The deed has been done, a Withdrawal Agreement signed and the United Kingdom is no longer part of the European Union. Although there has been little noticeable change from those EU days changes are coming and not least in the area of overseas travel. What was once a simple process consisting of booking the required flights and turning up at the airport with a valid passport is set to become a bit more complicated for one reason: The impending introduction of the European Travel Information and Authorisation System.
As a member of the European Union, British citizens enjoyed freedom of travel throughout the European Union as well as those countries in the Schengen area but not in the EU namely Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein. This meant that British passport holders did not require any form of European or Schengen Visa.
Following Brexit, The UK has now entered an eleven month transition period which means that nothing will change regarding European travel until the Withdrawal Agreement expires at the end of 2020. British travellers will continue to enjoy visa-exempt travel within the European Union and Schengen member states for the duration of the agreement. This arrangement, however, only applies to short visits and not to long stays for study or work purposes. This present state of affairs depends on Britain reciprocating this arrangement for European visitors coming to the UK, which looks fully likely to be the case.
Much has yet to be decided between the British government and the EU Commission regarding possible changes to travel requirements between Britain and the remaining EU and Schengen member states. There is a possibility that European visas for British visitors could be introduced but this would most likely result in Britain introducing a similar requirement for European visitors to the United Kingdom. This is a situation that both regulatory bodies are keen to avoid if at all possible. However, visiting one of the non-EU Schengen member states may be a different story. From 2021, travellers from countries outside the European Union, even those countries with a visa-free agreement, will no longer be allowed to enter the Schengen area with just a valid passport. This may mean that British tourists, students and business people will need to be in possession of a Schengen Visa or similar documentation that may be introduced.
ETIAS a Certainty for 2021
One certainty in a muddled situation is the introduction of the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) for British visitors to Europe. From January 2021 this form of authorisation to travel will be necessary for citizens of all non-EU countries, including the USA and UK, wishing to enter the European Union for any reason. This includes short holidays, business trips, study and work. Citizens of the remaining EU countries will continue to enjoy visa-free travel to, from and between all EU member states as is the present situation but so-called “third country” (which now includes the UK) nationals will need to be pre-approved before making arrangements to travel and this is the purpose of ETIAS.
British citizens are not alone as the ETIAS requirement will also apply to sixty other nationalities who currently enjoy visa-exempt travel to the EU. The application process is carried out online and applicants will be required to provide a range of personal information which will then be checked and validated against a number of European security databases including Europol and Interpol. Those applicants who are deemed to pose a security or health risk will be refused although over 95% of applications are expected to be approved almost instantaneously and those applicants who fail have legal recourse to a re-check which may take several days. Once approval is granted it is linked to the applicant’s passport which can then be checked electronically at the points of departure and arrival.
Possible European Visa Requirement
As things stand there is no immediate plan to introduce a visa system for British citizens wishing to enter the European zone. This situation is, however, contingent on the British government extending the same courtesy to European citizens coming to the United Kingdom. Should Britain decide to introduce its own visa system for European citizens an immediate reply can be expected and European visas would be introduced very quickly. There has already been some discussion regarding the current travel requirements and the UK Home Office has suggested the possible introduction of something similar to the Canadian eTA (Electronic Travel Authorisation) visa waiver which would allow European visitors to enter Britain and Northern Ireland.
ETIAS is NOT an Option
Once fully implemented in early 2021, all British travellers to Europe must possess a valid ETIAS. This will be a mandatory requirement and travelling without it will result in being refused permission to travel at the point of departure. Should a traveller without a valid ETIAS somehow manage to avoid detection and arrive in Europe the passport will be checked again, the passport holder refused entry and returned to the country of departure.