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What Brexit means for individuals

Different rules now apply for UK citizens travelling, working, living or studying in the EU, the EEA and Switzerland, and vice versa.

During the Brexit transition period, little changed for UK citizens travelling, working, living or studying in the EU, the EEA and Switzerland, and vice versa. However, different rules have applied from 31 December 2020.

What has changed for individuals when travelling to Europe?


UK passport holders travelling to the EU need to ensure their passport has at least six months validity remaining and is less than 10 years old. This may mean individuals need to renew their passport or they will be unable to travel to most EU countries.

UK passport holders can still make visa free visits to the passport free Schengen zone (comprising most EU countries) for 90 days in any 180 day period. By the end of 2022, UK passport holders will also need to apply for a European Travel Information and Authorisation System visa waiver when making short term visits to the EU. A visa waiver is expected to cost around £7 and will be valid for 3 years.[1]

These rules do not apply to travel to Ireland, as Common Travel Area (CTA) rules on travel documents will not change.

Health insurance

The deal agreed between the UK and EU includes reciprocal healthcare rights, which means that UK nationals travelling to the EU (and vice versa) continue to have access to emergency or necessary state provided healthcare – often for free.

Where the UK or an EU member state is responsible for the healthcare of an individual, they will be entitled to reciprocal healthcare cover akin to that provided by the European Health Insurance Card. This includes short term visitors (such as holidaymakers), categories of cross-border workers and state pensioners who retire to the UK or to the EU.

Until the specialised committee on social security decides that alternative documentation is needed to access reciprocal healthcare rights, existing EHIC cards can be used until their expiry date.

The UK government has introduced a replacement scheme called the UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC), although individuals covered by the citizens’ rights provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement are still able to get a UK EHIC card.

UK government advice is that these provisions do not replace the need for travel insurance – as they do not include things such as mountain rescue or being flown back to the UK after an accident.


It is now more difficult to travel to the EU with pets. At the end of the transition period, EU pet passports issued in Great Britain stopped being valid for cat, dog or ferret travel to the EU. Under the Northern Ireland protocol, Northern Ireland remains part of the EU pet travel scheme. This means that new rules also apply when travelling with pets between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The EU categorises non-member states as either Part 1 listed, Part 2 listed or unlisted. Listed countries are seen to have a lower risk of disease and so travelling with pets is easier, with a Part 1 listing providing the simplest process.

Great Britain is Part 2 listed. This means that pet owners need to ensure their pet is microchipped and vaccinated against rabies at least 21 days before travel (pets travelling from Great Britain to Finland, Ireland or Northern Ireland will also need to be treated against a certain type of tape worm).

Pet owners also need to get an animal health certificate (AHC) from an official vet no more than 10 days before they travel confirming the pet has been microchipped and vaccinated/treated. A new AHC is required each time they travel with their pet. An AHC will is also required when travelling with a pet from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

Pets travelling from Great Britain to the EU have to be presented at a designated point of entry, where checks take place. Checks on the movement of pets from Great Britain to Northern Ireland have been delayed until at least 1 October 2021.

Driving in Europe

UK driving licence holders may need extra documents in order to drive or hire a car in the EU. This could include:

  • An International Driving Permit (IDP): Most UK driving license holders wishing to drive in the EU during short visits can continue using their normal driving license. However, individuals holding some driving licences may need to purchase an IDP. This will be the case for those with a paper driving licence, or a licence issued in Gibraltar, Guernsey, Jersey or the Isle of Man. 
  • A car insurance ‘green card’: Before the end of the transition period, UK vehicle insurance gave UK drivers a minimum of third-party cover to drive their vehicle in EU countries. Insurers may no longer provide this. Those driving to Europe (including Ireland) may need to take a ‘green card’ to prove their car is covered when driving in Europe. Green cards are free and can be acquired by individuals through their insurance company.
  • A GB sticker: Drivers of UK registered vehicles are required to have a GB sticker on their car when driving in the EU (including Ireland). This is due to change to a new ‘UK’ sticker from September 2021.

Mobile roaming charges

The guarantee of free mobile phone roaming throughout the EU, introduced in June 2017, ceased at the end of the transition period. Roaming is when you use your mobile phone abroad.

