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BREXIT: What Brits in Europe need to know about travel from January 2021

Here's a reminder to Britons living around Europe of some of the rules they will have to abide by when travelling after January 1st 2021.

BREXIT: What Brits in Europe need to know about travel from January 2021
AFP

The UK government has chosen to end freedom of movement for people from the EU and therefore its own citizens as a result so there will be changes to travel rules that will kick in on January 1st 2021.

These changes will impact certain things such as passport validity, border checks, EHIC cards and of course entry requirements.

First of all Covid-19

Most countries in Europe have now at least partially reopened their borders to travellers from the UK after the 'mutant Covid' scare, but some are limiting travel to essential trips only and most are insisting on Covid tests or quarantine for all arrivals from the UK – regardless of nationality, so check the situation in your destination if you are coming from the UK.

Secondly, at the end of the transition period Britain becomes a “third country” which means it will be subject to the EU's ban on non-essential travel to the bloc and Schengen area that was imposed back in March 2020 because of the pandemic.

That means tourists and visitors coming from the UK are not allowed to visit the EU from January onwards. Essential travel will be allowed so that means anyone resident in the EU can return home and family members of EU residents can travel. Exemptions are also made for those travelling for work reasons. More info here.

And now for Brexit…

Passports

Before December 31st British nationals could travel freely throughout Europe and only needed to make sure their passport was valid for the duration of their trip.

However the rules are stricter after January 1st.

“From January 1st 2021, you must have at least six months left on an adult or child passport to travel to most countries in Europe (not including Ireland),” the UK government says.

This requirement “does not apply if you are entering or transiting” your EU country of residence, however. So Britons returning to their homes in France, Spain, Germany etc in the New Year should be able to enter if they have less than six months validity on their passport.

“If you renewed your current passport before the previous one expired, extra months may have been added to its expiry date. Any extra months on your passport over 10 years may not count towards the 6 months needed,” the UK government says.

“You will need to renew your passport before travelling if you do not have enough time left on your passport,” the UK government says.

Border checks

After December 31st things might not be quite as smooth for Britons arriving at ports and airports around Europe. Until December 31st, British travellers can join the EU queue when arriving at borders but from January 1st they will likely have to join different lanes.

“As a non-EEA national, different border checks will apply when travelling to other EU or Schengen area countries. You may need to show a return or onward ticket and that you have enough money for your stay.

“You may also have to use separate lanes from EU, EEA and Swiss citizens when queueing. Your passport may be stamped for visits to these countries,” the UK government says.

Certain countries that receive large numbers of Brits like France, Spain or Portugal may make exceptions and allow UK travellers to join the EU queue.

However by law border officials are required to ask non-EU travellers extra questions, so don't be surprised if you are grilled a little on arrival.

The 90-day rule for entry

And of course with Britons stripped of the right to freedom of movement around the EU and the end to onward freedom of movement for Britons residents in Europe, the main impact will be on how long Britons can stay in an EU country.

There will be limits and Brits will likely need to apply for visas if they want to stay beyond those deadlines. 

“From January 1st 2021, you will be able to travel to other Schengen area countries for up to 90 days in any 180-day period without a visa for purposes such as tourism. This is a rolling 180-day period,” says the UK government.

“To stay for longer, to work or study, or for business travel, you will need to meet the entry requirements set out by the country to which you are travelling. This could mean applying for a visa or work permit. You may also need to get a visa if your visit would take you over the 90 days in 180 days limit.

“Periods of stay authorised under a visa or permit will not count against the 90-day limit. Travel to the UK and the Ireland will not change.”

READ ALSO How will the 90-day rule work for British people after Brexit?

Most European countries are set to treat UK residents as third-country nationals, so like all other non-EU citizens, for the purposes of entry requirements unless new deals are struck.

The 90-day limit is for the whole European bloc, not 90 days per country.

It's unclear what kind of checks there will be on how long Britons stay in the EU, especially for those already resident here in the Schengen area and therefore are not subject to border checks.

So officially a British national living in France is subject to the same rules as a British resident of the UK when it comes to spending time at their second home in Spain, however they are unlikely to be subject to border checks.

The EU has a useful short-stay visa calculator here.`

British citizens can stay as long as they like in the Republic of Ireland.

Overstaying the 90-day rule

Those who breach the 90-day rule by staying longer could be subject to a fine and/or a ban from the Schengen area. Different countries impose different penalties and there is normally a three-day grace period.

