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Everything You Need to Know About Brexit as a Traveler

Looking for a reliable source of Brexit travel information? You’re not alone—the U.K.’s own lawmakers are still asking questions about the issue of borders and free travel after Brexit. As of January 31, 2020, the United Kingdom officially has left the European Union. But what’s to come still remains unclear: For the rest of the year, the U.K. will remain in a “transition” period, meaning nothing will change between now and 2021 in regards to borders and other travel-related items. Meaning, if you have a summer vacation planned to the U.K. or Europe, you shouldn’t worry about anything changing.

With those details in mind, here’s a handy guide to what travelers should know, and anticipate, about traveling to and through the United Kingdom post-Brexit.

U.S. Travel to the U.K.

The main thing for Americans to remember is that, whether or not border changes are made, things will remain largely unchanged for U.S.-based travel to the United Kingdom—which includes England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Americans already have to go through screening at U.K. border crossings, and that won’t change with Brexit. The main difference at U.K. borders might be that E.U. citizens are required to go through screenings, which they didn’t need to before. But longer delays at major border crossings into the U.K., like London’s airports, are unlikely to see such delays for other travelers: Amid Brexit, the air hubs updated their airport customs e-gates to expedite travelers who are citizens of the following countries (including the U.S):

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Japan
  • New Zealand
  • Singapore
  • South Korea
  • United States

It’s worth noting that border crossing deals for train and boat travel, however, remain up in the air.

U.S. Travel to Europe Through the U.K.

Europe travel from the U.S. through British hubs like London could be affected by any such border delays (again, if there even are any) but direct U.S.-to-Europe travel will not be affected by Brexit.

Travel to Europe will change for Americans in the coming years, however, when a wholly unrelated move by the European Union takes effect in 2021 requiring Americans to apply for a travel authorization (not a visa) to enter and move around the region. The new red tape is similar to the travel authorization the U.S. currently requires of E.U. citizens visiting the United States, dubbed ESTA. You can read more about the new E.U. travel authorization (called ETIAS) here.

Europe/U.K. Travel

If you have a European or U.K passport, things could change significantly. U.K. officials are advising its citizens to ensure they have six months’ passport validity—as opposed to the current 90-day validity requirement—if they’re traveling to the E.U., and recently launched a new service to help Britons check passport validity requirements.

As long as Brexit border operations remain elusive, however, your guess is as good as anyone’s in terms of whether a travel authorization, visa, or neither could be required on top of, or in lieu of, a border screening.


Disruptions and Price Increases?

With all of this in mind, travel disruptions like unexpected cross-border train delays might seem like the biggest threat. But the U.K.’s government has addressed those concerns by generally assuring travelers that both flights and trains between Europe and the U.K. (like Eurostar) will continue to operate as usual. Whether or not that works out after the transition period, of course, remains to be confirmed.

According to a some experts, there’s also a potential for prices on flights and hotels to increase, as open sky agreements may change some routes and the hotel industry is expected to experience issues with immigration and their labor force. That and other broader economic predictions will only reveal themselves with time.

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SmarterTravel’s Shannon McMahon is a former news reporter who writes about all things travel. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2019. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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