The writing on the Brexit wall is becoming clearer and the reality is that come January 2021, motorhome travel in Europe will be inexorably changed. Find out what taking a motorhome to Europe after Brexit will look like and how you can still travel long term on the continent.
The UK and EU are currently negotiating the final pieces of the Brexit puzzle. Whether there is a deal or not, touring Europe after Brexit will change and we will have to adapt to being a ‘third country’, outside of the EU and Schengen Area.
What is the Schengen Area?
The Schengen Area is a zone where 26 European countries, through the Schengen Agreement, abolished their internal borders and allow the free and unrestricted movement of people. The UK did not sign up to the Schengen Agreement in 1985, but through its’ membership of the European Union, UK citizens have enjoyed the right to freedom of movement throughout the EU.
Given that one of the UK’s desired Brexit outcomes was to end freedom of movement from the EU into the UK, and that they have never participated in the Schengen Agreement, it is unlikely that free moment in the EU for UK citizens will be negotiated as any part of any Brexit deal.
How Does That Affect Motorhome Travel in Europe?
It means that any UK citizen travelling to Europe, regardless of their means of travel, has to abide by the Schengen legislation. The Schengen Agreement says that “all nationals of third countries (non-EU countries) need to obtain a visa prior of their arrival in Europe”. A Schengen visa is a short-stay visa that allows a person to travel to any member countries of the Schengen Area, for stays of up to 90 days for tourism or business purposes.
Many of us have become used to spending the entire winter in southern Europe, chasing the sun or living in our motorhomes on a favourite site. A motorhome road trip of six months or more was not unusual, with some motorhomers choosing to travel and live in their motorhomes permanently in the EU. But from 1st January 2021, UK citizens will only be able to stay for 90 days in every 180 days in the Schengen Area.
An example of this might be that you spend 90 days touring France and Spain and on the 90th day you take a ferry to Morocco. You stay there for 90 days and on the 90th day you return to Spain. In the total 180 day period you have been travelling, you have spent 90 days in and 90 days out of the Schengen – the 90 in 180 day rule is satisfied.
A further example is that you spend 60 days touring in France and Spain (arriving from the UK on day 1 and assuming no Schengen Area visits in the previous 180 days). On the 60th day, you take a ferry to Morocco. You stay there for 60 days and on the 60th day you return to Spain. So far, you’ve been travelling for a total of 120 days. In the next 60 days you may spend 30 of them in the Schengen Area. Thus, the 90 days in every 180 day rule is satisfied.
The 90 in 180 day rule works on a rolling basis and it can be difficult to work out whether you are within the rules or not, especially if you have visited the Schengen area on several occasions in the preceding 180 days. Use this calculator to check that you are not about to overstay your welcome.
Which Countries Are in the Schengen Area?
It is likely that some form of visa waiver may be offered to UK citizens for leisure travel but this has yet to be fully clarified.
In 2022, the EU will introduce the ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorisation System). This will be an additional entry requirement for visa-exempt travellers and will most likely include British citizens. Whilst the ETIAS is not a visa, it will involve the traveller registering their details online before travelling, mainly for security purposes.
How Can I Travel Europe Long Term After Brexit?
Head for non-Schengen Countries
This is probably the easiest way to stay on the continent (or beyond) for longer than the 90 days.
Motorhomers can hop across to Morocco from Spain, a boat journey which only takes an hour or so. A popular winter destination with French motorhomers, Morocco is also a stunningly beautiful and interesting country to visit. The per day cost of living is cheap and the country has motorhome camping in most of the places you will want to see.
Turkey is also easily accessible, either by boat from Greece or overland via Bulgaria. Whilst you’re in that area, many of the Balkan countries do not belong to the Schengen Area and could be an option for some of the 90 days you need to spend outside the zone. And let’s not forget Ireland, accessible from both the UK and France.
Van life after Brexit could look something like this;
- July to September – Germany, the Alps and France
- October to December – Morocco
- January to March – Spain & Portugal
- April to June – UK
- July to September – Scandinavia
- October to December – Turkey
- January to March – Spain & Portugal
- April to June – Ireland
Explore Visa Options
It may be possible to get a working holiday visa post Brexit, although this has yet to be confirmed and will depend on the negotiations currently ongoing. Working holiday visas are country specific and all countries have differing criteria and rules, which you can find here. Most working holiday visa’s allow one to two years travel in a specific country (although some EU countries also extend this to the Schengen Area) and are age limited from 18-35. For the younger van lifers amongst us, it could be an option.
