What impact will Brexit have on travel within the EU and to the UK?

British passports will need six months' validity.
British passports will need six months' validity. / Reuters
  • The Withdrawal Agreement means that until the end of this year travel plans will be unaffected

When it comes to travel, as with all other aspects of life for British foreign residents in Spain, Brexit will inevitably have an impact. However, the most important fact to remember is that the UK is leaving the EU with a transitional deal.

The Withdrawal Agreement means that until the end of this year, 2020, pretty much everything stays the same. So any travel plans or holidays you enjoy from today, Brexit Day, until 31 December 2020 will be unaffected. Whether you book a flight, ferry crossing, cruise, coach holiday or other vacation that involves EU travel, there will be no changes to the rules on travel during the implementation period.

British consul to Andalucía Charmaine Arbouin confirms, "The Withdrawal Agreement contains some really important protections for the rights of UK nationals resident in Spain, such as the right to continue living and working here, for UK state pensioners to have life-long healthcare, as long as they remain living in Spain, and to have their pensions uprated. You can also still exchange your driving licence until the end of 2020 without taking a test.

"Those rights will be protected for as long as you live in Spain, provided that you are legally resident here by the end of 2020. So, as ever, my key message is to make sure you have your green residency certificate - rest assured, this will remain a valid document after 31 January. If you don't have this yet, take steps to get registered as soon as possible."

However, there are some important considerations that should be made.

Driving licences

As a UK foreign resident living in Spain, you need to exchange your UK driver's licence for a Spanish one so you comply with national law and can easily rent cars in other EU member states. If you are still using a UK license but live in Spain, you need to act now.

When it looked like the UK was heading for a no-deal Brexit, Spain's Dirección General de Tráfico set today, midnight, as the deadline to register intent to exchange a UK license for a Spanish one. Since the Withdrawal Agreement is now in place, that deadline will be extended, so don't panic. But do visit the website, follow the instructions and start the process. If you don't speak Spanish or don't have a digital identification, then another option is to seek the assistance of one of the many local firms that, for a fee, offer support services to foreigners living in Spain.

With regards to UK residents, ABTA confirms that nothing changes for UK citizens travelling this year during the transition period, "As long as you have a full UK driving licence, you don't currently need an additional licence to drive in the EU. This will not change following 31 January 2020. An International Driving Permit will not be required, and you do not need a GB sticker or a Green Card for car insurance."


The rules concerning travelling within the EU with a UK passport remain unchanged during this year's transition and implementation period. Yet in 2021 things look set to change. We'll need a passport with at least six months' validity. So now is a good time to check if you need to renew your passport.

EU member states will allow tourist stays by UK passport holders to be visa-free for up to 90 days within any 180-day period. However, from 2021, the ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorisation System) is scheduled to come into force. This is the new travel authorisation system which will be a requirement for British citizens and 60 other nationalities who wish to enter the Schengen Area.

ETIAS will be a visa-waiver (much like the ETSA visa-waiver that Brits need to enter the USA), allowing travellers to enter the Schengen Area (presently consisting of 26 countries including Spain and Portugal) without a visa.

Travel insurance

Again, healthcare rights within the EU during the transition period remain unchanged, so reciprocal agreements already in place mean that should you need medical assistance when travelling within the EU, then your Tarjeta Sanitaria will suffice to receive free or subsidised care. After the transition period, things are not so clear, so consider travel insurance. In fact, my recommendation is to always opt for private travel insurance to cover delays, cancellations, theft, as well as medical care.