Dr Sarah Jarvis, MBE
Author: Dr Sarah Jarvis, MBE, General Practitioner (GP)

Dr Sarah Jarvis is the Clinical Director of the Patient Platform, an active medical writer, broadcaster, and the resident doctor for BBC Radio 2.

10 min read

What will happen to the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)?

The EHIC covers pre-existing medical conditions, general maternity care and is there in case of an emergency.

The government has said that your EHIC card will be valid up until its date of expiry (which is printed on your card), as long as it was bought or renewed before the end of 2020. However, with a few exceptions:

This only applies to the EU and no longer to visits to Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein, or Norway.

Some treatments which were previously covered now need to be arranged in advance with your treating hospital department.

You can find out all about the changes covering EHIC, its replacement, the Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) and reciprocal arrangements in other countries from our article on Brexit, Travel Insurance and EHIC.

Will my passport still work?

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has advised that if you’re from the UK, after the 31st January 2021 you will still be able to travel freely into Europe with your current passport if, on the day you travel:

  • There is at least six months to go before the expiry date on your passport; and
  • Your passport is less than 10 years old (even if it is due to expire in more than six months from the date of travel).

These rules don't apply to travel to Ireland. You can continue to use your passport as long as it’s valid for the length of your stay.

Now you will only be able to travel without a visa to Schengen area countries for up to 90 days in any 180-day period. Do be aware that:

  • If you visit more than one of these countries within a 180-day period, you'll need to ensure that the total time you spend in all these countries doesn't exceed 90 days.
  • The exceptions are Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania, which each have their own 90-day limits. You'll be able to spend 90 days over a 180-day period in one of these without affecting your rights to visit other EU countries.
  • If you're planning to study, work or travel for business, you may need a visa. Check the travel advice for every country you'll be in if this applies to you.

The government advises that you do not book travel unless your passport meets the entry requirements of the country you’re travelling to. If you do need a new passport, they will be blue rather than dark red.

As always, it is advisable that you apply for a new passport in plenty of time before travel. This usually take up to three weeks but may be longer in busy periods.

Will free mobile roaming end?

The guarantee of free mobile phone roaming throughout the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway ended when the UK left the EU.

The four main mobile operators (EE, O2, Three and Vodafone) have said they’ve no plans to start data roaming charges again, but this does depend on the UK’s ongoing relationship with the EU. You should always get in contact with your mobile network provider before you travel, just to check.

If the data roaming charges have to be reintroduced, then a £45 limiting cap will also be implemented. This is to make sure that you don’t over-spend whilst on holiday. You will also receive notifications when you reach 80% and 100% of this cap. There will also be the option to go over this cap if you want to, but you'll need to opt in (your phone operator can advise how you can do this).

Taking your pets to Europe

Until 31st December 2020 all dogs and cats could be taken to the EU with a valid pet passport. These passports will become invalid after the 31st December 2020.

Instead, your pet cat, dog (including assistance dogs) and ferret will need an animal health certificate (AHC). The government recommends you'll need to start making arrangements at least a month before you travel.

To get an AHC, your pet needs to be microchipped, vaccinated against rabies and in some cases treated for tapeworm. The certificate will need to be signed by a qualified vet 10 days before you travel. You can find out all the details from the government website.

Amsterdam canal

Will I need a visa to get into Europe?

Not straight away. The European Commission has confirmed that while UK travellers will not need a visa, they will need to apply for and buy an ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorisation System). 

You will need to apply for a visa if you are planning on staying in the EU for more than 90 days in a 180 day period. 

Will I be covered if my holiday is cancelled because of Brexit?

It’s unlikely that your holiday will be cancelled due to Brexit and there is nothing to suggest that you will not be able to continue with your holiday plans now the UK has left the EU. The European Commission and the UK Government have said flights to and from the UK will still be able to operate. 

As Brexit is considered a circumstance beyond the control of travel companies, compensation is unlikely in the event of cancellation, so it is important to check the terms of your booking with your travel agent or operator. You may also be afforded more protection if you paid for your trip by credit card, please check with your credit card provider.

If the travel company you've booked with goes out of business, you'll be protected if you've bought a package holiday. This applies even if it’s an EU company, as long as the company sells to UK customers.

Will I be covered if flights are disrupted, or grounded due to Brexit?

It’s unlikely that this will happen, and if it does your airline will have a duty of care to get you to your destination.

The European Commission introduced regulation on Air Passenger Rights, and these rights are set to remain post-Brexit. This regulation has rules for passengers to claim compensation in the event of delays, cancellations or denied boarding. So, you will have the same rights after Brexit as you do now when it comes to flight delays compensation rules.

Unfortunately, the regulation does not extend to cover ‘extraordinary circumstances’, or rather anything outside of the airline's control. Under the regulation, this would mean that passengers would be unable to claim compensation because of Brexit.

Will I be covered if I miss my flight due to Brexit delays?

Because of the pandemic, there have been very limited flights in and out of the UK. However, as they ramp up, Brexit may put additional pressures on passport control in the UK and many EU countries. This could lead to queues when trying to depart for your outbound and inbound flight.

Whilst many policies can provide cover for missed flights, it’s very unlikely that they will cover you for delays at the airport. We would recommend allowing yourself additional time to arrive at the airport in case there are delays.

Cruise sunset

Will cruises or ferries be affected by Brexit?

You’ll be pleased to know that cruises and ferries should generally remain unaffected by Brexit as they are operated under maritime laws, rather than European. It’s expected that the pricing for cruises could rise due to the impact Brexit will have on the pound.

However, many cruising companies will take sterling as a currency on board, meaning that your spending on the ship, won’t be affected should exchange rates change.

Should your cruise include flights, the European Commission will still permit UK airlines to fly between the UK and Europe, even in a no-deal setting. 

The government recommends that you make sure to take out appropriate travel insurance before you depart on your trip and that you check online for the latest travel information on your destinations and your cruise operator.

Will I still be covered whilst I am driving in Europe?

It is probable that after the transition period, you will need an international driving permit in addition to your current UK driver's license, but don’t worry, these are easy to find and usually cheap too. If you’re taking your own vehicle then you'll need a physical copy of a green card and a GB sticker for your car.

You might also need an international driving permit (IDP) to drive in some EU countries and Norway if you have:

  • A paper driving licence; or
  • A licence issued in Gibraltar, Guernsey, Jersey or the Isle of Man

It’s well worth having a look at the government website for more details, as different permits may be needed for different countries. So, if you’re planning a road trip to Berlin, you may need separate permits for France, Belgium and Germany for example.  


Will I still need to take out travel insurance post-Brexit?

We (and the government) strongly recommend a comprehensive travel insurance policy should be arranged for any planned trips. This is even more important in light of the changes to the EHIC scheme.

Remember that travel disruption is only one part of what your policy will cover you for. Even with an EHIC or GHIC, you will still pay the same as local nationals for treatment, not all medical treatments are covered and there is no coverage for repatriation if you become unwell and need to be flown back to the UK.

You can find out more about what either a single trip or annual multi-trip insurance will cover you for.

If you are concerned whether a provider will extend cover in respect of Brexit, it is important to check the small print. Some providers may deem Brexit to be outside the control of travel operators.

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