Now that the UK has left the EU, do British travellers need a visa to travel to Europe? At present, the answer is no – but that will change in the near future with the introduction of ETIAS.
Here’s the current plans and timelines for UK travellers and when you will need to start thinking about sorting a visa for your next trip to Europe.
Coming Up in This Guide
- Will UK Travellers Need to Apply for a Visa to Visit Europe?
- What Is the New Visa-Waiver System for UK Travellers Visiting the EU and Schengen Area?
- When Will ETIAS Be Introduced for UK Travellers?
- What Countries Will I Need an ETIAS To Travel To?
- Will I Need an ETIAS Visa to Travel to Ireland?
- Can I Work in Europe With an ETIAS?
Understanding Post Brexit Travel
Did UK Travellers Need a Visa To Visit Europe Before Brexit?
When the United Kingdom was part of the European Union, UK travellers did not need a visa to visit other EU countries.
This is because EU nationals enjoy the right of free movement, meaning they are entitled to travel, work and live in another EU country.
In addition, EU nationals are able to travel to non-EU member countries in Europe visa free thanks to other agreements in place.
Why Do Things Needs To Change?
If you want to understand why these changes are coming in, it’s useful to understand what unions and agreements the United Kingdom is not a part of.
The European Union (EU) is an economic and political union of 27 countries. It operates an internal (or single) market which allows free movement of goods, capital, services and people between member states.
The EU countries are: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.
As of 31st January 2020 at 11pm (GMT), the United Kingdom is no longer a member of the EU.
The EEA stands for the ‘European Economic Area’ and includes EU countries and also Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. It allows them to be part of the EU’s single market.
Switzerland is not an EU or EEA member but is part of the single market. This means Swiss nationals have the same rights to live and work in the EU as other EEA nationals.
The United Kingdom is not an EEA member, nor is it part of the single market.
The border-free Schengen Area guarantees free movement to more than 400 million EU citizens, along with non-EU nationals living in the EU or visiting the EU as tourists, exchange students or for business purposes (anyone legally present in the EU).
Free movement of persons enables every EU citizen to travel, work and live in an EU country without special formalities. Schengen underpins this freedom by enabling citizens to move around the Schengen Area without being subject to border checks.
The Schengen Area countries are: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
Bulgaria and Romania are currently in the process of joining the Schengen Area and already applying the Schengen acquis to a large extent.
The United Kingdom is not in the Schengen Area.
Without belonging to any of these – or any other unique agreements – the UK must follow the rules for their status as a ‘third country’. This means ‘a country that is not a member of the European Union as well as a country or territory whose citizens do not enjoy the European Union right to free movement’.
What Has Changed For UK Travellers Since Brexit?
You may have already noticed that a few things have changed when when travelling to most countries in Europe including:
- We can’t join the ‘EU/EEA’ queue at passport control anymore
- Our passports must be stamped when we enter and leave the EU and Schengen Area
- We may be asked to prove we have enough money to travel, or questioned on where we’re staying or the purpose of our trip
- The rules around our passport expiry dates have changed
- We can only stay in the Schengen Area for 90 days out of every 180 days
However, we still do not need a visa when travelling to the EU. But that will soon change!
The New Entry/Exit System for Visiting Europe
Before talking about visas, we have to mention another change that needs to come in first: the Entry/Exit System.
What Is the Entry/Exit System (EEA)?
The Entry/Exit System will be an automated IT system that registers travellers from non-EU countries – that includes the UK – each time they cross a border into or out of the EU.
Travellers will have to scan their passports at an automated self-service kiosk before they cross the border. This will replace the current manual stamping of passports for visitors to the Schengen area who are not nationals of EU or Schengen countries.
The system will register:
- the person’s name
- type of the travel document
- biometric data (i.e. fingerprints and captured facial images)
- the date and place of entry and exit
When Will The New Exit/Entry System Come In?
The Exit/Entry System was supposed to be in force since 2022, but it’s suffered several setbacks.
In October 2023, the EU Council announced that the Entry/Exit System ‘will be ready to enter into operation in Autumn 2024‘.
Once the EES is in place, the new visa-waiver system for non-EU countries will be able to come into operation.
The New Europe 'Visa' for UK Travellers
Will UK Travellers Need to Apply for a Visa to Visit Europe?
