UK citizens visa-free travel to the EU after Brexit

The EU Commission today (13 December 2018) proposed to grant UK citizens visa-free travel to the EU after the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU. It is separate to the ongoing negotiations on the UK’s orderly withdrawal.

Is travel by UK citizens to the EU important to the EU ?

Residents in the United Kingdom undertook 53 million trips to the EU-27 in 2016, whether for business, leisure or other purposes, spending about EUR 28 billion while in the other Member States. Imposing a visa requirement on United Kingdom nationals who are British citizens could diminish the economic benefit for the Union that results from these trips, reduce trade relations and harm the economic interest of the Union.

For more details, see the following document by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (referenced by the proposal)

The economic importance of UK outbound tourism to the EU27 economies. September 2017

(copy pdf)

The EU is proposing that

The proposal would mean that UK citizens would not need a visa when travelling to the Schengen area for short stays of up to 90 days in any 180-day period. In the scenario where the UK leaves the EU without a deal, this would apply as of 30 March 2019. If a deal is reached, however, it would apply as of the end of the transition period, as outlined in the Withdrawal Agreement. This follows the Commission’s continued commitment that citizens’ rights must come first in the negotiations on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

This proposal is entirely conditional upon the UK also granting reciprocal and non-discriminatory visa-free travel for all EU Member States, in line with the principle of visa reciprocity. The UK government has declared its intention not to require a visa from citizens of the EU27 Member States for shorts stays for the purposes of tourism and business. EU rules on non-EU nationals travelling to the EU, such as those on border control, would of course apply to UK citizens once they are no longer EU citizens.

Today’s proposal is one of the preparedness measures needed as a consequence of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union. It is separate to the ongoing negotiations on the UK’s orderly withdrawal.

The proposal needs to be adopted by the EU Parliament and the EU Council. The EU Commission has called on both institutions to make quick progress on this proposal so that it can be adopted in good time before 30 March 2019.

However it’s worth noting the following paragraphs:

Regulation (EU) 2017/222610 establishing an Entry/Exit system (EES) further improves the security and management of the Union’s external borders. The main objectives of this regulation are to improve the quality of border checks for third-country nationals and to ensure a systematic and reliable identification of overstayers. The future Entry/Exit system (EES) will thus be an important element to ensure lawful use of the visa-free stays in the Schengen area by third country nationals and to contribute to preventing irregular migration of nationals from visa-free countries.

Regulation (EU) 2018/124011 establishing a European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) will close the information gap regarding travellers exempt from the requirement of being in possession of a visa when crossing the external borders. The system will determine the eligibility of visa-exempt third-country nationals prior to their travel to the Schengen area, and whether such travel poses a security, illegal immigration or high epidemic risk.

This means that UK citizens will be required to follow the requirements of the European Visa Waiver and Electronic Travel Authorisation System (ETIAS) which is due to be introduced in 2020.

Proposal for a Regulation amending Council Regulation 539/2001

EU Visa Proposal (copy pdf)

In the spirit of reciprocity, which the EU is keen on, will the UK consider a similar sysem for EU citizens wishing to visit the UK ?

ETIAS stands for EU Travel Information and Authorisation System

The system will check the security credentials and charge a fee to travellers visiting EU member countries for business, tourism, medical or transit purposes. The current EU visa application and vetting procedures for entering the Schengen area depend only upon the citizenship of the visitor and are cost-free. The ETIAS, like the ESTA, will streamline this visa process for those people who do not need a visa at present but will undergo additional security checks prior to allowing entry into the EU. The ETIAS travel authorisation will be mandatory for citizens of countries who currently do not require visas to enter Europe.

Information on ETIAS can be found at

How will it work ?

Application – The ETIAS must be applied for online prior to arrival to the EU. Each eligible traveller to the EU will require an ETIAS.

Form fields – The following data will be required for each ETIAS application: personal biometric data (e.g. name, gender, data of birth, etc), passport or travel document information, EU member state of entry, background questions on an applicant’s health, criminal record as well as previous EU immigration history.

Fee – The cost of an ETIAS is €7, however, individuals under the age of 18 will not need to pay the fee.

Application process – Upon submission, each application will be checked across SIS / VIS / EUROPOL DATA / SLTD (Interpol) / EURODAC / ECRIS etc), the ETIAS screening rules as well as the ETIAS watchlist. If the application is matched to information from any of these databases, the application will undergo manual processing by the ETIAS Central and / or ETIAS National Units.

Application Decision – Usually, a decision will be reached by the system within minutes. If an ETIAS application is approved, it will be issued for a period of three years or until the date of the applicant’s passport expiry, whichever date is sooner. If an ETIAS application is denied, the applicant will receive a reason for the refusal as well as information on the country or authority deciding against the ETIAS being approved.

Boarding – The ETIAS can only be used for transit, tourism and business travel. As ETIAS will be checked by carriers prior to a traveller boarding by air, land or sea. If an ETIAS is not approved, the traveller will not be allowed to board the travel vessel, be it an airplane, boat or bus.

Arrival at the EU – Upon entry into the Schengen zone, a border guard will make the decision on admitting a traveller based on the information in the EES system, the approved ETIAS, as well as the travel documents and disposition of the traveller.