But this does seem to be an area that could trip a lot of people up. My advice would be to read through the advice carefully just before your trip and make sure you’re 100% happy that you’ve met all the requirements. Make sure you’ve got your motor insurance green card and your logbook or VE103 in an easy-to-access location like the glove box and get those GB stickers on the back!

5. Data roaming

This is a big one that I think will affect a lot of people without them realising. Since 2017, there have been no roaming charges for EU citizens travelling anywhere in the EU, which has saved people a lot of money. This will still be guaranteed for UK citizens right up to the point we leave the EU. If we leave with a Brexit deal, word is that this would stay the same, at least until the end of the transition period (currently the end of 2020). However, if there’s no deal it might be a different story. Essentially, there’s no guarantee that mobile operators won’t reintroduce roaming surcharges so we could find ourselves back to pre-2017 roaming charges.

Recommendation: check if your mobile provider has said anything else about this specifically relating to roaming charges after Brexit. If you do find there will be substantial extra charges, you can look at changing your mobile provider and look for packages that make data roaming cheaper. To get an idea of the likely charges, take a look at what your provider currently charges for data roaming in other countries outside of the EU. There’s also more advice here. Alternatively, if you don’t want to spend anything on data and are happy to make do with wifi, go to your data settings on your phone and make sure you’ve disabled data roaming before you start your journey.

6. Duty-free shopping

To be honest, it’s a mixed bag on the duty-free purchases front after Brexit. So the good news first: you know when you’re in the airport and there are two prices on alcohol, cigarettes and often luxury goods? Well after we leave the EU, it’s highly likely that you’ll always pay the lower price when travelling to the EU, like you would when travelling outside the EU. Great news for our wallets! On the flipside though, this means that there will be limits on what goods you can bring back into the UK duty-free. At the moment, there are the following limits on what you can bring into the UK without declaring it and paying tax:

  • Alcohol – 16 litres of beer, 4 litres of wine plus either 1 litre of spirits (over 22%) or 2 litres of fortified wine, sparkling wine and other alcoholic drinks (up to 22%)
  • Tobacco – 200 cigarettes or 100 cigarillos or 50 cigars or 250g tobacco
  • Other goods – up to £390

I think it’s likely that these would also be the limits for goods from the EU. It’s worth bearing in mind that if you do buy anything in an EU country that already has tax included in it (e.g. in any shop) then this is all good and wouldn’t be subject to customs duty.

Recommendation: If you’re planning to bring back any goods duty-free then make sure you’re familiar with the allowances otherwise you may have to pay import tax when you come back to the UK. If you’ve made any big purchases in an EU country then definitely keep the receipts to prove you did pay local tax on your items. And enjoy that duty-free shopping at the airport!

7. Travelling with pets

There’s a lot of information out there about the changes to requirements of travelling to the EU with your dog, cat or ferret both before and after Brexit so I’m not going to go through all of it here. But the main change to watch out for is that the EU pet passport will no longer be valid as soon as the UK leaves the EU. This means that the time it takes to prepare your pet to travel to the EU will increase substantially – meaning the official recommendation is now to take your pet to the vet at least 4 months before you plan to travel to get the latest advice. For more information on travelling to the EU with your pets, click here.

Recommendation: Plan ahead. You’ll need to speak to your vet at least 4 months in advance – although this is difficult with the current timeframes as things change so quickly and at the last minute when it comes to Brexit! You can also sign up to receive the latest updates from Defra here.

Brexit travel information sources

I’ve used a number of sources to pull together this information about some of the biggest changes that may affect your travel to Europe after Brexit. For the latest updates and advice, please always go to the official government webpages, especially relating to specific entry requirements.