British EHIC cards

Certain categories of people living in the EU (pensioners and students) can continue to use EHIC cards although they will likely have to apply for a new one.

The new one will be different from the old EHIC or new GHIC because they will show that the holder is covered by the “Citizens' Rights Agreement” (CRA).

UK health authorities have said previously that old EHIC cards were only valid until December 31st 2020 but it's not clear if there is now leeway given that old EHIC cards are now still valid until expiry date. Nevertheless pensioners living in the EU are advised to apply for a new one.

The link has more details in the latest on EHIC cards.

Anyone with a European Health Insurance card issued by their EU country of residence (which in France is known as a Carte europeenne assurance maladie or CEAM) can still use it for health cover when visiting other EU, EEA countries or Switzerland.

The UK government has told The Local that Britons living in the EU (who are not pensioners) before the end of the transition period that their locally issued EHIC card will be valid for any treatment they need while visiting the UK.

The UK government's site says: “If you live in the EU or move there before the end of 2020, your rights to access healthcare in your host country will stay the same from January 1st 2021 for as long as you remain resident.

Driving licences

UK residents living around Europe are officially obliged to exchange their British driving licences for one issued in their country of residence.

However different countries have different rules and the deadline for doing this depends on which country you live in, so it's worth seeking out info in the Brexit sections of our websites.

For example in France the deadline for exchanging driving licences is December 31st 2021.

For UK travellers to Europe the government says: “You might need an international driving permit (IDP) to drive in some countries.”

“If you’re taking your own British vehicle, you will also need a ‘green card’ and a GB sticker,” the government says.

It is not clear however what the same advice would apply for a British resident of France driving in another EU country on a British licence.

Bringing goods into the UK

Previously there were no limits on the value of goods you could bring in to the UK from European Union nations unless you planned to sell them – to the delight of many Brits visiting the wine warehouses of northern France.

But from the start of 2020 there will be now restrictions on the amount you can bring into UK.

For alcohol, the limits are: 42 litres of beer,  4 litres of spirits or 9 litres of sparkling wine and 18 litres of still wine.

Arrivals to the UK will also qualify to bring in 200 duty-free cigarettes. 

If you exceed any of these limits, you will pay tax on the whole lot.

There is a limit of €430 – roughly £400 – for all other goods.

The government states: “The beer allowance of 42 litres will equate to three crates of 568ml (pint) cans. If passengers prefer to buy 330ml bottles of beer this would equate to five crates.”

For more information CLICK HERE.

Travel documents needed for British residents in EU

Britons around Europe are currently in the process of either applying for residency status or officially registering in their adopted EU countries to ensure they are covered by the Withdrawal Agreement and can make the most of the rights it protects.

But there are concerns about what documents some will need to prove their residency in the country if for example if, as for example will be the case in France, they won't be in possession of the official residency card by January 1st.

Under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement Brits have until six months after the end of the transition period (so until July 2021) to apply for residency in those countries such as France and Germany where it will be required to do so.

However certain countries like Sweden and Austria have decided to extend the deadline to give more time to Britons to apply for residency.

READ ALSO: Q&A: What does Brexit mean for my rights as a Brit living in Germany?

In the absence of any clear rules on what documents Britons without a residency card will need, they are being advised to be prepared to carry various proofs of residency such as bills, work contracts, insurance documents etc as well as email confirmation of their application for residency.

Other things to note…

Pets…

British citizens travelling from the UK to the EU will have to take note of other changes from January 1st 2021.

For example from January 1st 2021 Britons travelling to the EU will not be able to use the existing pet passport scheme. Instead they'll need to follow a different process, for new paperwork. Follow the government guidance about pet travel to Europe from January 1st 2021.

Going from Europe to the UK is easier, because the UK has stated that for the moment it will continue to accept Pet Passports.

Your Pet Passport and microchip information will be checked at the border.

“If you have a pet passport issued by an EU member state, you can use it to bring your pet to Great Britain.

“You can also use it to return to the EU, as long as your pet has had a successful rabies antibody blood test,” the UK gov says. For more details on rabies tests CLICK HERE.

Phones…

And anyone using a British phone number after January 1st needs to be aware of roaming charges.

The guarantee of free mobile phone roaming throughout the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway will end on December 31st.

Customers are advised to check with their phone operator to find out about any roaming charges.

