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British tourists set to face Europe’s Covid-19 travel ban from January 2021

Tourists from the UK look set to be included in the EU's ban on non-essential travel after the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31st, unless the European Council decides otherwise.

British tourists set to face Europe's Covid-19 travel ban from January 2021
Photo: AFP

At present the EU's external borders are closed to non-essential travel for all countries apart from those on the short list of 'safe' countries, which includes Australia.

So, for example Americans have not been able to have holidays in Italy or visit family in France since March, and there seems little sign that this will change in the near future.

Travel within Europe, however, is allowed for any reason – taking into account individual countries' lockdowns and rules on quarantine/testing for new arrivals.

The European Commission currently says that travel is allowed for any reason between EU and Schengen zone countries.

At present that includes the UK, but once the Brexit transition period ends on December 31st, the UK will become a 'third country', not part of the EU or the Schengen zone.

The Local asked the Commission last month what that means for people travelling from the UK after January 1st and we were told that no decision has been taken yet.

The final decision is for the European Council to make.

A Commission spokesman said: “The current Council recommendation on the temporary restriction on non-essential travel into the EU and the possible lifting of such restriction is applicable to the United Kingdom during the transition period established until 31st December, 2020 on the basis of the Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community.

“At the end of the transition period, the Council will have to consider the addition of the United Kingdom to the list of third countries exempted from travel restrictions.

“This is a decision for the Council to make.”

On December 14th a source at the European Council told The Local a decision was set to be made on the new “safe list” “in the coming week” but no exact date was given.

It may all depend on the ongoing Brexit talks between the UK and the EU.

The source added: “I can therefore not confirm at this stage what the status of a country will be on 1 January. The review and updates to the list take place following an overall assessment based on the criteria included in the recommendation.”

In theory EU states can override the Council's decision and decide to allow in British holidaymakers after January.

A UK government spokesperson said: “We cannot comment on decisions that could be taken by other states on public health.”

The EU's rules on essential travel say that people from outside Europe can enter the bloc for the following reasons;

  • Citizens of an EU country
  • Non EU citizens who are permanent residents of an EU country and need to come home
  • Healthcare workers engaged in crucial work on the coronavirus crisis
  • Frontier workers and in some circumstances seasonal workers
  • Delivery drivers
  • Diplomats, humanitarian or aid workers
  • Passengers in transit
  • Passengers travelling for imperative family reasons
  • Persons in need of international protection or for other humanitarian reasons
  • Third country nationals travelling for the purpose of study
  • Highly qualified third-country workers IF their employment is essential from an economic perspective and cannot be postponed or performed abroad

Find more details on the exemptions here.

The rules are based on the country you are travelling from, not the passport you hold.

Anyone who is a permanent resident in an EU country is allowed to return to it – so for example any EU residents travelling to the UK for Christmas will be able to return home after January 1st, regardless of what decision the Council makes on the UK's status.

 

Member comments

  1. So the obvious loophole would be to fly from the UK into Switzerland, then you’d be free to leave Switzerland and travel within the Schengen area (and therefore, most of the EU).

    “The European Commission currently says that travel is allowed for any reason between EU and Schengen zone countries.”

  2. Apart from the fact that airlines cancelled their flights from and to Geneva when we tried to do that 2 weeks ago when we needed to return to the U.K. for exceptional resulting in a hell of a drive from Provence to Bristol and back over 4 days….

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BREXIT

Anger grows as no solution found yet for in limbo UK drivers in Spain 

British drivers living in Spain are becoming increasingly disgruntled at the lack of solutions two weeks after they were told their UK licences were no longer valid, with the latest update from the UK Embassy suggesting it could still take "weeks" to reach a deal. 

Anger grows as no solution found yet for in limbo UK drivers in Spain 

There is growing discontent among UK licence holders residing in Spain who are currently in limbo, unable to drive in Spain until they either get a Spanish driving licence or a deal is finally reached between Spanish and UK authorities for the mutual exchange of licences post-Brexit.

Since May 1st 2022, drivers who’ve been residents in Spain for more than six months and who weren’t able to exchange their UK licences for Spanish ones cannot drive in Spain.

There are no official stats on how many Britons of the 407,000 UK nationals who are residents in Spain in 2022 are affected; according to the UK Embassy the “majority exchanged” as advised.

But judging by the amount of negative comments the last two updates from the British Embassy in Madrid have received, hundreds if not thousands are stuck without being able to drive in Spain.  

May 12th’s video message by Ambassador Hugh Elliott left many unhappy with the fact that the forecast for a possible licence exchange agreement will be in the “coming weeks”, when two weeks earlier Elliott had spoken of “rapidly accelerating talks”. 

Dozens of angry responses spoke of the “shocking” and “absolutely ridiculous” holdup in negotiations that have been ongoing for more than at least a year and a half, and which the UK Embassy has put down to the fact that Spain is asking the British government to give them access to DVLA driver data such as road offences, something “not requested by other EU Member States”.

Numerous Britons have explained the setbacks not being able to drive in Spain are causing them, from losing their independence to struggling to go to work, the hospital or the supermarket, especially those in rural areas with little public transport.  

“I know personally from all the messages you’ve sent in, just how incredibly disruptive all of this is for many of you,” Elliott said in response. 

“If you are struggling to get around you may find additional advice or support from your local town hall, or charities or community groups in your area and the Support in Spain website is another very useful source of organisations that can provide general support to residents.

“And if your inability to drive is putting you in a very vulnerable situation, you can always contact your nearest consulate for advice.”

There continue to be disparaging opinions in the British community in Spain over whether any pity should be felt for UK licence holders stuck without driving, as many argue they had enough time to register intent to exchange their licences, whilst others clarify that their particular set of circumstances, such as arriving after the December 2020 ‘intent to exchange’ deadline, made this impossible. 

OPINION: Not all Brits in Spain who didn’t exchange UK driving licences are at fault

So is there any light at the end of the tunnel for drivers whose UK licences aren’t valid anymore in Spain or soon won’t be?

“The agreement we’re working towards now will enable UK licence holders, whenever they arrived in Spain or arrive in the future, to exchange their UK licence for a Spanish one without needing to take a practical or a theory test,” Elliott said on Thursday May 12th of the deal they are “fully committed” to achieve.

READ ALSO: How much does it cost to get a Spanish driving licence?

And yet it’s hard for anyone to rest their hopes on this necessarily happening – sooner or later or ever – in part because the embassy advice for those with UK licences for whom it’s imperative to continue driving in Spain is that they should take steps to get their Spanish licence now, while acknowledging that in some places there are “long delays for lessons” and getting your Spanish licence “doesn’t happen overnight”.

READ ALSO: What now for UK licence holders in Spain?

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