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On 23rd of June, 2016, the UK voted in a referendum to leave the EU. This leads to the following questions:

  • Are UK citizens traveling to the EU affected?
  • Are EU citizens traveling to the UK affected?
  • Are UK/EU family members traveling both way affected?
  • Are Commonwealth citizens traveling to the UK affected?
  • Are other visa-free nationals (such as US/Canada citizens) affected?
  • What other consequences might 'Brexit' have on travelers?

Also, see the related post on Expats.SE.

Post is related to a rapidly changing event.

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    Remember, all they did was vote on a referendum. No law change has yet occurred. – Mark Mayo Jun 24 '16 at 7:41
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    Note that the referendum is not legally binding, so Cameron could still just say "I don't care" and the UK would remain in the EU as if nothing happened. This of course would be extremely anti-democratic and probably wont happen, in any case the point is that now is the Parliament that has to start the procedures to exit the EU. – Bakuriu Jun 24 '16 at 7:50
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    @Bakuriu - Cameron already resigned. – JohnP Jun 24 '16 at 14:38
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    @JohnP That's not really relevant. The point is: whoever is or will be in charge has no legal obbligation to request application of article 50 for a removal to the EU, he only has a moral obbligation to do so. – Bakuriu Jun 24 '16 at 16:25
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    This is going to trigger another Scottish Independence referendum. – PCARR Jun 24 '16 at 16:38
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As of today, no. Nothing has currently changed (other than currency prices, which are of interest to international travelers).

There will be a prolonged negotiating period over the next several years (specifically, two years after Article 50 is invoked unless a different agreement is reached), and immigration controls will inevitably be a large part of those discussions. The results of those negotiations, along with potential future events in the UK and EU, may bring any number of future changes for anybody, regardless of citizenship, interested in short or long-term travel to the UK and for UK citizens looking to visit EU countries.

There are also no current plans for immigration changes for Commonwealth or other visa-free nationals (such as US/Canadian citizens).

Until these negotiations are completed and implemented, the UK remains a member of the EU, and all existing laws apply with no changes. As changes are proposed and enacted, travelers will need to remain alert for potential effects.

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    And the Article 50 is not going to be invoked until October as Cameron just said – Hanky Panky Jun 24 '16 at 7:41
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    @HankyPanky Indeed. Technically, what Cameron said is that he'll step down by October and leave it to his successor to invoke Article 50, so the timeline is unclear. What does seem clear is that Cameron plans to block the door for the next few months and not begin any changes. – Zach Lipton Jun 24 '16 at 9:11
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    @Harbinger what took Switzerland 20 years, exactly? – phoog Jun 24 '16 at 14:07
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    @harbringer Why do you mention Switzerland. It has never been part of the EU so it isn't a case for comparison. In fact the Article 50 procedure the UK has to go through has never been invoked previously either. There is no precedent whatsoever. The UK is the first. – Tonny Jun 24 '16 at 15:01
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    @Insane What it actually says is that they can agree on a withdrawal agreement and EU membership ends as soon as that agreement takes effect (that agreement could do anything though), or it will happen automatically after two years from invocation unless all states unanimously agree to extend the time period. So there are several possible timelines. – Zach Lipton Jun 24 '16 at 17:32
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Bottom line: Tourists, visitors, and transit cases are not affected by the UK's vote to leave the European Union.

The relevant issues are about asylum seekers and some types of EU nationals who seek to gain (or persist) settlement in the UK. If you are an EU national exercising derived rights or exercising treaty rights, please use Expats for your questions/answers.



Update 19 August 2016

The Home Affairs Committee published a report dated 27 July 2016, The work of the Immigration Directorates (Q1 2016), which concludes there is an "absence of certainty" over Brexit. It mainly deals with the status of EU nationals who are now exercising treaty rights in the UK.

Update 2 July 2016

What a lot of people are interested in now has a name: "domestic disentanglement from EU law". The House of Lords has added a briefing to their library...

Repealing and Reviewing Domestic Legislation—As part of the process of leaving the EU, decisions would need to be made about how to deal with existing domestic legislation passed to enable EU law to have effect in the UK, a process which the House of Lords European Union Committee has described as "domestic disentanglement from EU law". Parliament would have an important role to play in reviewing, repealing, amending and replacing legislation, a process which is predicted by many to be complex and time-consuming. Once the UK had formally triggered Article 50, its timescales would apply independently of Parliament approving domestic legislative changes associated with leaving the EU.

The full briefing is here.

Update 28 June 2016

The House of Commons has admitted a research paper to their library: "Leaving the EU: How might people currently exercising free movement rights be affected?"

On the 24th of June this paper was admitted: "Brexit: what happens next?"

Now that the UK has voted to leave the EU, what will happen next? This Commons Library briefing paper looks at the immediate consequences of the vote and some of the longer term implications. This paper considers various questions about UK withdrawal from the EU and what is likely to happen in the coming weeks and months. The issues include the method of leaving the EU, continuing parliamentary scrutiny of EU business and the withdrawal negotiations, and the implications of Brexit for Scotland and Gibraltar.

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Original Answer

Changes that will directly affect British nationals...