Government advice suggests that individuals should check with their phone operator to find out about any possible roaming charges. The government has passed legislation that aims to safeguard consumers including a £45-a-month limit on charges before you have to opt in for further use.

In June 2021, some UK mobile phone operators – such as EE and O2 – announced that they intend to re-introduce roaming charges.

What has changed for individuals when travelling to Europe for work?

Business visas

Individuals who travel to the EU for short-term work or to provide ‘fly-in-fly-out’ services may need to comply with more stringent visa or work permit requirements.

Work visas may be required for work travel, although in most cases it will be possible to undertake some business related activities – such as business meetings – without a work visa. The rules around what activities are permitted on short-term business trips and visa requirements vary between member states, with country-by-country guidance available from the UK government [2]. The UK–EU deal limits these short term business trips to 90 days in any 180 day period (although how this time period is calculated varies between member states). The UK government advises that individuals travelling to the EU should check the work requirements for the country they are visiting before they travel.

The UK have agreed a two year ‘Services Mobility Agreement’ with Switzerland, meaning work permits and lengthy processing times will not be required for the first 90 days of work in any given year.

Professional qualifications

At the end of the transition period, the mutual recognition of most professional qualifications ended.

The UK–EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement sets up a framework for the mutual recognition of professional qualifications to be agreed through the Partnership Council. But there is no guarantee any such agreements will be reached. For comparison, no qualifications have yet been recognised under the comparable framework in the EU’s FTA with Canada. Even if the framework in the UK-EU deal is more successful, any agreements on recognition are likely to be less comprehensive than those that existed under EU membership. This will affect a range of regulated professions including law, accountancy and architecture and may require those wishing to practice their trade to requalify in the EU.

Rules on whether UK qualifications are recognised and who is eligible to hold certain professional roles vary between member states. For example, in the Czech Republic, UK lawyers will have to be resident to provide legal advice, while across the border in Austria they are specifically prohibited from being resident and must provide legal advice on a cross-border basis. Many UK-qualified lawyers at large practices have already requalified in Ireland.

The Withdrawal Agreement guarantees the mutual recognition of qualifications for UK citizens already living in the EU before the end of the transition period, and vice versa, subject to restrictions.

The UK have agreed a two-year ‘Services Mobility Agreement’ with Switzerland, which contains provisions on the recognition of professional qualifications.

ATA Carnet: musicians and filmmakers

Those wishing to temporarily move goods between the UK and EU for business purposes need to take additional steps to comply with new customs rules. This affects musicians and filmmakers traveling with items such as instruments and electronic equipment.

Those affected may wish to apply for an ATA Carnet. This is a temporary international customs document that allows non-perishable goods to move between countries without the payment of a customs charge.

It is possible to apply for an ATA Carnet online or by post. In the UK, they are issued by the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry and usually cost £325.96, plus a security deposit which varies considerably in price. It is valid for one year and allows the movement of goods shown on the carnet as many times as required.

What has changed for British citizens living in the EU?

British citizens living in the EU before 1 January 2021

The Withdrawal Agreement guarantees UK citizens living in EU countries before 1 January 2021 broadly the same rights to live, work and access public services (including healthcare) and benefits in the EU as they have now. This includes those who move during the transition period.

How these rights are protected varies between member states. In some countries, British citizens need to register to secure their withdrawal agreement rights. Some schemes had an application deadline of 30 June 2021, although some countries – such as France – extended their deadlines to allow more time for UK citizens to apply. In other countries, rights are automatically recognised. The UK government offers country-by-country guidance[3] and UK embassies are also providing advice.

Ireland will remain part of the Common Travel Area (CTA). British citizens remain free to reside in either jurisdiction and enjoy the associated rights and entitlements without any registration process.

Driving: British citizens living in the EU before 1 January 2021

UK driving licence holders living in the EU may need to exchange their UK driving licence for one issued by that country, often for a fee. This is as most member states only recognise foreign licences for up to six months. The deadline for doing so depends on the country with the UK government offering tailored advice for each country [4]. In Spain, the process costs €28.30 and takes one and a half months.

From 1 January 2021, EU countries have had no obligation to offer a local licence to UK licence holders, meaning individuals may have to take another driving test.

British citizens moving to the EU from 1 January 2021

The automatic right to live and work in the EU ceased after the transition period. British citizens looking to move to an EU country – whether that is to work or to retire – need to apply in accordance with that country’s immigration rules.

