House sitting after Brexit – What we know for 2021

What Brexit will mean to UK House Sitters

What Brexit means to UK citizens who house sit

For some of us it is the end of an era and a sad day for freedom of movement in the European Union. For others it's a happy outcome, but we aren't here to discuss the politics of Brexit. What we are doing is recognizing that it will present some changes to UK citizens who house sit and travel in Europe.

Ultimately it will also affect Europeans wanting to house sit in the United Kingdom, but here we focus on information issued by the UK Government for UK citizens.

Brexit and European travel - What's new?

Updated 5th January 2021

There's still some confusion about what Brexit will mean for travel in Europe, but now that the "deal is done" and the UK has officially left the European Union, many things are a lot clearer. The transition period ended on 31st December 2020 and these new regulations came into existence as the transition period transpired.

All the information we present here has come from official UK Government websites and is correct at the date spectified above. As with all government information, changes can occur without notice, so please check the most up-to-date information.

We keep track of new updates as our plans involve house sitting in the EU this year. We are travelling in a campervan (owned and registered in UK), and need to keep abreast of how Brexit will affect our future house sitting plans.

To help us all with our preparations and planning for future house sits and travel, we've compiled this summary, so you can access all the information you need about the changes following Brexit. 

If you are not a UK citizen (or resident) and you are travelling to the EU, please check the government travel advisory information in your home country.

UK Gov Link -  Visit Europe 1st January 2021 

We will indicate at the top of this article, when we last updated the information, but will aim to make changes as soon as we receive notifications from relevant official bodies.

Know your EU countries

For a full list of current European member states go to the official site of the European Union. They also have updated info about the UK & Brexit at the top of the page

The European Union (EU)

The EU currently comprises a union of 27 countries:

Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.

This used to include the United Kingdom, but Brexit has removed that freedom of movement, meaning it will be more difficult to enter the European Union for work and travel - this includes travel for vacations and house sitting.

The European Economic Area (EEA) 

The EEA includes the EU countries as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

Switzerland is the exception and neither an EU or EEA member, but is still part of the overall single market that all the other countries belong to.

For the purposes of this article you will note that we are discussing travel to the countries of the European Union plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

Countries that use the euro

The euro (€) is the official currency of 19 out of 27 EU countries. These countries are collectively known as the Eurozone. You can check which countries currently use the Euro at this link

Members of the Schengen border-free area

The Schengen Area is a region without internal borders, an area in which citizens can freely circulate without being subjected to border checks. See more about Schengen further down in the section about border control and entering countries.

Visiting the European Union (EU) in 2021


There are several things you'll need to check before leaving the United Kingdom when travelling to the European Union, as well as Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein. These include:

  1. Your passport validity
  2. Healthcare (EHIC & new GHIC cards)
  3. Travel insurance
  4. Driving documents (if taking your own vehicle)
  5. Pet travel (if travelling with your own pet)
  6. Time allowed in European countries
  7. Mobile phones and roaming in Europe

1.  British passport requirements

On the day you travel to the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein, the following will apply to your British passport:

  • you should have at least 6 months left
  • your passport must be less than 10 years old (even if it has 6 months or more left)

You may need to renew your British passport earlier than before if you are intending to travel to an EU country, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland.

These rules do not apply for travel to Ireland where you can continue to use your passport as long as it is valid for the total length of your stay.

If your passport is the colour burgundy, or has the words, "European Union" on the cover, you can still use it, as long as it has enough time left on it. When you come to renew it will be replaced by the blue coloured United Kingdom passport.

You will no longer be able to travel with an ID card - you must have a passport.

2.  Healthcare (EHIC & GHIC cards)


It was excellent news to hear that there will now be a replacement for the EHIC (European Health Insurance Card), namely the "Global Health Insurance Card". 

This has only recently been announced, so there's a chance the detail could change over the coming months. But so far, simply check that you have a valid EHIC, or apply for the new "global" GHIC. 

A GHIC or EHIC gives you the right to access emergency state-provided healthcare during a temporary stay in countries of the EU. These cards do not cover you in Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland.

You may not have access to free emergency medical treatment and could be charged for your healthcare if you do not have an EHIC card when visiting an EU country, or appropriate travel insurance when visiting Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein. See notes below about cover in Norway.

Remember that a GHIC or EHIC is not an alternative to travel insurance. It does not cover any private medical healthcare or costs, such as winter or adventure sports, flights home, or lost or stolen property. EHIC cards are also not valid on cruises.

The new GHIC card (EHIC replacement)

Until it expires, your UK EHIC continues to be valid in the EU and you can get a "provisional replacement certificate" (PRC) if you need treatment and do not have a card.

NHS UK will soon replace the EHIC with a new UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC). These cards are free of charge to UK citizens (and residents).

You do not need to apply for a GHIC if you already have a valid EHIC. Once your EHIC has expired, then you will be able to apply for a GHIC. You can apply for cards and stay updated on the official NHS portal here:

https://www.nhs.uk/using-the-nhs/healthcare-abroad/apply-for-a-free-ehic-european-health-insurance-card/

EHIC/GHIC in Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland

If you’re travelling to Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland, you cannot use a GHIC and most people also cannot use EHIC to get medical treatment. Check whether your card is valid.

