Many companies will have seen a significant increase in international business travel now that COVID-19 restrictions have been removed in the UK and eased globally. Although the Brexit transition period ended on December 31, 2020, many UK employers may have had fewer employees traveling overseas on business than would otherwise have been the case. Therefore, post-Brexit business travel in the EU may be relatively new for some.
Now that the UK has left the EU, what additional issues should employers consider if they are considering sending staff overseas for business trips?
What are the rules for traveling to Europe now that the UK has left the EU?
UK visitors generally do not need a visa for short stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period to the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. This 90-day limit includes tourist travel and business travel for certain purposes, it also includes travel to more than one of these countries. Therefore, when arranging a business trip for a UK employee to a Schengen statesthe employer must verify:
- how long they have been in the country they are visiting;
- how long they spent in the rest of the Schengen area in the last 180 days.
This will help ensure they don’t spend more than 90 days in total in any country they visit.
There are specific rules for non-Schengen EU countries: Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania, which each have their own 90-day limits. UK nationals can travel and work in Ireland in the same way as before January 1, 2021. Employees holding an EU passport will not be subject to the same free movement restrictions that will apply to them.
It will be essential for some employees to track and record their business travel details to ensure compliance with the rules, particularly if they travel regularly for work and non-work purposes. The consequences of violating the Schengen limits can be very serious. If an employee spends a lot of time in a Schengen country (if they have a holiday home abroad for example), this may limit their ability to spend a lot of time on business trips – so it will be important to ‘identify potential problems and plan ahead.
The “10 year rule”
Prior to 1 October 2018 UK passports could be issued for periods longer than 10 years by including certain periods of exceptional validity on the previous passport in a new one. This may mean that some passports appear to be valid for 10 years plus additional months “carried over” from their previous passport. However, now that the UK has left the EU, UK nationals will need to meet the entry requirements of the EU country they are visiting. This means that they cannot assume that if their UK passport has not expired it is valid for travel within the EU.
EU (except Ireland), Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Andorra, Monaco, San Marino or Vatican City
If your employee is traveling to any of these locations, they will need to meet the Schengen area passport requirements, which require a UK passport to be:
- less than 10 years old on the day the employee enters the country of destination. This means that they would not be able to travel to the above countries during the ‘carry over’ months of their previous passport. The employee will need to ensure that the start date was less than 10 years prior to the entry date; and
- valid for at least 3 months after the date on which they plan to leave the country of destination, as indicated by the “expiration date”.
Please note that these requirements only apply to adult passports.
For travel outside the EU, it is important to check the passport requirements of the country you are traveling to. The FCO recommends that people contact their tour operator or the embassy of the country they are going to.
Passport expiration – how long does my employee need to have on their passport to travel outside the UK?
Requirements vary by destination. Some countries like the United States and Canada only require validity for the intended travel period. Other destinations, including most of the European countries listed in the section above, require at least 3 months remaining on your passport (check the “expiration date”) from the day you plan to leave your destination for return to the UK. Other countries like Thailand require you to have 6 months validity remaining from the date you arrive at your destination.
You must make sure that you check the necessary requirements before arranging the trip.
Passport renewal – increased demand
The Home Office has seen increased demand for its passport application and renewal services. Therefore, all employees you send abroad must renew their passports in time..
What visa requirements should UK employers consider when sending an employee overseas for a business trip?
When arranging a business trip, you will need to check whether your traveling employee will need a visa for their trip. A useful starting point is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) website.
Many countries place restrictions on what individuals can do as a visitor, especially when it comes to business activities. Therefore, you should check what type of visa (if any) is required to undertake the activities in question and, if necessary, consult a local lawyer.
Are there still coronavirus restrictions and vaccination requirements?
While many restrictions have been relaxed, many countries require proof of vaccination status to travel. The employer must therefore see travel advice for the destination before booking. Also keep in mind that some countries may still have restrictions in place that could limit the types of activities the employee can perform, or other protective measures may be required (e.g. face masks or social distancing ).