Life after Brexit: What will change for people as of January 1, 2021?


Big changes are expected on both sides of the English Channel in the new year, when all the effects of Brexit finally take effect.

The UK officially left the European Union in January 2020, but a post-Brexit transition period has kept most of the existing arrangements. Once this expires on December 31, EU rules will no longer apply to the UK.

These changes would have occurred even if London had not agreed a post-Brexit trade deal with Brussels last week.

In this article, we analyze the impact on people, focusing on residence, travel and exchanges between the UK and the mainland.

End of free movement

The rules that will no longer apply from January 2021 include those on freedom of movement (a conditional and not absolute right of EU citizens to move to other EU countries to live and work). EU citizens will no longer have the right to move to the UK to work and settle, and vice versa.

The UK will introduce a new immigration policy from January 2021, after passing new legislation. Under the planned points-based system to attract skilled workers, EU citizens will no longer receive preferential treatment.

A government policy document from February 2020 said that one of the goals was to end “dependence on cheap labor from Europe.”

Meanwhile, the ability of British citizens established in an EU country to freely move to other nations of the bloc after Brexit – a right they have enjoyed so far – was not covered in the divorce agreement. As things stand, this right will end in 2021.

Residence rights

EU citizens already residing in the UK by the end of 2020 – and Britons living on the continent – have the right to remain and retain existing rights, in areas such as employment and social security. This is governed by the binding terms of the Brexit divorce agreement.

However, residence permits will be required in the future. There have been many complaints about how the new arrangements for EU nationals in the UK are working in practice, especially given the absence of any physical residence documents provided by the UK Government.

Travel rules

The EU has warned that for UK visitors to the EU, entry will likely be less direct from 2021.

In a document published by the European Commission in July, it was said that the British will be “subjected to extensive controls” at the borders when entering the EU countries (other than Ireland) and the Schengen area, as they will be “treated as nationals of third countries “.

As a general rule, British citizens will not need visas to stay in EU countries for up to 90 days in a 180-day period, as long as they are not working, in accordance with the Schengen Borders Code. The British Government advises UK travelers to ensure that their passports are valid for a minimum of six months and that they have been issued less than 10 years ago.

The realization that the British can no longer spend unlimited time in second homes on the continent has provoked outrage from some sections of the British press. But these are the rules that have always applied to non-EU citizens.

Regarding the length of the visit of British citizens to France, French Minister for European Affairs Clément Beaune said in a recent parliamentary response that greater flexibility could be negotiated in the future. “I must say that our British friends have enough little appetite to negotiate on this point of the agreement, “he added.

EU visitors to the UK will be able to stay longer: they can visit as tourists for up to six months without a visa, according to immigration rules for short-stay visa-free foreign visitors.

Nor will they be allowed to work or attempt to live in the UK through frequent or successive visits. Passports must be valid for the duration of the stay, and visitors can be asked for details of accommodation arrangements, financial support and return travel.

A national identity card will suffice to enter the UK until October 2021, at which time a passport will be required. Residents of the European Union in the United Kingdom and some other categories of travelers can enter with a national identity card until the end of 2025.

Passengers traveling between the EU and the UK may no longer be protected by EU consumer rights depending on their mode of transport, the European Commission adds.

Health insurance cards

Until now, the EU’s European Health Insurance Card scheme had allowed UK and EU citizens to access state healthcare while traveling abroad. This covers pre-existing conditions as well as issues related to childbirth and pregnancy. However, it does not guarantee free treatment or is equivalent to travel insurance.

As it stands, after December 31, 2020, these cards will no longer be valid for Brits visiting the continent or for EU citizens visiting the UK.

Unless EU citizens have settled or pre-established in the UK, they will need private health insurance as NHS (National Health Service) treatment will no longer be free.

The British Government advises most Britons traveling to EU countries to purchase travel insurance with medical coverage.

However, some categories may apply for UK-issued cards for European visits from 2021: these include British pensioners already living in the EU, British students already studying there, EU nationals already living in the UK and “frontier workers”, that is, people who live in one country and work in another.

The UK has tried to negotiate a reciprocal agreement for short-term visitors between the country and the EU.

Driving licenses and insurance

The UK Government advises motorists heading to the EU to carry an International Driving Permit (IDP), as well as their UK license, in some countries from January.

UK permit holders living in a European Union country may need to exchange their document for a national permit from their host country. The British Government offers individual advice for each EU country.

Visitors from the EU to the UK will not need a British or international permit, according to the British Government.

The European Commission has refrained from taking a decision exempting UK drivers from the need to carry an international insurance “green card”, demonstrating that visiting motorists have a minimum compulsory insurance coverage.

Motorists residing in the countries of the European Economic Area (EEA) do not have to carry a green card when visiting other nations in the area.

The British Insurance Brokers Association (BIBA) has advised UK motorists to use insurance coverage when visiting the mainland – and Ireland – from January 1, 2021.

The British Government advises EU motorists visiting the UK to “carry a green insurance card or other valid proof of insurance”.

Pet passports

EU pet passports will no longer be valid after the transition period for animals traveling from the UK to the EU and Northern Ireland.

Pets traveling from Northern Ireland to the UK or the EU can continue to travel with pet passports.

Instead, to enter the EU from the UK, British pets will need an Animal Health Certificate (AHC), as the EU has granted the country “Part 2 list status”. These will begin to be broadcast from December 22.

The British Government advises pet owners to contact their veterinarian at least four months in advance to allow for vaccinations and other requirements.

The UK applied for “Part 1 status”, which allows animals such as dogs and cats to travel without quarantine, as the EU has granted to other non-member countries such as Switzerland.

Mobile roaming charges

The EU ban on charging additional mobile roaming charges will no longer be guaranteed for travelers between the UK and the mainland, leaving UK and EU operators free to charge additional charges.

The British Government advises users to contact their operator. It adds that it has transferred an EU law that limits roaming bills to 50 euros per month.

For EU phone users visiting the UK, you can depend on your national carriers. Major UK networks have said that they currently have no plans to change existing agreements and charge extra fees.

However, it is believed that this may change over time, and may depend on the charges charged by the countries visited.

Erasmus program of the EU

The UK will withdraw from the popular Erasmus European student program later this year.

The program helps young people from the UK and the EU to study abroad. More than 17,000 British students benefit from it annually.

Erasmus spent € 14.7 billion on scholarships for Europeans to study abroad between 2014 and 2020, including around € 1 billion for British students alone.

In March, British universities said that losing access to the Erasmus program “would drive a hole in the UK’s economic prospects”, estimating that its value to the economy was 243 million pounds sterling (269 million euros) annually.

European students in the UK – who numbered 143,000 in 2018-19 according to a British parliamentary study – could see rates rise sharply.

Professional qualifications

Without an agreement on future relationships, there is a greater risk that the EU and the UK will not recognize each other’s professional qualifications.

EU guidelines state that the qualifications of UK nationals in the EU will be determined by the national policies of the Member States, regardless of where they were obtained.

The British Government says that European Union nationals may have to have their qualifications recognized by an appropriate UK regulator. However, he says that those with a level equivalent to national qualifications will be acceptable.

Asylum seekers

The EU Dublin regulations allow EU states to return asylum seekers to an EU country they have passed through, under certain circumstances.

The British government wants a new deal, but there may be no legal mechanism at European level for the UK to send asylum seekers back to other nations after the transition period is over.

The UK is likely to rely on the bilateral treaties it already has with other countries, such as France, although the agreements do not cover people who come to the UK and apply for asylum.


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