If you were already visiting Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland before 1 January 2021, your UK EHIC entitlements will continue until you leave that country.  Once you return to the UK from any of these countries you will need to organise appropriate travel insurance WITH medical insurance cover.

For Norway only, if you are ordinarily resident in the UK, you can use your UK passport to access state-provided medical treatment, if it becomes necessary during your trip.

3.  Travel Insurance including medical cover

As full-time house sitters we use  SafetyWing  for our international medical cover. Their policy has been created by nomads, for nomads, and allows much more long term flexibility than some other policies. They also cover Covid related medical expenses (please check the T&Cs for full details). One disadvantage is that SafetyWing only cover travellers up to age 69 and they are progressively more expensive once you reach the higher age bracket.

As already mentioned it is important to realize that a GHIC or an EHIC do not replace travel insurance.  They cover medically necessary state-provided healthcare at a reduced cost or, in many cases, free of charge, until you can return home. This includes treatment of chronic or pre-existing medical conditions that become necessary to treat during your visit.

Each country's health system is different and might not include all the things you expect to get free of charge from the NHS. This means you may have to make a patient contribution to the cost of your care.

Find out more in the GOV.UK country healthcare guides

In some countries, patients are expected to contribute a percentage towards the cost of their state-provided treatment. This is known as a patient co-payment and if you receive treatment under this type of healthcare system, you're expected to pay the same co-payment charge as a patient from that country.

With all this in mind, you should make sure your travel insurance covers your healthcare needs and any travel disruption or loss. Remember that during health emergencies such as the Covid 19 pandemic, insurance may be invalidated if you travel against the advice of your government - in such a case a claim could be invalid.

Contact your insurer if you have any questions about your travel and medical insurance cover or read the very thorough advice and information on the UK Government site.

4.  Driving in the EU with your own vehicle

We are very pleased to report that the need for an International Driving Permit (IDP) has not been enforced as part of the final Brexit deal, when you drive in the EU, Switzerland, Iceland or Liechtenstein. There are some instances (for example if you have only a paper licence), where it may be necessary to obtain an IDP and you can check if you need an IDP here.

This is what you will need:

  • Driving licence - Carry your UK Driving Licence with you at all times.
  • Vehicle Insurance Green Card - Carry a green card for the vehicle you’re driving in the EU (including Ireland), Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland, Serbia or Andorra. This should be organised with your vehicle insurance company - it is proof of motor insurance cover when driving abroad. If you are towing a trailer or caravan you'll need 2 "green cards" and in some countries you may need separate trailer insurance. If provided electronically (as ours was), they must (according to Gov.UK) be printed but do not need to be on green paper anymore. They may need to be shown at EU borders or police checks, and definitely in case of an accident.
  • Vehicle Registration Documents - If taking a vehicle to the EU for less than 12 months you must carry either your V5C or a VE103 to show you've hired or leased a vehicle abroad.
  • GB stickers - If your number place includes the GB identifier you do not need a sticker, nor do you need one to drive in Ireland. If, however, you have no GB flag or identifier you must clearly display a GB sticker on the rear of your vehicle. If in Spain, Cyprus or Malta you must display a GB sticker regardless of what is on your number plate. 

Where to get an IDP if needed?

Here's a link to the UK Post Office website where you'll find all the information you need:

https://www.postoffice.co.uk/identity/international-driving-permit

Do I need an IDP to drive in the EU after Brexit?

What you need to apply for an International Driving Permit

IDPs are valid for 1 to 3 years depending on the type required for your destination country. Whilst valid it can be used in multiple countries as long as you have the correct version. In Japan, for example, you can only drive for one year regardless of the length of validity - so make sure you check this.

  • Valid UK driving license - photocard or an older paper license*
  • Standard Size Passport Photograph
  • The £5.50 application fee by cash or debit / credit card (as at 31.1.2020)

*Original valid passport as proof of ID (if presenting an older paper version license)

5.  Travel to the EU with your own pet

You can no longer use a pet passport issued in Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland) for travel to an EU country or Northern Ireland. You can still use a pet passport issued in an EU country or Northern Ireland.

When travelling to an EU country or Northern Ireland, your pet needs:

  • Pet Microchip
  • Valid rabies vaccination
  • Animal health certificate (unless you have a pet passport issued in an EU country or Northern Ireland)
  • Tapeworm treatment for dogs if travelling directly to Finland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Norway or Malta

These requirements also apply to assistance dogs.

Make sure you check the rules of the country you’re travelling to, for any additional restrictions or requirements before you travel. Make sure you contact your vet at least 1 month before travelling to make sure your pet meets the requirements to travel. This time may need to be extended during times of Covid lockdowns. If your pet doesn't have the proper documents, you will not be permitted to take it with you.

For full details, links and information, check the UK Gov site here.

