Travel to Europe in a post-Brexit world: UK nationals and travel to Europe for business or tourism

25th May 2021

The United Kingdom left the European Union on 31 January 2020 and the transition period governed by the UK’s Withdrawal Agreement with the EU ended on 31 December 2020.

 As from 1 January 2021, therefore, UK nationals no longer have free movement rights across the EU.

A trade and cooperation agreement was reached between the UK and the EU that could bring about more lenient/beneficial treatment of UK nationals travelling to Europe. This agreement has yet to be implemented or properly enforced in all EU member states. Some countries, however, have already adopted certain provisions of the agreement directly. In these jurisdictions, UK nationals are able to undertake a broader range of activities under business visitor status. Such activities include technical, scientific and statistical research; receiving training in techniques and work practices; visiting for establishment purposes; and after-sales/lease installation, repair or maintenance1. In all other jurisdictions, for the time being, UK nationals are therefore in essentially the same position as any other “non-visa national” (such as an American, Australian, Canadian or Japanese national) travelling to Europe.

You can stay up to date with the latest news on which countries allow this broader range of business visit activities for UK nationals by subscribing to Fragomen’s client alerts here.

UK citizens will no longer able to use the fast-track lines through EU passport control, though there is a possibility some countries will allow this in the future.

UK nationals travelling to Europe should ensure that their passports are valid for at least three months from the intended departure date (we advise at least six months’ validity, as this can help to avoid questions or delays at the border), and that they have health cover in place.

Travel between Ireland and the UK will remain unaffected, as the rules of the Common Travel Area ensure that all things stay the same as before Brexit. 

Business and Personal Travel to Europe

Schengen zone allowance

UK nationals do not require an entry visa (Schengen visa C) to travel to Europe2.  However, they will be subject to an allowance of maximum 90 days within any 180-day rolling period within the Schengen zone3 . This allowance includes time spent in the zone for business or personal travel. For UK nationals with a residence permit in an EU country, the allowance also applies for Schengen zone travel outside that country. Time spent in Europe should therefore be carefully monitored to ensure no overstay occurs.

Purpose of travel

Because of the preferential rights that came with free movement, UK nationals were accustomed to travelling to Europe without any consideration to the activities being performed or duration of travel. Now, without free movement rights, UK nationals default to the standard position of non-EU citizens, where activities conducted during travel must be screened to ensure that they fall within allowable business visit activities and/or an exemption to standard work permit rules in each country where they travel.

If the activities to be performed go beyond permissible business visit activities, or there is no applicable exemption, a work permit would be required. This is where it becomes quite complicated in Europe: each country sets its own rules in this regard. So business travel to one country may be permissible, while the same activities in another country could require a work permit.

This would be true regardless of the duration of the business visit: a stay of even a day can require work authorisation if the destination country does not have an applicable exemption in place. Duration of stay would have to be monitored as mentioned above. 

Other recommendations

The below points are not mandatory, but will assist UK nationals to pass through immigration smoothly.  

  • We advise that UK travellers carry an invitation letter from their destination country, to be shown only upon request by an immigration officer, confirming the nature and duration of the travel.
  • A travel itinerary should be carried so an immigration officer in the destination country can be satisfied that the UK national intends to depart the country at the conclusion of the trip.
  • Proof of comprehensive health insurance should be available upon request by an immigration officer in the destination country. 
  • UK nationals should be prepared to demonstrate evidence of sufficient financial means, for example a credit card or bank statements, upon request by an immigration officer in the destination country.
  • As noted above, we recommend UK nationals have at least six months’ validity on their passports to avoid delays or questions at the border. 

How Fragomen can help you

By becoming familiar with the rules in the destination country or countries of your business travellers, you can prepare for all eventualities. Fragomen is on hand to help you with this planning process. Our Brexit Europe team offers full support and assistance for your business to manage requirements, set expectations, train staff and plan ahead. Here are just some of the ways we can do this – please arrange a consultation call to discuss your particular business needs:

  • Webinars, town halls, briefings and videos to train your HR, mobility, recruitment leadership and staff on requirements.
  • Analysis and solutions for your business traveller programme in EU countries.
  • Consultations on individual business requirements. 

EU, EEA and Swiss National business travellers to the UK

EU nationals, citizens of Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein (the EEA countries) and Swiss nationals are treated as visa-exempt third country nationals as from 1 January 2021 (again, much the same way as American, Canadian, Australian or Japanese nationals) and must make sure that their activities and time spent in the UK are permitted by the Immigration Rules for business visitors. 

Looking ahead

To find out more about how we can help you and to set up a consultation with our dedicated Brexit Europe team, please contact your Fragomen professional or Brexit@Fragomen.com.

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