Brexit was voted in 2016 but there are still many questions that both UK and foreign citizens have regarding its impact on international tourism. Immigration and visa policies may change and this may affect tourist numbers.
Since Brexit negotiations are still ongoing, there may be a number of consequences that are unforeseeable at the moment. What’s clear is that at the moment, American citizens are able to travel visa-free to the Schengen area but that starting from the end of 2022, they will need to apply for and obtain an ETIAS visa waiver before entering the Schengen territory. The UK may implement its own form of ETIAS, or allow ETIAS holders to cross its borders without further documents.
On this page, you will find a series of likely scenarios that may become a reality once Brexit negotiations are finalized. The article will look at how UK tourism may change as well as at some possible visa and travel permit options for Great Britain, and the ways in which American citizens may be affected.
How Will Brexit Affect Tourism in the UK?
It’s hard to predict exactly if and how Brexit will change UK tourism. Britain officially left the EU in February 2020, with a transition agreement with the EU until 2021.
The way in which the future agreement between the EU and UK may shape the UK tourism industry doesn’t only depend on the potentially increased difficulty in getting a visa for the Kingdom but also on other factors, such as the effect tougher immigration laws will have on the workforce.
Loss of Tourism Volume for the UK
Almost 70% of foreigners traveling to the UK for tourism currently come from the EU. A great number of nationalities (including Americans) can also enjoy freedom of movement within the Schengen area because of agreements with the EU.
Now that the UK has left the EU, this is likely to change. EU citizens and other foreign travelers may have to apply for a visa or go through more extensive document checks at the border in order to enter the Kingdom. This may temporarily discourage travelers and provoke a fall in tourism numbers.
UK Tourism Workers and Brexit
Many Brexit supporters wish to see more severe immigration rules for Great Britain. Until now, EU workers have enjoyed freedom of movement to the UK, meaning that they don’t have to apply for a working visa in order to relocate and start a job in the country.
Because of their professional profile and language skills, foreign workers are sought after by the tourism industry — from tour operators to airports and hospitality. Brexit may affect thousands of workers that are hired for seasonal or permanent positions in the tourism sector.
After Brexit, not only they may have to go through long bureaucratic procedures in order to earn money in the UK, but local tourism businesses may have to incur in costs relative to hiring foreign staff. This may be impossible to sustain for small companies that may experience understaffing and the inability to offer the same quality of service as they did before Brexit.
EU Funding for UK Tourism Will Dry Out
Like many other EU member countries, the UK currently benefits from a number of EU funding programs for the cultural and tourism sector. These amount to as much as €57 million.
This money and other EU financing programs indirectly supporting the tourism industry (like funding schemes for infrastructure) would dry up quickly in the case of a harsh Brexit deal. The British government would then have to find a way to cover the financial loss.
How Will Brexit Affect European Tourism?
If EU citizens make up a great part of UK tourism, the opposite is also true. Brits travel to EU countries in great numbers — as many as 59 million UK tourists visit the EU every year and Brits are on top of the list of foreign travelers for popular destinations like Spain.
Countries currently enjoying a great and regular flow of British tourists (such as Spain, Italy, and France) look at the potential outcome of a hard Brexit with worry.
There is a chance that British citizens may still travel visa-free after Brexit, should the government reach an agreement with the EU authorities. It is also possible that UK travelers will have to apply for ETIAS program like other third-country nationals. In that case, Brits will be able to stay within the Schengen territory for up to 90 days at a time within a 180-day period.
There may also be healthcare consequences to a hard Brexit. Currently, EU citizens enjoy free healthcare across member states — therefore, health insurance is not a requirement for traveling within the EU territory.
But in case of a no-deal Brexit, UK citizens will lose their right to a European healthcare card. This means that they will need to purchase medical insurance coverage before traveling.
What Does Brexit Mean for U.S. Travelers?
In 2017, almost 4 million Americans visited the UK. Many included the Kingdom in a greater European holiday itinerary and took advantage of their visa-free status to visit more than one UE country.
American travelers may be affected by Brexit in several ways. For a start, plane fares between the UK and the EU may become more expensive and several routes may be canceled or reduced. Since no deal has been finalized, it’s impossible to tell at this moment how dramatic the changes will be and whether there will be security checks for onward passengers from the UK to the EU area.
What’s certain is that from the end of 2022, American citizens will need to comply with ETIAS entry requirements in order to access the Schengen territory. In the best-case scenario, nothing will change and the same ETIAS permit will allow U.S. travelers to move freely between the Kingdom and mainland Europe. But it may also be possible that the UK decides to implement their own form of ETIAS or even require third-country nationals to obtain a tourist visa (although this is the most unlikely option at the moment).
Will Brexit Affect Travel to Ireland?
In the case of Brexit, the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (which is part of the United Kingdom) would become an external ‘hard’ border between an EU and a non-EU country. This is because while the UK has voted to leave the EU, the Republic of Ireland remains an EU member state.
At the moment, crossing the border is fairly easy and doesn’t take much time or security checks. Should the border harden, tourists would face more security screening, paperwork, and ID checks.
There’s still no clear picture and it’s not sure whether this will happen or to what extent. American tourists wishing to cross the Irish border in the future should keep in mind that:
- Visas and permits for one jurisdiction may not be automatically valid for the other
- As it’s already the case, there will continue to be two different currencies in Ireland (the Euro and the Pound Sterling)
- The two countries use two different systems of measurement (kilometers and miles for Ireland and the United Kingdom respectively)