One of the delights awaiting travelers on the other side of the current round of lockdowns is the impact of the UK leaving the European Union on travel plans. While not seismic – you shouldn’t expect to have to spend a week in a disused airfield in Kent before being allowed to cross the Channel (we hope) – there’s certainly plenty to get your heads around.

First, the good news. British and European travelers will all still be able to drive on each other's highways.

The two-way exchange of tourist traffic between continental Europe and the UK is one of the more obvious mutually beneficial parts of the relationship between the EU and its British ex. Immediately post-Brexit there’s no need for Brits to get visas to enter the Schengen Zone. Once the Eurotunnel or ferry has disgorged you and your vehicle and you’re through border controls and customs you are free to roam from the southern tip of Spain to the eastern frontiers of Poland and the northern wastes of Norway, provided you leave again within 90 days.*

Blue car on board of Eurotunnel train. The carriage stretches ahead with many cars parked neatly in a line. Yellow railings line the walkway.
You're able to stay in continental Europe for up to 90 days © hopsalka / iStock Editorial / Getty Images Plus

Driver’s licenses won’t be an issue, provided your license has a photo ID. If you don't have a license with photo ID you will need to get an International Driving Permit (IDP). Vehicle insurance should be arranged in advance to cover anywhere you’re planning on visiting and a "green card" – an international certificate proving that you have insurance coverage – should be acquired from your insurer before you travel. Happily, a green card can now be printed at home and not necessarily on green paper. Your vehicle logbook (V5C) also needs to come with you. The UK Government site has lots more information on all this, and guidance on when you do and don’t need to display a "GB" sticker on your vehicle.

While not specifically related to driving, visitors to the EU from the UK should also make sure their health cover is up to date. The UK Government has replaced the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) with a new(ish) Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) that confers similar coverage to the EHIC, just with a new name. EHIC cards remain valid until expiry and when you apply for a replacement British nationals will be issued with a GHIC. As with the EHIC, the GHIC gets you the same health coverage as national residents in state health services, so it should be carried alongside travel insurance. The GHIC is not a replacement for travel insurance. Take care to only apply for the GHIC via the official NHS portal.

Elevated view of a lone car driving along a road through a fjord with water and rocky outcrops on either side of the raised road
© Jacob Sjöman Svensson / Folio/Getty Images

And that’s about it for the good news. 

Whereas before British travelers enjoyed free movement across the EU, now they are restricted to stays of 90 days within a 180 day period. While more than enough for even the most determined Interrailer, this has a major impact on second-home owners who have grown used to spending whole winters in sunnier climes than the UK. Added to this, passports must be valid for six months on the day of travel, as opposed to before Brexit when they could be used up to expiration date. On entry into the EU, UK travelers will be treated as third-party nationals and can be subject to questioning and asked to show proof of onward travel. Use of fast eGates may no longer be possible.

For many travelers, these changes will impact their plans. Things are set to worsen in 2022 when the EU establishes ETIAS, a visa waiver scheme similar to the USA’s ESTA visa waiver scheme, which is required in advance of travel. UK nationals will have to enrol in ETIAS, including paying a €7 fee, an ongoing British contribution to the EU’s operating budget. The scheme is not in operation yet.

Recent headline-grabbing police searches have seen British arrivals at European ports having meat and dairy products (including ham sandwiches) confiscated due to the EU ban on products of animal origin from outside their territory. Happily, there are shops and sandwich outlets available widely within the Schengen area.
There are also small personal allowances for things like powdered baby food and pet food. But if you are in the habit of loading up your car with your weekly shop before you head off to the Continent on holiday, you will need to make sure you leave any meat and dairy at home, or face confiscation and delays.

Of course, the impact is two-way. European visitors (apart from Irish nationals who can travel as they please) can enter the UK for up to six months, provided they enter using a passport rather than ID documents and that the passport is valid for the duration of their stay. An EU driver's license is sufficient along with a green card and no International Driving Permit is needed. 

*Norway, not being in the EU, is still a Schengen state. Schengen covers 26 EU countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg and Norway. Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland and Romania are in the EU but not in Schengen. 

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