The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has had a long history with the European Union (EU). The relationship between the UK and EU affects the rules for travel between the two.
According to current rules, British nationals can visit EU countries without a visa.
Once the ETIAS system is launched in November 2023, Brits will need to register to enjoy the benefits of this visa exemption.
What were EU-UK relations like before the United Kingdom joined the bloc?
Prior to joining the EU, the UK maintained trade relationships with EU member states.
British travellers needed both a valid passport and authorisation to enter European countries. This generally meant applying for a visa.
The UK applied for EEC (the predecessor of the EU) membership several times during the 1960s before finally being allowed to join the bloc in 1973.
Relations when the UK was a member of the EU
As an EU member state, citizens of the UK enjoyed freedom of movement around the bloc.
This included the right to live and work in other EU member states. No visas were required.
The United Kingdom never adopted the euro, instead keeping the pound sterling as its currency.
The UK never joined the Schengen Area — an open borders region that includes most EU and EFTA member states. This meant that Brits arriving in Schengen countries still had to show their passports on arrival.
What is the current relationship between EU and UK?
The UK is no longer a member of the EU. The transition period ended at the end of 2020.
Since then, the UK is not subject to EU law and does not form part of the Single Market or Customs Union (with the exception of Northern Ireland, which is still de facto within the Customs Union).
The UK and EU remain close trading partners and cooperate internationally on many issues.
How has Brexit affected travel between the UK and EU?
In terms of travel, the EU allows British passport holders to enter without a visa and spend up to 90 days within any 180-day period in its member states. In return, the UK does not require EU nationals to get a visa to visit.
Currently, Brits only need to have a valid UK passport to enjoy visa exemption for the EU. In the near future, they will also need to apply ETIAS for Europe.
Visa exemption only applies to visits for tourism and business.
British nationals can no longer move to EU countries to live and work without a visa.
Border controls are now more thorough when traveling between the UK and EU. Thanks to e-Passport gates and biometric technology, clearing border control is now much more efficient than in the past.
ETIAS and the future of UK-EU relations
The European Travel Information Authorisation System (ETIAS) is set to be launched in November 2023. This online visa waiver system will ensure that British citizens will continue to be able to visit the EU without a visa.
The ETIAS is designed to provide an extra layer of security for the EU. It will allow border control to pre-screen visa-exempt passengers before they arrive to identify and prevent security risks.
This will make travelling to the EU safer than ever before.
Now that the UK is no longer part of the EU, British passport holders will have to register with ETIAS to visit. This will be quick and easy to do. When the platform is launched, simply fill in the short online form and the authorisation will be granted within a short time.
There are a few simple ETIAS requirements for British citizens, such as holding a valid passport.
The impact of COVID-19 on travelling to the EU
The coronavirus (COVID-19 pandemic) has seen some additional entry requirements for certain countries, including the EU. Vaccination certificates and COVID-19 tests are examples of this.
It is likely that these will be phased out in the future, as the situation improves.
The pandemic has had the unexpected benefit of leading authorities to develop systems and technology that has made border control measures more streamlined and efficient.