These are uncertain times for those who regularly travel between the UK and mainland Europe. Commercial vehicles, private individuals on business trips and people visiting friends and family will all be affected by Britain’s impending withdrawal from the EU.
There’s a separate category of leisure traveller - those who spend significant amounts of time travelling around European countries in motorhomes, house trailers campervans and other recreational vehicles. There are many of these travellers who are already beginning to lament the ‘death’ of European motorhome touring freedom, where the only restriction on free movement around the European Union was a requirement to return to the UK for a periodic check-up and yearly MOT.
How will Brexit affect my travel plans across Europe?
Firstly, it’s important to make a distinction between pre- and post-exit date. As things stand at the time of writing, the UK is leaving the European Union on 31st October 2019. If you have plans to travel to Europe before that date, you can be certain that:
- The current form of your British passport will be valid.
- You will still be able to use your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), although it’s essential to have more extensive travel insurance and motorhome insurance coverage for the period you are travelling.
- You won’t need to have a visa to enter EU countries.
- You won’t need an International Driving Permit or Green Card to cover your motorhome insurance.
- Pet passports will continue to be valid for travel up to the 31st October 2019.
The Schengen Agreement
Being a member of the EU has always given us a large degree of freedom of movement around mainland Europe. At present, if you are travelling around Europe, you can leave and re-enter the Schengen area as often as you like, but you’re not permitted to stay more than 90 days in any 6-month period.
It’s easier to list the countries which are not currently in the Schengen area in the European Union - Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina. There are also a further four EU countries that are not part of the agreement (Cyprus, Romania, Croatia, and Bulgaria). However, another four non-EU countries – Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein – are signatories to the Schengen agreement.
Border agents in the Schengen countries will record when you arrive and leave and will track how long you have spent inside the area. Each time you leave, they will (or should) check if you’ve exceeded the 90-day permissible period in the previous 180 days. This has provided fuel for more detailed breakdowns online of the implications of changes to laws governing travel between member states of the EU.
In 2021, British people will need to apply online for a visa waiver to travel to Schengen Area member states after Brexit whether there's a deal or not. This so-called “Euro visa” is being introduced to improve the current “lack of information regarding visa-exempt third-country nationals arriving at the Schengen external borders”.
What happens if you try to stay longer appears to depend on a mixture of how long you have ‘outstayed your welcome’ or the country you are in. It’s important to note that certain countries (like Hungary, Italy and France) have taken unilateral measures regarding entry to their countries due to the issues of terrorism, economic migrants and refugees. This is unlikely to cause any major problems if your documents are in order but it’s good to be aware of the potential risks. In a worst-case scenario, deportation, fines and temporary bans on re-entry could be the outcome.
However, from an EU perspective, if a negotiated exit is reached, these restrictions would only be enforced at the end of the transition period (2021), which was agreed in the original withdrawal agreement. This follows the European Commission's enduring principle that citizens' rights come first in negotiations on the UK's withdrawal from the EU.
Will I incur extra costs after Brexit?
Over the three years since the referendum, the pound has experienced constant fluctuations, with the overall trend downwards. Admittedly, the Euro’s strength has also weakened in response to the complete lack of certainty about the situation. Until an agreement is reached (or if the UK exits without a deal) it’s hard to say what will happen to the value of the pound, and what the longer-term implications will be and where the pound will stand in a few years.
The pound and the Euro
A weak pound means more expensive holidays in Europe. In 2015, when the referendum was first announced, the value of the pound stood at approximately 1.4 pounds to the Euro. At the time of writing, it has dropped to 1.12, and any predictions about its performance after we leave certainly don’t indicate an upwards move. In real-world terms, that means that if you’d taken €1,000 spending money with you in 2015, you would have paid around £750. At present, it’ll cost you £895. So, however you look at it, your purchasing power is severely affected by both the exit itself and the uncertainty surrounding it.
One way of mitigating the effect on your wallet of an unstable pound is to get a currency card. This is basically like a debit card which is pre-loaded with the amount of your choice. More and more people are using these cards as a secure alternative to traveller’s cheques because whatever amount you load onto the card is protected in the event of loss or theft. Furthermore, as the card has no connection to your bank account, the maximum you can lose is what you have on your card. Fully inform yourself about the options available for money planning when travelling overseas for long periods.
Buying a motorhome
If you are thinking about a significant purchase of a new recreational vehicle or motorhome or looking at motorhomes for sale, bear in mind that major manufacturers, such as Hymer, Volkswagen and Knaus are European, as are the Italian Fiat Ducato and French Peugeot Boxer base vehicles used across the UK and Europe. If there is a problem with tariffs on supply chains or imports of vehicles to the UK, this may affect the price of a new motorhome in the short term.
