EU travel

FFS Explains: Travelling to the EU after Brexit

When the UK began its new, post-Brexit relationship with the European Union on 1 January it brought some significant changes to the rules governing travel between the UK and Europe.

Ferret Fact Service examined what the changes are and how they will affect Scots planning to travel to the EU.

Are existing passports still valid for travel to the EU?

Yes. On its website the Scottish Government states that, as with elsewhere in the UK, travellers from Scotland to the European Economic Area (EEA) – which is made up of all 27 EU member states plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein – and Switzerland, must have at least six months left on their passport. Passports must also be less than 10 years old.

Do Scottish travellers require visas to enter EU countries?

Tourists do not require a visa to visit the EU so long as they do not plan to stay longer than 90 days within any given 180-day period.  A separate 90-day limit applies to Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania, the four EU member states that maintain border controls because they have not yet signed up to the Schengen agreement. The Schengen Agreement effectively abolishes internal borders between 26 European countries – 23 EU member states plus Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.

Under the new rules, UK holiday-makers can spend up to 90 days travelling in or between Schengen Area countries followed by a further 90 days in or between the four non-Schengen countries without the need for a visa. 

Anyone looking to stay longer may require a visa, with each EU country applying its own rules

No changes have been made to pre-Brexit rules on travel to Ireland.

Will there be any changes at border control?

It is still not clear exactly what changes UK citizens will face when queuing at passport control on arrival in the EU. According to the UK Government, those traveling from the UK to a European country “may” have to show they have a return or onward-travel ticket and enough money to see them through the duration of their stay. The Government says it is likely, though not definite, that UK visitors will also have to use separate queues to those from EEA countries or Switzerland. 

Prior to Brexit there were no restrictions on bringing food for personal consumption from the UK to other EU member states because the common market rules meant travelling between Scotland and France, for example, was effectively the same as travelling between Scotland and England.

Holiday-makers could now find certain items will be confiscated from them by border control staff because a number of products are banned from being brought into the bloc.

The European Commission states that meat, milk and related products such as sausages and yoghurt cannot be brought into the EU because they “continue to present a real threat to animal health throughout the union”. UK residents must now abide by that.

This week, a Dutch TV crew filmed border officials confiscating ham sandwiches and other foodstuffs from drivers arriving in the Netherlands from the UK. 

Can travellers from Scotland still take their cars to Europe?

Anyone who wants to drive from Scotland to their European holiday destination is still allowed to do so without the need for an International Driving Permit so long as they have a photocard licence that was issued in the UK.

A motor insurance green card, which insurers issue as proof that drivers have adequate cover for driving abroad, is now required. UK-registered cars must also display a GB sticker.

What about travelling with pets?

As was the case before the UK left the EU, dogs, cats and ferrets are the only animals allowed to accompany their owners on holidays in Europe. The maximum number that can be brought in for non-commercial purposes is five.

Prior to Brexit, each animal had to have its own pet passport, which would allow them to travel freely across the EU. Passports, which were designed to prove that pets had been vaccinated against rabies, were valid for animals’ entire lives so long as their rabies vaccinations were kept up to date.

These are no longer valid, though. Instead, UK owners must take their animal to a vet at least 10 days before travelling to the EU to be issued with an animal health certificate.

Vets will only issue a certificate after seeing proof of an animal’s vaccination history – as with the pet passport, being vaccinated against rabies is key – as well as the date on which it was microchipped. 

Unlike pet passports, which cost £60, animal health certificates do not last for an animal’s lifetime. Certificates cost £106.50 to issue and are valid for four months from the date the animal enters the EU.

Are there any specific rule changes that will impact on Scottish business travellers?

British nationals no longer have an automatic right to work and study in the EEA or Switzerland, but they can still spend short periods working in these countries without the need for a visa.

As is the case with those travelling for leisure purposes, those travelling for business can spend a maximum of 90 days out of 180 in any Schengen-area country without a visa. They can spend a further 90 days in Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania under the same terms. 

However, depending on the nature of the work being carried out some countries may require UK citizens to have a work permit, particularly if the visit is going to last longer than 90 days. Each country has its own requirements and separate permits will be needed for each.

Is it still possible to access healthcare while on holiday in Europe?

The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which allows UK residents to access healthcare at the same cost as local residents, has been scrapped as a result of Brexit, although existing cards will be valid up until their expiry dates.

A new UK Global Health Insurance Card, that is understood to offer equivalent protection, has been launched to replace the EHIC. Neither card offers as much protection as fully comprehensive travel insurance.

How do the Covid-19 restrictions impact on all this?

Practically all travel to and from the EU has come to a stop due to the coronavirus pandemic. A number of EU countries closed their borders to visitors from the UK at the end of 2020 after the discovery of a variant strain of Covid-19.

The European Commission recommended the ban be lifted on 22 December, but strict rules that effectively ban all but essential travel remain across the EU.

The Scottish Government sets its own coronavirus-related rules and as of 5 January no one living in mainland Scotland is allowed to leave their home except for essential purposes.

Restrictions are less onerous in most of the islands, although travel outwith local authority boundaries is not allowed.

It is not clear how “essential purposes” are defined in terms of international travel, but anyone that does make a trip outside the Common Travel Area – made up of the UK, Republic of Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man – is required by the Scottish Government to self-isolate for 10 days on return.

A number of countries are exempted from the quarantine rule, with the list being updated on a regular basis.

Ferret Fact Service (FFS) is a non-partisan fact checker, and signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network fact-checkers’ code of principles.

All the sources used in our checks are publicly available and the FFS fact-checking methodology can be viewed here.

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