When do I need to renew my passport? The post-Brexit rules

·6-min read
Welcome back? Arrivals at Barcelona airport (Simon Calder)
Welcome back? Arrivals at Barcelona airport (Simon Calder)

Since Brexit, the rules on passport validity for British visitors to the European Union have tightened. But the UK government tells travellers the regulations are worse than they actually are.

After requests from The Independent, the Home Office has taken down its defective post-Brexit passport checker.

But the government continues to publish inaccurate information about the validity of British travel documents in the European Union.

These are the key questions and answers based on European Union rules, not the UK government’s interpretation of them.

What’s changed?

While the UK was in the European Union, British passports were valid up to and including their expiry date for travel within the EU.

Since the end of the Brexit transition phase, British passport holders are treated as “third country nationals” with stipulations about passport expiry dates and limits on length of stay almost everywhere in Europe.

What is required for my passport to be valid?

The requirements are crisply expressed here on the Travel page of the European Union’s Your Europe site: “If you are a non-EU national wishing to visit or travel within the EU, you will need a passport

  • valid for at least three months after the date you intend to leave the EU country you are visiting,

  • which was issued within the previous 10 years.”

These two conditions are independent of each other. That means you could happily go to Europe on 1 January 2022 with a passport issued on 2 January 2012 with an expiry date of 1 July 2022 and stay there until 31 March 2022.

But the UK government claims otherwise, and many travel firms have followed its online advice.

This does not apply for trips to Ireland, for which there are no limits on passport validity – and for which a passport is not legally mandatory for British travellers, though some airlines insist on it.

Why the line about ‘issued within the previous 10 years’?

For many years, until September 2018, the UK had a generous policy of allowing credit for “unspent” time when renewing a passport, issuing documents valid for up to 10 years and nine months.

So a passport issued on 30 July 2011 could show an expiry date of 30 April 2022.

This was fine around Europe and the world for decade – until Brexit, whereupon a longstanding rule kicked in. For non-members of the EU, a passport is deemed to have expired after 10 years.

That passport issued on 30 July 2011 will be regarded as expiring on 30 July 2021. If its holder attempted to board a plane to the European Union on 1 August 2021, it would have insufficient validity and the airline would be obliged to turn them away – even though the British passport has almost eight months to run.

Until September 2018 the government appeared unaware of the problem. Once the issue was identified, the practice of giving up to nine months’ grace ended abruptly.

The UK government has a different view ...

Yes, and it is wrong – as The Independent has repeatedly pointed out, including supplying evidence from the European Commission, which administers the rules.

The government says, wrongly: “The three months you need when leaving a [European Union] country must be within 10 years of the passport issue date.”

When challenged, a government spokesperson said: “Now that the UK has left the EU, the rules for travel to Europe have changed and we must follow the regulations on passport validity set out in the Schengen Borders Code.

“This code does not make it clear if the rules on passports being issued within the last ten years, and rules on them being valid for at least three months after the date you intend to leave the EU country you are visiting, are interdependent.

“To avoid the possibility of citizens encountering difficulties at any particular border when complying with these rules, our advice continues to show that any extra months added to a ten-year passport may not count.

“We make no apology for taking a risk averse approach to ensure our citizens do not face issues at borders.”

Evidently, the UK government is content instead that British citizens face issues at UK airports, being needlessly turned away from airports.

I’ve just read a report saying I need six months remaining?

Some news outlets, regrettably, are providing misleading advice. And for the avoidance of doubt, the concern around the date of issue is relevant only for travel to the European Union – not for the rest of the world.

Which is legally superior: European rules or the UK’s unusual interpretation?

Europe’s: the destination’s attitude is what counts. Earlier this month Jet2, not unreasonably, followed UK advice and barred a number of passengers from flights to Europe. After The Independent pointed out that this was in breach of European air passengers’ rights rules, Jet2 apologised and compensated the affected holidaymakers.

We have informed all leading airlines about the correct legal position.

Britain's biggest holiday company, Tui, has changed its policy to align it with European rules. A spokesperson for the travel giant said: “Following new information provided, we can confirm that we have now changed our policy accordingly.

“Customers will not be denied boarding on the basis that their passport needs to meet both conditions dependently.”

And the UK’s largest budget airline, easyJet, has now distanced itself from the government’s mistaken version. A spokesperson said: “Although we have been following the advice from the UK government on passport validity which remains unchanged, following new information seen from the European Commission, we can confirm that we have now updated our policy and website wording to be clear that should customers have an extended expiry date over 10 years this can be counted as part of the three months required from their intended departure from the EU.”

But individual carriers can create their own variations. Ryanair passengers must confirm: “I understand that if I am using a British passport to travel, it must be valid for a minimum of six months from the date I enter any EU Member State.”

It is not believed that this is a sustainable condition. The Independent has reminded the carrier of the rules.

What about children?

They are particularly annoying, or at least their passports are, because they are typically valid for five years (and any extra credit).

The Home Office’s defective passport checker stripped all extra credit, which was both wrong and unhelpful.

The online checker has now been switched off.

When are you going to renew your passport?

When it nears 10 years of validity.

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