European Travel Information and Authorisation Scheme
We have already noted how your freedom of movement has been affected to a certain extent as we approach the exit date. If there is an agreement with the EU, it’s almost certain that from 2021, you will require a new document to travel to Europe. The European Travel Information and Authorisation Scheme (ETIAS) could also be implemented, in which case, you will pay €7 (about £6.30). However, the EU has also agreed (in principle) that, as long as we implement a reciprocal arrangement, UK citizens won't need a visa.
If we leave with no deal, it’s another matter. Recent statements by the EU infer that British travellers will need to queue up for a passport stamp and may have to answer queries about the nature of their visit. So, it’s not really a significant inconvenience, but simply helps us to realise how our relationship with the EU will have changed!
Will I need an International Driving Permit?
An Independent Driving Permit (IDP) is an official translation into multiple languages of your driving licence. It costs £5.50 and can be obtained from Post Offices.
There are 3 kinds of IDPs and, depending on which EU country you're visiting, you may need up to three different ones if you’re planning on travelling to several countries.
The ideal scenario would be for the Government to negotiate a deal with EU countries where they all recognise UK driving licences (and, reciprocally, when EU citizens visit the UK) which would avoid the need for IDPs. Once again, that is dependent on an agreement as, otherwise, each EU country will decide of its own accord if they need an IDP for visitors to drive in their country. The only advice at present is to check a Government source for the most up-to-date information.
Will I have to display a GB sticker?
Under international conventions, GB has always been displayed on number plates of UK-registered vehicles if travelling outside the UK. Once the UK exits the EU, Government advice is that it’s advisable to display a GB sticker on the rear of your vehicle. That includes whether you currently have a number plate with a GB identifier or not. It also gives some very precise advice about the size and dimensions of any other distinguishing flags, symbols or identifiers.
Will I still be able to use a European Health Insurance Card?
The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) guarantees that all EU citizens when in a member state, are entitled to the same health care as locals would get.
After Brexit, the usefulness of the card will very much depend on what arrangement is reached with the EU. In the worst-case scenario, the EHIC card would no longer offer UK nationals any health protection in Europe at all. If we’re optimistic, there may be an EU-wide reciprocal agreement with the UK regarding access to health treatment, or even specific deals with specific countries. Whatever the case, if you are planning to travel within Europe, you need to have an appropriate travel insurance policy in place, especially if you have any pre-existing medication conditions. Don’t simply rely on the EHIC as it may not cover all the treatment or emergency care you need.
How will my motorhome insurance be affected?
The Green Card
The Green Card is an internationally-recognised document which is basically proof of your motorhome insurance validity in Europe. The Association of British Insurers (ABI) recommends it, as having one will help you to make a claim or exchange details in the event of an accident.
The Green Card is not an insurance policy in itself, but a physical document from your insurance provider to demonstrate that you possess the legal minimum level of insurance to make you eligible to drive in the countries listed on it. However, all it shows is a minimum required level of insurance coverage, not evidence of a comprehensive or specific motorhome insurance policy - you need to make sure, guided by your insurer, that you have the appropriate specific motorhome insurance coverage in place, so that you are sure that if you’re involved in an incident you can make a valid claim.
If you have already made arrangement for your motorhome insurance, your provider should keep you informed about any changes that could affect you after the UK exits from the EU.
Research, planning and getting the best possible advice
Whatever happens, you will inevitably find a lot of information online about the evolving situation regarding travelling with your motorhome after Brexit is implemented. The most important thing is to read the most up-to-date information you can, use authoritative sources and make sure you have the fundamentals before you set off:
- Full, valid driving licence and national insurance number.
- Proof of vehicle insurance.
- Proof of ID (passport).
- V5C Certificate.
- Travel insurance documents.
- European Breakdown Cover policy number and documents.
- Valid MOT and road tax.
- A Crit’Air sticker if visiting France - France has introduced 'clean air' windscreen stickers as a legal obligation in its largest cities, to identify a vehicle’s emissions levels and restrict access in order to improve air quality. If you don’t have one, you could be liable for an on-the-spot fine of up to £117.
It’s not all doom and gloom. There are some experienced motorhome veterans out there whose attitude is “Where there’s a will, there’s a way!”. Obviously, we all need to observe the necessary protocols and requirements and as these are likely to be subject to change at fairly short notice, all we can do is keep abreast of the information available (from trusted sources).
Above all, before you set off on your European adventures, you need to get the right level of motorhome insurance in place. Here at Motorhome Protect, we can help you compare quotes from our UK panel of insurance providers to help you find the coverage that’s right for you and your trip.