Barred from Europe: 2.4m Brits caught in post-Brexit passport chaos

Thousands face Easter getaway misery as EU refuses to recognise passports over 10 years old – with British travellers now categorised ‘third country nationals’ alongside nations such as Venezuela and Samoa

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Friday 29 March 2024 10:15 GMT
Simon Calder warns holidaymakers not to get caught out by passport 10-year rule

Millions of Britons are barred from entering the EU by post-Brexit passport rules that are set to cause chaos over the Easter holidays.

With the getaway starting in earnest on Thursday, an estimated 2.4 million travellers have documents that can’t be used for trips to the EU because of the change in expiry requirements.

Since Brexit, British passports must have an issue date less than 10 years old on the day of departure to the EU, and must have at least three months left before their expiry date on the intended day of return. But millions of passports issued prior to September 2018 have longer validity periods.

Analysis by The Independent suggests 200 people every day are falling foul of this rule at UK airports, with thousands expected to see their holidays ruined over the upcoming break.

The rule change follows Britain’s Brexit deal with the EU, which puts the UK into the “third country nationals” category – alongside Venezuela and Samoa – with different expiry rules than when it was a member state. It means Britons are being turned away at airports, ferries and trains bound for Europe even if they have previously travelled to the EU on the same document.

The 17-day Easter break is a particularly busy time for British travellers and an estimated 6.4 million trips will be made from the UK to Europe – 1.6 million over the bank holiday weekend alone.

Longer validity on older passports was a useful way to avoid wasting part of the life of a passport, since holders could renew up to nine months early without losing any time. But after the rules changed, many have been confused into believing they have more time on their current passports to enter the EU than they actually do.

For example, anyone with a passport issued before 28 March 2014 will be prevented from going to Europe today, even if they have many months remaining before expiry. This confusing rule will potentially affect everyone whose passport was issued before September 2018: an estimated 32 million people.

One traveller, Ruth Wade, was about to board a flight recently from Manchester airport to Zurich via Brussels for her son’s wedding. But she was turned away because her passport had gone over the 10-year limit.

“I had already checked in for the flight 24 hours previously,” she told The Independent. “I handed over our passports at the desk. The woman from Brussels Airlines just looked at me and said, ‘You can’t travel on this passport, it’s expired.’

“My reply was: ‘No it hasn’t, it doesn’t expire until October 2024.’ She then went on to say, the expiry date doesn’t matter, it’s 10 years from the issue date.”

The passport had passed the 10-year mark by a matter of days.

“ I was distraught,” Ms Wade said. “She looked at my husband and said, ‘You can go but she can’t.’

“She didn’t offer any advice other than saying it had been all over the news. I don’t listen to or watch the news and I wouldn’t be taking any interest in a passport issue as my passport had seven months validity left on it.”

Ms Wade was able to book a slot for a fast-track appointment at HM Passport Office in Liverpool, requiring a hotel stay and new tickets.

“We need to get Zurich to see our son who is getting married. We have had to rebook flights, lost money on the initial flights. Upset and frustrated doesn’t even come close.”

Official data shows that 706,000 passports were issued by HM Passport Office in March 2014. According to an Independent estimate, about 500,000 are adult passports and 80 per cent of those will be renewals which could have had the extra months added to them.

With a life of about 10 years and six months for these 400,000 passports, and thus a six-month window for breaching the rule, around 2.4 million passports could be affected.

Airports including Edinburgh, Newcastle and Bristol are already predicting their busiest-ever Easter, with 2 million people expected to fly from British airports between Good Friday and Easter Monday, most of them to the EU and wider Schengen area.

Geneva routes will be extremely busy with winter sports fans, while Malaga, Alicante, Faro and Tenerife are the leading spring sunshine holiday destinations.

Among city breaks, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Paris and Rome are the most popular. Dubai, Orlando and New York are the key longer-haul destinations.

Proportionately there are significantly more family European trips over Easter: Turkey’s main season has yet to get going, and Egypt is not especially popular for short holidays due to the long flight time.

Airlines insist it is the passenger’s responsibility to ensure they comply with the immigration rules of their destination. Travel insurers will not pay out for losses related to passport validity issues.

A government spokesperson said: “It is quick and easy to renew your passport online or at a Post Office.

“We advise all customers not to book travel without a passport that meets their travel needs.”

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