Martin Lewis: Eight urgent post-Brexit travel need-to-knows

Updated 9 April 2019: I've tweaked this Feb 19 blog, with the latest info. 

We're heading towards the summer, millions turn their hopes to future sunny days both here and abroad. Yet, especially with Brexit round the corner, if you've booked a trip to Europe, there are some crucial checks you need to do.

1) Will your passport still be valid after Brexit?

Currently you can travel to any European Union (EU) country as long as you have a UK passport that is still valid on the day you return. Yet if the UK leaves the EU without a deal on 12 April, that is set to change.

If that's the case most EU countries, including Spain, Portugal, Italy, France and Germany, will require you to have at least six months left on your passport and you can't have a passport that's older than nine years and six months.

If not, you could be refused entry on arrival. You can use the Government's free EU Europe passport checker tool to see if yours will need renewing.

If we leave with a deal, then it's likely the current EU passport rules will remain at least until the end of 2020. Though it is worth noting that a number of countries outside the EU, including Russia and the United Arab Emirates, already require at least six months on passports.

It can take up to three weeks to renew your passport, so plan ahead. An online adult passport renewal costs £75.50, and you should only do it via – beware copycat websites that try to charge you more.

And don't worry Brexit won't affect your renewal. Do it now and (adult passports) will still be valid ten years, the only difference is that for now you'll get a burgundy one that says UK (not EU) and after October you'll likely get a blue one.

PS: Read our full Brexit finance guide: mortgages, savings, travel for a much wider range of Brexit issues.

2) Is your EHIC still valid?

The free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) means when you go to the EU, you're entitled to the same treatment at state-run hospitals and GPs that locals are. In other words, if they pay you pay, if it's free for them it's free for you.

Yet around five million EHICs expire annually and more people don't check (it's point nine on the card), so checks yours now if you're planning to go away. For help renewing and to ensure it's free, see our EHIC guide.

As for Brexit, if we leave without a deal the UK Government has proposed to EU countries that a similar scheme be available, though it may not be in place on the day we leave.  If we leave with a deal then the transition arrangements mean the EHIC will likely continue until the end of 2020. 

3) Get your travel insurance ASAB (As Soon As you've Booked)

Each summer, someone on social media contacts me with a distressing question like: "Just found I've a breast lump and need treatment, my airline won't refund my ticket, no insurance, what can I do?" I always check if they've got travel insurance, but the fact they're asking me usually means they hadn't got round to it yet.

I can't stress this enough. Half the point of travel insurance is to protect you if something happens BEFOREHAND, so you can't go.

So as soon as you've booked your holiday, buy your travel insurance. If not, you won't be covered should anything happen beforehand, such as a personal illness, family illness or cancellation. For help and options, go to our Travel Insurance section. Travel insurance is available for as little as £10 a year.

And Brexit may play a role here too if EHICs are no longer valid, as that's factored into insurer's current prices, so we could see costs rise.

4) Going away around Brexit time – will your insurance cover you for disruption?

It's impossible to say for sure whether there'll be disruption to flights on the day we leave the EU. The Government's official guidance says flights will continue as normal even if there's no deal. Personally while I wouldn't move my flight from the Brexit date if I'd already booked it, I'd try to avoid booking to fly on that day - and would move a few days either side.

However if on the off-chance your flight is cancelled due to Brexit, you won't be entitled to the EU flight delay compensation as it's unlikely to be the airline's fault – though you're still entitled to a full refund or an alternative flight.

Out of 16 insurers my team checked, only four (Admiral, Aviva, Direct Line and Saga) said you would be covered, but only if your policy is in place before any post-Brexit delays become a "known event". Seven others said you'd only be covered on premium policies. See full Brexit travel insurance for full info on this.

So if you are travelling over that period, speak to your insurer to check if you'd be covered, or if you can upgrade to a 'cancellation any cause' policy.

5) Book car hire early

Nowt to do with Brexit this one. Yet it still has a level of urgency. The closest to the time you need a hire car abroad, the costlier it gets.

