On January 31, 2020, the United Kingdom left the European Union, the only nation to ever do so, and a step that brought repercussions few had thought about before voting or even suggesting the referendum. As a thoroughly European couple (my husband is British and I am German), and both of us living in Paris, France, at the time, we were shocked and dismayed. However, what it meant to us personally and so many others in our situation, was slowly unfolding.
On the third anniversary of Brexit, here is how it has affected us, and others, so far.
1. Immigration Worries
I was queuing at immigration in Paris for the Eurostar train, looking forward to one of my regular jaunts to London, when I was bullied by a British immigration officer, shortly after Brexit had been implemented. He demanded to know why I was going to London, what I was going to do there, and demanded additional identification for the passport he was holding in his hand. Not accepting my driving license or banker’s cards, it was only after I threw my press pass at him, that he finally let me go through. A sign of things to come? Yes, sadly.
On the first flight my husband and I took out of Paris after Brexit, we queued as always together for our passport checks. But the immigration officer snarled at my husband to move over to the “other nationalities” queue, and told my husband: “It’s what you wanted, isn’t it?” Actually, no. He would never have voted for Brexit. Since then, we have been queuing in different lines at departure and arrival because we are not both European anymore. On paper, we are still Europeans, if not part of the EU, but even before Brexit, people in the UK have always made the distinction between the “continent” as in the mainland, and Great Britain. I should have known.
I have to say that tempers settled down eventually, but at the beginning, Europe, or members of the EU, were truly hurt by the UK leaving. They felt bereft by the move, like a sibling leaving the family, and I assume that explains the initial hurtful remarks.
2. Visa Processes
When traveling, and we travel a lot, and often to strange places with complicated visa procedures, we had always enjoyed a relatively streamlined approach. After all, we were both carrying passports belonging to the EU, and as such, mostly, we came under the same regulations and procedures. Now, we are forever researching British visa rules and German visa rules, and you’d be surprised how often they differ quite significantly. It is not a huge change, but a niggle and irritant. Currently, my husband is grumbling at every new stamp in his passport, despite previously loving and cherishing every single one. But he is still on his red passport, the one signaling membership of the EU, and, once it is full, he will have to go back to a blue British passport, while I will keep my red one. Little things, but still.
3. Retiring Conundrum
One of the biggest issues to happen is the utter insecurity as to which country we are going to be able to retire to. We had always planned to set up a base in England once our nomadic expat working life comes to an end, but now we face huge hurdles. I have never applied for a British passport when we got married because there simply wasn’t any need, but now I am facing not being able to retire in England despite having an English husband, daughter, and property there. Yes, there are procedures and hoops I can jump through to get closer to a solution, but those are many hoops, and something we had not bargained for. Equally, my husband cannot settle easily in Germany, or anywhere in Europe. Age isn’t helping, as one of the hoops is proving a quite significant regular income, and once retired, the monthly income can be deemed insufficient.
This is true both ways for so many Brits having a second home in popular retirement countries such as France or Spain. In the past, you simply had to hop on a train or ferry and you could stay in your chosen European country. It was so easy, whereas now you have limitations as to how long you can stay each year, face extensive visa procedures, or, if you want to live in the EU full time, will have to apply for residency.
4. Student Hurdles
My niece opted for a year abroad during her course at an English university and chose to spend that year in Spain (sensible, as she is studying the language). Alas, a procedure that was as simple as anything before, with European students being actively encouraged to swap and change universities in an attempt to promote languages and culture exchanges, now saw her distraught. The procedure of application for a student visa was pages long with verifications and assurances needed on every page, plus extortionate fees that students simply cannot afford, and which are not covered by the university. While I moan about the irritating changes, Brexit is the worst for the younger generation because they are prohibited from moving freely around the continent they still belong to, hindering education and stifling open-mindedness.
5. Pet Peeves
Even the dog has been affected by Brexit. My ancient dog Hexe (nearly 18 years old and going strong) needed a new passport and got a new pet passport in France, proudly showcasing the EU circle of stars. Travel was an easy procedure, involving a vaccination check and a quick hello at the border, and we could take the dog across from France to the UK for visits. Now, the UK does not accept EU pet passports anymore, and the EU followed suit in a tit-for-tat move. You can still travel with your pet, but the rules are much, much stricter than before, making it so complicated that a pet sitter is truly the easier option.
As TravelAwaits reported recently, new visa procedures called European Travel Information and Authorization System, ETIAS, are being implemented in 2023, affecting many non-EU travelers wanting to enter the European Union. A small fee and a lot of personal information being logged about potential travelers, add another hurdle when simply trying to enjoy traveling in Europe.
One last irritating change is that of the duty-free limits. When living in England, it was our habit to bring back a car full of wine and champagne from a vacation in France. But that is no longer allowed. With Britain no longer an EU member state, deemed a “third country,” duty-free limits apply as to all other non-EU countries, severely limiting how many nice bottles of wine people are allowed to take back with them.
I realize that Brexit came about for many reasons and free travel is just one of the many aspects that were affected by the referendum. But for avid travelers, EU and British citizens, and couples that so happen to have different passports from each other, I feel that Brexit has thrown up many more problems than it resolved. But that’s democracy for you. We have to take the good with the bad.
For more information on traveling to Europe, check out these articles: