An overview on the United Kingdom leaving the European Union and how this will change travel to and from the UK.
Latest: On 20 March 2017, Theresa May announced that she will officially notify the European Union on 29 March that the UK is leaving, triggering Article 50.[source]
The recent Brexit vote and the United Kingdom’s confirmation of withdrawal from the European Union is a big deal in so many ways, from the world economy to industry and beyond. Here, we’ll focus on how Brexit will affect and impact travelers and the travel industry.
The foremost concern, it seems, for travelers is how the borders between the UK and the continent might be impacted. It is important to remember that the United Kingdom has always excluded itself from the Schengen Area, by means of an opt-out. Thus, there have always been border controls, though its EU status allows citizens to move and reside in other countries.
Flip through the tabs below to see how Brexit might affect borders, based on citizenship:
For Citizens of the United Kingdom
Currently: Nothing has changed yet, and it will be at least a year and a half (and possibly years longer) until the UK is legally disconnected. The UK is still a full member of the EU, and all UK citizens are still able to move about and live in any of the 27 other EU member countries.
Later (Upon Completion of UK’s withdrawal from EU): Once the UK leaves the EU, it will have to apply its new terms for each member state. Depending on how negotiations go during the two years after Article 50 is invoked, everything may remain the same, but it could be that UK citizens may need a visa to enter the EU in the future.
For Citizens of the European Union
Currently: Nothing has changed yet, and it will be at least a year and a half (and possibly years longer) until the UK is legally disconnected. The UK is still a full member of the EU, and all EU citizens are still able to move to and live in any of the United Kingdom’s constituent countries (England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland).
Later (Upon Completion of UK’s withdrawal from EU): Once the UK leaves the EU, it will have to apply its new terms for each member state. The UK may want to keep its access to the Common Market, and thus maintain free travel for EU citizens, but it could also grant varying visitation rights per country (like visa-free for Germans but a visa-upon-arrival for the French).
For Citizens of All Other Countries
Currently: Nothing has changed yet, and it will be at least a year and a half (and possibly years longer) until the UK is legally disconnected. As the UK was never a member of the Schengen Agreement, there have always been border checks into and out of the UK, and those will continue.
Later (Upon Completion of UK’s withdrawal from EU): Again, the UK wasn’t in the Schengen Area, so a non-EU citizen has always needed UK-specific approval (such as a visa) to enter. This won’t change.
Borders (Other Possible Scenarios)
Besides the obvious border concerns between the UK and the rest of the EU, there are other borders that may be reconfigured in the future. The two most apparent would be:
- The border between the Republic of Ireland (EU, not Schengen) and Northern Ireland (part of UK)
- The border between Scotland and the rest of the UK
These will take some time to see how everything will play out, but it is a possibility that Scotland and Northern Ireland may each hold their own referendums on whether to leave the UK, as both constituent countries were more in favor of the UK’s continued EU membership.
Should Scotland and / or Northern Ireland part with the UK, they will each most likely join the European Union; actually, the only way they would leave the UK would really be if they had EU assurances first that they would be accepted into the EU. Thus, the remainder of the UK, which might just be England and Wales, would likely follow any rules that the rest of the EU has placed on it.
Scotland‘s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that she won’t seek a physical border between Scotland and England, though she admits that they’re “in uncharted territory right now.”[source]
Northern Ireland has voiced less support than Scotland for leaving the UK, but it will be something to watch either way. There is very little chance that the Irish on either side of their island would allow a border between them.
Cost of Travel Post-Brexit
I hate to seem so insensitive and talk about the impact that Brexit will have on flight prices, but I must do so, as it is relevant for this site. Brexit was a major event with global reach, with some saying that it is the most important world event since the collapse of the Soviet Union, even.
Flip through the tabs below to see how Brexit might affect travel costs, based on citizenship:
For Citizens of the United Kingdom
Currently: Things everywhere will feel a bit more expensive. GBP took a big hit in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit announcement, so everything abroad will cost a bit more. The euro also took a hit, however, so the difference on the continent will not be as shocking as the exchange rate with USD, for example.
- 22 June: £1 = €1.30, $1.47 (USD), or ¥153.
- 27 June: £1 = €1.21, $1.34 (USD), or ¥136.
Later (Upon Completion of UK’s withdrawal from EU): It is hard to see how this will continue to play out, but it could go either way. If countries within the EU follow the UK’s steps and leave also, it could weaken the euro considerably more than the pound. But the pound could actually fall a lot more, as well, as many corporations based in the UK, especially financial institutions, contemplate relocation.
