During the Brexit transition period, little has changed for UK citizens travelling, working, living or studying in the EU, the EEA and Switzerland, and vice versa. However, from the 31 December 2020 new rules will apply, with some requirements subject to ongoing UK-EU negotiations and possible unilateral measures adopted by the UK and EU.



UK passport holders travelling to the EU will need to ensure their passport has at least six months validity remaining and is less than 10 years old. This may mean individuals need to renew their passport or they will be unable to travel to most EU countries from 1 January. Passport holders should also be aware that this process is currently taking longer than usual due to the coronavirus crisis.

These rules do not apply to travel to Ireland, as Common Travel Area (CTA) rules on travel documents will not change.

Health insurance

The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will no longer be valid for most UK citizens.

The EHIC currently entitles UK nationals to state-provided medical treatment in any EU country. This covers emergency care, pre-existing medical conditions and maternity care.

Government advice states that individuals should buy appropriate travel insurance with healthcare before they go abroad.

After the transition period, the EHIC will still be valid for UK state pensioners living in the EU before the end of 2020 and so-called ‘frontier workers’ who live in one state and work in another. Student EHICs will also remain valid for the duration of their studies.


It will be more difficult to travel to the EU with pets. At the end of the transition period EU pet passports issued in the UK will no longer be valid for cat, dog or ferret travel to the EU. New requirements for pet travel will depend on decisions taken by the EU.

The EU categorises non-member states as either listed or unlisted. Listed countries are seen to have a lower risk of disease and so travelling with pets will be easier than if the UK becomes an unlisted country.

If the UK is not listed, it could take up to four months to complete the preparations for travelling with a pet. A blood sample will have to be taken from pets at least 30 days after its last rabies vaccination and sent to an EU approved laboratory. Owners will then have to wait at least three months from the date the sample was taken before they can travel. They will also have to acquire an Animal Health Certificate (AHC) from a vet no more than ten days before travelling. This timeframe leaves individuals wishing to travel to the EU with their pet in early 2020 little time to prepare for the risk that the UK becomes an unlisted country.

If the UK is listed, the process will be simpler, although pet owners will still need to ensure their pet is microchipped and vaccinated at least 21 days before travel and may need an AHC.

Driving in Europe

UK driving licence holders may need extra documents in order to drive or hire a car in the EU. This could include:

  • An International Driving Permit (IDP): It is likely that UK driving licence holders wishing to drive in the EU will need to purchase an IDP, although advice on GOV.UK has not specified which EU countries this will include. UK driving licence holders will not need an IDP to drive when visiting Ireland.
  • A car insurance ‘green card’: Currently UK vehicle insurance gives UK drivers a minimum of third-party cover to drive their vehicle in EU countries. Insurers may not provide this after 31 December 2020. Those driving to Europe (including Ireland) may need to take a ‘green card’ to prove their car is covered when driving in Europe. Green cards are free and can be acquired by individuals through their insurance company.
  • A GB sticker: Drivers of UK registered vehicles may also be required to have a GB sticker on their car when driving in the EU (including Ireland). This may be the case even if they have a GB symbol on their number plate.

UK drivers involved in an accident in Europe may need to make insurance claims in the country where the accident happened (rather than from the UK, as is possible now). This could involve making the claim in the local language, with the process varying between member states.

Mobile roaming charges

The guarantee of free mobile phone roaming throughout the EU, introduced in June 2017, will end. Roaming is when you use your mobile phone abroad.

Government advice suggests that individuals should check with their phone operator to find out about any possible roaming charges from 1 January. The government has passed legislation that aims to safeguard consumers including a £45-a-month limit on charges before you have to opt in for further use.

Many phone operators, including Three, Vodafone, O2 and EE, have stated that they have no plans to reintroduce roaming charges, regardless of the outcome of negotiations between the UK and EU.

British citizens living in the EU before 1 January 2021

The Withdrawal Agreement guarantees UK citizens living in EU countries before 1 January 2021 broadly the same rights to live, work and access public services, including healthcare and benefits in the EU as they have now. This includes those who move during the transition period.

How these rights will be protected varies between member states. In some countries, British citizens will need to register to secure their withdrawal agreement rights and will have until at least 30 June to do so. In others, their rights will be automatically recognised. The UK government offers country-by-country guidance and UK embassies are also providing advice.

Ireland will remain part of the Common Travel Area (CTA). British citizens will remain free to reside in either jurisdiction and enjoy the associated rights and entitlements without any registration process.

In March the FCO announced funding to support vulnerable groups to protect their residency rights. This will target groups such as pensioners, disabled people and those who require language support.


EU citizens living in the UK before 1 January 2021

The UK government has pledged to protect the rights of any EU citizens living in the UK on 31 December 2020. EU citizens will have to register with the government’s EU settlement scheme before 30 June 2021.

Anyone who can prove they have lived in the UK continuously for five years or more should be eligible for settled status. Those with settled status can stay in the UK as long as they like and spend five years in a row outside the UK without losing their status.

Anyone who can prove they have lived in the UK for less than five years, including those who have moved during the transition period, should be eligible for pre-settled status. Those with pre-settled status can remain in the UK while they gain the five years of residency needed to apply for ‘settled status’. Those with pre-settled status can spend two years in a row outside of the UK without losing their status.

EU nationals can apply for the settled status scheme for free, using the online system and app to upload documents. Those without their own technology may use someone else’s phone.

When applying for settled status, the applicant’s National Insurance number is used to check their eligibility based on tax and benefit records. If insufficient records are found, individuals may need to submit additional documents, such as annual bank statements, letters from their employer or council tax bills. Those applying for pre-settled status can submit a range of documents including payslips, domestic bills and passport stamps confirming entry to the UK.

It usually takes around five working days for complete applications to be processed, but it can take up to a month. Applications will likely take longer if more information is requested, the applicant is a minor or an application is submitted on paper.

Irish citizens in the UK do not need to apply for settled status, as Ireland and the UK will remain part of the Common Travel Area (CTA).

EU citizens moving to the UK from 1 January 2021

EU citizens living in the UK from 1 January 2021 will need to comply with new UK immigration requirements.

Those wishing to work in the UK will need a work visa. In most cases, individuals will apply through the new ‘skilled worker’ route, which will require them to have a job offer from a Home Office licensed sponsor company, a job at a required skill level (A level or equivalent) and speak English to the required standard. The job must also meet the applicable minimum salary threshold, which will be the higher of £25600 or the ‘going rate’ for the specific role they intend to take. It will be possible to ‘trade’ some of these characteristics if the job is in a shortage occupation or the individual has a PhD.

The UK has no specific retirement visa. EU citizens wishing to retire in the UK from January will need to check if they are eligible under the UK’s immigration rules.

As with UK citizens moving to the EU from 1 January 2021, details around social security coordination are subject to ongoing negotiations and may be affected by pre-existing agreements between the UK and EU member states.


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