The British passport has "European Union" on the front cover. It will remain valid during the negotiations and a new design will most likely be phased in as existing passports expire;

The European Health Insurance Card (Ehic) (which enables British nationals to get access to medically necessary, state-provided healthcare during a temporary stay in any of the 28 EU countries, Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, under the same conditions and at the same cost (free in some countries) as people insured in that country), will remain valid during the negotiations and most likely be phased out as the UK negotiates separate treaties like those already in place with Australia and New Zealand;

The British driving permit will remain valid during the negotiations. Because it has an EU symbol on it, a new design will most likely be phased in as existing permits expire;

Spouses and long-term workers will most likely be grandfathered. There are no mass deportations of EU nationals envisioned.

See also: How will Brexit affect your finances?

Changes that will (or might affect) the family formation immigration routes...

A large part of the Brexit debate was focused on immigration. I will add a few things that are in the crosshairs. Indeed some of the rulings that help prompt the Brexit vote...

  • The Surinder Singh route. They never liked this ruling and it has acted as a thorn in the government's side for a long, long time. It's in the crosshairs and I think we can be sure that this immigration route will be closed, perhaps not this year, or even this decade, but it will be high on the list of priorities.
  • The Zambrano case. This is another case that never sat too well with the government. The government (two governments actually) were recalcitrant following the court's decision and it took a long time for them to even publish the guidance.
  • The Metock case. The UK's reaction was heated and recalcitrant but they finally implemented the ruling. Brexit advocates have seen this case as an extension of Singh (above) and hence a humiliating loss of sovereignty.

There are other rulings from the European Court that are similar and the UK has fought against them and opted out where they could.

These things affect boyfriends and girlfriends in long-distance relationships where they need an inward migration route because they cannot meet the rules. And overall these are about family formation and do not affect travellers and holiday makers to the UK.

Changes that affect tourists and visitors...

Remember that part of the mission of UK Visas and Immigration is to get lots of visitors in to the UK because the UK economy relies upon visitors, and this part of their mission will not change. If anything they will expand programmes like they are doing for China and India.

The UK has voted to leave the EU. How does this affect people traveling to the UK and vice-versa?

The outlook for tourists visiting the UK looks great! Sterling is at an all-time low so holidays will be cheaper, and visitors will be especially welcome because it boosts the economy.

Are other visa-free nationals (such as US/Canada citizens) affected?

No change. The UK has always operated at arm's length from the Schengen system. In about 4 or 5 years you will see the "EU Nationals" queue at the airport become rebranded into something that does the same thing but without the EU logo. And the EU rules about what you can carry and the HMRC customs declaration exits will be rebranded. It's reasonable to expect the government to adopt the EU customs rules into UK law. But this will (most likely) be done by statutory instrument so nobody will notice the change.

What other consequences might 'Brexit' have on travelers?

The first change a traveller is likely to see will be in the duty-free shops. Unless renegotiated, customs limits are likely to be introduced and of course any EU branding will be removed.

Update 25 June 2016

Laura Devine (a boutique immigration firm catering to high-net-worth individuals and frequent adviser to Parliament) posted this update yesterday...

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Notes and comments...

Note: maybe you like the Singh Route, maybe you don't. Maybe you agree with what the government will do, maybe you don't. The point being that it's in the cross-hairs and there are strong public expectations that something will be done.

Side note: It's also reasonable to expect that EU citizens who have been here for a long time will be grandfathered in one way or another. Removals/deportations of people who are working in the economy is not in scope at all.

Comments: Addressing a comment from Relaxed (to whom thanks) on the feasibility of reversing the Singh ruling...

@JonathanReez I don't think so, and that's actually one of the few things we do know IMO. But that's a discussion we should have on the chat, the point is that assuming this kind of piecemeal adjustments are possible at all is highly speculative at this point. – Relaxed 11 hours ago

The practicalities and mechanics of actually reversing Singh are out-of-scope. The point being that the "immigration debate" surrounding Brexit was not about tourists and visitors.

  • "The first change a traveller is likely to see will be in the duty-free shops" - In what way will these shops be affected? – user1 Jun 24 '16 at 10:30
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    @user1 Quite possibly it would become like travel to Norway or Switzerland is now, with an exit from the customs union you'd get duty free crossing the channel – Gagravarr Jun 24 '16 at 10:33
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    @Relaxed Getting rid of Surinder Singh (and other aspects the UK doesn't like) could be the basis of a renegotiated membership. Despite all the statements from both the Leave and the Remain campaigns, nobody knows how far EU laws can be stretched. – JonathanReez Jun 24 '16 at 11:06
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    @Relaxed given that immigration was a key issue in the debate, it seems likely that the UK will leave the EEC. Many are saying that a status similar to Norway or Switzerland is off the table. Then freedom of movement will come to an end, not just Singh and related cases. – phoog Jun 24 '16 at 14:12
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    The British passport says "European Union" on the front, but it doesn't have an EU symbol. Also, the Singh route is relevant to tourists who are non-EU family members of British citizens living elsewhere in the EU. They may see a severe curtailment of their ability to travel to Britain with their British family members. – phoog Jun 24 '16 at 23:51
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Nothing for quite some time. No law has changed. This was merely a non-binding referendum.

