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What will Brexit change for travelers? Here’s what to know.


(iStock/The Washington Post illustration)

Brexit, the long-awaited split of the United Kingdom from the European Union, became official in its final form on Jan. 1. Although the U.K. left the E.U. on ‘Exit Day’ in early 2020, nothing really happened. It was not until this month that the move’s transition period ended and many newly reached terms of the split were implemented on the ground.

While the crux of the changes are mainly going to affect Europeans and U.K. citizens, not North Americans, an expert group in U.K.-E.U. travel says there are a few minor logistical tweaks that could potentially have an impact on third-party travelers on their transit to or through the two regions.

What has changed with Brexit becoming final?

As of this month, U.K. residents no longer have the automatic privilege to freely live and work in the European Union without a visa, and most European immigrants living in England have until July to find out if they can remain permanent residents or will need to become citizens.

But what about the process of traveling between the two areas, which until now have shared open borders and efficient entry logistics? With travel largely stopped between England and the European Union because of border closures and travel bans associated with a new variant of the novel coronavirus in the United Kingdom, most people will not see these changes firsthand any time soon.

What about Americans?

An expert group of British travel agents, ABTA, says the biggest change American travelers heading to Europe might notice is a relatively small one: Non-E.U. residents will now be accompanied by U.K.-based travelers in the line for E.U. passport control, which Britons were previously able to bypass using e-gates. When travel returns to pre-pandemic levels, that change could result in longer lines at E.U. entry points.

“U.K. nationals will have to present their passport for checking and this process will also take slightly longer than prior to Brexit,” ABTA spokesman Sean Tipton says. Travelers departing from the United Kingdom and European Union, “regardless of nationality, should see very little change,” according to Tipton.

Are visa requirements changing?

Tipton also notes that there will be no notable changes on entry into the U.K., which is still allowing E.U. travelers to visit for periods shorter than six months without a visa. The European Union is likewise allowing for U.K. citizens to visit without a visa — for now.

Come 2022, non-E.U. visitors will need to pay a small fee of about $8 for a European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) pass. Similar to a visa, ETIAS is the equivalent of the United States’ long-standing Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), which is required of Europeans for entry.

Tipton says there is no indication that any European nations would implement their own visas otherwise and that the pandemic is probably playing a role in that.

“The trade deal contains provisions for short-term leisure and business trips to continue for up to 90 days within a six-month period,” he says. “Many E.U. states’ economies are heavily dependent on U.K. visitors, and these countries will do everything they can to make sure that the once we return to more normal travel in relation to the pandemic, U.K. travelers are made to feel welcome, with the visiting process as straightforward as possible.”

While it’s unlikely, individual European nations could, in theory, implement their own visa requirements for non-E.U. travelers. The BBC has also reported that one general expectation of Brexit is that the threat of new disputes could be a new constant in U.K.-E.U. relations.

What should U.K. or E.U.-connected travelers look out for?

Outside of potential wait times and unlikely visa restrictions, there are a few other little-known changes in the Brexit finalization that could affect those with connections to the E.U. or U.K.

U.K. cellphone companies can once again charge high data roaming charges for service in Europe, as they did before England joining the E.U. and legislation that was enacted against the practice. But “whether they do so will be a commercial matter for each individual company,” Tipton says. Travelers utilizing U.K.-based phone plans, should check their carrier’s terms before traveling to Europe, even if they’re not U.K. citizens or residents.

An E.U. Pet Passport, previously available to anyone with access to an E.U.-certified veterinarian, is also no longer available to Britons, with the exception of those who live in Northern Ireland — which has been afforded some concessions for its proximity to Ireland, which is remaining an E.U. member.

The pet passport previously applied to enrolled pets for their entire lifetime, but “U.K. travelers can no longer take advantage of the Pet Passport scheme,” Tipton says. U.K.-based travelers hoping to bring a pet with them to Europe will now be required to obtain necessary animal health certificates like all non-E.U. travelers are. That process sometimes call for pet vaccinations or other treatments that come with a waiting period.

These are just a few of the Brexit changes that travelers will see, with many more affecting residency and work statuses than causing small travel headaches. The result, in general, means travelers should start thinking of the E.U. and U.K. as the two very separate entities they now are.

“The changes are simply another consequence of the U.K. leaving the E.U.," Tipton says, “and being treated in the same way as other non-EU visitors.”

Read more:

Vaccine requirements for travel would be ‘discrimination,’ global tourism group says

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Why Europe needs to get serious about promoting democracy

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