How Brexit has changed the way we travel


It’s been a year since the transition arrangements ended and we left the EU completely. The impact on travel has been 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 my analysis.

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. Fears that it would take significantly longer for British citizens to be processed at airports and other immigration points in the EU haven’t yet materialised, but impacts are impossible to assess properly because of the reduction in travel caused by the pandemic and the bureaucracy created by Covid rules.

There will be a further adjustment in 2023 (exact date to be confirmed) with the introduction of the new computerised Etias (European Travel Information and Authorisation System) visa waiver scheme. This is similar to an American Esta, and will probably cost £6 and be valid for several years. It is not a direct consequence of Brexit negotiations, since it will be imposed on many other countries, but it affects us because we are no longer EU citizens.

Meanwhile, the new passport validity rules have already caught out some readers – in some cases forcing them to abandon their holidays because they hadn’t realised they needed to renew it before they travelled as it still had three months of validity before the expiry date. The problem is that the EU counts a maximum of 10 years’ validity from the issue date – so in practice it is valid for nine years and nine months after that. However, the British government often issues passports with an extra few months added to the overall 10 year validity. This, the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office says, is because “If you renewed your current passport before the previous one expired, extra months may have been added to its expiry date.” So you need to be sure that your passport was issued less than nine years nine months before your travel date, and if not, get it renewed in plenty of time:

Health and insurance

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.

Now: A new scheme has been ­introduced – the Ghic – which gives travellers similar protections to the old Ehic. Never­theless, France now requires ­British ­citizens to travel with proof of travel insurance that covers ­medical treatment.

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, so it would require an Act of Parliament to revoke or alter it and it currently seems unlikely that this would happen. It must be said, though, that the Government did little to ensure that operators met their obligations to make prompt refunds for cancelled holidays during the first wave of the pandemic. We wait to see if British airlines will lobby to get delay compensation rules watered down, but I wouldn’t bet against it.

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.

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 Dec 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. On most of its tariffs, Vodafone will offer roaming for £2 a day, or £8 a week, from Jan 6, 2022. 

Operator Three will charge £2 a day from May 23 for customers who have signed up or upgraded since October 2021. EE will also charge £2 a day from January 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.


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