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Travel for British in Europe during COVID-19 times

Travel for British in Europe during COVID-19 times

Update 22.12.21 - the EU Commission adopts Recommendation on EU coordinated approach to travel and transport in response to new variant of coronavirus in the UK in which they recommend:

"Union citizens and UK citizens travelling to their Member State or country of residence as well as third-country nationals that enjoy EU free movement rights should be exempted from further temporary restrictions provided that they undergo a test or quarantine."

Blog below published 11h00 CET 21.12.2020

Several weeks ago, British in Europe issued information for traveling into the Schengen area after the end of transition on 31.12.2020.

That information largely holds good, although the EU Commission will shortly adopt two annexes to the Schengen practical handbook for border guards which will offer guidance to border guards at points of entry to the Schengen zone on which procedure to follow and which documents UK nationals need to present in order to prove residence in the EU and avoid having their passports stamped. We will publish these annexes when they are made public by the Commission. The handbook and annexes are not legally binding on the member states but are generally followed.

In the meantime, we have COVID-19 to navigate. During the transition period the UK has been treated as an EU member state for the purposes of travel into the EU by UK citizens. As of 01.01.2021 that changes, the UK becomes a full third country and the COVID-19 entry restrictions will apply. At the moment, a very small number of non-EU or EEA countries are on the approved for travel list. This is updated every two weeks.

Some third country nationals (TCNs) are allowed to enter the EU. Details are set out in:

Under the terms of the Recommendation, UK citizens who are resident in the EU will continue to be exempted from the entry ban under point 5(b) of the Recommendation.

The Communication describes which third country nationals fall within scope of the exemptions, defines key concepts such as family members and durable relationships and contains useful sections on how you might evidence the fact that you fall under one of the exemptions.

At the meeting of the Specialised Committee on Citizens‘ Rights on 15.12.2020, British in Europe asked if UK nationals covered by the Withdrawal Agreement and their family members residing with them would be covered by the exemption. This was confirmed by the EU Commission. They also confirmed that spouses or partners, and dependent UK ascending or descending family members seeking to join their British families in the EU in 2021 under the family reunification provisions of the WA would also be covered by the exemption.

All of this presupposes that UK citizens seeking to enter the Schengen area after 31.12.2020 are traveling with the correct papers and can prove residence in their host state. If they cannot, experience from the first lockdowns in the spring suggest that they may already be denied boarding under the COVID-19 entry restrictions at the airport/ferry terminal/Eurostar or Eurotunnel in the UK.

It should also be noted that the Recommendations and the Communication are not legally binding on the member states and they can ultimately choose which parts of them to implement and which parts to ignore.

Travel bans on travel from the UK issued on 20 December

On 20 December a number of individual member states issued bans on all travel from the UK in the light of the new Covid variant circulating there.

This is permitted on public health grounds. At the time of writing, the number of countries is now 15 and Spain has asked the EU Commission for a coordinated response. The travel bans in Belgium, France and the Netherlands appear to be of short duration for now but could be extended. A lot will depend on the level of cooperation and information sharing about the new strain of the virus between the UK authorities and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. This will, of course, become harder when the transition ends and existing liaison mechanisms fall away.

At the moment some of the travel bans apply not just to UK citizens but also to citizens and all residents of the countries imposing the entry bans; in other cases, only non-citizens and non-residents are covered. This situation cannot go on indefinitely and we would expect that repatriation arrangements would be put in place sooner rather than later if the travel bans are extended into 2021. British in Europe has written to the Commission asking for confirmation that any UK citizens resident in an EU member state would be able to benefit from any repatriation flights organised by the member states.

We know that many people were still hoping to travel to the EU before the end of the month to try and establish residency. Many of you are asking if the new emergency measures will mean that the transition will be extended into January. This looks extremely difficult from a political and legal perspective but we are in uncharted waters and anything could happen. However, if there is no transition extension the Withdrawal Agreement is clear that you must have been legally resident in your host EU state before midnight on 31.12.2020 in order to fall within scope of the WA. Otherwise, COVID-19 travel bans or not, you will be treated as any other third country national if you try to move over on or after 1 January 2021.

Travel to the UK

If you absolutely have to travel or are already in the UK make sure that you have either the new biometric WA residence card, your old EU residence document or an application certificate for a residence card. If you have already established residency and your host country allows you to apply online for a WA residence card, you can apply while still in the UK if you have the correct documents with you; that way you will receive a certificate of application which can be used to show residence. Otherwise, take or try to get hold of other forms of proof of residence such as your employment contract, rental agreement, EU driving license and health insurance card. Keep copies of all of these separately in case the originals are lost or stolen.

Check the websites and Facebook pages of the British embassy, as well as the websites of health and foreign ministries in your host countries. The travel operators are also updating their websites and social media pages on a regular basis. If you are stuck in the UK and resident in the EU check the embassy social media and website pages of your host country for information about repatriation arrangements.

As the situation is currently very fluid, we will update this document as things change. Check here for information on changes to entry requirements for the EU.

Read more blog posts on these topics:
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