Everything you need to know about travelling to the EU from 2021

The end of 2020 marks the end of the Brexit transition; from next year, British travellers visiting countries in the European Union will encounter a number of changes. Here’s everything you need to know.

Will I have to get a new passport after 2020?

Not necessarily. Even if your passport is a burgundy EU document, it will continue to be valid as a UK travel document until its expiry date. The problem will be that as soon as the transition ends on 1 January 2021, European rules on passport validity become much tougher.

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What changes for passports?

The UK government says: “On the day you travel, you’ll need your passport to both have at least six months left [and] be less than 10 years old (even if it has six months or more left).

“If you do not renew your passport, you may not be able to travel to most EU countries and Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.”

Unfortunately the reality is worse than this, and The Independent has told the government its information is wrong.

The passport must have been issued less than 9 years and 6 months ago.

The European Union has strict rules on passport validity for travellers visiting from outside the EU.

Passports issued by non-member countries are regarded as expired once they have been valid for 10 years.

For many years, until September 2018, the UK had the 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 30 June 2011 could show an expiry date of 30 March 2022.

While the expiry date printed in the passport remains valid for the UK and other non-EU countries around the world, within the European Union the issue date is critical.

That passport issued on 30 June 2011 will be regarded as expiring on 30 June 2021. Therefore if its holder attempted to board a plane to the European Union on New Year’s Day 2021, it would have insufficient validity and the airline would be obliged to turn them away – even though the British passport has almost 15 months to run.

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

The rules also apply to Switzerland, Norway and Iceland, as well as the small countries of Andorra, Liechtenstein, San Marino and Vatican City.

Shall I renew my passport now?

Not unless it is absolutely necessary to have a new one in a few weeks, because there is currently a large backlog at passport offices.

What’s the story with health care?

Since the EU referendum the government has repeatedly said that it hopes to establish a reciprocal health treaty mirroring the European Health Insurance Card (Ehic). The then-health minister, Stephen Hammond, said in a written parliamentary answer: “The department recognises that people with some pre-existing conditions rely on the Ehic to be able to travel.”

The intention has now been dropped. The government says: “You should always get appropriate travel insurance with healthcare cover before you go abroad.

“It’s particularly important you get travel insurance with the right cover if you have a pre-existing medical condition. This is because the Ehic scheme covers pre-existing conditions, while many travel insurance policies do not.”

The Association of British Insurers warns that premiums could rise, saying: “Claims costs within Europe are currently reduced due to the presence of the Ehic, which covers some or all state-provided medical costs.

“In the absence of the Ehic or similar reciprocal health agreement, insurers will inevitably see an increase in claims costs – this could have a direct impact on the prices charged to consumers.”

What about driving licences?

This is one of the travel aspects where, four years after the Brexit vote, there is no clarity.

The government says: “You may need extra documents from 1 January 2021.

“You might need an international driving permit (IDP) to drive in some countries.”

But it may be that the UK can be “listed” by the EU as a more trusted country, in which case the rules will be less onerous.

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