Common Travel Area: What is it, and how can it help travellers without a passport?

Exclusive: You can travel where you wish within the CTA, but you are expected to carry some ID

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Wednesday 12 April 2023 09:39 BST
Ireland is part of the CTA
Ireland is part of the CTA (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Many travellers are concerned about potential delays in renewing their passports ahead of journeys this spring and summer.

A five-week strike by members of the PCS union working at HM Passport Office is under way, with 1,000 staff on strike in a dispute over Civil Service pay.

In addition, the Home Office has revealed it has no intention of reducing the current advice that travellers should allow 10 weeks for passport issue or renewal.

Since Brexit, rules for entering the European Union have become more complex with stipulations on the maximum age of a passport on departure to the EU (10 years) and the minimum validity on the day of return (three months).

As a result, some travellers may feel they are unable to venture overseas because they cannot guarantee having a valid document.

Yet thanks to agreements stretching back a century, British travellers can venture without a passport (subject to the airline’s policy) anywhere within the Common Travel Area (CTA). This comprises one EU nation – Ireland – as well as the “Crown Dependencies” of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. You could think of the arrangement as a “Schengen Area for the British Isles”. The UK government says the CTA “underpinned the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement”.

These are the key questions and answers.

When and how did the CTA come into being?

The Common Travel Area is an open-borders agreement that predates such arrangements in Continental Europe. It has its origins in the border deals made in 1923 when formalising links between the newly created Irish Free State and the United Kingdom – comprising England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

It now also embraces the Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey (including the smaller Channel Islands) and the Isle of Man, but not British Overseas Territories such as Gibraltar and Bermuda.

What benefits does it confer?

Numerically, by far the most significant benefits are for British and Irish citizens. They can “move freely between the UK and Ireland”. British citizens can work and take up residence in Ireland, and Irish citizens can do the same in the UK “without any requirement to obtain permission”. Professional qualifications are mutually recognised. And citizens of each country “have the right to access emergency, routine and planned publicly funded health services in each other’s state, on the same basis as citizens of that state”.

As a British citizen, what do I need to travel within the Common Travel Area?

To Ireland from Great Britain (England, Wales, Scotland)

The Irish government says: “There is no requirement for Irish and British citizens to carry passports when travelling within the Common Travel Area.

“However, it is the case that airline carriers in many instances require all passengers to have a passport in their possession before allowing them to board aircraft. This is not an immigration requirement.”

Ryanair demands a passport for all travellers from Great Britain to Ireland. The airline says: “A valid passport is required for travel with Ryanair between Ireland and the UK. No exceptions will be made. Driving licences are not acceptable for travel with Ryanair between the UK and Ireland.”

British Airways says: “If you are a citizen of the UK or Republic of Ireland who was born in that country you do not need a passport to travel between the two countries but you do require some form of photographic identification, such as a driving licence. All other travellers require a valid passport to travel between the two countries.”

Aer Lingus says acceptable identification includes:

  • Valid passport or Irish passport card
  • Driver’s licence with photo
  • International student card
  • Government issued photo ID cards
  • Health insurance cards with photo/social security cards with photo
  • Bus pass with photo
  • Work ID with photo

Ferry companies follow the Aer Lingus policy, broadly.

To Ireland from Northern Ireland

The Irish government says: “For journeys on and across the island of Ireland, British and Irish citizens do not require any travel documents.”

To the Isle of Man

No passport necessary.

To the Channel islands

No passport necessary, but “All visitors do require some form of photographic identification”.

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