Not So Fast! What Brexit Means for Border Crossers

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Britain’s split from the European Union is bringing a host of changes for people living in the region and traveling across the U.K.’s toughened borders. Much of the focus has been on how businesses will cope. Now, more than four years after the vote to leave the 27-nation bloc, Brexit reality is hitting home to ordinary people as well.

1. What changes were taking effect from Jan. 1?

The end of the Brexit transition period, which followed the U.K.’s formal departure from the EU on Jan. 31, 2020, will affect tourists, business travelers, academics and students. While many of the new rules and guidelines are clear, others are less so and may be subject to change:

  • U.K. citizens no longer have an automatic right to live in the EU, and EU citizens will face similar restrictions in Britain.
  • New requirements will affect Britons driving in the EU, studying under certain programs or taking their pets into the bloc.
  • Tougher immigration rules mean U.K. citizens wanting to work in the EU, and vice versa, will have to complete more paperwork and will need to make sure their professional qualifications are recognized. EU citizens seeking to move to the U.K. will be treated on the same basis as applicants from outside the EU.
  • EU citizens who already hold permanent residency in the U.K. and want to remain after June 30, 2021, will need to apply either for the EU settlement scheme or for British citizenship, unless they already have indefinite leave to enter or remain in the U.K.

2. How will travel change?

Covid-19 restrictions have made cross-border travel difficult and sometimes impractical for the time being. Once they are no longer necessary, short leisure trips and vacations should be relatively simple, with no tourist visas needed, but longer stays could require paperwork and in some cases may not be possible. U.K. citizens will need a visa if they want to visit the EU for more than 90 days in any 180-day period. They may need a permit for business travel, depending on the rules of the particular country. EU nationals visiting the U.K. will be allowed to visit for up to six months without applying for a visa, for the purposes of tourism, visiting family and friends, short-term study and business activities such as events and conferences. Fast-track immigration lanes for EU citizens in Europe may no longer be available to U.K. travelers. In the U.K., technology could help. London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports are among more than a dozen U.K. air and rail terminals that operate speedy electronic passport gates for both U.K. and EU nationals.

3. What about insurance and healthcare?

People who have grown used to easy travel within Europe will have to plan ahead to make sure they stay on the right side of the regulations, although some existing rights will be preserved:

  • Where the U.K. or an EU member state is responsible for the healthcare of an individual, “they will be entitled to reciprocal healthcare cover,” according to a summary of the U.K.-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement published on the U.K. government website. “This includes certain categories of cross-border workers and state pensioners who retire to the U.K. or to the EU,” as well as people temporarily staying in another country, for example on vacation.
  • British drivers will need to carry a “green card” proof-of-insurance certificate for most of Europe, and while the U.K. government website said in December they “may need extra documents” and the rules “may change,” it also indicated they probably won’t need an international driving permit for most countries unless they still have an old-style paper license. EU motorists can drive in the U.K. on their licenses but will also need proof of insurance.
  • Britons will lose their right to pay the same for mobile calls, texts and data in the EU as at home. Most U.K. phone companies have no plans to charge differently for now, but if they do, customers will receive alerts for data usage and won’t be billed for more than 45 pounds ($61) a month unless they opt for more expensive services. How much EU visitors to the U.K. pay will depend on their operator.

4. What will happen at ports?

Motorists could get snarled up in traffic around the Channel Tunnel and ports, which were already being disrupted in December by Covid restrictions. Truck drivers in the U.K. heading to France and Belgium through Dover will need to apply in advance for a permit to enter Kent, the county between London and the Channel coast. Similar problems may occur for motorists at Holyhead, a port in northwest Wales for ferries to Dublin.

5. Will food be disrupted?

Consumers run the risk that fresh or perishable foods from continental Europe such as fruit, vegetables and cheese will be hard to find if there are delays at ports, or if suppliers decide rules are too complicated to make exporting worthwhile. Although prolonged shortages are unlikely, during the U.K.’s first Covid lockdown in March 2020 many supermarkets did run out of staples such as flour and pasta, and stockpiling could cause more disruption.

Not So Fast! What Brexit Means for Border Crossers

6. What about immigration rules?

U.K. citizens seeking to live and work in the EU after Jan. 1 may need a combination of visas, a work permit and a residence permit. EU skilled workers moving to the U.K. will normally need a job offer first. A deal protecting the rights of more than 3 million EU citizens already living in the U.K. and about a million British citizens residing in the bloc came into force earlier in the Brexit process. That allows them to stay where they are and continue to enjoy pensions and access to health care where they live. Arrangements are also already in place between the U.K. and Ireland, giving the citizens of each country reciprocal rights to live and work in both.

7. Who else will feel the impact?

  • Students: Those from the EU may face increases in fees to study at British universities and could lose access to finance. Some may still qualify for funding and be subject to local fees for courses starting before Jan. 1, 2028, if they meet certain residency requirements. U.K. students may find applying for European universities more expensive and funding more difficult to obtain. U.K. students will also no longer be able to participate in the “Erasmus” program enabling study abroad, although the U.K. government plans to set up its own alternative.
  • British people living in Europe: Several U.K. banks, including Barclays, Lloyds and Nationwide, started closing the accounts of customers resident in various EU countries, including some who could not provide addresses in the U.K., according to Which? magazine. This is due to changes in rules governing what services banks will be able to offer following Brexit.

8. Has the Irish border been resolved?

Yes, meaning people will be able to continue to cross from Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K., into the Republic of Ireland without border controls. That’s because monitoring of goods arriving in Northern Ireland will largely take place at ports. Avoiding a physical border was a major goal for both sides during Brexit talks, because of concerns that customs and security checks could threaten stability and increase political tensions in the region.

The Reference Shelf

  • QuickTakes on the roots of Brexit, and how banking will be affected.
  • Bloomberg Opinion’s Therese Raphael on Brexit and the trade deal.
  • An Institute for Government paper on how ready Britain is for Brexit.
  • A U.K. government summary of the U.K.-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement.
  • A European Commission summary of the U.K.-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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