British citizens travelling to the EU for business: What employers need to know

As the international community hopefully nears returning to more normal levels of travel, UK employers will need to know the rules for British citizens travelling to the EU for business.

Many employers have been focussing on the UK’s new immigration system and the rules for EU citizens who wish to visit and work in the UK.
As the international community hopefully nears returning to more normal levels of travel, UK employers will need to know the rules for British citizens travelling to the EU for business.   
Our KN Global service has a trusted network of specialist co-counsel throughout the EU and can provide bespoke EU immigration advice. 

Why are visa rules now an issue for British citizens travelling to the EU?

The UK left the EU in January 2020 and the transition period ended at 11 pm on 31 December 2020.  
In accordance with the Withdrawal Agreement, British citizens who were resident in an EU member state before the end of the transition period will be able to apply for a residence document confirming their on-going right to live and work in the relevant country.  Such British citizens should have until the end of the grace period on 30 June 2021 to apply.
For all British citizens arriving in an EU member state (or the EEA or Switzerland) from 1 January 2021, they will not have a right of free movement and so need to be aware of the local visa requirements in the destination EU country. 
British citizens do not need a visa to visit or work in Ireland.

Do British citizens need a visa to visit the EU, such as a Schengen visa?

No.  British citizens visiting the EU can do so visa-free.  The UK is not on the list of countries whose nationals must apply for a Schengen visa before travelling to the EU.  
British citizens are treated by the EU as third-country nationals, in the same way as for example US citizens.  British citizens visiting the EU cannot any longer use the airport lanes/queues for EU citizens. 
British citizens are only able to make short term visa-free trips to the EU for certain activities as a visitor, such as permitted business visitor activities and tourism. 
If a British citizen will be working in the EU, they will need to apply for a work permit before travelling. 

What is the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS)?

In 2022 the EU plans to launch ETIAS.  This will be for visitors to the EU who are not from EU countries and so will include the UK.  British citizens will need to apply online and pay a fee.  ETIAS will be a visa-waiver scheme, much the same as the US ESTA.  
It does not mean a visa will be required but it does mean there is a pre-travel requirement and that travellers will be screened for security purposes.  Some travellers may not qualify to use the ETIAS visa-waiver scheme and so may need to apply for a visitor visa, such as if they have a criminal conviction.

How long does a British citizen’s passport need to be valid for to travel to the EU?

A British citizen’s passport must be valid for at least 6 months before its expiration date. It is important to note that if the holder has renewed their passport before the previous one expired, extra months may have been added to the expiry date. Any extra months on the passport beyond 10 years may not count towards the 6 months required for certain countries. 

Are the visa rules the same for all EU countries?

There are common visa rules across the Schengen Area but each EU member state also has its own visa requirements for third-country nationals.  This means the rules are not exactly the same for each member state and so advice needs to be taken in advance of travel. 

What can a British citizen do in an EU country as a business visitor? Does the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement assist?

As above, it is necessary to check the relevant local rules for the country(ies) of travel. 
Before the end of last year, British citizens were able to travel on the basis of free movement throughout the EU and so it was not necessary to distinguish between what was business visitor activity and work.  Care now needs to be taken to ensure that where a British citizen is entering the EU without a prior visa, they are only carrying out permitted business visitor activity.      
The EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) does assist in setting out a list of agreed short term business visitor activities which are permitted, including:
Meetings and consultations.  Attending meetings or conferences, or engaging in consultations with business associates.
Research and design.  Technical, scientific and statistical researchers conducting independent research or research.
Marketing research.  Market researchers and analysts conducting research or analysis.
Training seminars.  To receive training in techniques and work practices, provided the training received is confined to observation, familiarisation and classroom instruction only.
Trade fairs and exhibitions.  Attending a trade fair for the purpose of promoting the company or its products or services.
Sales.  Representatives of a supplier of services or goods taking orders or negotiating the sale of services or goods or entering into agreements to sell services or goods for that supplier, but not delivering goods or supplying services themselves.  Short-term business visitors cannot engage in making direct sales to the general public.
Purchasing.  Buyers purchasing goods or services for an enterprise, or management and supervisory personnel, engaging in a commercial transaction.
After-sales or after-lease service.  Installers, repair and maintenance personnel and supervisors, possessing specialised knowledge essential to a seller's contractual obligation, supplying services or training workers to supply services pursuant to a warranty or other service contract incidental to the sale or lease of commercial or industrial equipment or machinery, including computer software.
Commercial transactions.  Management and supervisory personnel and financial services personnel (including insurers, bankers and investment brokers) engaging in a commercial transaction.
Tourism personnel.  Tour and travel agents, tour guides or tour operators attending or participating in conventions or accompanying a tour.
Translation and interpretation.  Translators or interpreters supplying services.
As stated in the TCA, some member states have declared non-conforming measures and so not all of the agreed listed activities will be allowed in all EU countries.  Some of the activities will be permissible in some member states and not in others.  There is also the practical reality that some EU countries will not have brought the rules within the TCA into their own local regulations and website information. 
It is therefore important to take advice to ensure that the intended short-term business visitor activities are covered and a prior work permit is not required. 
The UK government has created a useful resource setting out the permitted business activities for some EU countries. 

How long can a British citizen stay in an EU country as a business visitor? 

In accordance with the TCA a British citizen may stay in the EU for up to a total of 90 days in any six-month period. 
There is a useful Schengen Area calculator for keeping a record of the days. 

What’s the difference between being a business visitor and needing a work permit?

As above, it is not possible to generalise on the rules which are applicable to all EU member states.  We suggest that for each scenario you take relevant advice.  
However, as a starting point, if the intended activities are not on the above mentioned short-term business visitor list from the TCA, a prior work permit is likely to be required. 
There is not a uniform work permit application for the EU.  Each member state has its own local rules which will need to be followed. 

Where can I find more information on work permit applications to the EU?

The UK government’s useful resource also sets out the work permit requirements for some EU countries. 
Whilst this is useful, we strongly suggest that you seek advice in relation to your employees’ circumstances and intended activities in the EU member state(s). 
The TCA includes other options for British citizens working in the EU.  Our article on the provisions within the TCA sets out various options including for intra-company transfers, independent professionals and contractual service suppliers. 

What can employers do to prepare for the new visa rules?

UK employers need to be familiar with the rules for British citizens travelling to the key EU countries for your business.  Rather than waiting until there is an increase in urgent business travel, we suggest planning ahead so your business is as prepared as possible.
It is important to not breach the rules as this risks employees working illegally, refusal of entry at the border, problems with applying for visas to other countries and potential reputational damage.


If you have any queries in relation to the above or any other immigration matter, please get in touch with a member of the immigration team.

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