While Covid-19 brought tourist movements to and from the UK almost to a complete stop, the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union on December 31, 2020 is unlikely to change life of travellers – once the situation gets back to normal.

Tourism flows between the UK and the European Union will definitely not be affected by changes due to the importance of relations between the UK and neighbouring European countries. Looking at tourism statistics published by Visit Britain in 2019, EU citizens generated close to 61% of all visits. This represented a total of 24.83 million of visits on a total of 40.81 million. When looking at the 10 top markets to Britain, eight are from the EU. France, Germany, Ireland, Spain and Italy together generated alone 14.5 million arrivals.

In the other direction, the total number of UK residents going to the EU was even bigger. In 2019, EU countries welcomed 66.95 million UK visitors. Spain was the most visited country among residents of the United Kingdom (UK) with over 18.1 million visits. France and Italy ranked second and third, with respectively over 10.3 and 5.1 million UK visits.

Realism prevails in EU-UK agreement

Restricting access to travellers following the Brexit would have then been suicidal for both partners in the new deal. Realism therefore prevailed on both sides of the Channel. While a new trade deal has finally been ratified by both parliaments of the UK and the European Union, travellers from both entities will see only limited changes from this year.

Entering the UK as a citizen from the EU, EEA or Switzerland will be permitted for holidays or short trips without needing a visa. A valid passport will be required, while EU, EEA or Swiss national ID cards will not be accepted from October 1, 2020. In most cases, EU citizens can stay for up to six months in the UK.

UK visitors can remain in the European Union for 90 days over a period of 180 days. British passport holders must ensure that their document still has a minimum of six-months’ validity when arriving in the EU. The passport must also be less than 10 years old (even if it has 6 months validity or more left).

European travellers can drive a car in the UK with their own driving license. An insurance green card will be necessary when coming with a private vehicle. Public health insurance will continue to be recognised on a limited basis.

Transport links in the EU-UK Agreement will ensure continued air, road and maritime connectivity as they are essential for local economies. Some 210 million passengers and 230 million tonnes of cargo are carried between the EU and the UK each year.

The most important changes will apply to the air transport sector. As UK airlines will no longer be considered EU carriers, they will not be able to perform unlimited carriage of passengers between different points in the EU. The same applies for EU carriers in the UK.

New rules for the aviation

The new agreement foresees open skies between the EU and the UK for airlines of both regions, while EU consumer rights will apply for flights conducted by EU and UK airlines to the UK.

UK airlines departing from the UK will no longer be covered by EU consumer rights.

Business will continue “as usual” for trains. Eurostar continues to circulate between the UK, Belgium, France and the Netherlands. Last October, Eurostar even launched new lines from Amsterdam and Rotterdam to London while winter ski destinations to the French Alps were launched from London until the end of the year.

Some changes also apply for duty free purchases. Duty Free shopping will be available again for both British and EU passengers travelling between both destinations, while tax-free sales at airports are to be discontinued.

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