Simon Calder travel advice: When to renew your passport before visiting Europe

Everything you need to know about the expiry rules post-Brexit

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Friday 29 March 2024 09:23 GMT
Brexit: Passports and visa rules explained

Since Brexit, the rules on passport validity for British visitors to the European Union have tightened.

Gone are the days when you could travel to the EU at any point before your travel document expired; the UK is now a “third country”, with rules to match.

Added confusion has come in the form of the UK’s own HM Passport Office, which has continued to give out incorrect information regarding child passport expiry dates.

These are the key questions and answers based on EU rules.

What’s changed?

While the UK was in the European Union, British passports were valid up to and including their expiry date for travel within the EU. But since the end of the Brexit transition phase, British passport holders are treated as “third country nationals” with stipulations about passport issue and expiry dates – together with limits on the length of stay almost everywhere in Europe.

For the avoidance of doubt, these are not “new EU rules” – they were decided while the UK was in the European Union.

What is required for my passport to be valid?

The requirements for the Schengen Area – comprising most EU countries plus Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and a handful of micro-states – are crisply expressed on the Travel page of the European Union’s Your Europe site: “If you are a non-EU national wishing to visit or travel within the EU, you will need a passport:

  • valid for at least three months after the date you intend to leave the EU country you are visiting,
  • which was issued within the previous 10 years.”

(All children’s passports meet this latter condition – see below.)

For the avoidance of doubt, there is no problem travelling to Europe with a passport issued for over 10 years, so long as it is under 10 years old on the date of departure to the EU and will have three months remaining on the date of return.

Why the line about ‘issued within the previous 10 years’?

For many years, until September 2018, the UK had a generous policy of allowing credit for “unspent” time when renewing a passport, issuing documents valid for up to 10 years and nine months.

So a passport issued on 31 October 2012 could show an expiry date of 31 July 2023.

This was fine around Europe and the world for decade – until Brexit, whereupon a longstanding rule kicked in. For non-members of the EU hoping to enter the Schengen Area, a passport must have been issued in the past 10 years.

With a passport issued on 31 October 2012, regardless of the expiry date, you’re not allowed to enter the EU post-1 November 2022.

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

Are the “issued less than 10 years ago” and “valid for three months” rules combined?

No. There is no need to have a passport issued less than nine years, nine months ago. The two conditions are independent of one another.

The Migration and Home Affairs Department of the European Commission in Brussels told me: “Entry should be allowed to those travelling with passports issued within the previous 10 years at the moment of entry into the Schengen area.

“The condition that the passport must have been issued within the previous 10 years does not extend for the duration of the intended stay. It is enough if this condition is fulfilled at the moment of entry.

“To give a practical example, a non-EU traveller arriving on 1 December 2021 for a 20-days stay in the EU with a passport issued on 2 December 2011 and valid until 2 April 2022 will be allowed entry.”

If I get wrongly turned away, what are my rights?

For flights: you can claim denied boarding compensation (either £220 or £350, depending on the length of the flight) and associated costs – for example, booking another flight on a rival airline, or for wasted car rental and hotel expenses that cannot be reclaimed.

I’ve just read a report saying I need six months remaining for Europe?

Some news outlets, regrettably, continue to publish incorrect information. Ignore it.

Does that 10-year-plus rule apply anywhere else in the world?

No as far as I am aware. The concern around the date of issue is relevant only for travel to the European Union – not for the rest of the world.

For destinations outside EU, the only significant consideration is the expiry date. And for destinations such as Australia, the US and Canada, your passport is valid up to and including this date.

So with that passport expiring on 31 July 2023, you could be in New York until that very day (though you would need to get a daytime flight back to avoid your passport running out en route.

Read the Independent’s guide to how many months you need left on your passport to travel worldwide

What about children?

Passports for under-16s are typically valid for five years (plus any extra credit). A child’s passport issued for five years and nine months is clearly within the 10-year limit, and there is no possibility of breaching that condition.

(During 2021, the Home Office’s defective passport checker stripped all extra credit, which was both wrong and unhelpful. The online checker has now been switched off.)

But beware of the three-months-remaining-on-exit rule, which children are more likely to fall foul of because of the shorter duration of their passports.

What about this 90/180 day rule?

For trips to the Schengen area (most EU nations plus Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and some small countries) British passport holders can stay a maximum of 90 days in any 180. That’s roughly three months in six.

it is tricky to explain, but I shall do my best. Imagine a calendar that stretches back almost six months from today. What happened more than 180 days ago is irrelevant. What counts is the number of days you were either inside (I) or outside (O) the Schengen Area in the past 180 days.

You can easily keep count on a calendar yourself, either printed or digital.

If “I” hits 90, you must leave that day and stay out for almost three months, to accumulate 90 “Os” in a row. Then you can go back in, for a maximum of 90 days.

During the course of a calendar year, it could work like this (assuming no travel to the EU in the previous six months).

  • 1 January: enter the EU and stay for 90 days until the last day of March, when you must leave.
  • 1 April: remain outside for 90 days, which takes you to 29 June.
  • 30 June: enter the EU and stay for 90 days, until 27 September. Then leave.
  • 28 September: remain outside the EU until 26 December.

For longer stays, some countries offer visas that allow British citizens to remain for months on end. If you get one of these, then the time spent in that country does not count towards the “90/180” rule – in other words, you can explore other EU countries with a fresh calendar.

What about non-Schengen EU members?

For British visitors to Ireland, there are no limits on passport validity. Indeed, a passport is not legally mandatory for British travellers to the republic, though some airlines insist on it.

Bulgaria, Cyprus and Romania have identical rules to the Schengen Area: passport issued in the past 10 years, and with three months validity remaining on the day of leaving the country. But time spent in any of these nations does not contribute to the “90/180” day total.

Help! My passport is full of stamps and I have no space left. Will I be turned away?

No, even though Eurostar warns British passport holders : “Check that you have a clear page in your passport as it will need to be stamped with your travel date when you’re travelling to and from the EU.”

The EU’s Practical Handbook for Border Guards is explicit about a “document enabling a third-country national to cross the border [that] is no longer suitable for affixing a stamp, as there are no longer available pages”.

It says: “In such a case, the third-country national should be recommended to apply for a new passport, so that stamps can continue to be affixed there in the future.

“However, as an exception – and particularly in the case of regular cross-border commuters – a separate sheet can be used, to which further stamps can be affixed. The sheet must be given to the third-country national.

“In any case, the lack of empty pages in a passport is not, in itself, a valid and sufficient ground to refuse the entry of a person.”

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