Travel to the EU from 2021: Will I need a new passport and what changes are being made?

Simon Calder
Red tape: many changes are coming in for travellers: Simon Calder

The end of 2020 marks the end of the Brexit transition; from next year, British travellers visiting countries in the European Union (except for the Republic of Ireland) will encounter a number of changes.

Here’s everything you need to know.

Will I have to get a new passport after 2020?

Not necessarily. Even if your passport is a burgundy EU document, it will continue to be valid as a UK travel document until its expiry date. The problem will be that as soon as the transition ends on 1 January 2021, European rules on passport validity become much tougher.

What changes for passports?

The UK government says: “On the day you travel, you’ll need your passport to both have at least six months left [and] be less than 10 years old (even if it has six months or more left).

“If you do not renew your passport, you may not be able to travel to most EU countries and Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.”

Unfortunately the reality is worse than this, and The Independent has told the government its information is wrong.

The passport must have been issued less than 9 years and 6 months ago.

Until September 2018 the government appeared unaware of the problem. Once the problem was identified, the practice of giving up to nine months’ grace ended abruptly.

The rules also apply to Switzerland, Norway and Iceland, as well as the small countries of Andorra, Liechtenstein, San Marino and Vatican City.

Shall I renew my passport now?

Not unless it is absolutely necessary to have a new one in a few weeks, because there is currently a large backlog at passport offices.

What’s the story with health care?

Since the EU referendum the government has repeatedly said that it hopes to establish a reciprocal health treaty mirroring the European Health Insurance Card (Ehic). The then-health minister, Stephen Hammond, said in a written parliamentary answer: “The department recognises that people with some pre-existing conditions rely on the Ehic to be able to travel.”

The intention has now been dropped. The government says: “You should always get appropriate travel insurance with healthcare cover before you go abroad.

“It’s particularly important you get travel insurance with the right cover if you have a pre-existing medical condition. This is because the Ehic scheme covers pre-existing conditions, while many travel insurance policies do not.”

The Association of British Insurers warns that premiums could rise, saying: “Claims costs within Europe are currently reduced due to the presence of the Ehic, which covers some or all state-provided medical costs.

“In the absence of the Ehic or similar reciprocal health agreement, insurers will inevitably see an increase in claims costs – this could have a direct impact on the prices charged to consumers.”

What about driving licences?

This is one of the travel aspects where, four years after the Brexit vote, there is no clarity.

The government says: “You may need extra documents from 1 January 2021.

“You might need an international driving permit (IDP) to drive in some countries.”

In fact, you may need two. A 1949 IDP covers Spain, Cyprus and Malta, while a 1968 version is valid everywhere else in the EU.

The IDP is an antiquated document available at larger post offices. Take your driving licence, a passport photo and £5.50.

The government also says: “If you’re taking your own vehicle, you might also need a ‘green card’ or valid proof of insurance and a GB sticker.”

What about mobile roaming?

From 1 January 2021, the EU-wide ban on roaming charges for phone calls and internet use will no longer apply for people with UK mobile phones. Mobile providers will be free to impose whatever fees they wish, though the Government says it will cap the maximum for mobile data usage while abroad at £49 per month unless the user positively agrees to pay more.

Competition is likely to stifle any sharp increases in costs. Dave Dyson, chief executive of Three, says his firm is “committed to maintaining the availability of roaming in the EU at no additional cost following Brexit”.

Can I take my pet abroad?

If it is a cat, dog or ferret, but the rules could become very complex depending on the outcome the government negotiates.

The BBC’s assistant political editor, Norman Smith, is a dog owner and said: “It looks to me frankly such a faff, you are just not going to bother.

“You are going to have to take your pet to the vet to get a rabies vaccination. You’ll then have to return a month later to get a blood test, send that blood test to an EU laboratory.

“Their vet will then send back the ‘OK’. You’ll then have to wait another three months before you can go.”

But it may be that the UK can be “listed” by the EU as a more trusted country, in which case the rules will be less onerous.

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