UK travellers: could the new Brexit rules catch you out?

·8 min read
<span>Photograph: Thomas Pollin/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Thomas Pollin/Getty Images

A couple heading off on holiday to Madeira were refused permission to board their plane on the grounds that the woman’s passport was not valid – even though it had another nine months left on it.

Pat Cerely, 79, and her 83-year-old husband, Peter, are the latest holidaymakers to be caught up in confusion over Brexit-related rules that mean many people with up to 12 months left on their passport could be stopped from travelling to a long list of EU countries.

Since January 2021 restrictions limiting how long non-EU citizens can spend in mainland Europe have meant that UK holidaymakers can only enter a country if they have at least three months left on their passport.

Related: Covid tests: travellers from England and Scotland face new rules

Rules that for non-EU citizens a passport must be within 10 years of its issue date when the holder arrives also apply.

We duly went to get on the plane, and when the girl looked at my passport, she said I couldn’t board as it wasn’t valid

Pat Cerely

In November, the couple were told they could not set off on their trip because Pat’s passport did not meet new rules.

The Cerelys arrived at Gatwick airport, checked in their luggage and then went through passport control with no problems.

“We duly went to get on the plane, and when the girl looked at my passport, she said I couldn’t board as it wasn’t valid,” Pat says. “There was another couple there experiencing the same problem. Although my passport didn’t expire until August 2022, she said it wasn’t valid.”

However, a close read of EU rules suggests the UK government, and some travel companies, are giving out incorrect information, and some people are being wrongly denied permission to travel.

The passport matter revolves around the date the document was issued.

According to the UK government and her airline, easyJet, Pat was correctly denied boarding but the EU regulations – as communicated to Guardian Money this week – would appear to show she should have been allowed on the flight.

The European Commission says there are two rules that have to be complied with at the point of entry. The passport must have been issued within the previous 10 years, and it must be valid for at least three months after the day you plan to leave.

However, the 10-year requirement “does not extend for the duration of the intended stay. It is enough if this condition is fulfilled at the moment of entry”.

It says this means that a Briton arriving in an EU country on 1 December 2021 for a 20-day holiday with a passport issued on 2 December 2011 and valid until 2 April 2022 would be allowed entry.

The validity date is the expiry date, not the 10th anniversary of the passport being issued, and if you are on holiday in Europe when your passport “busts” the 10-year rule, that is fine.

The different dates exist because for many years those renewing their passport before the previous one expired were able to add any remaining time left.

Until September 2018 you could have up to nine months added to an adult or child’s passport in this way.

A British passport
The validity date is the expiry date, not the 10th anniversary of the passport being issued. Photograph: Shaun Daley/Alamy

If you have a trip booked or are thinking about one, dig out everyone’s passport now to check the dates. Check the date of issue and the date of expiry.

Pat Cerely’s passport was renewed in December 2011 but has an expiry date of August 2022.

The Cerelys had to return home with their bags after being denied boarding for their break.

“We had to wait some time for our luggage and then go through the passport control exit. This all took place at 7am,” she says.

Peter has dementia and she adds: “It was all very depressing and confusing for him.”

When they got home, Pat contacted the travel firm they had used to book the holiday and was told it was very unlikely they would receive a refund.

“I also contacted our insurance company, who said that we couldn’t make a claim as I should have read the small print! Since then we have had a refund of £35.47, which is the air tax,” she says.

The EU rules suggest the Cerelys have a case for obtaining a refund and compensation

“What I don’t understand is why didn’t easyJet inform me when I booked the flights, and why a friend who visited his sister in December and had the same expiry date on his passport as me was allowed to fly to Portugal with easyJet with no problem.”

The EU rules suggest the Cerelys have a case for obtaining a refund and compensation on the grounds of being unfairly denied boarding.

The UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office says it is “seeking clarification” from the European Commission about the rule.

The Gov.uk site tells would-be travellers that “for some Schengen countries, your passport may need to be less than 10 years old during your whole visit, and the three months at the end of your visit may need to be within 10 years of your passport’s issue date”.

The rules for travel changed a year ago, yet the commission says it was discussing this issue with member states during 2021, and “this advice will be reflected in an upcoming update of the practical handbook for border guards”.

In a statement, easyJet told us that at the time of the flight taken by the Cerelys, the UK Foreign Office requirements stated that the three-month validity on the day of departure from Portugal must be within 10 years of the passport issue date, and added: “Unfortunately, her passport didn’t meet this criteria.”

A spokesperson said: “We do specifically inform customers to check passport validity requirements ahead of departure, both at the time of booking and ahead of their flight via email.

“We would like to apologise to these passengers for any inconvenience caused; however, we were following the government guidance at the time.”

Before you travel

Travel insurance claim form concept
If you have an annual travel insurance policy have you checked the details? Photograph: Rawpixel Ltd/Alamy

The days of travel insurers offering next to no cancellation and other Covid-related cover are mostly over but you should still check potential policies closely before you hand over your credit card details.

Cover for those forced to cancel because a member of their party contracts the coronavirus has been restored to most of the better, popular policies. However, you really need to check the small print, particularly if you are unvaccinated. For example, the popular Staysure requires policyholders to be vaccinated to gain its Covid cover. The rival Direct Line does not.

There are still a host of get-outs to contend with. Direct Line will not pay out if you have to cancel because you have to self-isolate when you return. Other insurers will have similar caveats that you will want to be aware of.

If you rely on an annual policy either bought or one that comes via your paid-for bank account, it is worth looking at the insurer’s latest position, which may have changed since you last (tried to) book a trip.

If you do not have an annual policy, buy the policy as soon as you book the trip. That way you will be covered if the airline collapses (assuming you have scheduled airline failure cover) or something happens to one of your party before you travel.

Woman texts on a mobile phone while lying on a picnic blanket
Check your mobile phone deal before you travel abroad.
Photograph: Apeloga AB/Alamy

Again, check exactly how much your chosen policy will pay out before you buy. For example, Staysure’s basic policy only offers £500 to cover cancellation, meaning you will want to opt for its comprehensive cover (up to £5,000) if you have pushed the boat out and booked an expensive trip. Other insurers have similarly different levels of cover, and the more you pay the greater the cover.

Mobile phone charges

Vodafone is leading the way with a £2-a-day charge (or a bundled £15 for 15 days) to use its package “as at home” in Europe, and will start applying the fee to bills on 31 January. In the short-term it only applies to customers who upgraded or changed their payment plan on or after 11 August 2021.

EE has delayed resuming its £2-a-day roaming charges, which were planned for January, until March. Three is bringing in roaming charges between the UK and Europe in May 2022.

O2 and Virgin Mobile have said they will maintain their inclusive roaming in the EU bloc, so their customers can travel and use their data, calls and texts just as they would in the UK. Brexit has allowed the phone companies to reintroduce roaming fees for Britons in Europe. They never went away for those who ventured further afield.