Unless you’ve been living under a rock this summer, you’ve likely heard a thing or two about Brexit, the United Kingdom’s surprising vote to leave the European Union. While no one expected the Leave motion to pass in the June 23 referendum – not even the politicians behind it – 52% of the British people opted to say “Cheeri-o!” to the 28-country economic partnership, prompting Prime Minister David Cameron to resign. Adding to the shockwave was the subsequent plummeting of the British pound, reaching its lowest point since the 1980s. The UK economy is expected to suffer from a “short, sharp shock,’ according to the Guardian, and the pound may very well continue to decline over the next few months, and even years.
So what does this mean for you as a traveler?
Passports and Visas
Because the UK was never part of the Schengen Area, border control likely won’t change very much, if at all. The Schengen Area, although it is an EU policy, has only been adopted by some of the EU states, so all travelers have already been expected to present their passports for stamps and inspections at the British border. The UK has, therefore, also not been subject to the same travel restrictions as most of the EU. You might be able to move rather freely within the Schengen Area, only receiving passport stamps upon your entry and exit into the bloc, but you can only spend 90 days out of a 120-day period in the whole region. Great Britain is, and will remain, exempt from this rule, making it a safe haven for long term travelers who want to spend more than three months in Europe.
Currency is another area where the UK was never 100% in step with the rest of the EU, as it held onto its pound rather than adopting the euro, which is almost identical in strength to the U.S. dollar. For the last 20 to 30 years, the pound has been nearly twice as strong as the dollar. With the steep drop in the strength of the British pound, the UK is suddenly a far more affordable destination for Americans than it was in the past. You won’t be ordering a different currency after Brexit is complete, but you’ll probably be able to get your hands on more of it. The daily cost of budget travel in London has already dropped by about $20, according to the Price of Travel Backpacker Index.
The Not-So-United Kingdom
The biggest change in the UK travel landscape is still to come. Any European traveler worth their salt knows that Great Britain is actually comprised of four states: England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Here’s where the Brexit vote gets a little trickier. While voters in England and Wales largely voted to leave, the people of Scotland and Northern Ireland supported the Remain motion. In fact, this is the second time Scotland has opted to stay in the EU, as they held a separate referendum on staying part of Great Britain less than two years ago. As a result, the Scottish government is in a strong position to block this latest referendum, becoming an independent country, leaving the United Kingdom, and rejoining the European Union. The situation is a bit less clear in Northern Ireland, but the Brexit vote has breathed new life into some Irish politicians’ desire to reunify with Ireland, which is still an EU nation.
This is where border control could see major changes. If Scotland in particular does withdraw from the UK, be prepared to present your passport as you travel between London and Edinburgh. If Northern Ireland chooses to stay with Great Britain, the currently open border between it and the rest of Ireland could become a point of tension between the two delicately balanced countries as they continue recovering from the Troubles of the late 20th century.
Is this all Brexit will do to travel within the UK? Only time will tell.