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Travel after Brexit: from passports to driving licences

Everything you need to know, and what you can do to avoid disruption to your holiday

There is increasing nervousness about booking flights and holidays as we approach Brexit without a deal.  Should you still book? 

There is certainly reason for caution, but as long as you understand the new rules that might be introduced, and are prepared, you should still be able to enjoy a smooth holiday. Crucially, there are changes to passport rules and driving abroad that might require applying for new documents ahead of travel.

Here we give practical advice on steps to take to have a trouble–free holiday, even if there is no deal on Brexit.

  • Make sure your passport is valid. An estimated 3.5 million UK passports won’t be accepted for travel
  • Take out travel insurance with an insurer that will cover Brexit related disruption
  • Apply for an international driving permit if hiring a car, and a green card if driving your own car

Read on for full details of everything you need to do to Brexit proof your holiday.

Q: Can I confidently book a flight for after Brexit?

A: All flights between the UK and EU will fly as normal, whether there is a deal or not. The government has told the public they can book with confidence as flights will operate as usual for the next year. The European Commission has extended legislation that ensures UK-based airlines can continue to fly to the EU unaffected until at least 24 October 2020 – even in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

There had been a remaining question mark over new routes, with the EU initially indicating that these wouldn’t be allowed, but a proposed agreement has been struck to allow these to go ahead as well.

There is still the potential for disruption, if queues at airports and ports start to stack up because of new passport checks of UK passport holders.

Q: If my flight is cancelled, will I get my money back and compensation?

A: New passport validity rules ( see below) might still cause disruption after October 31. Whatever the circumstances, your airline remains responsible for getting you to where you need to go. It will still need to provide food, drink and accommodation if you’re delayed, and, yes ultimately, if the flight is cancelled and you can’t be rerouted, you’ll get your cash back.

However, you probably won’t get any compensation. We don’t know what will happen to EU261 rules, which awards passengers compensation for delays, following Brexit.

However, deal or no deal, any travel disruption caused directly by Brexit is likely to be declared an ‘extraordinary circumstance’.

Q: Would my holiday be better protected if I book a package?

A: Yes. UK package travel holiday protections are far more comprehensive than EU261 and will remain in force regardless of no deal. If your flight is cancelled because of Brexit, and you have booked a package, you’ll be able to claim the full cost of the holiday back – not just the flights.

It’s also worth booking with a travel agent that is a member of the Association of British Travel Agents (Abta). It has assured travellers they will get a refund. Book any combination of flight, hotel or car hire, with the same company in one payment and you have a package holiday.

Q: Will travel insurance cover Brexit-related disruption?

A: Some insurers say yes, others say no. Our advice is to pick one that says yes. Insurer Direct Line has confirmed to us that its standard policy would cover Brexit-related cancellations or disruption, while Admiral, Aviva and Saga have said the same publicly.

Make sure that any policy you take out includes cover for travel disruption, as some cheaper policies do not, and buy insurance at the time of booking rather than the time of travel.

Q: Will my EHIC still be valid after Brexit?

A: European Health Insurance Cards (EHIC) may not be accepted if there is a no-deal Brexit. However, UK-issued EHIC holders in Spain, such as tourists, students and some workers, will also be able to continue to access healthcare in the same way until at least 31 December 2020. The government advises travellers to always make sure they have travel insurance with healthcare cover, especially if they have a pre-existing medical condition.

Find out more about your EHIC after Brexit.

Q: Will queues at airports be longer?

Possibly. Unless a deal is struck or airports in the EU popular with British passport holders put in place a significant amount of additional staff, there are likely to be long queues. Our research found queues are most likely in Alicante, Tenerife and Lanzarote. If you are planning to travel to these airports, and there is no deal, you may want to bring extra food and water as it’s likely you’ll be in a queue for several hours.

At border control, you may need to show a return or onward ticket and prove you have enough money for your stay.

Q: Is my passport still valid for travel?

A: Possibly not. We reported that an estimated 3.5 million UK passports, some with up to 15 months validity left won’t be accepted for travel to Schengen Area countries if there is no deal.

That’s because until recently, UK citizens who renewed their passport before it had expired had any remaining validity added to the validity of the new passport, up to a maximum of nine months. That means a UK passport could be valid for a maximum of 10 years and nine months. These nine months, or any period beyond 10 years, won’t be valid for travel to Schengen Area countries.

With Schengen Area rules also requiring non-EU travellers to have six-month validity on their passport on the day of travel, some UK passports with 15 months until expiration can’t be used to visit Schengen states. Examine your passport and check its validity, or go to passport. service.gov.uk.

Q: Will I need a visa for the EU?

A: Not immediately. While UK passport holders will become third-country nationals in the event of a no-deal, the EU has waived the requirement for a tourist visa for visits of up to 90 days in any six month period. That could be one trip or several trips to different countries. You may need a visa or permit to stay for longer, or to work or study.

Q: Can I still use my UK driving licence abroad?

A: Not on its own. You’ll need an international driving permit (IDP) if you want to drive or hire a car anywhere except Ireland. Countries, such as Spain and France, require different IDPs, so you may need to buy two. IDPs cost £5.50 and can be bought at some post offices, but not online.

You may need a Green Card if you intend to drive your own car. UK car insurance policies currently extend at least minimum cover to travel in the EU, but this will end without a deal. The Green Card carries confirmation that you are insured from your policy provider. This is free.


This story was first published in February 2019 and updated in October 2019


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