What Does Brexit Mean For Travelers To The UK?

Journy's UK trip designer lays out what travelers need to know in light of England's departure from the European Union.

By Joe Lepore

13 February 2020

After years of debates, referendums, protests, no-deals, three Prime Ministers, and enough think pieces to fill a library, Brexit is finally here. As of January 31, the United Kingdom formally departed from the European Union. A lot of the thornier issues—trade, customs, electricity—will be worked out over the next year, as will travel. So if you’re heading to Britain in 2020, don’t fret!

But there are changes on the horizon. Here’s a preview of what you can expect going forward, based on where you’re traveling from.

Traveling from the United States

Once the new rules are in place, landing at Heathrow from New York shouldn’t feel too different. As a non-EU, non-UK citizen, American travelers will need to have their passport and enter the same foreign-entry customs line they always have. The key difference is that now EU citizens will be joining Americans in that line with their travel documents. Whether that means longer waits is anyone’s guess, and will likely depend on who’s on the flight.

Traveling from the EU (Mainland Europe)

If you’re going on a grand tour of Europe, you may feel the pinch of post-Brexit changes when entering the UK from the EU. Expect many more EU citizens on a flight to London from Berlin than Chicago, and starting in 2021 you can expect to see your fellow EU passengers in that customs line when you arrive.

Traveling from Ireland to the UK

Here’s where it gets tricky! After decades of violence, peace was finally established in the late 90s between the Republic of Ireland (part of the EU) and Northern Ireland (part of the UK)—thanks in part to the agreement that there would be frictionless, borderless travel between the two countries. Brexit jeopardizes that, and the status of the Irish border has been a major sticking point in negotiations.

UK, EU, and Irish officials assure that the invisible border will remain one, but if you’re planning travel between the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, or the rest of the UK in 2021, Journy recommends continuing to monitor the situation should anything change. If it’s got you worried, you aren’t alone. According to the NI Tourism Chief, travel to Northern Ireland has already taken a hit due to the murky status.

Will I need a visa?

For American travelers, you still will not need a visa for trips under six months to the UK. BUT! Separate from Brexit, starting in 2021, American travelers visiting the UK or other EU countries within the Schengen zone without a visa will need to register with the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) before traveling, which is similar to applying for a visa. This was in the works with or without Brexit, but is still something to be aware of.

Will my European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) remain valid in the UK?

In 2020, yes—your EHIC, which covers state-provided medical treatment in Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein, and other EU countries—will remain valid in the UK during the transition period, which lasts until December 31, 2020, after which new regulations around travel insurance may be announced.

Brexit means huge changes for the UK and the EU, and the true scope of that may not be known for years to come. For now, at least, the changes for international and British passport holders, along with the broader travel industry, are minimal, and Anglophiles everywhere are hoping they stay that way.  

With the peace of mind knowing things won't change too much in the immediate future, now's the time to get started on travel plans for your dream trip to the UK. Here's a dose of inspiration to get you going...