What will Brexit mean for UK holidaymakers?

Lorna Cowan / 07 July 2016

With the UK voting to leave the EU, what does that potentially mean for European travel?

Although the UK has voted to leave the European Union, negotiations about our exit are still taking place so there’s no need to panic about any holidays you are looking forward to. Changes could be on the horizon with regards to the cost of holidays, passports, healthcare and duty free, but until negotiations have been confirmed, we can only speculate over the various travel implications of Brexit.

Holiday costs

With exchange rates already plummeting since the EU referendum results were announced, UK holidaymakers are getting less euros to the pound, so it’s going to cost more to book a bed in Berlin or buy a beer in Barcelona. In July 2015, travellers were receiving 1.41 euros to the pound, this has fallen to 1.13 euros at the time of writing, so buying E100 now costs around £17 more. Exchange rates have also dropped with other currencies such as the American dollar. Predictions vary on what will happen over the coming months and years, so it’s a case of waiting to see.

As for the price of a holiday itself, again, until negotiations are made, everyone is in the dark about whether costs will increase. If you’ve already paid for an upcoming trip, it’s unlikely a holiday company will ask you for any more money. If you’re thinking about a holiday soon, shop around – some companies are fixing their prices to entice you to book.

Flight prices

These days UK holidaymakers pay almost half of what they did in the early 1990s for flights, thanks to EU regulations ‘opening up the skies’ and increasing competition, especially among no-frills airlines such as easyJet and Ryanair. There is a possibility we’ll now see an increase in the price of flights in Europe as any increase in the price of aviation fuel as a result of Brexit negotiations, may be passed on to passengers. Whether we’ll still have such a choice of routes available, and a choice of airlines taking us to these destinations, remains to be seen.

Travellers’ rights

Air travellers, and also those travelling by international ferry, are currently protected by an EU regulation, so passengers have rights regarding care and compensation if a flight is delayed or cancelled. These rights would end for travellers on UK airlines when flying from UK airports unless they are replicated in UK law. However, EU airlines, including Ryanair, will still be governed by them. Discussions on this matter need to take place between the UK and the EU.

Financial protection arrangements for package holidays, so you don’t lose money or get stranded abroad if a holiday company collapses, is already enshrined in UK law.

UK passports

While there is no need to worry about your UK passport at the moment, it does have the words ‘European Union’ on its cover so passports will probably be updated when the UK leaves the EU – as will driving licences which currently show the EU symbol. And although there has been much speculation as to whether British passport holders will need to stand in a different queue when entering EU countries, or indeed further afield, this has all still to be agreed.

UK citizens travelling to European countries will no longer have automatic right to enter, and may be subjected to the new European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS), which the EU is current rolling out to improve internal security and prevent illegal immigration. The process requires entering details into a system for a small fee, which will then issue travellers with travel authorisation for up to a period of three years or if your passport expires within this time. However, until an agreement has been made and the scheme has become officially compulsory, it’s predicted that you will be able to travel just as freely through EU borders as you can now.


A European Health Insurance Card (Ehic) allows UK holidaymakers to be treated to the same healthcare as nationals in Europe, whether that’s free or at a reduced cost. The benefits will remain until more is known about the impact of leaving the EU, so it’s worth applying for a Ehic if you don’t already have one, or renewing your current card – Ehics are only valid for five years. The card is free, so watch out for unofficial websites that charge. And remember the Ehic is not an alternative to travel insurance.

There are some non-EU countries, including Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, who are currently covered by the Ehic, so there is the chance that UK travellers will still be given this healthcare benefit. It will depend on negotiations and what the UK agrees to give EU travellers who need medical attention in our country.

Mobile roaming fees

Roaming fees for using a mobile in Europe ended in June 2017, meaning UK holidaymakers don't have to pay additional costs for making calls, texting or using the internet on their phones. However, with the UK now leaving the EU, the rules will no longer apply so fees could soar again. Agreements will need to be decided once companies and mobile phone providers understand more about the implications of Brexit. If looking to take out a new contract with a mobile provider, remember you are often locked in for two years. Shopping around for the best deal could save you money in the long run. 

Duty free

If you regularly go on a booze cruise to France, it may be time to stock up on supplies, as buying unlimited wine and beer while on holiday in EU countries may end in two years’ time. UK passport holders were stopped from buying duty free items when travelling to and from another EU country in 1999, being allowed instead to buy as much duty paid goods as they wanted. And as you only pay a duty charge of 20p on a bottle of wine France, compared to £1.90 in the UK (plus VAT in both), it is quite a saving.

As a result of Brexit, restrictions could return, meaning you will only be able to come home from holiday – without raising the eyebrows of custom officials – with one litre of spirits, four litres of wine and 16 litres of beer, as well as 200 cigarettes. Duty or tax could be applied if you have other goods worth over £390.

To keep up to date with the latest developments, read the advice given by Abta.

You can also find out more about travelling in Europe, your travel rights and travel guides at Gov.uk

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.