No-deal Brexit: what are the implications for British travellers?

What would happen from day one if the UK crashes out of the UK?


Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Wednesday 16 January 2019 14:18 GMT
Thousands of flights would be cancelled by no deal brexit as departures capped at 2018 levels

After the government’s unprecedented defeat over the EU withdrawal agreement, this is what we know from official sources about life for British travellers to the European Union from 30 March onwards.


British passports will continue to be valid from 30 March 2019 until their expiry date, but will cease to have any power as European Union travel documents.

“You’ll be considered a third country national,” says the Home Office. That means a check on passport validity – with a hidden danger for travellers whose passports expire soon.

At present a British passport is valid for travel anywhere in the European Union up to and including the date of expiry.

But the Home Office says that this will change after Brexit: “The actual check carried out could be that the passport has at least six months validity remaining on the date of arrival.”

The hidden danger is that any third-country passport issued 10 years or more ago is regarded as expired by the European Union.

Many British passport holders have passports that were issued for 10 years plus up to nine months unexpired time in their old passport. So a passport issued on 29 March 2009 could be valid until 29 December 2019.

That poses no problem while the UK remains a member of the EU, and is unlikely to be an issue outside the European Union. But arriving at an EU border from 30 March 2019 onwards, the passport will be regarded as expired.

With the UK government warning that passports should have a minimum of six months’ validity remaining from the day of entering the EU after Brexit, travellers face being turned away at airports.

They may assume that because they have six months remaining before the passport’s expiry date, they qualify. But Europe’s actual test for admission is: was the passport issued less than nine years, six months ago?

The Independent believes that as the prospect of leaving without a deal becomes more prominent, there could be a surge in applications resulting in delays. Therefore anyone planning to travel to the EU from 30 March 2019 onwards whose passport is nearing its expiry date may wish to apply now.

The Home Office identified this problem last year and surreptitiously ended the policy of adding “unspent” time to passport renewals.

It says: “If you are planning to travel to the Schengen area on 30 March 2019, your passport should have an issue date on or after 1 October 2009. This is to avoid any possibility of your adult British passport not complying with the Schengen Border Code.”

But it could remain a “rolling” problem that will affect millions of British travellers.

Passports issued after 30 March 2019 will not include the words “European Union” on the front cover.

“Blue passports will start being issued from late 2019,” says the Home Office.

After the UK leaves the EU, British passport holders will be “third-country nationals” and will not be entitled to use the “fast-track” queues for European Union and EEA citizens.

But the Portuguese authorities say they will set up dedicated passport control lanes for flights arriving from the UK.

Travel to and from Ireland

Even though the UK would be out of the European Union while the Republic of Ireland remains an EU member, arrangements for travel between the two countries will continue as normal. The Home Office says: “Travel to Ireland is subject to separate Common Travel Area arrangements which will remain the same after the UK leaves the EU.”

The Common Travel Area, which applies to the UK, Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, means that no passports are needed (though individual airlines such as Ryanair may stipulate, for commercial purposes, that they are required).


In time, British travellers will need to apply online in advance for the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS). It is a form of “light” visa, similar to the American ESTA scheme, which aims to identify anyone thought to pose “a security, or irregular illegal immigration or public health risk”.

They must provide details of “his or her identity, travel document, residence information, contact details, education and current occupation”. This includes job title and employer, and, for students, the name of educational establishment.

Travellers will also have to answer questions about their state of health, particularly any infectious diseases. They must supply details of any serious convictions, including for “racism and xenophobia”, and to explain any previous presence in war or conflict zones.

The scheme is expected to come into effect in 2021. Until then, there is no need to register travel intentions online. Note that the present entitlement of UK citizens to be admitted to any European Union on presentation of a valid travel document will end at Brexit. It will then be at the discretion of the border official.


“The free circulation and movements of goods between the UK and EU would end,” says the UK government: “The European Commission has made it clear that, in the event of a ‘no deal’ scenario, it will impose full third country controls on people and goods entering the EU from the UK.”

For travellers, this means that the present arrangements which allow personal possessions to be taken from the UK to Europe without restriction will end.

In the opposite direction, theoretically duty-free entitlement would begin again.

Group trips involving equipment, such as touring musical ensembles, rock bands or even school football teams are advised to consider whether they will need to undergo special customs formalities.


In a no-deal scenario, you should contact your vet to start the preparation process and get the latest advice at least four months before you plan on travelling. This means that trips planned over Easter are already in jeopardy if the process has not begun.

“Get your pet a blood test at least 30 days after a rabies vaccination,” says the government. “You will need to talk to your vet about whether you need a rabies vaccination or booster before this test.”

The vet must send the blood sample to an EU-approved blood testing laboratory; if the vaccination was considered to be successful, it will continue to be valid as long as your pet’s rabies vaccinations are kept up to date with no gaps.

“Pets that have previously had a successful blood test and have an up-to-date rabies vaccination do not need to repeat it. However we advise speaking to your vet about the preparations you may need to make before travel,” says the government.

Crucially, though: “Wait three months from the date the successful blood sample was taken before you travel.”

Once you and your pet reach the European Union, the rules are far more complex than now; pages 18 and 19 of this document explain the regulations.


