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The UK’s new relationship with the EU

The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson announced on Christmas Eve that the UK and EU had agreed an EU trade deal after four and a half years of strenuous negotiations. This is the first agreement the EU has ever reached allowing zero tariffs and zero quotas and went into effect at 11pm on 31 December 2020. 

We have listed details of how this new relationship with Europe will affect our business and personal matters if we travel to or have active business dealings in the EU from 1 January 2021.

Reference to the EU in the following text includes, in most circumstances, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

Travel to the EU

You should not need a visa if your holiday visits to the EU from the UK are less than 90 days during any 180 day period.

If you intend to study or work in the EU you will need to ensure you apply for the appropriate permit. You may be refused entry if you do not have the necessary work permit or visa.

From 1 January 2021, the use of the EU fast-track passport control lanes and customs lanes will no longer be available to UK passport holders. You may also need to show your return ticket and evidence that you have enough money for your stay when travelling. 

Health insurance

You will no longer have rights to free medical treatment if you travel to the EU. To access any free treatment in the EU you will need to carry an unexpired European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) or apply for and present the new UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC).

Even if you do have a valid EHIC or GHIC this will not necessarily mean any treatment you receive is completely free. From 1 January 2021, GHICs and most UK issued EHICs will not cover you in Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland. An application for a GHIC can be made online on the NHS.UK portal. The cards are issued to qualified applicants free of charge. 

For this reason, it may be advisable or necessary to have separate travel insurance that covers any specific risks when travelling to the EU.

UK Passports

Make sure you have at least six months unexpired on your UK passport and that your existing current passport is less than ten years old if travelling to an EU country, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland. 

You should therefore ensure that your passport was issued no later than nine years and six months before your travel date. These rules do not apply to travel to Ireland where you can continue to use your passport as long as it’s valid for the length of your stay.

Passport renewals typically take up to three weeks when an application is made online. Paper applications are currently taking longer to process due to the coronavirus restrictions.  Since 2018, time left on your old passport has no longer be added to your new one. Both the ‘EU’ style burgundy and new blue passports are valid for travel as long as they have sufficient time remaining. 

Travelling with pets

If you intend to travel with a pet or assistance dog you will need to contact your vet at least one month before travelling to ensure you have the correct immunisation documents. Under the EU Pet Travel Scheme there will be new requirements such as an Animal Health Certificate that need to be met in order to travel to the EU and Northern Ireland.

Mobile roaming charges

The guarantee of free mobile phone roaming in the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway ended on 31 December 2020. However, most of the main UK mobile operators (EE, O2, Vodafone and Three) have confirmed that they do not currently have plans to re-introduce roaming charges within the EU but this could be subject to change. If you use another mobile operator you should check to see if roaming charges will apply.  

There is also a new £45 monthly limit for UK users roaming abroad. This means that in order to continue using your phone when roaming you must actively choose to opt-in to receive further service after hitting the monthly cap. You will also receive phone alerts when you are at 80% and 100% data usage.

Driving in the EU

If you are planning to drive your own vehicle in the EU then you should ensure that you carry a ‘green card’ which provides proof that you have your vehicle insured when travelling abroad. A ‘green card’ can be requested from your insurers but can take up to six weeks to be issued. Some insurers will allow you to download a digital version to print yourself. 

You will require extra green cards if you:

  • are towing a trailer or caravan – one for the towing vehicle and one for the trailer or caravan
  • have two or more insurance policies covering the duration of your trip
  • have multi-car or fleet insurance. 

You might also be required to display a GB sticker. This is not usually required if your number plate includes the GB identifier on its own or with the Union flag or if you are driving in Ireland. However, if you are driving in Spain, Cyprus or Malta, you must display a GB sticker no matter what is on your number plate.

Duty Free shopping

Duty Free shopping for those travelling from England, Scotland and Wales to or from EU member countries returned from 1 January 2021. This means that you can buy duty-free alcohol and tobacco products, where available, in British ports, airports, and international train stations, and aboard ships, trains and planes. The rules are different in Northern Ireland under the Northern Ireland Protocol which means there are no duty free sales for travellers to the EU or other UK destinations. 

The VAT Retail Export Scheme which allowed for VAT refunds for overseas visitors in British shops was removed from 1 January 2021. The scheme remains available for visitors to Northern Ireland. 


Business with the EU

Even though the trade agreement with the EU allows for continued free movement of most goods from 1 January 2021, importers and exporters from and to the EU should be prepared for a significant increase in red tape. Changes in regulations are summarised below but affected businesses would be wise to take professional advice in order to ensure continued safe passage of imports and exports of goods.

Transport of goods

Hauliers moving goods across the Channel in either direction will need to ensure that drivers carry any required international road haulage permits, operator’s licenses or other travel documents.

Additionally, HGVs of over 7.5 tonnes travelling from the UK from the Port of Dover or Eurotunnel will need to carry a valid Kent Access Permit (KAP). Without a KAP, travel will not be permitted, and hauliers may be fined.

Transport firms are urged to consult with their professional organisations to ensure they are compliant with the new regulations before shipping goods.

Importers and Exporters of goods

Although the movement of goods will continue to be tariff free in most circumstances, importers and exporters will be required to comply with a raft of new regulations. Businesses, especially those that currently only trade with the EU should be making the necessary preparations for how they will trade with the EU.

Some, but not all, are listed below. Due to the complexities around importing and exporting, many businesses are likely to use a third party expert such as freight forwarding, customs agents or fast parcel operators to ease the paperwork. However, this work can be handled in-house by a qualified customs person if you have sufficient knowledge, preparation and manpower. 

  • You will need an EORI number starting with GB to import/export goods to move goods into and out of the EU.
  • Deal with customs declarations.
  • Comply with any new requirements for the movement of specific goods.
  • Check the rates of taxes and duties you may be required to pay.
  • Check if the EU business you are importing from is compliant with their regulations.

There are special rules relating to trade between Northern Ireland and the EU as well as special requirements for those moving goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Miscellaneous concerns

Additionally, exporters will need to ensure that their hauliers have all the necessary documentation and permits in place; otherwise, shipments may be delayed.

If you want to work in a regulated profession in the EU you will need to get your professional qualification recognised.

If you employ EU nationals you may be advised to encourage them to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme.



Since 1 January 2021, most EU citizens coming to the UK for work will need to apply for work visas and permits in the same way as is currently the case for non-EU nationals. A new ‘points-based’ immigration system has replaced the current rules for workers from outside the UK. The only exception is for Irish citizens.

Employers will need to have a sponsor licence to recruit any worker from outside the UK, including EU, EEA and Swiss citizens. The fees, salary thresholds and skills requirements are also changing.

Whilst this may be worthwhile for highly skilled roles within an organisation it will almost certainly make the process of hiring lower paid workers from the EU a thing of the past. There will be no general route to recruit workers for jobs offering a salary below £20,480 or jobs at a skill level below RQF3 (equivalent to A level).

EU workers already living in the UK before 31 December 2020 will need to apply to the EU Settlement scheme. Settled or pre-settled status gives the holder the right to work in the UK as well as other important rights including access to the NHS and the right to travel in and out of the UK. EU workers and their families have until 30 June 2021 to apply.

If you have employees in the EU and UK, reconciling the legislative changes and ensuring compliance will represent a significant hurdle for payroll and HR teams especially in relation to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rules.

In Conclusion 

We recommend that individuals or businesses that continue to have active travel or business arrangements with the EU bloc from this date take appropriate advice from us and Government agencies prior to travel, moving goods or undertaking other business arrangement with EU businesses.

Published 5 January 2021

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