Will I need a visa to travel to the EU after Brexit? Rules for visiting Europe and Schengen area countries
The end of the Brexit transition period is nearing, and many rules will change on 1 January 2021.
And if you own a holiday property in an EU country, the rules on how long you can stay there at a time will also change.
Here’s everything you need to know about the new travel rules for next year.
Will I need a visa to visit an EU country?
If you’re a tourist, you won’t need a visa to be able to travel to most EU countries.
However, under the new rules you’ll only be able to stay for up to 90 days in an 180-day period.
For example, taking a long weekend to Italy, plus a one week holiday in France within the same 180 days, would both count towards the 90-day limit.
This rule won't apply for visits to Ireland, because it is part of the Common Travel Area.
If you want to stay for longer, you may need a visa or permit.
The government is advising people to check each country’s travel advice page for information on how to get a visa or permit.
Things will change further from 2022, as UK nationals will have to pay for a visa-waiver scheme in order to visit many European countries.
What are the rules for Schengen area countries?
The Schengen area is a zone where 26 European countries abolished their internal borders to allow freedom of movement.
Although not members of the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein are part of the Schengen zone.
When it comes to travelling after the Brexit transition period has ended, UK citizens will be able to go to all Schengen area countries for up to 90 days in the 180-day period.
For longer periods, you may need to apply for a visa depending on the rules in the country you are visiting.
Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Cyprus are not included in the Schengen Area, so there are different rules when it comes to travelling to these places.
The government has said that a visit to any one of these countries would not use up any of your 90-day allowance.
The official UK Government advice states: “From 1 January 2021, you will be able to travel to other Schengen area countries for up to 90 days in any 180-day period without a visa for purposes such as tourism. This is a rolling 180-day period.
“To stay for longer, to work or study, or for business travel, you will need to meet the entry requirements set out by the country to which you are travelling.
“This could mean applying for a visa or work permit. You may also need to get a visa if your visit would take you over the 90 days in 180 days limit.”
What if I am travelling for work?
If you are travelling to the EU on business, there are extra actions you need to take.
That includes travelling for meetings and conferences, providing services and touring art or music.
You will have to check the entry requirements for the country you’re visiting, as they may need you to have certain documents.
You will also have to check if any professional qualifications will be recognised in the EU.
Furthermore, if you will be earning money in an EU country you may have to pay social security contributions and inform HMRC that you’ll be working there.
And if you’re planning on transporting goods, you will have to check you have the right documentation.
Again, the government advises that you check the individual requirements for the country you are travelling to.
What if I own a holiday home in the EU?
The new 90-day rule means British expats who own an EU holiday home can’t spend more than three months at a time there without applying for a visa.
Those who stay for longer than 90 days could be fined or even banned from the country.
It is estimated that there are 500,000 Brits who own a holiday home in European countries.
Commonly, a lot of Brits with second homes abroad will spend six months at a time in that country.
Campaigners are calling for the rules to be changed so those with holiday homes can stay for 180 days at a time.
Rules will differ depending on which country your second home is in.
Will I need a new passport to travel to the EU?
As long as your current passport is less than 10 years old and has six months left before it runs out, you will not need a new passport to travel to the EU after the Brexit transition period ends.
If you need a new passport, which will be a different, blue colour, the government warns that you should apply in plenty of time.
What about health insurance?
The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will no longer be valid when the Brexit transition period ends.
The card entitled British citizens to state-provided medical treatment if they fell ill or had an accident in EU countries.
Now, when you arrange travel insurance you should ensure that it has appropriate health cover, including for pre-existing medical conditions.
UK state pensioners living in the EU before 31 December 2020, and UK students already enrolled on EU courses, can use their EHIC beyond 2020, but will need to apply for a new card.
What will change at airports?
When travelling to an EU country via plane, you will not be able to use the fast-track passport control and customs lanes at the airport.
Instead, be prepared to use the other lane and to show your return ticket on arrival. You could also be asked to show that you have enough money for the duration of your stay.
You'll no longer be able to use EU fast-track passport control and customs lanes.
And when it comes to duty-free, there will no longer be tax-free sales of goods like electronics and clothing.
Will there be mobile phone roaming charges?
The guarantee of free mobile phone data roaming throughout the EU, and Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, ends on 1 January.
You may face extra charges when you travel to an EU country from that date, so check with your mobile provider before you travel.
However, the UK Government has passed laws to protect customers, including a £45-a-month cap on using mobile data abroad and requirements for customers to be informed when they've nearly used all of their data allowance.
Will I be able to drive in the EU?
If you’re planning to drive to, or in, an EU country, you may need extra documentation from 1 January, like an international driving permit (IDP) for longer visits.
You’ll also need your driving licence, your log book and valid insurance documents.
If you’re travelling in your own vehicle, you will need a “green card” from your insurer and a GB sticker.