 

Member comments

  1. Does anyone know what will happen to a Brit who is in France and who wants to take advantage of first 3 months of 90 day ruling without returning to UK. If they have all appropriate driving permits, health cover etc. The passport won’t be stamped to show arrival so is this a grey area? Has anything been said to indicate you should leave and return? I have searched and searched and can’t find information relating to this specific question. Thanks

  2. Can’t see any possible reason Vanessa why you can’t have your 90 days. If you’re visiting there now or up to Dec 31st that’s just part of your FOM, doesn’t matter. Then you can start your 90 days on Jan 1st.

    On another tack, there is a “To whom it may concern” letter from the British Embassy in Paris, in French, A Qui de Droit, for anyone claiming/going to claim French residency but not doing it yet /waiting for their card, to show if necessary up until October 1st, as proof that you don’t need to show a residency permit until then. So if you perhaps don’t get around to applying until June,say, you have this to show to anyone who asks, that it’s not required to show til Oct.
    .
    https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/927523/Informative_note_withdrawal_agreement_.pdf

  3. This article dated 1st January includes the statement:
    > All current EHIC cards become invalid on December 31st.

    My belief is that this is out of date and that the UK-issued
    EHIC will continue to be valid until its expiry date, when
    an application for a GHIC can be made.

    Please clarify and amend if necessary.

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BREXIT

Frustration grows as UK driving licence holders in Italy wait in limbo

British nationals living in Italy are becoming increasingly concerned by the lack of news about a reciprocal driving licence agreement post-Brexit, and say the current 'catch-22' situation is adversely affecting their lives.

Frustration grows as UK driving licence holders in Italy wait in limbo

There is growing discontent among UK licence holders residing in Italy who are currently playing a waiting game on the validity of their driving licences.

Those who are driving in Italy on a UK-issued permit currently have just over six months left before their licence is no longer accepted on Italy’s roads.

READ ALSO: Driving licences: How does situation for Brits in Italy compare to rest of Europe?

That is, unless a deal is reached between the UK and Italy, or another extension period is granted.

Another extension would mark the third time the authorities have deferred making an agreement on UK driving licences in Italy.

When Britain left the EU at the end of 2020, British and Italian authorities hadn’t reached a reciprocal deal on driving licences.

However, UK licence holders living in Italy were granted a 12-month grace period in which they could continue to drive on their British licences in Italy.

With just days to go before the deadline in December 2021, those still using a UK licence were granted a reprieve when it was further extended for another 12 months until the end of 2022.

But the situation from January 1st, 2023, remains unknown.

In the remaining few months, British nationals driving in Italy who hadn’t converted their licence to an Italian one before January 1st, 2021 face the same choice again: wait and hope for an agreement or start the lengthy and costly process of taking their Italian driving test.

There is still no confirmation on reaching an agreement on driving licences. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

Many UK nationals have contacted The Local recently to express their frustration, anger and concern over the situation, explaining how the possibility of not being to drive in Italy would profoundly impact their lives.

For some, it would mean not being able to get to work, losing their independence, not being to reach supermarkets for the food shop in remote areas, or not being able to take their children to school.

And in the meantime, many readers told us it means ongoing worry and uncertainty.

Reader David (not his real name), who moved to the southern region of Puglia shortly before Brexit hit, tells us he now finds himself in a “horrible catch-22 situation”.

He summed up the feeling among many of those who contacted The Local by saying: “It is highly concerning and not at all helpful for mental or physical health in a period when we are trying to settle in to a new life in Italy.”

He points out that, for him, retaking his driving test and getting an Italian licence would also mean having to sell his car and buy one with a less powerful engine.

“I realise that if I pass the Italian driving test and obtain an Italian licence, then I will be a neopatente (new driver) with three years of serious restrictions,” he says.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about getting an Italian driving licence post-Brexit

Newly administered licences in Italy carry restrictions including on the maximum engine size of the car the holder may drive, tighter speed limits on the motorway and extra penalty points for breaking them.

“In this situation, I am honestly dis-incentivised to get the Italian licence unless there seriously is a real ‘no deal’ scenario on the table,” he says.

“Because if I get an Italian licence now – and of course I could choose now to invest a lot of time and money to get it – and then an agreement is reached to exchange licenses, then I might find myself in a worse position than if I just waited to do an exchange.”

“I am sincerely hoping for an agreement to be reached for experienced drivers with a UK licence.”

James Appleton lives in Milan and says he feels “frustrated about the situation”. Although he concedes that he lives in the city with all the convenience that implies, he is worried about having a car sitting outside his flat that he can no longer drive from January.

“The frustration now is with little over six months left of the year, advice from the authorities has continued to be quite unhelpful,” he tells us.

