Since Brexit, passport validity rules for British visitors to the European Union have tightened.
These are the key questions and answers based on EU rules.
What has changed?
While the UK was in the European Union, British passports were valid up to and including the expiry date for travel within the EU. But since the end of the Brexit transition phase, holders of British passports have been treated as “third-country nationals” with clauses on passport issuance and expiry dates, along with limits on length of stay almost everywhere in Europe.
For the avoidance of doubt, these are not “new EU rules” – they were decided while the UK was in the European Union.
What is required for my passport to be valid?
The requirements for the Schengen area – which includes most EU countries plus Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and a handful of micro-states – are clearly spelled out on the Travel page of the European Union’s Your Europe website: “If you are a non-EU citizen wishing to visit or travel within the EU, you will need a passport:
- valid for at least three months from the date you intend to leave the EU country you are visiting,
- that was issued in the previous 10 years.”
(All children’s passports meet the latter condition – see below.)
Why the line about “released within the last 10 years”?
For many years, until September 2018, the UK had a generous credit policy for ‘unspent’ time when renewing a passport, issuing documents valid for up to 10 years and nine months.
So a passport issued on October 31, 2012 might show an expiration date of July 31, 2023.
This went well in Europe and around the world for ten years, until Brexit, after which a long-standing rule came into effect. For non-EU members hoping to enter the Schengen area, a passport must have been issued within the last 10 years.
With a passport issued on 31 October 2012, regardless of the expiry date, you are not allowed to enter the EU after 1 November 2022.
Until September 2018, the government seemed unaware of the problem. Once the problem was identified, the practice of giving up nine months of grace ended abruptly.
Are the rules “issued less than 10 years ago” and “valid for three months” combined?
No. It is not necessary to have a passport issued less than nine years and nine months ago. The two conditions are independent of each other.
The Migration and Home Affairs Department of the European Commission in Brussels told me: “Entry should be allowed to those traveling with passports issued within 10 years preceding the time of entry into the Schengen area.
“The condition that the passport must have been issued within the previous 10 years does not extend to the length of intended stay. It is sufficient that this condition is met at the time of entry.
“To give a practical example, entry will be allowed to a non-EU traveler arriving on 1 December 2021 for a 20-day stay in the EU with a passport issued on 2 December 2011 and valid until 2 April 2022”.
If I am unfairly rejected, what are my rights?
For flights: You can claim denied boarding compensation (£220 or £350, depending on the length of your flight) and associated costs, such as booking another flight with a rival airline or wasted car hire and hotel expenses that cannot be recovered.
I just read a report that says I need six months left for Europe?
Unfortunately, some media outlets continue to publish incorrect information. Ignore him.
Does that 10+ year rule apply anywhere else in the world?
Not as far as I know. The issue date concern is only relevant for travel to the European Union, not the rest of the world.
For destinations outside the EU, the only significant consideration is the expiration date. And for destinations like Australia, the United States and Canada, your passport is valid up to and including this date.
So, with that passport expiring on July 31, 2023, you could be in New York until that day itself (although you’d have to take a daytime flight home to keep your passport from running out en route.
Read the IndependentYour guide to how many months you need in your passport to travel around the world
And the children?
Passports for under-16s are typically valid for five years (plus any extra credits). A child’s passport issued for five years and nine months is clearly within the 10-year limit, and there is no possibility of violating this condition.
(During 2021, the Home Office’s faulty passport control removed all extra credit, which was both wrong and useless. Online checking has now been deactivated.)
But beware of the three months left to exit rule, which children are more likely to fall foul of due to the shorter life span of their passports.
When will you renew your passport?
It was issued on 23 May 2012 and expires on 23 February 2023. The passport was then valid for departure to the EU until 22 May 2022 for a stay of up to 90 days (minus the time I had spent in the EU in previous 90 days).
I renewed it ahead of my next planned trip to Europe after that date.
What about this 90/180 day rule?
For travel in the Schengen Area (most EU nations plus Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and a few small countries) British passport holders can stay a maximum of 90 days out of 180. That’s about three months out of six.
it’s hard to explain, but I’ll do my best. Imagine a calendar that goes back almost six months from today. What happened over 180 days ago is irrelevant. What matters is the number of days you have been inside (I) or outside (W) the Schengen Area in the last 180 days.
You can easily keep track of yourself on a calendar, printed or digital.
If the “I” hits 90, you have to leave that day and be out for nearly three months, to rack up 90 “O”s in a row. Then you can re-enter, for up to 90 days.
Over the course of a calendar year, it might work like this (assuming there has been no travel to the EU in the previous six months).
- January 1: Enter the EU and stay for 90 days until the last day of March when you have to leave.
- April 1st: You are out for 90 days, which takes you to June 29th.
- 30 June: entry into the EU and stay for 90 days, until 27 September. Then go away.
- 28 September: stay outside the EU until 26 December.
For longer stays, some countries offer visas which allow British citizens to stay for months on end. If you get one of these, time spent in that country doesn’t count towards the “90/180” rule – in other words, you can explore other EU countries with a new calendar.
What about non-Schengen EU members?
For British visitors a Ireland, there are no limits to the validity of the passport. Indeed, a passport is not legally required for British travelers to the republic, although some airlines do require it.
Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus And Romania they have identical rules to the Schengen area: passport issued in the last 10 years and with three months of residual validity on the day of leaving the country. But time spent in any of these countries does not contribute to the total “90/180” days.
Help! My passport is full of stamps and I have no more space. Will I be turned away?
No, although Eurostar warns British passport holders: ‘Check you have a clear page in your passport as it will need to be stamped with the date of travel when traveling to and from the EU’.
That of the EU Handbook for border guards is explicit about a “document allowing a third-country national to cross the border [that] it is no longer suitable for affixing a stamp, as there are no more pages available”.
He says: “In that case, the third-country national should be advised to apply for a new passport, so that stamps can continue to be placed there in the future.
“However, exceptionally – and in particular in the case of regular cross-border commuters – a separate sheet may be used, on which further stamps may be affixed. The sheet must be handed over to the third-country national.
“In any case, the lack of blank pages in a passport is not, in itself, a valid and sufficient reason to refuse entry to a person.”