Pet travel - make sure you leave plenty of time (at least 1 month) to get all your papers, pet vaccinations and treatments in order

6.  Entering European countries from the UK

Visas for short tourist travel trips

Tourists do not need a visa for short trips to most EU countries, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. You’ll be able to stay for up to 90 days in any 180-day period. You cannot join two 90 day periods together and the 90 day period applies across all countries visited. There are different rules for Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania. If you visit these countries, visits to other EU countries do not count towards the 90-day total.

This means that after December 31, Britons will be eligible to stay only six months per year in EU countries, always by being careful not to stay for more than 90 days in every 180-day period, and keeping in mind that the 90-day rule applies to the total number of days for all countries in the Schengen Zone.

You may need a visa or permit to stay for longer, to work or study, or for business travel. To be absolutely clear about the regulations that apply to your particular situation, please check each country’s travel advice page for information on how to get a visa or permit if it is necessary.

You can travel to and work in Ireland in the same way as before 1 January 2021.

Do I need a Schengen Visa?

No, not currently. Although the United Kingdom is not a member of the Schengen Area, British citizens can travel across Europe visa-free for a maximum of 90 days.

Will I need an ETIAS Visa?

Yes, but although this was previously scheduled to come into effect in 2021, European authorities recently announced that the ETIAS start date has been pushed back to 2022

This extra time will allow for all those concerned to fully adapt to the new system and have everything in place to ensure a smooth transition. ETIAS will work in a similar way to other electronic travel authorization programs throughout the world, such as ESTA for the US.

The new pre-screening program is being introduced to improve the safety and security of travelers passing through the Schengen Zone as well as European residents. It has nothing to do with Brexit, but will be something for UK citizens (and many other nationalities) to consider when it does finally come into play.

ETIAS will now be launched toward the end of 2022 but it will not be mandatory until 2023 and a 6-month grace period is planned to allow eligible travelers to become familiar with the new regulations. 

Understand Schengen and ETIAS

The list of Schengen member countries is different to that of the European Union countries - so you may need to get some research done about both. More information can be found on the official ETIAS site here

Border control - you may have to show a return ticket

At border control, you may need to:

  • show a return or onward ticket
  • show you have enough money for your stay
  • use separate lanes from EUEEA and Swiss citizens when queueing
  • your passport will be stamped to monitor your 90 in 180 day limits

As the year unfolds, I am sure we will hear more about this from travellers and house sitters and we will update as necessary. Brexit does mean that the automatic right to work in European countries has been removed.

Generally, international house sitters do not charge for their services, but as this may be misinterpreted by immigration, it's best to say you are traveling for a vacation. Unless of course you are a self employed person or business charging for house sitting, in which case you will probably need to apply for a work visa in advance of your house sit.

Taking food and drink into EU countries

You are not able to take meat, milk or products containing them into EU countries. There are some exceptions, for example certain amounts of powdered infant milk, infant food, or pet food required for medical reasons. Check the rules about taking food and drink into the EU on the European Commission website.

Taking plants and plant products into EU countries

You’ll need a certificate to take certain plants and plant products into EU countries. Check the rules about taking plants and plant products into the EU.

7.  Mobile roaming in the EU after Brexit

Check whether your mobile phone company has changed its mobile roaming charges, as you may be charged for using your mobile device in the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein.

So far we haven't heard of any operators who have reintroduced roaming charges. We use Virgin Media and we've checked our plan for January, and we've used it for 5 days now without any change or extra charges. If we hear of any changes we will amend this section here.

A new law has been implemented which means that you will be protected from getting mobile data charges above £45 GBP without you knowing, if roaming charges are reintroduced. 

Good news? The return of duty free

You'll be able to buy duty-free alcohol again when travelling to the EU, and with all the initial headaches these new rulings add to our travel plans, that could come as a welcome change! Remember to check the different duty-free limits. Don't forget though, that the duty you pay on some items you bring back to the UK could change too. More on that here.

There will however, be limits on what you can bring back to the UK. Gone are the days of loading up the car with cases of cheap French wine!

Things to consider for a 2021 European house sit

  • Changes will particularly affect house sitters who travel as nomads, sit full-time, or prefer house sits of 3 months and over.
  • Long Term Sitters - To avoid obtaining long stay visas, it will be advisable to limit your bookings in a European county to 3 months maximum. Don't forget to allow time for travel to and from your assignment.
  • If you are offered a car for use at your house sit, make sure you have the appropriate insurance cover and that you have your UK driver's licence with you.
  • Remember that you may need additional health care insurance cover, and check that your passport meets the necessary criteria at least 6 months before you travel to allow time for delays. 
  • You may find some home owners nervous of taking on house sitters from the UK during the first few months of 2021 - they may need more reassurance about your understanding of travel requirements and compliance to the new rulings.

Disclaimer - Remember this information is for British Passport holders and UK citizens, and the best place to get information about visas and specific immigration advice is your home country's government or office travel advisory websites. We are no subsitute for these official websites.

Travelling during the pandemic

If you are able to travel and house sit, please make sure that safety is high on your list of concerns. We have put together some tips for safe house sitting and handovers here:

Tips for safe house sitting and handovers

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Last updated on January 16th, 2021

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