Most Britons will be barred from visiting EU countries from January 1 when pandemic safety rules that allow free travel within the bloc stop applying to the UK.
The end of the Brexit transition period means that the UK will be subject to a system that only allows non-essential travel from a handful of non-EU countries with low coronavirus infection rates, the European Commission said.
EU member states have shied away from overriding a recommendation to stop the entry of travellers from countries such as the US, which are not on the list of “safe” third nations. Only eight of the countries with very low coronavirus infection rates are on the list.
Eighteen EU countries have a higher rate of infection than the UK, according to data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the Covid Tracking Project and national health ministries.
Britons will only be able to travel to EU countries if the bloc relaxes its pandemic travel curbs or individual member states choose to override the rules.
EU officials said there is currently no proposal to add the UK to the list of safe nations, which includes Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. If a proposal is made, Britain would still have to meet the technical criteria for inclusion. These include epidemiological benchmarks and an assessment of coronavirus containment measures, as well as “economic and social considerations”.
Some EU member states do not even allow in travellers from countries on the safe list, reflecting the hard battle much of Europe is facing to control coronavirus infection rates. Only 12 of the European nations apply the list in full, while three — Hungary, Croatia and Norway — have not adopted it at all, the commission said.
In another sign of the looming concrete impacts of Brexit, Norway — which is part of the EU travel arrangement — has confirmed it will stop British citizens who do not live in the country entering from January 1.
Norway, whose biggest export country is the UK, this week signed deals with the UK on healthcare and social security arrangements, as well as a continuity trade deal ahead of a potential full-blown trade agreement.
Travellers from Britain could still visit the bloc after December 31 under exemptions including for diplomats, “imperative family reasons” and some “highly qualified third-country workers”. Nationals of the European countries who live in Britain will continue to be allowed in, as will Britons who reside in the EU.
The UK mission to the EU did not immediately comment.