Many aspects of the UK and the European Union’s future relationship remain uncertain – but we already know some things will change from 1 January 2021.
Here are some of the most important things for individual citizens to think about, and others that remain unresolved.
1. European trips will need more planning
From January, to visit any EU country – or Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein – make sure you have:
- At least six months left on your passport – except for trips to Ireland, which is part of the Common Travel Area (CTA)
- Travel insurance with health cover, because the European Health Insurance Card will no longer be valid as things stand
- Any extra driving documents you might need – depending on where you’re going. This could include a “green card” from your insurer to prove your car is covered for driving abroad
- Checked with your vet – four months before you travel – for the latest guidance about taking your pet or assistance dog abroad. The current pet passport scheme in England, Scotland, and Wales – and Pet Travel Scheme in Northern Ireland – will no longer apply
- Checked with your mobile provider. The guarantee of free-roaming will end, but no UK mobile firm currently plans to bring back the charges
2. You’ll stand in a different queue at borders
At border control, you should use separate lanes from EU, EEA, and Swiss citizens. Be prepared to show your return ticket and prove you have enough money for your stay.
Tourists will be able to travel without a visa to Schengen area countries – which includes most EU nations and Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein – for up to 90 days in any 180-day period.
So, a four-day long weekend in Portugal at Easter, followed by a fortnight in France in June, would count as 18 days towards your 90-day limit.
From 2022, UK nationals must pay for an electronic authorization to travel to the Schengen area – similar to the ESTA system in the US.
For countries outside the Schengen zone, the rules are similar – but check with the individual country.
Business travelers will have more to do and may also need a visa.
3. Duty-free shopping will return
You can still take advantage of duty-free shopping if you travel to the EU from 2021.
The amount of tobacco and alcohol you can bring back will increase, but there’ll no longer be tax-free airport sales of goods like electronics and clothing.
VAT refunds for overseas visitors in UK shops will also be removed.
4. Moving to the EU? Expect more paperwork
From 1 January, free movement of people between the UK and the EU will end.
If you’re already living in an EU country, you will have certain protections under the withdrawal agreement.
But even then, you should check that country’s specific rules. You may need to register or apply for residency, get new documents, or meet specific requirements – like having a job.
For example, UK nationals living or planning to live in France will need to obtain new residents’ permits.
If you plan to move to the EU in 2021, check the rules for each country.
People planning to move to Ireland will be largely unaffected, but rules on driving with a UK license there may change if there is a no-deal Brexit.
5. New rules for EU citizens living in the UK
If you’re an EU citizen living in the UK by 31 December 2020 – or from Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland – your rights will remain the same until 30 June 2021.
Again, because of the Common Travel Area, the rights of Irish citizens will not change.
6. There’ll be a new immigration system
From January, there’ll be a new points-based system for foreign citizens (except Irish nationals) wanting to move to the UK.
The government says it’ll treat EU and non-EU citizens equally and will aim to attract people who can contribute to the UK economy.