The little-known British passport rule that could cost you your Europe holiday

The rule affects travel to popular holiday destinations such as Spain, France and Greece. Credit: Pexels

By ITV News Content Producer Elisa Menendez

A little-known post-Brexit passport rule change is leaving Brits unable to attend family weddings and holidaymakers out of pocket to the tune of hundreds - and sometimes thousands - of pounds.

Since the UK left the European Union (EU), passport rules for British visitors have tightened up.

But many travellers may still be unaware of the fine-print, and find themselves surprised to be turned away at boarding gates.

Many travellers are aware of the rule that their passport must be valid for at least three months after the date they intend to return home.

But British passport-holders may be unaware of the rule that in order to enter any EU country, their passport validity must not exceed 10 years. Many Brits will have older passports that are valid for up to 10 years and nine months, meaning they could be unwittingly attempting to travel using invalid documents.

With the school summer holidays starting this week, travel experts and business owners are advising travellers to familiarise themselves with the rules and check their passports are valid.

Some passengers are only learning their passport is invalid when boarding their flight. Credit: AP

'Get that girl she can't fly'

London-based Anna told ITV News how she went through all the relevant security checks at Luton Airport before she was turned away in the airplane tunnel, seconds before she was about to board her flight.

Anna, who was flying to Croatia on a family holiday earlier in July, had checked the online government guidance in advance and read she needed a minimum of three months left on her passport.

She had seven months to go until the expiry date, so thought she was travelling well within the guidelines.

"Everything was going well. I'd gone through security, I've had my passport checked there, I've gone into departures and I'm boarding," Anna recalled.

"I'm in that tunnel between the boarding gate and the plane, and they said 'get that girl she can't fly'.

"I thought, 'what is happening, am I being arrested?'"

She was told by airline staff her passport had expired and was refused entry to the plane.

"They just escorted me and said 'we're taking your suitcase off the plane, you have to wait three hours and you'll be able to get it'," she said.

"It felt like a dream. It was madness. I couldn't understand what was going on for ages because no one was helping me."

Eventually, after going to the airline's customer service desk and speaking to several members of staff, she was informed her passport was issued 10 years and seven months earlier, meaning she didn't meet the EU requirements to enter Croatia.

"The fact I'd been through security already and my passport had been checked - it's an absolute joke," she added.

Anna headed home and booked the earliest emergency passport appointment she could find, which was three days later in Belfast. After flying to Northern Ireland and back, she was finally able to meet her family in Croatia, five days into the holiday.

"That's just because I was willing to spend the money. A lot of people who aren't in privileged positions wouldn't be able to do so," she pointed out.

Anna has now been left out of pocket to the tune of around £500 after losing her first flight to Croatia, paying for a return flight to Belfast, as well as an overnight stay in the city, an emergency passport appointment and a new flight to Croatia. She cannot get any compensation.

The UK Foreign Office told ITV News its online travel advice sets out the passport requirements for entering the EU - but Anna said its guidelines aren't clear enough.

She placed the blame on the government and airlines for the gap in public knowledge.

"The airline websites and apps should be able to tell you if your passport is valid when you check in online and enter your passport details, that's where they should flag it," she said, adding that a man in front of her in the boarding queue was also stopped for the same reason.

"It's a massive problem. People are getting really caught out."

Andy Hooper, a holiday let business owner in the Dordogne, south west France, has issued a warning to customers to urgently check their passports after some guests fell victim to what he described as the "passport gotcha".

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The business owner - who has run Cottages de Garrigue with partner Neil since 2016 - said since opening for the season in May, two guests have already been forced to miss out on loved ones' weddings.

This week, the father of a groom found out while boarding his flight that his passport was invalid and was turned away by airline staff. He missed his son's wedding, said Andy.

Weeks before, a best man ready to deliver a speech at his friend's wedding was also turned away before boarding his flight. He too couldn't attend the ceremony.

"It's a horrible, horrible thing to happen... holidays are very emotive," Andy said.

"My partner and I talk to our guests and we have over 200 a year... nobody knows about this passport 'gotcha'," he added. "They also don't know that they're being stamped and they're entering the EU on a 90-day visa. They are totally oblivious.

"It's pure luck that more people aren't turned away. It'll only get worse because everybody's passports are getting older."

Andy is also concerned this will start financially affecting his business if people have to cancel full cottage rentals. He also worries more people may begin ditching EU countries, like France, as holiday destinations, in order to get the most out of their passports.

Andy added: "My anger is against the UK Government. They are just letting this ride out. The government isn't talking about it because it's a direct casualty of Brexit."

British passports. Credit: PA

CEO of TravelSupermarket, Richard Singer, told ITV News: “We are worried that many people are still not aware of the post-Brexit 10-year passport rule.

"You need to check your passport is no older than 10 years old when you travel to the EU, otherwise you could be turned away. It’s an easy thing to miss and not everyone is affected, and those who are, will be impacted at different dates, depending on when your passport was issued.”

What is the 10-year passport rule?

When the UK was a member of the European Union, British passports remained valid up to and including their expiry date for travel to other EU countries.

But post-Brexit, British passport-holders wishing to travel to EU countries in the Schengen Area are treated as non-EU nationals. 

As such, they must meet three key requirements, as outlined on the EU's Your Europe website:

  • Passports must have been issued less than 10 years before the date of travel.

  • The passport must be valid for at least three months after the day the traveller plans to depart the EU.

  • British travellers do not need a visa for short stays, however, those staying in the EU or the Schengen area for more than 90 days in a 180-day period must apply for a visa.

Aren't all passports only valid for 10 years?

No. A past UK policy allowed Brits to claim credit on "unspent" time when renewing passports.

This meant people could be issued with a passport that was valid for up to 10 years and nine months.

People who took advantage of this policy could now find themselves caught out if they try to travel more than 10 years after their passport was first issued.

Passengers at Stansted Airport Credit: PA

How do I find out if my passport is valid?

Instead of checking only the expiry date, UK passports holders are advised to look at the "issue date" as well as the expiry to find out if their passport is valid.

It may appear that your passport is within date but if it hasn't been issued in the past 10 years you could be stopped from boarding your plane.

According to the government's website, for some Schengen countries, once the three-months-remaining rule is deducted, a passport needs to have been issued no more than nine years and nine months ago.

To be on the safe side, it's best to apply to renew your passport before it is nine years and nine months old.

You should allow up to 10 weeks to receive your passport, so you should apply for it at least 10 weeks before you're due to travel.

Will holiday insurance cover me if I find out my passport is invalid?

Insurance companies and tour providers will not cover passengers who cannot make their trip due to their passport being invalid - even if they were unaware of the 10-year passport rule, according to TravelSupermarket.

"If, for whatever reason, you still don’t have your application by your departure date, unfortunately you can’t claim for flight or other holiday costs on your travel insurance," the travel company told ITV News.

"Neither can you claim compensation from the Home Office. And airlines and tour operators are equally unsympathetic about out-of-date documents, so you’re highly unlikely to receive anything from them.

"Remember: it’s your responsibility to ensure your passport is up to date. With travellers rushing to sort out their passports in time for summer, it makes good sense to apply as early as possible to renew your documentation."

An FCDO spokesperson said: "Following the end of the transition period, we ran a campaign to help British travellers prepare for changes when visiting Europe, including on passport rules.

“FCDO online travel advice for EU countries sets out the requirements and is kept under constant review to ensure British travellers have accurate information to help plan their trip."