FINANCE & CHARGES
When it comes to financial changes, experts agree that the pandemic is likely to be a bigger driver of changes to things like mortgages, interest rates, property prices and loans. “At the moment, house prices are being driven by the pandemic-prompted stamp duty holiday until March 2021 on the first £500,000 of a home's purchase price in England,” explain the team from Money Saving Expert. “For now, for most, Brexit is a secondary question compared to whether the stamp duty holiday will be extended (we don't know) and whether prices shift downwards once it ends, and to the pandemic's impact on people's jobs and incomes.”
There's also been some recent talk of the risk of negative interest rates – and what this might mean for savers or those paying off loans. “Brexit is likely to feed into this,” admit the Money Saving Expert team. “Yet even if it has a short-term negative economic impact, as most economists predict, its impact is still for now likely dwarfed by the pandemic's, and negative rates are still a possibility more than a probability.” So, what should you do? “Rather than trying to second-guess economic shifts, the safest approach may be to focus on your own personal finances, which are more controllable and predictable. Plan for the worst; hope for the best.”
For now, you’re also still able to use your Mastercard or Visa debit and credit cards without having to pay a surcharge or booking fee when you buy from retailers based in the EU. As for the pound getting stronger or weaker, no one knows what the impact of the end of the transition period will be. However, if you're really worried about the value of the pound going down (particularly when it comes to exchanging money) you could buy roughly half of what you need at today's best rate, then half nearer the time to avoid any potential crashes.
Speaking of holidays, there's now no guarantee of free mobile roaming in the EU. This was already the case before a deal was struck and means that mobile providers are able to charge if they wish. As it stands, EE, O2, and Vodafone have all told Money Saving Expert they have "no plans" to end current free roaming arrangements, although this isn't a guarantee. Meanwhile, Three has said it "will retain" free roaming "regardless of Brexit negotiations". Either way, check with your provider to be sure.
Thousands of Brits living in Europe have now been told their UK bank accounts or credit cards will be closed after 'passporting' arrangements ended on 31st December 2020 – even though UK banks can still operate abroad after this date if they meet the separate laws and regulations required by individual countries. Lloyds, Halifax and Barclaycard are among the big names that have started closing accounts – though the situation may depend on which European country you live in.
TRAVEL & MOVEMENT
As a result of the pandemic, most travel to Europe is banned in the short-term – or at least comes with a list of rules regarding motivation and negative tests on entry. But once those restrictions are lifted, there are a number of changes which will apply post-Brexit:
You may face stricter border checks. “UK nationals have been warned they may need to show a return or onward ticket on arrival, show they have enough money to stay and use separate lanes from citizens of the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland when queuing,” say the Money Saving Expert team.
You can now only visit most EU countries for up to 90 days in a 180-day period. Different rules apply to Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania, however, so if you visit these countries, visits to other EU countries will not count towards your 90-day total. If you had already been granted legal residency status in an EU country, this means you can come and go as you please and stay for as long as you like, but only for the specific country you have residency in – not all EU countries.
Extra documents to work or study, or for trips longer than 90 days, may be required. This will depend on a number of factors, so check with the embassy of the country where you plan to travel first. The only exception to this is Ireland – you won’t need extra documents when travelling there, even for work or study.
There are limits on what you can bring back to the UK from the EU. Previously, you could bring an unlimited amount of most goods to the UK from the EU without paying taxes, so long as they were intended for your personal use. Now, the tax-free limit has been set at £390 in most cases. There are also separate limits on the amount of alcohol (four litres) or cigarettes you can bring in without paying tax. VAT will be charged at 20% on all imports, too. See Gov.uk for more details.
You'll have to buy a £6 visa-waiver for holidays and short stays from 2022 (date tbc). UK nationals still won’t need a visa for short trips to EU countries if they're just going on holiday, but they WILL have to fork out for a €7 (£6.28) 'visa-waiver', which will be issued under the 'European Travel Information and Authorisation System'. This will cover a period of three years before you have to renew – similar to the ESTA currently required to visit the US.
All new or renewed passports are now blue, and the "European Union" has been dropped. However, you don’t need to get a new passport straightaway and can continue to use your current one as normal until it's close to its expiry date. Just be aware that under new rules, when you visit most EU countries and Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, your passport will need to have at least six months left on it until expiry and be less than ten years old on the day you travel.
The rules around EHIC (European Health Insurance Cards) are changing. UK nationals living in the UK who currently have an EHIC can continue to use it in the EU until the card expires, even if that is years away. However, from January, you'll no longer be able to use your EHIC in Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein, which are not part of the EU, but had previously accepted the EHIC. If you're an EU national living in the UK, your existing EHIC ended on 31st December 2020. You can, however, continue to get a new EHIC rather than a GHIC (Global Health Insurance Card), which will eventually replace the EHIC.
Taking a pet to Europe or vice versa is more complicated. Instead of pet passports, all animals now require a specific health certificate to travel, must be microchipped, vaccinated against rabies and received treatment for tapeworm one to five days before arrival in certain countries. More information can be found here.
If you want to take your own vehicle to the continent, you'll need a 'green card'. This is an international certificate of insurance issued by insurance providers in the UK, guaranteeing that the motorist has the necessary minimum level of third-party cover. To get one, contact your insurer. It will send you your green card and you need to carry the physical document when you travel. You'll also need a GB sticker (yep, like the old days). Also, if you plan to hire a car, there may be instances where you require an International Driving Permit (IDP) – like if your UK licence was issued in Guernsey, Jersey, the Isle of Man or Gibraltar.
If you were awarded funding for the Erasmus+ scheme by 31st December 2020, then you'll be able to participate fully for the duration of your exchange, even if it runs into 2021. However, beyond that the UK Government has now announced it will no longer be participating in the Erasmus+ scheme and will instead be establishing its own overseas study scheme named after the computing pioneer Alan Turing.
SHOPPING & LOGISTICS
From 1st January 2021, online shoppers or holiday makers buying items from the EU costing more than £390 will have to pay customs duties, say the experts at Which. “VAT and handling fees could also apply, and parcels might be held in post offices until all duties and fees have been paid.” According to Royal Mail, VAT will be collected directly when you buy the goods online under £135 (with the exception of gifts), but for goods with a value over £135 (and gifts over £39), Royal Mail may collect the VAT and customs duties from the customer prior to delivery.
As for going the other way, any parcels sent from England, Scotland or Wales to the EU should have a customs declaration form attached to it – although the type of customs form you will have to complete will depend on the contents and value of your parcel. If you're posting a parcel from Northern Ireland to the EU you will not need to attach a customs declaration form, though one will still be necessary for parcels going to non-EU destinations.
The Which? team advises that, when you shop online, you read the terms and conditions to see what governing law applies, as you won't be protected in the same way as if you bought from a UK retailer, warning it might be harder in the future to achieve compensation from EU traders. Also, if you're buying from a marketplace, be aware that sellers can be from all over the world.
Finally, Shona Brown, Network Service Manager at Speedy Freight told SheerLuxe: “With the free trade agreement in place, this does speed up the process for customers as there will be no duties to pay. However, there are more requirements for hauliers and drivers to now adhere to, which we are seeing is taking a toll on waiting times and movement of traffic heading to the continent.”
For more information on the Brexit changes which will apply from 1st January 2021, visit the government website here.