The travel industry is aghast at the lack of certainty about the rules that will apply after 29 March 2019.
The default is a no-deal Brexit, which means that passport regulations will change drastically for trips from 30 March onwards.
Unfortunately, the government’s information tells only half the story – and misleading media reports have confused the issue still further.
These are the key questions and answers.
Q What are the rules until Brexit?
Your passport is valid for travel anywhere in the European Union up to and including the date of expiry. Widespread reports that “visitors usually need at least six months left on their passport from the date they arrive” are plain wrong.
This will continue to apply up to 11pm UK time (midnight in most western European countries) on 29 March.
Q And after that?
Nothing changes for travel to the Republic of Ireland, which is governed by the Common Travel Area agreement – which transcends EU law. Passports are not required, though some airlines specify that they are.
But the UK government is warning that travellers to the Schengen Area (which covers all other EU countries except Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, and Cyprus) will need six months’ validity in their passports.
Unfortunately, once the UK leaves the European Union, British passport holders become subject to the EU rules for third-country nationals. Crucially, no passport is regarded as valid beyond 10 years after the date of issue.
Q Why is that significant?
Because for nearly two decades until September 2018, UK passport holders who were renewing their travel documents were granted up to nine months’ credit for unexpired time. So a passport issued on 29 September 2009 could show an expiry date of 29 June 2020.
But once Britain leaves the EU, it will be regarded by Schengen countries as expiring on 29 September 2019. So someone hoping to travel to one of these nations on 30 March 2019 would be ineligible, according to the UK government – even though their passport shows an expiry date almost 15 months ahead.
You can check whether your passport will be regarded as valid at the government’s online service to assess your travel document.
Q What if mine is not valid for my next trip?
Then you will need to decide whether or not to renew. The foregoing applies only in the event of a no-deal Brexit, and so if departure is postponed or the Withdrawal Agreement is passed then your passport will continue to be valid as at present.
But while there is a chance of the UK crashing out with no deal, then you may wish to renew.
Q How long will that take?
The UK Passport Office says: “It should take three weeks to get your passport.” That is why if you plan to travel on 30 March 2019, you should apply by 8 March 2019. The cost is £75.50 if you apply online or £85 if you fill out a paper form.
Q And if I am not in time?
You can use the one-week fast track service, and make an appointment for an interview. The Passport Office says the document “will be delivered to your home within a week of your appointment”. It costs £142 for an adult passport or £122 for a child passport.
Q Anything faster?
For adult renewals only (or name changes if you got married or entered into a civil partnership) you can get a same-day passport using the “premium” service. It costs £177.
Q What if I decide to wing it?
While it may well be that one or more European nations decide not to impose a six-month minimum, a bigger problem could be that the airline does not let you on board your flight because it is concerned you will not be allowed in.