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Travel to Europe: the post-Brexit passport rules

Since Brexit, the rules on passport validity for British visitors to the European Union have tightened. But the UK government tells travellers the regulations are worse than they actually are.

After requests from The Independent, the Home Office has taken down its defective post-Brexit passport checker.

But the government continues to publish unhelpful information about the validity of British travel documents in the European Union.

These are the key questions and answers based on European Union rules, not the UK government’s interpretation of them.

What’s changed?

While the UK was in the European Union, British passports were valid up to and including their expiry date for travel within the EU.

Since the end of the Brexit transition phase, British passport holders are treated as “third country nationals” with stipulations about passport expiry dates and limits on length of stay almost everywhere in Europe.

What is required for my passport to be valid?

The requirements are crisply expressed here on the Travel page of the European Union’s Your Europe site: “If you are a non-EU national wishing to visit or travel within the EU, you will need a passport

  • valid for at least three months after the date you intend to leave the EU country you are visiting,
  • which was issued within the previous 10 years.”

This does not apply for trips to Ireland, for which there are no limits on passport validity – and for which a passport is not legally mandatory for British travellers, though some airlines insist on it.

Why the line about ‘issued within the previous 10 years’?

For many years, until September 2018, the UK had a generous policy of allowing credit for “unspent” time when renewing a passport, issuing documents valid for up to 10 years and nine months.

So a passport issued on 30 July 2011 could show an expiry date of 30 April 2022.

This was fine around Europe and the world for decade – until Brexit, whereupon a longstanding rule kicked in. For non-members of the EU, a passport is deemed to have expired after 10 years.

That passport issued on 30 July 2011 will be regarded as expiring on 30 July 2021. If its holder attempted to board a plane to the European Union on 1 August 2021, it would have insufficient validity and the airline would be obliged to turn them away – even though the British passport has almost eight months to run.

Until September 2018 the government appeared unaware of the problem. Once the issue was identified, the practice of giving up to nine months’ grace ended abruptly.

Do the authorities apply both conditions together?

Apparently not. The European Union makes it clear that both tests must be met but that they are independent of each other.

That passport issued on 30 July 2011 would therefore be valid for admission to the EU on 29 July 2021, after which the additional validity still “works” – a stay for a month would require validity up to 29 November 2021, within the passport’s power.

However, you are strongly advised not to test this point. Transport operators may well take a hard line against such passenger. While a full legal test case would be welcomed, you might well not want to be it.

In addition, the UK government says: “Any extra months on your passport over 10 years may not count towards the six months needed.”

Six months? I thought the Europeans only wanted three months.

They do. The rule is three months after your intended day of leaving the European Union (except Ireland). But the UK government has done its own bit of extrapolation presumably in the hope of “bottom covering”. Because any trip can theoretically be up to 90 days, the Home Office says: “You need to have at least six months left on an adult or child passport to travel to most countries in Europe.”

Six months remaining when you enter, equals three months remaining when you leave, the government says. Except this means many travellers are given “false negatives”: a traveller with five months’ validity remaining on the day she goes away can cheerfully plan a trip in Europe for a couple of months, but under the UK government’s incorrect assertion she would not be allowed into Europe.

I’ve just read a report saying I need six months remaining?

Some news outlets, regrettably, are providing misleading advice. And for the avoidance of doubt, the concern around the date of issue is relevant only for travel to the European Union – not for the rest of the world.

Which is legally superior: European rules or the UK’s unusual interpretation?

Europe’s: the destination’s attitude is what counts. Earlier this month Jet2, not unreasonably, followed UK advice and barred a number of passengers from flights to Europe. After The Independent pointed out that this was in breach of European air passengers’ rights rules, Jet2 apologised and compensated the affected holidaymakers.

We have informed all leading airlines about the correct legal position.

But individual carriers can create their own variations. Ryanair passengers must confirm: “I understand that if I am using a British passport to travel, it must be valid for a minimum of six months from the date I enter any EU Member State.”

What about children?

They are particularly annoying, or at least their passports are, because they are typically valid for five years (and any extra credit).

The Home Office’s defective passport checker stripped all extra credit, which was both wrong and unhelpful.

The online checker has now been switched off.

When are you going to renew your passport?

When it nears nine years, nine months of validity.


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