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. There’s been little definitive legal change since the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union in 2016, but lots of chatter and handwringing about what’s to come.
The main reason for the delay is the U.K. parliament’s inability to agree on a “deal,” or the terms of withdrawing from existing trade and border agreements with the E.U. Most recently, the European Union extended the U.K.’s deadline to leave the union—moving it back after a missed March deadline—to October 31, 2019, with the option to leave earlier if a deal is agreed upon before then.
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 once Brexit finally occurs.
U.S. Travel to the U.K.
The main thing for Americans to remember as Brexit looms is that, whether or not deals 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. This could potentially cause some longer delays at border crossings.
U.S. Travel to Europe Through the U.K.
Europe travel from the U.S. through British air hubs like London could be affected by said border delays, if there 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.
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 a Brexit deal remains 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.
With all of this in mind, travel disruptions like long airport wait times or unexpected cross-border train delays might seem like the biggest threat. 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 remains to be confirmed.
A “Hard” Brexit
It’s largely believed that a “hard Brexit,” or one without deals that maintain some important trade and border agreements, would be a worst-case scenario. But as long as no deal is reached, as has been the case despite lengthy talks, a hard Brexit seems more likely.
Many nervous Britons and Europeans are touting the possibility that Brexit could be canceled altogether if a deal isn’t agreed upon for leaving. Multiple attempts to reach a deal have failed already in the more than two years of negotiations led by Prime Minister Theresa May, and a new petition urging the U.K. to abandon the effort or hold a new vote has millions of signatures.
Only time will tell if 2019 is the year that Brexit ensnares U.K.-European travel. This story will be updated as the details unfold.
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