Halsbury Travel’s Chris Stacey shares his advice on taking your group to the EU and beyond…
The last few years have been… interesting for those of us working within the school travel industry, thanks in no small part to Brexit, followed swiftly by the Covid-19 pandemic. But as we come out the other side of Covid, schools have been quick to return to travelling abroad, to make up for the incredible educational experiences students missed out on during the pandemic.
There are some lasting changes to travel, but nothing that should put you off your next trip. With a little forward planning, you can look forward to a smooth school trip experience. So, let’s take you through what you need to know before your next excursion…
1. Things have changed at the borders
If you haven’t been abroad since Brexit, you’ll notice differences at EU borders. On arrival, you’ll need to join the ‘third-country’ or ‘non-EU’ line, which moves noticeably slower than the EU citizens’ queue.
Brits are now subject to more checks on arrival in the EU, so border guards will need to look at your passport to make sure you haven’t overstayed your visa-free allowance in the EU already. They may also want to check you have a return ticket, accommodation and enough money to support yourself while there.
These checks have slowed down the process a bit, so specialist school tour operators like Halsbury build enough time into itineraries so planned activities aren’t missed.
“There are some lasting changes to travel, but nothing that should put you off your next trip.”
2. You shouldn’t need a visa to enter the EU…
British citizens can stay in the EU for up to 90 days within a 180-day window without requiring a visa, which should be more than sufficient for your school trip. The EU is planning to introduce a new visa waiver scheme called ETIAS, but not until 2024. You’ll be able to apply online and it’s expected to cost just €7 for three years of cover.
If you have any non-British citizens in your group, they’ll need to check with their consulate to see if they need a visa. It’s recommended they start this process as soon as they know they’re intending to join the trip, although they’ll usually need to wait until everything is booked and confirmed before they can apply for the visa.
If you have any EU citizens in your group, by the way, they should check the Home Office has the most up-to-date travel document linked to their right-to-remain status, to avoid any issues when coming back into the UK.
3. …but you need to make sure your passport is stamped
You’ll now need to have your passport stamped on entry and exit from the EU. Border guards will check this to make sure you haven’t overstayed your visa-free limit, so it’s definitely recommended that you double-check it’s stamped each time you pass through the border so that there aren’t any complications next time!
4. You can’t take packed lunches into the EU
Back in the day, we’d recommend groups visiting Europe by coach take a packed lunch, making sure that the seemingly permanently hungry kids don’t starve on the way to your destination. However, another consequence of Brexit is that Brits are no longer permitted to take goods containing meat or milk, so you need to eat or bin that ham and cheese sandwich before you cross the border.
5. There are new rules on passport validity
Now, these are catching a few people out; we’ve even had group leaders realise their passports aren’t valid for trips to EU countries just before they’re due to travel. Please do check this as early as possible, as arranging a new passport isn’t always quick.
So, what do you need to know? Firstly, your passport must be less than 10 years old on the date you enter the EU country. It must then be valid for at least three months after the day you plan to leave.
They’re the rules. But we would suggest that it’d be worth ensuring you have at least six months left on your passport, as this seems to be the preference of some border guards and could make your trip that bit smoother.
“We’ve even had group leaders realise their passports aren’t valid for trips to EU countries just before they’re due to travel!”
6. You need to get a GHIC…
If you don’t currently have a valid European health insurance card (EHIC), you need to get yourself the new global version – the GHIC.
The great news is that this is available for free from the NHS website, so you can access healthcare at the same rate as locals while on your trip. We wouldn’t travel without it and every single member of your group should ensure that they’ve arranged this prior to travel.
7. …and suitable travel insurance is essential
The GHIC will ensure you pay the rate locals would if you require healthcare in an EU country, but this may still involve some cost, so it’s really important you take out adequate travel insurance to cover this. Your school may already have this in place but if not, your school tour operator should be able to arrange everything for you.
8. You should also check roaming costs
Brexit also meant the end of guaranteed free mobile roaming when visiting the EU, Norway and Iceland, so you should definitely check with your network regarding data charges.
Many networks offer packages that allow you to use your data as though you were in the UK while abroad for a small fee. Having said that, your network is now required by law to check whether you wish to continue spending on roaming charges once you hit £45, so we won’t be seeing a return to the days of astronomical phone bills after trips abroad!
“Many networks offer packages that allow you to use your data as though you were in the UK while abroad for a small fee.”
9. EU destinations are still popular with schools…
Yes, there have been a few changes to school trips to the EU since Brexit, but with a little forward planning and the support of a specialist school tour operator, they are certainly nothing that you need to worry about. School trips to the EU are just as popular as ever and still offer so many unforgettable experiences for you and your students to enjoy!
10. …but it’s OK to be more ambitious
Perhaps you’d like to go a bit further afield but you’re worried that with the cost-of-living crisis, families won’t be able to afford a long-haul school trip? Well, don’t forget that fundraising for a school trip can be an important part of the experience, giving students the opportunity to develop their independence and responsibility, while also giving them more ownership over the school trip experience.
Chris Stacey is head of sales at Halsbury Travel, a specialist school tour operator founded in 1986 by a former teacher. For more information, visit halsbury.com.
- A valid passport
- An EHIC or GHIC
- Appropriate travel insurance
- Noted roaming charges with their network
- Found out if they need a visa (non-UK citizens only)
- Checked their right-to-remain status us tied to their most up-to-date travel document (EU citizens only)
- Not brought a packed lunch containing dairy or meat products!