For Citizens of the European Union
Currently: The euro fell a bit after the Brexit results were made known, with 1€ = $1.13 the day before (23 June), and 1€ = $1.10 now (27 June). However, it still did not fall as far as the pound, which means that prices in the UK will feel cheaper: 1€ = £0.76 the day before (23 June), and 1€ = £0.82 now (27 June). Somehow, the euro actually gained against the Polish Zloty (PLN), though Poland is itself part of the EU (not yet using the euro currency), with 1€ = ~4.35zł pre-Brexit and 1€ = ~4.44zł now (27 June); a trip to Warsaw or London would not cost as much now for most Europeans.
Later (Upon Completion of UK’s withdrawal from EU): Again, it is hard to know how this will play out, but it could go either way. If countries within the EU follow the UK’s steps and leave also, it could weaken the euro considerably more than the pound. But the euro really has more of a chance of gaining value, at least against GBP, as many corporations based in the UK, especially financial institutions, contemplate relocation, most likely to mainland Europe, such as Frankfurt or Brussels.
For Citizens of All Other Countries
Currently: Both the euro and the British pound took a hit after the Brexit results were announced, though the pound was the real loser. The euro and pound have suffered against almost every currency pair (that I could find, at least), which translates into more cost-effective EU travel for those with outside money. For example:
- A £500 flight JFK-LHR translated to $730 on 22 June, and now
- A £500 flight JFK-LHR translates to $670 on 27 June!
- A €1000 flight LAX-TXL translated to $1130 on 22 June, and now
- A €1000 flight LAX-TXL translates to $1100 on 27 June.
Somehow the euro didn’t lose ground to the Canadian dollar, so far.
Later (Upon Completion of UK’s withdrawal from EU): There is still so much left unknown, so it is quite hard to speculate. However, the euro and the pound now will have at least a bit of an inverse relationship, so where one gains, the other might be driven lower.
Other Possible Future Considerations
There are many details that will need to be worked out between the UK and the EU. As of now, everything remains the same, and the UK is still a member of the European Union. However, here are some possibilities to consider:
For Citizens of the United Kingdom
Passports: The UK passport has the EU symbols on it, but most likely, there will be no required alteration; UK passports will probably just phase themselves out with time, and will not have any EU marking upon renewal.
Driver’s License: Same as UK passports.
The Flag: Yes, even the famous Union Jack might have to change. As the Kingdom’s flag is really the flags of Northern Ireland, Scotland, and England all combined into one. So, if either Northern Ireland, Scotland, or both decide to leave the UK, there’ll have to be some thought on this.
European Health Insurance Card: The EHIC, for UK citizens will continue to work as it does now, but the benefits will have to be renegotiated for when the Brexit is complete, which will likely be no sooner than the end of 2017.
For Citizens of the European Union
Currently: The holders of EU driver’s licenses will continue to be able to use it to drive in the UK as long as the United Kingdom is part of the European Union (so probably at least until the end of 2017). After that, the worst outcome would be the inability to drive in the UK.
European Health Insurance Card: The EHIC, for European citizens that are granted it, will continue to work in the UK as it does now, but the benefits will have to be renegotiated for when the Brexit is complete, which will likely be no sooner than the end of 2017.
For Citizens of All Other Countries
There are countless things that may change as the result of Brexit, or, they may not. The main thing to keep in mind is that nothing changes until the completion of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, so probably at least not before 2018.
The United Kingdom had many international agreements tied in with the European Union’s, such as trade, so they will have to renegotiate deals with every country. This will take years, so it is impossible to even try to guess what might happen.
Brexit Timeline feature on the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, including past events, ongoing affairs, and likely and potential future events.
- United Kingdom Joins EEC 1 January 1973 On its 3rd application, the UK is finally admitted into the the European Economic Community (EEC), the EU’s predecessor. Charles de Gaulle, President of France at the time, had vetoed the UK’s first two applications, feeling that the UK was “incompatible with Europe.” 
- United Kingdom EC Referendum of 1975 5 June 1975 Also known as the “Common Market Referendum,” the UK used it to monitor support for the their continued membership in the European Communities (EC). Voters had a majority of support for EEC membership, with 67% in favor. This was historic, however, as it was the first UK-wide referendum ever held.