Some EU countries also offer a long stay tourist visa that is usually valid for one year. The criteria can be quite tough – you need to evidence that you can support yourself for the year that you’ll be in the country, have medical insurance and you won’t have any rights to work. Also, you’ll only be able to travel in that one country for the year – it won’t give you rights to travel in the Schengen Area.
Many countries offer university courses in English, at a fraction of the price of the equivalent course in the UK. There is a Schengen student visa, but this only covers you for 90 days of study. For longer courses, each country has its own criteria for awarding a student visa, so you would need to decided where you want to study first. Again, such a visa does not usually cover Schengen wide travel.
Become an EU Resident
Time is running out for this option, as most EU countries will require you to be a resident prior to the 31st December 2020 to be able to formally apply under the old rules. Once the Brexit transition period comes to an end, most EU countries require you to invest at least €500,000 (Greece and Latvia let you in for a mere €250,000) for your residency permit.
Each countries’ criteria of what constitutes residency is different and each country has also made different commitments as to how they will approach residency applications post Brexit for UK citizens already living in the country. It is also not clear yet if residency in an EU country infers freedom of movement across the Schengen area outside your country of residence, but if you were to travel over a land border occasionally, who would know?
Get an EU Passport
If you have parents or grandparents born in an EU country, then you may be entitled to dual nationality (and therefore a passport) of that country. Similarly, if you were born on the island of Ireland, then you’re automatically an Irish citizen and therefore can carry an Irish passport. Holding the passport of an EU member state places you in the same position you were in prior to Brexit, and will give you freedom of movement across the Schengen Area.
Marry an EU Citizen
If you are a UK citizen married to a passport holder of an EU country, then under Article 6(2) of Directive 2004/38/EC, you have the right to a family life and may travel together under the same rules as the passport holder. Effectively, you will be able to travel throughout the Schengen Area as you did prior to Brexit.
We asked the EU Commission to confirm our rights under this directive and received this response;
“According to Article 6(2) of Directive 2004/38/EC non-EU national family members of mobile EU citizens have the right of residence in another Member State for a period of up to three months if they are in possession of a passport and are accompanying or joining an EU citizen, without any limitation to 90 days in a 180-day period. Therefore the Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers considers that Schengen Member States may not refuse entry to its territory to the non-EU national family member accompanying an EU citizen because he has already been in the Schengen area for 3 months and has not left the Schengen area for another 3 months.”
What Happens If I Overstay?
It is well known amongst travellers from existing non-members states such as America, Australia and New Zealand, that not all countries are scrupulous about checking your passport as you leave. A general rule of thumb seems to be that the further south in Europe you are, the more lax the border control is in terms of looking at your passport, but that doesn’t help much if you need to drive back to the UK! You may get lucky, be able to overstay and not get caught.
However, with the refugee crisis showing no signs of abating and the UK possibly leaving Brexit in a way that may leave a sour taste for many of our European neighbours, overstaying is probably best avoided.
Ultimately, the rules are the rules and if you do overstay and get caught, you may be fined and denied entry to the Schengen Area in the future.
What About Documentation?
Whether there is a deal negotiated or not, it is highly likely that much of the legalities of driving and travelling in a motorhome in Europe will change, and with it the documentation you carry. Expect changes to the following;
- Your motorhome insurance policy may change and the requirement for a green card may be introduced (even if there is no requirement for green cards for the EU after Brexit, you will still require one for countries such as Turkey, Morocco and other bordering countries, or have to buy insurance at the border as you enter).
- Breakdown cover
- International driving permits for some countries – your UK driving licence will no longer be accepted.
- The pet passport scheme may face further amendments
- Medical insurance – your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will cease to be valid at the end of the Brexit transition period.
- Travel insurance cover.
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Long-term motorhome touring in Europe after Brexit will still be possible, but you may have to plan a little bit more carefully and jump through a few more hoops to be able to stay and travel across Europe for longer than three months.
We think that the coming changes will open up some of the countries bordering the EU a little but more, encouraging better motorhome facilities for travellers who are keen to stay out of the UK for longer. But, inevitably, insurance and breakdown costs will increase, possibly making the idea of cheap over-winter motorhome road trips a thing of the past.