Brexit: Seven things changing on 1 January

Updated: Mar 2, 2021

From 1 January, the free movement of people and goods and services between the UK and the EU will end. This means significant differences to how people live, work and travel.

Here are some of the most important things that are changing.

1. European travel rules change

From January, UK nationals will only be able to travel without a visa to Schengen area countries for up to 90 days in any 180-day period (this includes most EU nations and Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein). In addition, you will need to:

  • Have at least six months left on your passport, except for trips to Ireland.

  • Have travel insurance with health cover. Your current EHIC card will be valid until its expiry date and will be replaced by a new scheme in the future, but the government still advises you to get travel insurance with health cover.

  • Make sure you've checked roaming charges with your mobile provider, as the guarantee of free roaming will end.

  • Have obtained an animal health certificate from your vet at least 10 days before you travel - if you are travelling with your pet - including from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. The current EU pet passport scheme will no longer apply.

  • Use separate lanes from EU, EEA and Swiss citizens at border control.

2. Duty-free shopping will return

When the UK was an EU member, you were allowed to bring unlimited amounts of alcohol and tobacco back from an EU country without paying any duty at the border, as long as duty had been paid in the country where you bought it and you could prove it was for your own use.

From 2021, duty-free shopping will be available if you travel to the EU, although there will now be limits to the amount you can bring in duty-free from the EU, as there are for arrivals from non-EU countries.

The permitted amount of duty-free tobacco and alcohol will increase however. So you will be able, for example, to bring 18 litres of still wine and 42 litres of beer.

3. The rules change for UK citizens who want to move to the EU

If you're already living in an EU country, you will have certain protections under the withdrawal agreement.

But even then, you should check that country's specific rules. You may need to register or apply for residency, get new documents, or meet specific requirements - like having a job.

For example, UK nationals living in France will need to obtain new residents' permits.

4. There are new rules for EU citizens in the UK

If you're an EU citizen living in the UK by 31 December 2020 - or from Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland - your rights remain the same until 30 June 2021.

But you should check if you can stay after that.

If you have "indefinite leave to remain" or "indefinite leave to enter" the UK there's no need for you to do anything. If you don't, you'll need to apply for the EU Settlement Scheme or become a UK citizen if you qualify.

Again, because of the Common Travel Area, rights of Irish citizens will not change.

5. There'll be a new UK immigration system

From January, there'll be a new points-based system for foreign citizens (except Irish nationals) wanting to move to the UK. The government says it'll treat EU and non-EU citizens equally and will aim to attract people who can contribute to the UK economy.

6. If you want to buy or sell with the EU, things get trickier

The UK and the EU have agreed there'll be no taxes on each other's goods when they cross borders and no limits on the amount of things that can be traded.

However, traders in England, Wales and Scotland (for the case of Northern Ireland, see below) will need to make customs declarations as if they were dealing with countries elsewhere in the world - this means a lot of paperwork.

Some products, including plants, live animals and some foods, will also need special licences and certificates. Others will have to be labelled in specific ways.

There will no longer be automatic recognition of professional qualifications - people will need to check each country's rules to make sure their qualifications are still recognised.

And while the UK government has chosen to delay - by six months - the imposition of full controls, the EU will be carrying out checks from 1 January.

Even though trade with the EU will become trickier, the UK is free to negotiate its own trade deals with other countries, like the US. Brexit supporters say this will benefit the economy in the long run, although critics say it's more important to remain close to the EU.

7. Northern Ireland becomes an exception

The UK and EU have agreed to keep an all-but-invisible border, without checkpoints, between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (which remains in the EU).

Northern Ireland will continue to follow many of the EU's rules, meaning that lorries can continue to drive across the border without having to be inspected.

However, some new checks will be needed on certain goods arriving into Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK (England, Scotland and Wales) instead.

Food products - such as meat, fish and eggs - will need to be checked to ensure they comply with EU standards.

However, in order to reduce any potential disruption, supermarkets will be given an initial three-month "grace period" where the rules will not be enforced on the food they bring into Northern Ireland. Certain meat products will have a longer, six-month grace period. What happens after this period is unclear and will be the subject of future negotiations.

An agreement has also been reached to eliminate tariffs - extra charges on goods - for most trade between Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) and Northern Ireland. Some new paperwork will nevertheless be required from 1 January and businesses will need be ready for the changes.


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