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End of free movement rights

British citizens’ EU citizenship and free movement rights ended when the Brexit transition period expired on 31 December 2020. Those rights had enabled them to visit, live, work or study in an EU Member State without needing a visa. They (and their family members) were able to claim a right to reside in the host Member State as a jobseeker, worker, student, self-employed or self-sufficient person or a family member, under the terms set by EU free movement laws.

Since 1 January 2021:

  • British citizens still do not need to apply for a visa in advance of travel to the EU as a short-term visitor. The rules for short-term visits to most EU Member States are set out in the Schengen Borders Code. This allows stays within the Schengen area of up to 90 days in any 180-day period.
  • British citizens’ eligibility to live, work or study in an EU Member State depends on the host country’s national immigration laws and visa requirements.

As an exception to the above, Brexit has not changed the visa and immigration requirements applicable to British citizens travelling to Ireland (and vice versa). These continue to be based on the Common Travel Area arrangements.

Passport and entry requirements for the EU

British citizens travelling to the EU must ensure that their passport satisfies two separate requirements:

  • It must be valid for at least three months after the date the traveller intends to leave the EU country they are visiting. This can be ascertained by looking at the passport’s expiry date.
  • It must have been issued within the previous 10 years. This can be checked by looking at the passport’s date of issue.

British citizens can no longer use the border control lanes for EU citizens and, usually, must have their passport stamped upon entry/exit to the EU. EU countries’ border officials may ask to see supporting documents such as an invitation letter, proof of accommodation and finances, and a return or round-trip ticket when assessing whether to give permission to enter the country as a visitor.

New EU Entry/Exit and ETIAS systems

A new EU Entry/Exit System (EES) is scheduled to be introduced by the end of May 2023. This will be an automated IT system for registering travellers from the UK and other non-EU countries each time they cross an EU external border. Travellers will need to scan their passports and travel documents at an automated self-service kiosk prior to crossing the border.

The system will work in conjunction with the new ETIAS authorisation system, scheduled to be in operation by November 2023. British and other non-EU national citizens travelling to the EU for short stays will be required to obtain an ETIAS travel authorisation. This will be valid for three-year periods or until the holder’s passport expires (if earlier) and will initially cost €7.

Mobility arrangements in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement

The UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) includes some commitments to facilitate travel for certain specified purposes. It provides arrangements for short-term business visitors; business visitors for establishment purposes; intra-corporate transferees; contractual service suppliers; and independent professionals.

But various reservations and exemptions apply. National immigration regulations, rules on work permits and employment regulations of the respective EU Member State must be observed. As a result, from 1 January 2021, UK business travellers are subject to the different regulatory regimes of each Member State. Likewise, EU business travellers are subject to the visa requirements specified in the UK’s immigration rules.

Rights of British citizens living in the EU before 1 January 2021

British citizens who had been exercising free movement rights in an EU country before the end of the transition period have certain residence-related rights protected by the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement (WA). The WA protections only apply in the person’s country of residence. The WA does not give free movement rights throughout the rest of the EU.

Each EU country has set its own procedures for confirming that a person has rights protected by the WA, within the parameters set by the WA.


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