Presumably the executive will agree with the people and Article 50 will be triggered by the PM, but even then, this is the first time it's ever happened so 1) it'll take a couple of years to sort out and 2) people aren't exactly sure how it'll happen.

As a result - the UK is still in the EU, no laws have changed yet, so for now the only way it might affect you is the exchange rate - the British pound has plummeted with the news.

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    The triggering of article 50 requires the exercise of the Royal Prerogative, and is thus something the PM does personally, so the use of vote and enact are inappropriate in this context ("Constitutionally, the triggering of article 50 is a decision for him alone, not parliament, since it is a matter of the royal prerogative"), but apart from that I agree with you. – MadHatter Jun 24 '16 at 7:50
  • @MadHatter interesting, especially given he's said he's going to step down, that's quite the power for someone resigning. Adjusted text. – Mark Mayo Jun 24 '16 at 7:52
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    I'm guessing (and it's just a guess) that, for him, one of the fringe benefits of a prompt resignation is that he won't have to do the deed. But I'm glad that today's quirk of our (insane) unwritten constitution is of interest to you! – MadHatter Jun 24 '16 at 7:52
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    @MadHatter That is the opinion of one columnist in a pro-Remain newspaper. – fkraiem Jun 25 '16 at 1:16
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    @fkraiem do feel free to quote alternative sources that argue otherwise, then people can make up their own minds. But an ad hominem argument is probably not helpful at this point. – MadHatter Jun 25 '16 at 3:36
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As far as the EU treaties are concerned, the referendum does not cause a Brexit. To cause a Brexit, the PM has to officially inform the other EU members that the UK is leaving. This notification may be several weeks or months in the future. The two-year period mentioned later starts at that point.

With this notification, the official negotiations on the future relations between the UK and the remaining EU nations begin. They can end in different ways.

  • If there is an agreement between all parties, they can sign it and decide when it will take effect. Presumably this would include new treaties on travel, commerce, etc.
  • If there is no agreement after two years of negotiation and both sides agree to extend the negotiations, they may do so.
  • If there is no agreement after two years and no agreement to continue negotiation, the Brexit will take effect. There would be no new treaties on travel, commerce, etc.

So in theory the Brexit could take effect the day after tomorrow. In practice this is highly unlikely. The brexit could take effect at any time in the future, if talks drag on but do not fail completely.

The Brexit agreement would define the new rules and their starting date. I cannot believe that either side would enact significant changes for tourists on short notice. Also, I consider it probable that there would be reciprocity in the new rules. Since the UK would not want to disrupt the Common Travel Area, visa-free travel would have to remain possible. The right to work would likely change, but that's for Expatriates.SE.

(All this can be found in answers and comments, but I thought I'd bring it together.)

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TLDR

It is too early to tell if anything at all will be affected; since the referendum is just a notification of the will of the people. It is up to the government to act on it and initiate proceedings.

If the UK does proceed with the legal process of divorcing from the EU, it may be able to negotiate separate agreements that can have an impact on the freedom of movement.


Nothing will happen for at least the next two years; because that's how long it will take for the famous Article 50 to kick into effect.

Even then, individual agreements/concessions may be negotiated by the UK with the EU regarding the freedom of movement.

Now, suppose that UK is ejected from the EU, then I see the following impact:

  1. For people that currently need a UK visa who are non-EU citizens, there will be no change in their situation.

  2. For EU citizens, unless there is reciprocal agreement between UK and that particular EU member state, or UK and the EU in general regarding freedom of movement, you may need a visa to travel to the UK.

  3. Any special concessions or waivers that were in place regarding importing of goods and any import fees - these may be affected if the UK is removed from the EU - as it would not be part of the single market. However, again, the UK may manage to negotiate to keep these agreements with the EU.

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    I think you may have slightly misunderstood the time limit on Article 50. The negotiations must be concluded within two years of an Article 50 notification (barring unanimous agreement to an extension) but if arrangements can be concluded more quickly, the exit is effective from the date of entry into force of those agreements (which will be specified therein). – MadHatter Jun 24 '16 at 14:46
  • I know, but when it comes to politics and government - 2 years is nothing and I very much doubt it will be done any faster; at minimum it won't happen till after October when the current PM will resign and his successor will have to start the proceedings. – Burhan Khalid Jun 24 '16 at 15:46
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    We may all think that, but Martin Schultz (president of the European Parliament) has stated that the EU is trying to work out if they can now proceed with Article 50 themselves. He wants us out as fast as possible, and noted "We have to take note of this unilateral declaration that they want to wait until October, but that must not be the last word.” Can't say I blame him. – MadHatter Jun 24 '16 at 16:31
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    True, but if I am not mistaken - no country has yet exercised their rights under Article 50 - so its not really sure what/how/who can proceed. – Burhan Khalid Jun 24 '16 at 16:35
  • You're so right! I'm merely pointing out that we can't assume the clock won't start until our next PM gives notice; the EU is definitely trying to hasten things along. – MadHatter Jun 24 '16 at 16:36

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