“We keep hearing, ‘consider your options’. I know my options: I have to start the process of taking a test, which is expensive and lengthy, and which may turn out to be unnecessary, or wait until the end of the year. Those have been my options for year and a half,” he adds.

Frustration for many British nationals still waiting on a post-Brexit driving licence agreement. Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP

“I feel very much in limbo. If it gets to November and we still haven’t heard anything, I risk having a car that I can’t drive from January as my licence may no longer be valid.

My hope would be if there’s not to be a deal, let us know so there’s time to take the test,” James says. “I don’t want to find out with a week to go, like last year.”

He points to the fact that many other non-EU countries have reciprocal driving licence agreements with Italy, so why not the UK? Meanwhile, Italy is one of only two countries in the EU still not to have made a deal on driving licences.

While he said he didn’t want to sound “entitled”, the lack of clarity was simply confusing.

READ ALSO: Q&A: Your questions answered about driving in Italy on a British licence

Like many others, he tried but didn’t manage to convert his British licence in time as he moved to Italy shortly before the Brexit deadline.

James registered as a resident in December 2020, leaving little time to begin the conversion process. He admitted it was partly his fault “for not having realised the consequences of what was going to happen”.

But “there are some people in a position where it wasn’t so straightforward to convert your licence,” he notes.

This was true for another reader, who wished to remain anonymous. She tells us that she tried to begin the conversion of her UK driving licence three times in Imperia, where she lives, but was told to “wait and see what is decided”.

“No one has taken a note of my requests and attempts so I cannot prove my attempts to get this sorted or listed,” she says.

READ ALSO: How to import your car or motorbike to Italy

In her case, it would therefore be difficult to prove that she began the conversion process before January 1st, 2021.

She also faced setbacks when trying to convert her licence in time after applying for residency before Brexit.

On being told that she needed her final ID card (carta d’identità) proving her residence, she returned to her town hall but couldn’t get the card for another seven months due to no appointments being available.

“Then I couldn’t get the licence exchanged as the person dealing with this was not at work on the day I went. I had to fly back to UK then Covid restrictions kicked in, hampering travel and by then UK was out of Europe and the Italian/UK driver’s licence issues remained unsolved,” she added.

The question on a UK-Italy driving licence agreement rolls on. Photo by FABIO MUZZI / AFP

So is there any hope that an agreement will be reached and those driving on a UK licence won’t need to sit an Italian driving test?

At this point there are no indications as to whether a decision will be reached either way. The British government continues to advise licence holders to sit their Italian driving test, while also stating that they’re working on reaching a deal.

The latest update to the driving guidance on the British government’s ‘Living in Italy’ webpage in January states:

“If you were resident in Italy before 1 January 2022 you can use your valid UK licence until 31 December 2022,” however, “you must exchange your licence for an Italian one by 31 December 2022. You will need to take a driving test (in Italian).”

The guidance then states: “The British and Italian governments continue to negotiate long-term arrangements for exchanging driving licences without needing to take a test.”

So far, so much conflicting advice, as many readers point out.

Of those who have decided to take the plunge and sit the Italian driving test, some say it’s “not as difficult as it sounds” while others report having trouble with the highly technical questions in the theory test, not to mention the fact that the test has to be taken in Italian.

If you speak French or German better than Italian, the test may be available in those languages – but not in English.

READ ALSO: Getting your Italian driving licence: the language you need to pass your test

“My question is why can’t you take your driving test in English? Adding it as an option for taking the test would help,” says Njideka Nwachukwu, who moved to Italy in 2019. She failed the theory test and has to try again, at a further cost.

Even if you find taking the test a breeze, the process is known to take around six months – if you pass everything first time – and to set you back hundreds of euros.

At the time of writing, neither Italian nor British government officials have given any indication as to if or when a deal may be reached, or an explanation of why the two countries have not yet been able to reach an agreement.

Nor has any explanation been given as to why this important aspect of life in Italy was never protected under the Withdrawal Agreement in the first place.

When contacted by The Local recently for an update on the situation, the British Embassy in Rome stated: “rest assured the Embassy continues to prioritise the issue of UK driving licence validity in Italy and we continue to engage with the Italian government on this issue.”

The Local will continue to ask for updates regarding the use of British driving licences in Italy.

Thank you to everyone who contacted The Local to tell us how they are affected by this issue, including those we couldn’t feature in this article.

Find more information on the UK government website’s Living in Italy section.

See The Local’s latest Brexit-related news updates for UK nationals in Italy here.

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