Brexit is perhaps the most significant and complex political event facing Europe since the Second World War. With negotiations ongoing, it continues to drive the news agenda across the continent as it is likely to affect not only Britons but citizens across the European Union (EU).
One aspect of the negotiations that people are keeping a close eye on is how it will affect travel, particularly the freedom of movement across borders. As such, if you’re planning to Interrail across Europe after the UK officially leaves the EU on 29 March 2019, you may be wondering how all this will impact your plans.
The straightforward answer is that no one really knows yet just how travel will change post-Brexit but one thing is sure – you’ll still be able to buy a pass to enjoy interrailing around Europe. The logistics of how you do it may change a little, though.
The UK government has indicated that it intends to end the freedom of movement to Britain. If the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal in March 2019, it is a real possibility that visas to travel to Europe could become the new normal.
In the event of the worst case ‘no deal’ scenario, the UK becomes a ‘third country’ which means Britons travelling to Europe may have to apply for a Schengen tourist visa to gain access to the 26 participating countries (you will still be able to travel to Ireland as you do now under the Common Travel Area arrangement). Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania are not in Schengen zone so you may need to check entry requirements once the UK’s new relationship with the EU becomes clearer.
The EU is looking to streamline visa applications to create an online system much like the ESTA in the US, so it’s unlikely to be a difficult process. With a Schengen visa, you’ll be allowed 90 days of cross-border travel throughout the zone, including countries like France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Hungary, Poland, Austria and so on.
On the other hand, if the UK ultimately decides to opt for a Norway-style arrangement, freedom of movement will not change as visa-free travel is something that currently applies to Norwegians travelling to the EU and vice-versa.
While it wants to end freedom of movement, the UK government has offered to honour reciprocal visa-free travel to EU citizens. Again, this is dependent on a favourable outcome in the negotiations.
Regardless of the type of deal agreed (or not agreed, as the case may be) in the coming months, at 11pm on 29 March 2019, British passports will no longer bear the power that comes with being an EU citizen, including unhindered travel throughout the EU.
After that time, UK passport holders will become ‘third country citizens’. While current Schengen rules stipulate passport holders need at least three months’ validity remaining on their passports from the date of their intended departure from the zone, the UK government is now officially advising Britons to have at least six months for travel in Europe.
A ‘no deal’ scenario – the much talked about ‘cliff edge’ – has been widely acknowledged as a disastrous outcome for both parties in the negotiations. It could mean that EU-bound flights are grounded, but while no formal arrangement has been reached yet in regard to aviation, it is unlikely that Theresa May and her European counterparts will want the current ‘Open Skies’ agreement to expire. Most airline companies, too, are confident a deal will be struck to keep jets flying between UK and other European airports. As it stands under current rules, airlines would be obliged to refund air fares if it cannot operate a flight so if the worst does happen, you won’t be left out of pocket.
There has been some debate as to whether EU rules abolishing roaming charges will stay in place for UK travellers on the continent, most of the mobile carriers in the UK have confirmed they have no plans to reintroduce charges for customers. A small thing but it means you’ll still save a hefty penny on texts, calls and data keeping in touch with loved ones back home.
Regardless of any potential changes, you’ll still be able to travel by rail across Europe as you do now – or as non-EU travellers do currently on the Eurail pass – albeit with a few more bureaucratic hoops to jump through. For more information on the pass and to plan your trip, head here.