No visa but a lot of customs rules for British travellers to the EU post-Brexit

British citizens will not need a visa for short stays in the EU after Brexit, the European Commission has proposed. But a lot of other rules will hit British travellers, unless the EU and the UK make different arrangements in a future trade agreement.

Yesterday the European Commission recommended to allow visa-free travel for British nationals entering the EU for tourism or business. The proposal covers only short-term trips, not the full set of citizenship rights provided by free movement rules. The European parliament and the EU Council now need to give their approval.

The Commission also issued a notice explaining customs and other travel-related rules that apply to non-EU citizens, and that will be extended to British nationals after Brexit.

If an agreement is reached on the terms of the UK withdrawal from the EU (as it has been prospected), these measures will be enforced after the transition period, as of 1 January 2021. In the meantime, the EU and the UK could make different arrangements. In the event of no deal, these measures will apply as of 30 March 2019.

No reciprocal visas for short stays

The European Commission proposed to add the UK to the list of “third countries” whose citizens do not need a visa when travelling to the Schengen area.

The Schengen area includes 22 EU countries that have abolished border checks, plus Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Cyprus, which are not full members yet. Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland participate too as associate states. Ireland has not signed up to the Schengen Convention, but has a bilateral agreement with the UK that allows visa-free travel (the “Common Travel Area”).

British citizens will be exempted from visas when travelling to the Schengen area for tourism or business for up to 90 days in a 180-day period. Visits exceeding 90 days, however, will require visas or resident permits and will be subject to national procedures.

UK residents made 53 million trips to the rest of the EU in 2016 and about 50,000 people move from the UK to other EU countries every year, said the European Commission.

In proposing this decision, the Commission considered “the close relationship between the EU27 and the United Kingdom following the latter’s 46 years of Union membership”. It also said that, while free movement of persons between the EU and the UK will end, “it would be beneficial to maintain close links between British citizens and those of the Union”.

The proposal “is entirely conditional upon the UK also granting reciprocal and non-discriminatory visa-free travel for all EU member states,” said the Commission. The British government already said it intends to exempt from visas EU citizens travelling to the UK for short-term stays. Should the UK unilaterally change approach in the future, the EU Commission said it will introduce visa requirements for British nationals too.

Customs and travel rules

As “third country nationals”, British citizens will however have to meet other requirements when travelling to the EU. The details were explained in a notice issued by the Commission in preparation for Brexit. Unless other decisions are made, these are the main aspects that will change for British travellers to the EU in the future:

  • Use of “other passports” gates at airports border control, instead of separate lanes for citizens of the European Economic Area and Switzeland
  • More thorough checks, e.g. duration of stay, document not older than ten years and valid for three months after the intended departure etc.
  • Limits for goods such as tobacco, alcohol and perfumes that can be carried duty-free (the full list is here), or customs declarations in alternative
  • VAT refunds for goods purchased in the EU
  • New requirements for travelling with pets or firearms
  • Prohibition of bringing into the EU certain plants and products of animal origin, e.g. meat, milk and derivatives such as ham and cheese, with exceptions for infant food or special foods needed for medical reasons
  • Limit to cash carried when entering or leaving the EU without having to declare it (EUR 10,000 or the equivalent in other currencies and convertible assets such as cheques)
  • Limits to exports from the EU of certain cultural goods (e.g. old furniture and books, and antiques)
  • Requirement of an international driving license for Ireland, Cyprus, Malta and Spain
  • Need of a green card as proof of travel insurance if travelling by car
  • Loss of access, for people registered in the UK healthcare system, to healthcare in other countries on the basis of the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) or, for planned treatments, on the prior authorisation by the relevant authorities
  • No more recognition of medical prescriptions
  • No more consular protection by other EU state in third countries
  • Possible new rules on consumers protection, e.g. for air, ship, bus and coach travels, but also for credit card payments, mobile roaming charges, and online content services (e.g. TV streaming).

The full document is available here.

Claudia Delpero © all rights reserved.
Photo by Johanna Leguerre: Disused former border crossing between France and Spain. © European Union, 2011, Source: EC – Audiovisual Service.