As Dave emailed: "Booked four months ahead, got 10 days for £296 for a decent-sized car. Just before I went, checked and the price had gone to £900."

Our full Cheap Car Hire guide has full help on how to find the cheapest policies. You'll also see help on insurance in there. This is well worth reading as while you get basic insurance with car hire, they'll usually try and fear sell you into getting a policy to cover any 'excess' when you pick the car up. This is normally extortionate. Instead, do this as a standalone policy like Glynn did. He told me on Twitter: "Thanks @MartinSLewis, I followed your guide & got a week's car hire excess insurance for £13. Rental company wanted £12 per day."

6) You may need a permit if driving in the EU

Currently, if you have a UK driving licence you can drive in the EU without any extra documents, and if we get a deal that's likely to continue.

Yet if there's a 'no-deal' Brexit, you may need to get an international driving permit. Currently these cost £5.50, and you'll need to get one from the post office before you travel. There are three types of permits, which one you need depends on the country you're travelling to, so check before you get it.

7) If you're driving abroad (even outside the EU) you may need to urgently sort Green Card car insurance. 

If you're planning on taking your car to Europe on or after we leave the EU. It's worth looking at the insurance situation sooner, to ensure you're not caught out.

Currently take a car to Europe and it is automatically covered by the Green Card system, which means GB policies automatically cover you in Europe (though usually only at very basic third-party level, even if you've got a comprehensive policy).

If we do leave without a deal, it's likely you will need to actually get a certificate to prove you have this 'Green Card' cover and a GB sticker or plate. All of this can take up to four weeks to arrange.

And you may need a different kind of permit if you're driving abroad outside Europe too. For full help on what you might need and how to get it, including timescales, see EU driving need-to-knows.  

8) Buy my currency now or after Brexit?

Uncertainty is rife. The pound is yo-yoing. So it's no surprise that my social media feeds are jammed with people asking me whether they should be buying their currency now or after Brexit.

I'm afraid the answer is, sorry, I don't know. And anyone who tells you they do is a liar. Currency rates fluctuate by the minute and what is certain now is high volatility. Markets don't like that nor (rightly or wrongly) the prospect of a no-deal Brexit. So a political change that increases the likelihood of no deal will likely weaken the pound. The opposite strengthens it.

Yet sadly crystal balls don't work, so predictions are futile. Personally, I just accept currency swings and ensure I get the best rate on the day I spend (see below). Yet if you worry a big swing would make things unaffordable, take risk-mitigation measures.

Buy half now, the rest when you spend. Get the first half at today's best rates and the rest at the time you spend (see tips below).

Or if you're very nervous, ask yourself: "Would I accept today's rate?" If so, and your real fear is rates worsening so your holiday becomes unaffordable, play safe and buy more now, then ignore rates later so hindsight bitterness doesn't ruin your holiday.

Trick to lock in a rate now and protect against currency swings. A few bureaux de change let you order for collection at today's rate and, usually for a small fee, cancel or sell it back within up to 45 days depending on the firm. If the pound weakens the rate's locked in, if it improves just cancel the order and buy at the better rate. See Currency Buy-Back Trick.

Specialist overseas cards are the cheapest way to spend abroad, as you get near-perfect rates on the day that you spend (beating bureaux de change). And they don't charge the usual 3%-ish 'non-sterling exchange rate fee' that most cards do. See the top cards for spending overseas for full info – pocketing one of these can save you large, especially if you go abroad at least once a year.

If you want to lock in today's best rate, our TravelMoneyMax comparison tool compares holiday cash rates, so you get the most bang for your buck, baht or balboa. Yet never pay a bureau and let it hold your cash for long – you're generally not protected if it went bust.

Alternatively, a handful of prepaid travel cards let you swap your pounds into foreign currency, meaning you can in effect lock in a rate now. Plus some offer the perfect 'interbank' rate – sometimes beating the rate you'd get with cash. Full pros and cons in Prepaid Travel Cards.

A PS about Pets.  After I first wrote this blog, many asked me about the impact on taking their pet abroad.  While that is uncertain, we've added a full section in our main Brexit guide on the impact of taking your pet abroad.