It’s important that British travellers know how Brexit might impact their holiday plans this summer

It’s been more than two years since the transition arrangements ended and we left the EU completely. The impact on travel was complicated by the pandemic, but a clearer picture is beginning to emerge of how Brexit is affecting us.

A few issues, such as emergency healthcare, have been sorted with little change. Others – such as mobile phone charges – are likely to add to your travel costs. The most significant changes have been – in the short term – complications around passport validity, and – in the long term – for those, mostly young people, who were hoping to fund their travels by working in the EU. Here is what you need to know when travelling this year:

Passports and visas

Then

UK citizens have had freedom of movement between and within member countries of the EU or its ­previous incarnations since 1973. We could stay as long as we liked and we were able to use our passport until its final validity date.

Now

UK citizens are allowed to enter the EU’s Schengen Area for up to 90 days in any 180-day period. Initially, there were fears that it would take significantly longer for British citizens to be processed at airports. In practice? My experience has been patchy, with long queues trying to get into Switzerland, for example, but better experiences in Italy. Europe-wide staff shortages following the pandemic have made a definitive assessment difficult.

There will soon be more changes, however. Currently the system is policed by border officials manually stamping our passports. The need for this will be removed, perhaps in November or later in 2024, with the introduction of the EES – the EU’s new Entry/Exit system. This will automatically register and track visitors from countries outside the Schengen area each time they cross an EU external border. To use it, you will have to register your photos and fingerprints which will be stored in the form of biometric data.

Another change is expected in 2024, when we will be required to go through a new process of online checks known as the ETIAS before we can visit the EU. When it is introduced next year, the European Travel Information and Authorisation System will be the EU’s way of automatically checking the credentials of visitors who don’t require a visa and who want to enter the Schengen zone. It will be used for tourism and business travellers and for stays up to the 90-day limit.

passport sign

The way Britons process through airports in Europe has changed – iStock

You will have to make the application online in advance, although the official website and an alternative app are not yet ready. There is a one-off €7 fee and you will be issued with a pass which lasts for three years, or until the expiry of your passport, whichever comes first. Your ETIAS pass will have to be shown to your airline, train or ferry company before you travel. More information can be found in our guide.

Health, insurance and money

Then

As members of the EU, British citizens had the right to free or reduced-cost medical treatment in other member countries, through the European Health Insurance Card (Ehic) scheme. This was especially vital for older ­travellers and those who have existing medical conditions because of the difficulty of getting insurance that would cover them. We also had the right to cross the border when entering the EU without being questioned about our financial resources.

Now

A new scheme has been ­introduced – the Ghic – which gives travellers similar protections to the old Ehic. Nevertheless, some countries still technically impose additional requirements – to enter France, for example, you should theoretically be able to show proof of travel insurance that covers ­medical treatment.

The same is true with regard to spending money. Last summer saw reports that Spain was introducing a new entry requirement for British tourists. They must be able to show evidence that they have enough money – £85 a day – to support themselves during their visit. This was not some kind of Spanish revenge for Brexit; now we are no longer in the EU, we have simply reverted to the same immigration rules for visitors from non-EU countries.

As the Director of the Spanish Tourist Office pointed out: “The requirement for UK travellers to be able to illustrate sufficient means for the duration of their stay and the return is established in the Schengen Borders Code and is not a Spain-specific requirement.” He went on to say that it is not new and has been in place for some time for visitors from outside of the European Union or Schengen area. What’s more, we apply similar requirements to visitors to this country.

Holiday protection and compensation

Then

The EU Travel Directive has long been a guarantee of financial protection against the failure of your holiday operator and sets time limits on when refunds must be made, as well as imposing other duties on travel com­panies. During the pandemic, it has been a particularly important fallback. Another EU directive, which also became UK law, entitles us to remark­ably high levels of compensation for delayed or cancelled flights.

Now

Under EU rules, the directive was enshrined in UK law, but now all such legislation is under review and may automatically be removed from the statute book if it is not reprieved by the government. It seems unlikely that the financial protection rules will be removed,  but there are concerns about the erosion of our rights to compensation for delays.

Brexit, has already emboldened the airlines to lobby the government to – as the Department for Transport put it – “rebalance the rates for compensation, to be more representative of the cost of travel” on UK domestic routes. One suggestion now being considered is that the EU rules are replaced with a scheme which would be comparable with the way that compensation for rail delays works. You would get a full refund of your fare after a 90-minute delay or a cancellation, or compensation amounting to a proportion of your fare for shorter delays.