Travellers from the UK don’t currently need a visa to enter Europe. However, there are plans to introduce a travel authorisation system in the near future.
What Is the New Visa-Waiver System for UK Travellers Visiting the EU and Schengen Area?
The new visa-waiver system will be called the ‘European Travel Information and Authorisation System’. It’s known as ‘ETIAS’ for short.
You will apply for it online – so you won’t get a physical visa in your passport – it will last several years and it won’t cost a fortune.
The best comparison is the American ESTA system which you will have used if you’ve travelled to USA in recent years.
When Will ETIAS Be Introduced for UK Travellers?
Introduction of the scheme was initially scheduled for 2021, but the launch date has been pushed back several times.
In October 2023, the EU Council announced that the ETIAS ‘will be ready to enter into operation from mid-2025’.
What Countries Will I Need an ETIAS To Travel To?
When ETIAS is up and running, you’ll need it to travel to the following 30 countries:
Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
This will also include the following European microstates with open borders: Monaco (via France), San Marino (via Italy) and Vatican City (via Italy).
For European countries not named, please search their name followed by ‘FCDO entry requirements’ to see what you will need to visit.
For example, here’s Albania’s entry requirements at the time of writing:
Will I Need an ETIAS Visa to Travel to Ireland?
You will not need any type of visa to travel to Ireland because it is in the Common Travel Area. This is an arrangement between the United Kingdom and Ireland which gives citizens rights including the right to travel freely between both countries.
Can I Work in Europe With an ETIAS?
Unfortunately, the new visa-waiver system does not grant UK travellers the same rights as they had before. If you want to work in Europe you will need to apply for a work permit. However, if you’re just going on a work trip to attend a business conference or meeting, you can simply travel on an ETIAS.
Applying for an ETIAS
What Will Be The Process of Applying for an ETIAS?
You’ll be able to apply for your ETIAS online.
When doing so, you’ll need to provide some personal information. This will include your passport data and occupation (including job title and employer) or educational institution.
In addition to this, there will be some questions about your health, including any infectious diseases you’ve had. As well, you’ll need to share any previous serious criminal convictions you may have had in the past two decades.
You’ll also need to state your reason for travel, which could be anything from a relaxing holiday to visiting family, and specify the country you’re heading to.
Finally, they’ll need to know where you’re staying on your first night.
How Long Will It Take To Get an Approved ETIAS?
The European Commission promises a speedy process, with most travellers receiving their waiver within minutes and at the latest within 96 hours.
However, speedy or not, they do strongly advise that travellers should obtain the ETIAS before you book your travel and accommodation. This is as some applicants may be asked to provide additional information or documentation or to participate in an interview with national authorities, which may take up to additional 30 days.
How Much Will the ETIAS Cost?
The question we all want to know!
For all applicants between the ages of 18 and 70, the cost of an ETIAS is €7. Children, younger teenagers and over 70s can get an ETIAS for free.
If you are a family member of an EU citizen, you will still need to apply for the ETIAS visa, but you won’t have to pay the fee. Check here to see if you are eligible for family member status.
How Long Will the ETIAS Last For?
The ETIAS will be valid for three years or until your passport expires – whichever comes first. Therefore, you won’t have to apply for it every time you want to go to Europe!
However, do remember that this doesn’t grant you three years of travel in Europe. The 90 days out of 180 days rule will still apply, and so you’ll need to keep that in mind.
What Website Can I Apply for My ETIAS On?
ETIAS is not up and running yet and so whilst there is an official website, there’s nowhere for you to apply yet!
However, whilst we have you, we wanted to share a word of warning about how there will soon be many alternative websites where you could potentially apply for your ETIAS through.
Some will be legitimate and some will not but in most cases, they will cost more than what you need to pay.
The biggest red flag is if the cost you see is more than €7, it means you’re not applying through the official site. That’s the one we recommend you stick to.
Keep Up to Date With Post-Brexit Travel and the ETIAS Visa Waiver
Although you don’t need to take any action now, it’s handy to be in the know for when the ETIAS visa-waiver comes into play. Cheap Holiday Expert will keep you up-to-date with any new developments, ensuring you have the latest information about travel to Europe after Brexit.