No-deal Brexit would mean flight numbers capped at 2018 levels

The European Commission has offered a “bare bones” agreement on flights continuing between the UK and EU in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Travel organisations and the Department for Transport are assuring passengers they can “book with confidence,” and that in the event of a no-deal “flights will continue as normal”.

But as The Independent has pointed out, flights on UK airlines to each EU country will be capped at summer 2018 levels.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates that up to five million extra seats are scheduled for this year compared with 2018. If the cap takes effect some of these flights would need to be cancelled to comply.

Flights on Saturday 30 March will probably operate as planned, that is because it is the final day of the winter schedules. But the summer timetables come into effect the following day, and with them – in the event of a no-deal Brexit – the EU’s cap.

Which flights will be cancelled? Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director-general, says: “There is legal and commercial uncertainty over how the Commission’s plan to cap flight numbers will work.”

A feasible scenario is that an airline will be allowed to operate only as many flights to each EU country as it did last year. At this point the carrier can decide to stick to its 2018 schedule, ie cancelling all the new departures, or pick flights which are lightly booked for cancellation.

Some carriers may be able to limit the damage by deploying larger aircraft on EU services; the cap is on flights, not seats.

The regulations would apply specifically to UK airlines.

Ryanair and other European Union carriers should not be affected, unless the British government decides to act to impose its own cap on EU airlines. This would also affect easyJet if it decides to transfer more aircraft to its Austrian “Brexit subsidiary” in order to operate European Union flights.

Passengers whose flights are cancelled will qualify for a full refund of the fare, but not associated expenses – for example accommodation or car rental.

Travellers who buy package holidays will enjoy the highest degree of protection; if their trip is cancelled, they would the get a full refund of the purchase price.


The ferry industry insists vessels will continue to sail between the UK and the European Union.

Nigel Wonnacott, head of communications for Brittany Ferries, told The Independent that passengers should not fear cancellation of sailings: “Come what may, on 30 March next year, ferries will continue to run, because we operation to international maritime law rather than European regulations. So they can be confident that if they book with us or they’re planning to book with us, they will be going on holiday.”

But the chief executive of the UK Chamber of Shipping, Bob Sanguinetti, says: “In a no-deal scenario, it is a fact that there will be long delays in ports.” This would impinge on holidaymakers.

The government and Kent County Council are planning for possible chaos at Channel ports because of a backlog of trucks in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The UK government says: “Impacts are likely to be felt mostly on the short straits crossings into Dover and Folkestone, where the frequent and closed loop nature of these mean that both exports and imports would be affected.” This could last for up six months.

Channel Tunnel

The Treaty of Canterbury between the UK and France governs the Channel Tunnel link and operations will continue – subject to any local disruption at Folkestone and/or Calais.

Driving abroad

“Your driving licence may no longer be valid by itself when driving in the EU,” says the government.

Motorists, whether taking their own cars or renting abroad, are likely to need to obtain an International Driving Permit or two; different EU countries are signed up to the 1949 and 1968 treaties.

“You would need both types of IDP if you are visiting EU countries covered by different conventions, for example France and Spain,” says the government.

The 1949 version is valid for a year, the 1968 for three years. You can nominate the starting date, which rationally will be 30 March 2019 onwards (before then, your UK driving licence is sufficient).

These are currently sold from a limited number of Post Offices, but the government intends to make them widely available from 2 February. The cost is £5.50 for each. You must take your driving licence, additional ID (eg a passport) and a signed passport photo. “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 government.

Motor insurance will no longer automatically extend to the. Insurers will provide on request a “Green Card”, for which an extra charge will be made.

For British citizens who are (or become) resident in an European Union country, the automatic right under EU law to exchange your UK licence for a driving licence from the EU country you’re living in will cease.

”Depending on the laws of the EU country you move to, you may need to take a new driving test in that country,” says the gvoernment.

“You can avoid this by exchanging your UK driving licence for one from the EU country you move to or live in before 29 March 2019. UK licence holders who do this, will be able to re-exchange for a UK licence if they return to live in the UK.”

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Medical treatment

If you fall ill or have an accident during a visit to another EU country, as a European Union citizen you have the right to receive the necessary public health care in any EU nation under the same conditions as people in the host country.

The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) certifies this entitled me in the European Union, as well as Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and plucky Liechtenstein. Treatment is “at a reduced cost or, in many cases, free of charge”, says the NHS.

In the event of a no-deal Brexit, as the NHS European Office says, technical notices published by the UK government for a no-deal exit do not cover “successor arrangements to the EHIC or arrangements for access to local healthcare for UK expats living or working in an EU member state”.

But UK visitors to Portugal will still qualify for emergency medical treatment through the local health service through a special dispensation from the government in Lisbon.

Travel insurance policies which stipulate the use of an EHIC will continue to provide cover, though in time premiums may rise.

Mobile roaming

From 30 March 2019, the law banning mobile-phone firms from charging extra for calls and data in Europe will cease, though operators have yet to set out exactly what will replace it.

Mobile phone firms can impose whatever fees they think the market will bear. But Dave Dyson, chef executive of Three, says his firm is “committed to maintain the availability of roaming in the EU at no additional cost following Brexit”.

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