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Brits Could Face New Travel Restrictions To Europe In January

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In a blow to winter holiday hopes, the EU Commission has indicated that UK travelers could face restrictions on non-essential trips to European countries from January 1.

When the UK leaves the Brexit transition period at the end of the year, it will join a list of third countries from which visitors to the EU are currently not allowed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with some exemptions. The news is likely to cause considerable confusion and concern for British travelers, being announced as negotiations over a trade deal between the UK and the EU come down to the wire, amid concerns over travel, flights and border disruption if no deal is agreed.

travelers at airport immigration

EU Commission To Ban Travel But Member States Can Override

The UK’s exit from the EU membership transition period on January 1 is creating a number of significant changes for British travelers to Europe, with the potential ban on non-essential travel being the most prominent. During the transition period, the UK was treated as equivalent to an EU member and as a result British holidaymakers were allowed to travel throughout Europe despite the pandemic.

tourists taking selfie in florence

However, as the UK will officially leave the transition period in the new year, it will automatically join the list of non-EU countries from which travel to Europe is not allowed. The news has dealt a huge blow to the hopes of British travelers planning trips to Europe this winter, creating significant confusion over whether those trips can still go ahead or whether they can be refunded and adding to the general uncertainty surrounding travel during the pandemic.

masked traveler looking at flight information

In particular, British travelers hoping for a city break getaway in the new year, some winter sun in the Greek islands, or a winter sports holiday in the Alps will be extremely disappointed by this news. Travel to European countries is hugely popular among British holidaymakers, and disruption to travel plans is consequently likely to be significant even with the government currently advising against all non-essential travel.

At present, a handful of countries are exempt from the travel ban and are allowed to travel to all EU member states, including visitors from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and China. It is still possible that the Commission could update this list to include travelers from the UK. Individual EU members are also permitted to override the Commission and allow British travelers to visit, potentially establishing travel corridors to major tourist destinations such as France, Spain and Greece.  

It remains unclear what decisions will be made by individual countries on the travel restrictions, however, with the resulting uncertainty making it extremely difficult for British people to plan any trips to European countries over the coming months.

Travel Restrictions First Of Many Potential Problems

The possible introduction of travel restrictions for British tourists in Europe is just the beginning of potential issues facing UK holidaymakers following the end of the Brexit transition period. Many British travelers will also be deterred from traveling to Europe at present given that their travel insurance policy could be invalidated by government warnings against travel which are in place for European countries.

This will become a more pertinent issue for British travelers from January 1 as they will no longer have the ability to use the European Health Insurance Card which currently allows them reciprocal access to medical services in all EU member states. As a result, travelers concerned about injury or illness during their holiday, for example winter sports enthusiasts or those particularly at risk from Covid-19, will be deterred from visiting Europe while government travel advice warnings remain in place.

Aside from problems with travel insurance, many British skiers will be unable to enjoy their normal winter vacations in Europe with ski resorts across the continent currently closed and not expected to reopen until later in 2021. This includes resorts in France, Italy, and Germany, while travel restrictions, local lockdowns and hotel closures will limit the ability to visit countries, such as Switzerland and Austria, where ski hills may be open.

On top of all of these issues is the potential for a no-deal outcome to the Brexit negotiations, which could cause chaos for travelers. A deal will need to be struck to ensure continuity of flight services between the UK and Europe, with any failure in the negotiations potentially leading to planes being unable to fly. A no-deal outcome could also create problems at the border for ferry passengers and users of the Eurostar and Eurotunnel, with traffic likely to be backed up at ports.

While travel between Britain and Europe will not be as high as normal during this Christmas period due to existing pandemic travel restrictions, any disruption as a result of a failure of the UK and the EU to strike a deal will cause huge problems for travelers at the end of the holidays. Even if a deal is reached, British travelers can expect challenges in visiting the rest of Europe in the short term at least.

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Disclaimer: Current travel rules and restrictions can change without notice. The decision to travel is ultimately your responsibility. Contact your consulate and/or local authorities to confirm your nationality’s entry and/or any changes to travel requirements before traveling.  Travel Off Path does not endorse traveling against government advisories