Travel After Brexit: a User’s Guide

Alexander Butcher 15 February 2019
Source: Public Domain Pictures

With all of the same impending horror as a much-neglected essay deadline, Britain’s departure from the European Union will soon be upon us (barring some very welcome political miracles). Following that fateful event, there is a not inconsiderable danger that some of the certainties that contributed to the last two decades being a golden age for European travel will disappear almost overnight. Consequently anyone looking to travel to Europe in the next few months should plan ahead, or face the prospect of nasty surprises. Here are just a few pointers…

The Return of Borders

Following Brexit, the virtually untrammelled freedom of travel to which British citizens have become accustomed to will be somewhat curtailed. Although the plans remain a little sketchy, it appears that British tourists to the Schengen area will have to go online and fill out a form and then spend €7 to purchase a visa waiver valid for three years. This process comprises the European travel information and authorisation scheme (ETIAS), something that is to all intents and purposes identical to the US’s ESTAS, only cheaper and simpler. The process is actually relatively hassle free, with the online form apparently taking no longer than ten minutes to fill out, with almost everyone being accepted straight away. What will be a pain post-Brexit is border queues, with British toursits no longer able to use the fast-track queues reserved for EU citizens, but forced instead to join the (ususally longer) queues for third countries.

Passports, EHICs, and Travel Insurance

Much like Brexit itself, many of the issues here involve small laws with potentially big consequences. One of the main things to look out for is the expiry date of your passport. Under EU law passports were valid for travel purposes right up until the day they expired, an arrangement that may seem like common sense, but that actually was quite exceptional. Instead many countries, not least travel stalwarts like Germany, France, Italy and Spain, require periods of validity of six months or more remaining on your passport for you to enter. This means that if your passport is in its dotage you may well be refused entry. Also liable to refusal is your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which up until now has guaranteed your free healthcare across the EU. With the government yet to release any plans as to continuing this arrangement, it looks likely that EHICs will become worthless. This makes it important that you take out some form of effective travel insurance with a provision for healthcare in case you get ill abroad. Travel insurance is also advisable as it potentially allows you to recoup some of your losses in case you are forced to cancel your holiday in advance, an all too real prospect in the event of a hard Brexit.

Mobile Tariffs

One of the best things about traveling to Europe in the last few years has been the legally mandated absence of data roaming charges, a development that many providers have tried to dress up as if it were a freebie that was willingly given. Following Britain’s departure from the EU, there are no legal grounds for that exemption to continue, and providers could theoretically reintroduce roaming charges. Fortunately, however, 3 mobile, EE, O2 and Vodafone have all announced that they have no plans to reintroduce roaming charges post-Brexit. Whether this generosity endures forever, only time will tell, with data roaming just another entry on the long list of Brexit related uncertainties.

Driving Licenses

Should you be one of those gifted souls who have actually been bothered to pass their driving test, then this bit applies to you. Anyone intending to drive in the EU will most likely require an International Driving Permit, which you can purchase for £5.50 from a post office or travel agent upon presenting the correct documentation.

In short then there is plenty to look out for, with the careless freedoms of EU travel a thing of the past. That said, Britain will still enjoy a relationship with the EU that will mean that travel there still remains far easier than to most other nations, with EU members still enthusiastic for British tourists. Consequently travel to the EU will remain easy and cheap, even if its not quite as practical as it once was.