On the surface, it might sound quite reasonable. But earlier this year the Consumer’s Association published research which suggests that such a change would cut payouts dramatically, estimating that compensation per passenger would drop from £220 to an average of just £57. Even under an alternative scenario, which is also being considered, passengers would lose out heavily. (This would involve the rules changing so that passengers got a refund of their ticket plus the same amount in compensation.)

Driving abroad

Then

Before Brexit, if you wanted to drive in the EU, you needed to carry only a full UK driving licence, and UK insurers were obliged to extend your insurance.

Now

The EU advises that “an Inter­national Driving Permit (IDP) might be needed by drivers who have a paper licence or a licence issued by Gibraltar, Guernsey, Jersey, or the Isle of Man”, and that you should check specific rules with the embassy of the country you are visiting. An IDP is obtainable at post offices (£5.50). If you take your own vehicle abroad, you also need to obtain a “green card” from your insurer to prove you have insurance (there may be a charge for this) and display a GB sticker.

A European road trip has become a little trickier

A European road trip has become a little trickier – Getty

Roaming charges

Then

When we were part of the EU, UK mobile phone companies were not allowed to charge us extra for calls made and data used in other member countries. That rule ceased on December 31 last year. Vodafone, O2 and Three all indicated that they would continue to allow free roaming – though they didn’t indicate how long this would last.

Now

Three of the four biggest mobile operators have now said they will introduce charges for UK phones used in Europe. Last in January 2022, Vodafone started charging £2 a day for roaming in the EU. Operator Three introduced a fee of £2 a day from May 2022 for customers who had signed up or upgraded since October 2021. And EE also began charging £2 a day from January 2022 for those who joined or upgraded after July 7 2021.

Meanwhile, the Government has capped automatic data charges at £45 per month for operators that do not continue free roaming. But that doesn’t limit the rate at which you will be charged, just the total amount you can be billed automatically. So you could find that you reach the £45 limit rather quickly, then have to decide whether to stop using your phone or pay for more data.

Working abroad

Then

The right to work in any other EU country was a key privilege of membership.

Now

This right ended when we left the EU. From a traveller’s point of view, the change is most likely to affect young people who might want to fund a trip around Europe or learn a language by taking casual jobs, or work a ski season. They now need a visa from each country they want to work in. The pandemic has made it difficult to judge the real impact of this, but it looks as though numbers and opportunities have dropped sharply. Last year, Tui, Europe’s biggest tour operator, told me that, it was still “offering as many Brits as possible the opportunity to work for us as reps in EU countries, but as this has become much more limited since Brexit, next summer we will only be able to employ around a third of the number of Brits we normally would have in pre-Brexit years.”

Travelling with pets

Then

Pet owners used to be able to get a pet passport issued in England, Wales or Scotland for travel to an EU country.

Now

The old pet passport scheme is no longer valid for British pets. You now need a new health certificate (valid for four months) for your pet each time it travels from England, Scotland or Wales to the EU or Northern Ireland. This must be obtained within 10 days of departure and is also valid for your return to the UK. The certificate must be issued by a vet, and will cost about £100-£150, though some vets charge more. There are other requirements for a microchip and vaccination – see gov.uk/guidance/pet-travel-to-europe-after-brexit. Note that you can still use a pet passport issued in an EU country or Northern Ireland. For more information see our guide to travelling with your dog.

dog in car

It has become more expensive to travel with your four-legged friend – Getty

Duty-free shopping

Then

We lost the right to buy duty free when travelling between EU countries in 1999. But we gained the right to bring home virtually unlimited amounts of duty-paid goods – such as wine from France, where it is significantly cheaper than in the UK.

Now

Duty free has been reintroduced, but the main beneficiaries are likely to be the sales outlets rather than the consumer. Most duty free brought back into the UK is bought in overseas airports – I haven’t managed to do a survey of these to see how they compare with costs on the UK high street. But I did compare current prices for some random examples of famous brands at World Duty Free in Gatwick with the current best offers in British supermarkets. A one-litre bottle of Johnnie Walker Red Label whisky currently costs £17.59 duty free, but is only slightly more expensive at Asda (currently £18). A 75cl bottle of Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial is £38.99 duty free, but is only £34 in Sainsbury’s at the moment. You might be able to find some decent duty free savings, but I wouldn’t bank on it. Meanwhile, your duty-paid and duty-free limits have been merged, so you can only bring in 42 litres of beer, two cases of still wine or one case of champagne or sparkling wine.

How have you found travelling since we left the EU? How has it affected (or not affected) you? Tell us about your experiences in the comments section below

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