What Brexit means for half-term holiday plans
Holiday company adverts are still urging you to whisk your family off on a European city break during the half-term holiday.
Yet the minds of many potential holidaymakers are somewhat scrambled by Brexit. The government’s planned exit day is 31 October – the Thursday in the middle of some schools’ autumn break.
The concern is neatly summed up on the message board of parental chat room Mumsnet, where one post says: “I don’t want to spend lots of money then stress the entire holiday about travelling back.”
In reply, some say they still plan to travel – including one who had delayed their trip from March owing to the original planned Brexit date – while others say they will stay at home.
Operators on the UK’s European Consumer Centre says they are receiving questions from concerned consumers about their rights every day.
So what do you need to think about, assuming – in line with the government, but not Parliament’s, intention – that the UK leaves the EU on 31 October?
Currency and the value of the pound
Getting the most from your pounds when changing them into euros feels like a matter of timing – but nobody can tell you when is the best moment to exchange. This graph shows how sterling has been faring against the euro.
One certainty is that the worst rates are given to those who leave it to the last minute and use a bureau de change at the airport or train and ferry terminals.
Currency experts say the pound may slip in value if an exit without a UK-EU withdrawal deal looks likely, but will rise in value if an agreement can be struck.
At the moment, holidaymakers can exchange at close to the same rate as they would have got at the start of the summer holidays and the same time last year.
Changing £100 during most of last week would have got you just over €111, some €1.46 less than 31 October 2018, and €1.63 more than on 31 July this year, according to figures compiled for the BBC by exchange company Equals. That rate improved by the end of the week.
Sterling’s fluctuation during the past five years means you would have got €4.95 less in August last year, but €32.65 more in July 2015.
If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, then using a UK bank card to pay for things in the EU after 31 October could become more expensive owing to extra cross-border bank charges.
Passports and visas
Travellers are much more likely to visit Europe than elsewhere, owing to the cost, the distance and the simplicity.
Anyone on holiday abroad after 31 October needs to check that they have six months validity left on their passport and that it is no more than 10 years old.
That is relevant when visiting most countries in Europe – the full list is here. Travel to Ireland will not change, even if there is no deal. You will continue to be able to travel and work there in the same way as before.
It is probably already too late to renew a passport in the normal manner in time – it usually takes three weeks. Instead, there is a quicker, premium service that is more expensive.
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No visa will be needed for stays of up to 90 days out of any 180-day period in the EU or Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland (the European Economic Area). However, you may need a visa or permit to stay for longer.
When arriving at a passport control after 31 October, the government advises that holidaymakers have proof of a return or onward ticket, be able to show that you have enough money for the trip (but must declare cash of £10,000 or more), and be prepared to queue in a different channel to the EU one you may be used to. You may also have to wait for longer.
Illness and accidents – will an EHIC still work?
When family members have had accidents or fallen ill, UK holidaymakers in the EU have been using their EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) to access free medical treatment.
In the event of a no-deal Brexit, it is likely that the EHIC will be invalid. If there is a deal or an agreement after a no-deal Brexit, then its validity, or otherwise, would be contained in the text.
Specifically for those travelling to Spain, a healthcare deal has already been struck so any UK tourists travelling there, after a no-deal scenario, would still be covered as before.
Separate deals have also been agreed with Portugal and the Irish Republic which, immediately after any exit, will accept a passport from UK tourists to ensure they can receive healthcare as before.
Whatever the outcome, people travelling soon after 31 October are being advised by the government to ensure they have appropriate travel insurance.
That means a policy that would cover them not only for accidents, but also for any pre-existing health issues (which may require a specialist policy). This could be a major issue for people who, for example, need kidney dialysis.
Transport and driving in the EU
The government says flights, ferries and cruises, the Eurostar and Eurotunnel, and bus and coach services between the UK and the EU will continue to run as normal, whatever the manner of the UK’s exit.
Some bus and coach services to non-EU countries, such as Switzerland or Andorra, may not be able to run in a no-deal scenario.
There is a chance of disruption on some roads while still in the UK if there is a no-deal Brexit. There are plans in place for lorries if they are delayed on their way through ports, but any spillover could mean delays for holidaymakers.
Insurers say that refunds or alternative arrangements for Brexit-related cancellations will be the responsibility of travel or credit and debit card providers first, and only after that could people with policies that include travel disruption cover make a claim.
Anyone driving their own vehicle after 31 October if there is no deal will need a GB sticker on it and also a “green card”. This is actually a document made of green paper from your insurer which has proof of insurance on it. Those towing a trailer or caravan will need two.
Generally, it takes one month to receive a green card, so anyone who has left it too late may need to buy insurance locally for the duration of their stay.
All motorists – either taking their own vehicle or hiring one – may need an International Driving Permit (IDP) when driving in some, but not all, EU countries (you can check if you need one on the Post Office website) in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
The extra expense – an IDP costs £5.50 – may be mitigated by the opportunity to buy some duty-free alcohol or tobacco on the way back in a no-deal scenario.
Calling home and using mobile data
The “roam like at home” rules are expected to end after a no-deal Brexit. Again, if there is a deal, it will need to be included in any agreement.
The current rules, in place since June 2017, mean there are no extra charges for making or receiving calls and using data from your domestic allowance while in the EU.
If it no longer applies, using a mobile or tablet on holiday after 31 October could, in theory, get more expensive.
In practice, competitive pressures mean that the big network operators say they have no plans to return to roaming charges, whatever happens.
Bringing the dog on holiday
Even if you have an EU Pet Passport, this would no longer be valid if the UK leaves without a deal.
Given that it takes about four months to complete all the requirements necessary for pet travel from a so-called unlisted country, which the UK would become, then pets will not be coming on any half-term, or indeed Christmas, breaks with an owner yet to start that process.
If there is an agreement, or an extension to the UK’s membership, then the pet passport should still be accepted.