Those wishing to work may need a work visa and an employer to sponsor them.

Individuals wishing to retire to the EU may need to provide more detailed financial information to prove they can independently finance their stay, whether through a pension or savings.

The UK–EU Brexit deal includes provisions on social security co-ordination. UK nationals travelling, working or living in the EU (and vice versa) retain entitlements to some benefits, including state pensions, healthcare, disability benefits, unemployment benefits and maternity/ paternity benefits. Where eligible, UK nationals must be treated equally to EU nationals (and vice versa).

Cross border workers and employers are only liable to pay social security contributions in one state at a time, and UK and EU member states will be able to take into account contributions paid into each other’s social security systems for relevant periods of work or residence when determining entitlements to state benefits. UK state pensions paid to individuals in the EU increase each year in the EU in line with the rate paid in the UK.

Ireland will remain part of the Common Travel Area (CTA). British citizens remain free to reside in either jurisdiction and enjoy the associated rights and entitlements beyond the transition period.

What has changed for EU citizens living in the UK?

EU citizens living in the UK before 1 January 2021

Under the Withdrawal Agreement, the UK government pledged to protect the rights of any EU citizens living in the UK on 31 December 2020.

Anyone who can prove they have lived in the UK continuously for five years or more should be eligible for settled status. Those with settled status can stay in the UK as long as they like and spend five years in a row outside the UK without losing their status.

Anyone who can prove they have lived in the UK for less than five years, including those who have moved during the transition period, should be eligible for pre-settled status. Those with pre-settled status can remain in the UK while they gain the five years of residency needed to apply for ‘settled status’. Those with pre-settled status can spend two years in a row outside of the UK without losing their status.

As of 31 May 2021, around 5.3 million people had been granted settled or pre-settled status.[5]

The deadline for applying to the Settled Status Scheme was 30 June 2021. Late applications will be accepted from those who have ‘reasonable grounds’ for applying late – with Home Office guidance setting out examples of what this may mean and instructing case workers to adopt a ‘flexible and pragmatic’ approach that seeks to grant, rather than deny, status. In August 2021, the Home Office announced that it would temporarily protect the rights of late applicants until the outcome of their application and any appeal has been decided. Some two million people who have only been granted pre-settled status will also face a personal deadline when they need to upgrade to settled status when they qualify to do so.

EU citizens moving to the UK from 1 January 2021

EU citizens living in the UK from 1 January 2021 need to comply with new UK immigration requirements.

Those wishing to work in the UK usually need a work visa. In most cases, individuals will apply through the new ‘skilled worker’ route, which requires them to have a job offer from a Home Office licensed sponsor company, a job at a required skill level (A level or equivalent) and speak English to the required standard. The job must also meet the applicable minimum salary threshold, which is the higher of £25,600 or the ‘going rate’ for the specific role they intend to take. It is possible to ‘trade’ some of these characteristics if the job is in a shortage occupation or the individual has a PhD.

The UK has no specific retirement visa. EU citizens wishing to retire in the UK need to check if they are eligible under the UK’s immigration rules.

What has changed for individuals studying in Europe?


The Erasmus+ scheme is an EU student exchange programme which provides funding for many UK students to study abroad. The UK no longer participates in the Erasmus+ programme.

The UK government has announced a replacement scheme – called the Turing Scheme – with £100 million pledged to fund 35,000 placements and exchanges around the world starting in September 2021.

The Irish government is funding Erasmus+ grants for students in Northern Ireland, at an estimated cost of €2 million per year.

Studying in the EU full time

Students who move to live and study in the EU are treated as a non-EU citizen and may have to pay higher international fees.


  1. Etias, Etias Visa Waiver for Europe,
  2. Department for International Trade, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Foreign and Commonwealth Office, ‘Providing services and travelling to the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein: country guides’, 14 October 2019, retrieved 20 August 2021,
  3. Gov.UK, ‘UK nationals living in the EU’, Guidance, retrieved 20 August 2020,
  4. Department for Transport and Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, ‘Driving in the EU from January 2021: UK licence holders living in the EU’, 29 January 2020, retrieved 20 August 2020,
  5. Home Office, EU Settlement Scheme statistics,
Country (international)
European Union
Institute for Government

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