- Maastricht Treaty Creates EU 1 November 1993 Signed on 7 February 1992 by the EC members, the Maastricht Treaty created the European Union and led to the establishment of the single euro currency.
- Eurosceptic UKIP Formed 1991-1993 United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), a Eurosceptic political party, is founded. UKIP will later become a key instrument in the Brexit vote and outcome.
- PM Promises Referendum 23 January 2013 PM David Cameron pledges an in/out referendum if the Conservatives win the upcoming election.
- EU Referendum Act Approved December 2015 European Union Referendum Act 2015 (c. 36) was introduced to the House of Commons on 28 May 2015, approved by the House of Lords on 14 December, and was given Royal Assent on 17 December. Made provision for holding referendum in the UK no later than 31 December 2017.
- Referendum Date Set 20 February 2016 Prime Minister David Cameron announces that referendum would be held for voting on 23 June 2016.
- Brexit Referendum Voting 23 June 2016 The Electorate votes on the question, “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”
- Leave Wins 24 June 2016 Brexit vote tallied over the night of 23 June, and the results emerge that the “Leave” campaign has won, garnering 51.9% of the vote to the “Remain” camp’s 48.1%.
- Scottish Gov’t Wants Out 24 June 2016 The Scottish Government announces that a second referendum on their independence from the UK is likely. Scotland had a majority “Remain“ vote, and the news angered and saddened many there. They may try to join EU as sovereign nation.
- David Cameron Resigns 24 June 2016Prime Minister David Cameron announced that he will resign by the autumn of 2016.
- Brexit Emboldens Others 24 – 25 June 2016 Prominent Eurosceptic figures from other countries praise the UK for Brexit and encourage a similar result at home: Marine Le Pen of France, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, and the Dutch populist, Geert Wilders, among others.
- Theresa May is New PM 13 July 2016 Theresa May starts her job as British Prime Minister, after her competitor, Andrea Leadsom, pulled out days earlier. May is the UK’s second female in this top position, after Margaret Thatcher.
- Theresa May Announces Article 50 Trigger Date 29 March 2017 Article 50: Theresa May to trigger Brexit process next week [BBC]
Though the vote’s results have been announced, the UK still must invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty by formally declaring their intentions to the European Union. Heads of many EU countries urge the UK to act swiftly, but many in the UK urge not to rush. Now that PM May is in charge, she will be urged to commence the withdrawal as soon as possible by her EU counterparts.
- UK Must Renegotiate Trade Deals TBA The United Kingdom’s trade deals with other nations were combined with the deals of all members of the European Union. The UK will have to negotiate new deals with other countries for trade purposes, as well as in other areas.
- “1967: De Gaulle says ‘non’ to Britain – again“. BBC News. 27 November 1976. Retrieved 25 June 2016.
- “David Cameron promises in/out referendum on EU“. BBC. 23 January 2013. Retrieved 25 June 2016.
Brexit Reference Guide & FAQs
A reference guide and term glossary on Brexit and the United Kingdom leaving the European Union and frequently asked questions answered.
Brexit is the term invented for the event where the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union (Brexit = BRitish EXIT). More officially, it is referred to as the United Kingdom European Union membership referendum, 2016 (or the 2016 British referendum, for short).
Key Points to Keep In Mind
- Most importantly, currently nothing has changed. The UK has voted to leave the EU, but it will be a lengthy process to disentangle itself from the European Union – years, most likely.
- On 20 March 2017, Theresa May announced that she will officially notify the European Union on 29 March that the UK is leaving, triggering Article 50.[source]
- New laws will need to be passed before anything, such as the privileges and rights of both UK citizens abroad and EU citizens visiting or living in the UK, changes.
- European Union law is still upheld in the United Kingdom.
- The United Kingdom has not formally given notice that it is leaving the European Union.
Terms & Jargon to Understand Brexit:
Common Market – When the United Kingdom first joined the European Union’s predecessor, the European Economic Community (EEC), in 1973, the term “Common Market” was often used as a stand-in to refer to the Union.
Article 50 – This is the part of the EU’s governing law that deals with a member state of the European Union leaving. The exact text and a further explanation is available on this page, below.
Referendum – In UK law, a referendum is a vote for the electorate (the citizens) to determine the outcome of a single political question. Most span localites, a few cover one of the UK’s constituent countries (Wales, England, Scotland, Northern Ireland), and an extreme minority are UK-wide. To date, only three referendums have been held in the UK, and this Brexit vote is one of them.
