Britain’s departure from the European Union is finally upon us, but after all the warnings of chaos for inbound tourists and problems for UK travelers heading to the continent, what will situations will travelers actually face after January 31?
The arrival of Brexit comes three and a half years after the country held a referendum that set it in motion and follows a series of missed deadlines, each one carrying the threat of the UK leaving with “no deal” — a scenario that raised the prospect of a shortage of medical supplies and food, as well as long border queues. Although the UK exits the EU on January 31, it will remain part of the single market and customs union under the terms of the implementation period or transition.
This lasts until December 31, 2020, when it’s hoped a new trade deal, security arrangements and immigration laws will be enacted.
Failure to reach an agreement could lead to “no deal” becoming a live prospect once more. For now, that remains an issue for another day.
In April 2019, the European Parliament confirmed it had agreed a deal for UK citizens to travel visa-free on a short stay (90 days in any 180 days) within the borderless Schengen Area that covers most of western Europe. “The transition period, which kicks off from February 1, will mean that travel between the UK and Europe will stay exactly the same until December 31, 2020. “According to the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office), UK nationals can continue to travel to the EU exactly as they do now,” says Tom Jenkins, chief executive of the European Tourism Association.
“You won’t need a visa or six months left on your passport or evidence of a return ticket.” Frank Marr, Travel and Tourism Chairman for the PRCA and MD of AM+A, a travel marketing company based in the UK, agrees.
“Based on current agreements we expect a large chunk of things to stay the same — access to EU countries should not change for visitors looking to stay in Europe for less than a month,” he says. However, as the UK and EU cannot legally start negotiations over their future relationship until February, it’s unclear how travelers will be treated come 2021.
Priti Patel, the UK Home Secretary, has said that whatever happens, freedom of movement, and the ability to work in the UK without a visa for EU citizens, will end. There are currently plans for the UK to be part of the new European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) from next year (although there remains a chance ETIAS may not be up and running by then).
Similar to the ESTA visa waiver used by UK tourists traveling to the United States, this will allow UK citizens to travel into the Schengen Area without a visa, as long as they pay €7. veling to the United States, this will allow UK citizens to travel into the Schengen Area without a visa, as long as they pay €7.
The waiver will last three years and can be bought online. However, the UK’s participation in ETIAS is dependent on the UK Parliament ensuring EU citizens can travel on holiday without a visa to the UK using a similar, electronic system.
Jonathan Smith, from the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), says people were receptive to the idea when the travel association conducted research into what was known about ETIAS. “The majority of people we spoke with were quite happy with it, as long as it wasn’t too expensive or wouldn’t take them too long to do,” says Smith.
One exception to ETIAS will be the Republic of Ireland. Since 1923, the Common Travel Area has meant people from the UK and Ireland have been able to travel between the two countries without a visa. “Brexit doesn’t change the ease of getting to Ireland or the warmth of the welcome,” says Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland.
However, the very real chance of the UK and EU not reaching an agreement by the end of 2020 means that friction less travel across the English Channel could be over for good in 11 months’ time. “It could well be that we’re back communicating on the issues we were talking about at previous deadlines,” adds Smith.
“Such as the need for passports to have extra validity, what would happen with changes to driving rules and the validity of European Health Insurance Cards.”