Brexit: The tangle of red tape awaiting UK travellers to Europe


British travellers to Europe face a monumental tangle of red tape in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The government has published details of contingency planning for travel if the UK crashes out of the European Union without an agreement.

Yet many of the complications may prevail even if a deal is reached; it is unclear what exactly the government is hoping to achieve in terms of post-Brexit travel arrangements.

British passports with EU branding will continue to be valid as UK travel documents after Brexit. But from 29 March 2019, British travellers become “third-country nationals,” and complex rules about passport validity come into play.

While some UK travellers could find their passports have too little validity, bizarrely, others may have too much.

The Schengen Border Code – covering almost every EU nation – stipulates that third-country nationals must have at least three months’ validity remaining on the date of intended departure from the Schengen area; as they can stay for up to three months, the government is advising British travellers will be advised to have at least six months validity remaining on the date of arrival. 

But because the European Union also has rules on maximum validity, the Home Office says: “We suggest that you check the issue date and make sure your passport is no older than 9 years and 6 months on the day of travel.

“If your passport does not meet these criteria, you may be denied entry to any of the Schengen area countries, and you should renew your passport before you travel,” says the Home Office.

This could lead to the extraordinary situation where a traveller with over 10 years’ validity on their passport – for example one issued in the first week of September, valid to the first week in June 2029 – has to obtain a new passport with less validity.

The Independent highlighted this anomaly over a year ago. But it appears that the government has only just become aware of the problem, and without notice ended the policy of adding unexpired time to renewed passports.

The government also reiterated that passports issued after 29 March 2019 will have the words “European Union” removed, and later that year blue passports will begin to be issued.

Travel to Ireland, for which no passport is required by either the UK or Irish government, is unaffected by Brexit – unless a British visitor wants to drive in the Republic.

For motorists, plans are being made for the issue of millions of archaic documents dating back up to 70 years to allow them to drive in the EU – whether they take their own car abroad, or rent one there.

“You may need to obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP) to drive in the EU,” says the Department for Transport (DfT). 

Confusingly, there are two varieties of IDP required by EU countries. One type is governed by the 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic, the other by the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic.

The older version is needed for Ireland, Spain, Malta and Cyprus, while all other EU countries, plus Norway and Switzerland, recognise the 1968 type.

For a journey from the UK via France to Spain, both varieties of IDP would be essential.

“You may be turned away at the border or face other enforcement action, for example fines, if you don’t have the correct IDP,” says the DfT.

Mobile phone users could face charges of up to £45 per month when the UK leaves the European Union.

Roaming surcharges are outlawed within the EU. The DCMS says: “Surcharge-free roaming when you travel to the EU could no longer be guaranteed.

“The availability and pricing of mobile roaming in the EU would be a commercial question for the mobile operators.

“This might affect the amount of calls that you can make, texts you can send and data you can consume, including applying limits that are less than the amount available in your bundle when you’re in the UK.”

The department plans to cap charges for data usage while abroad at £45 per month.

It adds: “Some mobile operators (3, EE, O2 and Vodafone – which cover over 85 per cent of mobile subscribers) have already said they have no current plans to change their approach to mobile roaming after the UK leaves the EU.”

The government insists that negotiations on Brexit are “progressing well”.

There is no indication in the latest release of documents about how aviation between the UK and the EU will be able to continue after Brexit.

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