Euroscepticism – Criticism of, or opposition to, the European Union (EU) for any of a number of reasons. Also known as EU-scepticism or anti-EUism. Though many factors contribute to this sentiment, it seems to be most common for Eurosceptics to feel that integration (in the EU) weakens the effectiveness of the sovereign nation and reduces the rights of its people.
The Key Entities Involved
Here are some of the names of parties and people most relevant to the entire Brexit campaign:
United Kingdom – The UK, short for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, is the sovereign nation which is at the heart of Brexit. It consists of four constituent countries under common leadership (England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland), itself a form of “European union.” For outsiders, especially those of us not even in Europe, it may be a bit complicated to understand the differences between some of these terms (such as Britain, United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, and Ireland), and to help with that, please see one of our articles identifying these terms: Great Britain vs. United Kingdom vs. England.
Britain Stronger in Europe – Britain Stronger in Europe is the official “Remain” campaign and advocacy group, which strongly urged the United Kingdom’s continuation in the European Union up until the Brexit votes.
Theresa May – Theresa May succeeded David Cameron as the UK’s Prime Minister, after her competitor, Andrea Leadsom, pulled out days earlier. May is the UK’s second female in this top position, after Margaret Thatcher. Prior to her new role as Prime Minister, which began on 13 July 2016, she was the Leader of the Conservative Party.
Vote Leave – Vote Leave is the official “Leave” campaign and advocacy group, which supported the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union up until the Brexit votes.
Nigel Farage – Nigel Farage was the leader of the UKIP (UK Independence Party) from 2006 to 2016 and the Member of European Parliament (MEP) for the party since 1999. After the successful ending to the Brexit campaign, he resigned, stating, “During the referendum I said I wanted my country back … now I want my life back.”[source]
Boris Johnson – Boris Johnson was a former mayor of London and a key figure in the Brexit campaign’s “Leave” platform.
UKIP – UKIP is short for the United Kingdom’s Independence Party, which was the main party which campaigned for the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union. It was led by Nigel Farage during the crucial Brexit campaign, who resigned after the successful campaign’s end.
David Cameron – David Cameron was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 2010 to 2016, notably during the Brexit campaign. After initially rejecting a growing sentiment to hold a Brexit referendum, he later promised an In-Out referendum. In favor of the UK remaining in the EU, he announced his resignation as Prime Minister soon after the Brexit results were declared.
Michael Gove – A controversial figure for both “Leave” and “Remain” campaigns, Michael Gove was a key figure during Brexit as he was the co-convenor of the Vote Leave advocacy group. After the voting, as the contest to find Britain’s next prime minister was heating up, he withdrew his support for fellow Leave campaigner Boris Johnson as Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister, and instead announced his own candidacy.
The Now-Infamous “Article 50”
Article 50 is the segment of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), “Title VI: Final Provisions,” introduced as part of the Lisbon Treaty. The Lisbon Treaty was a recent amendment and addendum to the TEU which went into effect in 2009. Article 50 is the specific clause introduced which outlines the terms of an EU member state’s withdrawal.
1. Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.
2. A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.
3. The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.
4. For the purposes of paragraphs 2 and 3, the member of the European Council or of the Council representing the withdrawing Member State shall not participate in the discussions of the European Council or Council or in decisions concerning it.
A qualified majority shall be defined in accordance with Article 238(3)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
5. If a State which has withdrawn from the Union asks to rejoin, its request shall be subject to the procedure referred to in Article 49.
Brexit: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about Brexit and its possible effects and future scenarios, and the answers for them (with sources, where possible).
The vote was held on Thursday, 23 June, 2016. As soon as polling stations closed, just before midnight, the count began. BBC declared the victor as the “Leave” group in the early morning on Friday, 24 June, 2016, mere hours after the polls closed.
33,551,983 people, in all. This was a voter turnout of 71.8%, the highest turnout in a UK-wide vote since the 1992 general election. There were 26,033 rejected ballots.[source]
Leave: 51.9% (17,410,742 votes)
Remain: 48.1% (16,141,241 votes)
No sovereign member of the EU has ever left, so this is completely without precedent. However, territories of member nations have left: Algeria upon its independence from France, Greenland from Denmark, and Saint Barthélemy from France.
There are about 3,325,000 EU nationals living and working in the United Kingdom as of March 2016.[source]
There are about 1,217,500 UK citizens working and living on the continent in the European Union, as of March 2016.