Visiting Europe from January 2021: A guide for British travellers

visiting europe from january

Britain will reach the end of its EU exit transition period with the European Union on January 31st, 2021. As freedom of movement will no longer apply from that date, British travellers will experience some changes when visiting Europe as a tourist; as will EU citizens visiting the UK.

To explain what to expect when freedom of movement has ended between Britain and the EU, this article looks at the likely changes UK tourists will encounter from 2021. It details:

  • Whether British citizens will need visas before travelling to a European destination
  • What British travellers should do to ensure their passport is valid
  • What will change when arriving in Europe
  • How UK visitors’ travel insurance requirements will change
  • What mobile phone roaming charges could apply
  • How pets will be able to travel with their owners to Europ

Will British tourists need a visa to visit Europe?

British tourists will be able to visit Europe without a visa as they do now. UK citizens will be permitted a visa waiver for short trips of under 90 days for tourism or business.

Until 2022, this means that British visitors to Europe will be able to arrive with just their valid passport as they do now. However, after 2022 UK passport holders will need to apply for an ETIAS visa waiver online and pay a small fee before travelling to the EU or Schengen area.

This is similar to what the UK Government is aiming to introduce for European visitors to Britain with its proposed new UK eTA visa waiver. This will follow broadly the same process but will apply to EU passport holders at the UK border.

For longer stays or to work full-time in Europe however, British citizens will need to acquire a work permit or Schengen visa from the country they wish to live in. They will need to apply at the embassy of the country in question.

Will British passports still be valid on a trip to Europe in 2021?

Before travelling to the European Union or Schengen area, British travellers may find new passport restrictions apply. These are minor in nature but could affect a person’s ability to enter an EU country.

First of all, UK visitors to Europe must make sure their passport has over 6 months of validity remaining from their date of entry into the EU. Yet in practice, this means that no more than 9 years and 6 months must have passed since the passport’s date of issue.

Under European regulations, a passport must not be over 10 years old. Any travel documents older than this will automatically be considered invalid even if it is still within its expiry date.

This situation could occur because the British passport office usually adds extra time to the validity of a passport if it is renewed early. These extra days of validity, however, would not be accepted in the EU where the cut-off is 10 years from the date of issue.

In the case of UK travellers, this will mean their passport may need to be renewed earlier than expected before a European holiday. This must be done before 9 years and 6 months have passed since the document’s date of issue to travel to an EU country.

For example, if a passport was issued on the 1st December 2011, it will no longer be accepted at an EU or Schengen port of entry from 1st June 2021. This rule is applied even if if the document hasn’t expired or has over 6 months left to run.

What new procedures will British tourists face when arriving in Europe?

One change that British tourists will face when arriving in a European destination is that they will no longer be able to use the dedicated queue for EU and Swiss passengers. Instead, they will need to join the international queue.

Additionally, UK tourists may be required to provide evidence that they are only travelling to the EU for tourism or business. This may include return tickets to the UK and proof of sufficient funds for the duration of their trip.

Will British tourists need travel insurance in the EU?

Up until the end of 2020, British tourists will be able to make use of the European Health Insurance Card (known as Ehic). Yet, once the transition period is over this will no longer be valid for UK citizens to use abroad.

This means that British passport holders will need to purchase travel insurance that covers their healthcare needs before visiting the EU in 2021. Tourists are advised to make sure that they have the correct health coverage for any pre-existing conditions or any health risks they may face whilst travelling.

Will British tourists have to pay mobile phone roaming charges?

Mobile phone roaming charges could make a return for some British tourists. The requirement that operators must waive roaming costs will no longer apply to UK mobile networks as of December 31st 2020.

However, the reintroduction of extra mobile charges when travelling abroad in Europe will be at the discretion of mobile network operators. Therefore tourists are advised to check before arriving in the EU whether these additional costs may apply to them or not.

Are UK Driving licences still valid in Europe?

It will still be possible to use a UK driving licence in Europe, although tourists may also need an international driving permit (IDP). This is expected to apply to British travellers in several EU countries.

Additionally, UK citizens driving their car from Britain to Europe may also need to follow additional steps. When travelling to the EU by car, UK passport holders should ensure to have a car “green card”, proof of insurance and to display a “GB” nationality sticker on their vehicle.

Can British tourists still bring their pets to Europe?

Yes, it is expected that British tourists will still be able to travel with pets such as cats, dogs or ferrets. However, travellers will face additional safety measures to do so.

Pet passports will no longer apply as of January 1st 2021. Currently, the final rules that will apply on pets travelling from Britain to Europe are still dependent on the outcome of EU-UK negotiations.

However, pets will need to be microchipped, receive a rabies vaccination a few weeks before travel and may need to hold an animal health certificate (AHC). AHCs will need to be renewed for each trip the animal makes to Europe.

Much is expected to change in the way that British tourists can visit the EU from 2021. Therefore, it’s especially important to be extra prepared when travelling to a European country once freedom of movement has formally come to an end after 2020.