Shorter passport queues and longer stays: How Portugal could attract Britons post-Brexit

Emma Featherstone
·4-min read
lisbon - Getty
lisbon - Getty

Portugal relies on British holidaymakers. We are the country’s biggest single visitor group: 2.5 million of us travelled to Portugal in 2019.

In 2020, arrivals from the UK have plummeted by up to 70 per cent. Since the UK advisory against non-essential travel first came into force in March, Britons have had just three weeks in which they could visit Portugal without having to quarantine on their return. 

The country needs unimpeded movement between the two nations more than ever. 

“[Our visitor numbers] went back 25 years, to the numbers of 1995, which is terrible, especially because we have 10 times the number of companies [in the tourism industry] that we had then,” explained Luis Araujo, president of the National Tourism Board of Portugal, told Telegraph Travel.

Given that Portugal’s Covid-19 infection rate is now sitting at 308.7 per 100,000 residents, it will have to rely, for the time-being, on the successful implementation of the UK Government’s ‘test to release’ scheme. This will see quarantine times for arrivals from countries without a travel corridor, such as Portugal, slashed from 14 days to five, with a negative test result. 

By next year’s peak summer tourist season there is a hope that the vaccine will have helped travel to return to somewhat normal. However, for Britons, a new barrier will apply: the end to the transition period.

algarve beaches - Getty
algarve beaches - Getty

A normal holiday in Europe will not require a visa, but a stay of more than 90 days will. Portugal, however, may offer us 180 days. This would please second home owners who have asked EU countries to match UK rules: after January 1, citizens of the EU, EEA and Switzerland who want to stay here for up to six months will not require a visa. 

“We’ll do whatever we can to continue to make Portugal attractive to British citizens for tourism or permanent residence,” Manuel Lobo Antunes, the Portuguese ambassador to the UK, told Telegraph Travel. 

“We have always said that we would like to have a situation that is as close as possible to the situation we had before Brexit.”

However, as it stands, the 180 days has not been approved and, from January, Britons who wish to stay in Portugal for more than three months will have to register as a resident in the country (and contend with the paperwork that entails).

“We want to continue to welcome UK citizens, as a country so open to tourism and foreign visitors, of course having those people with us on a more permanent basis is obviously an advantage and something that makes us proud.”

One way in which Portugal might ensure smooth holidays for Britons next year is through the installation of UK-only passport gates. After Brexit, we will not be permitted to use EU fast-track passport control and custom lanes, which is set to increase waiting times. 

It’s estimated that at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport the average time Britons spend at the passport control desk will increase from 25 seconds to 40-45 as a result of additional document checks.

Portugal has floated the idea of passport control lanes specifically for UK travellers. “It is an area that is [open to] reciprocity,” said Mr Labo Antunes. “We have to see what kind of [similar] facilities our British friends intend to extend to EU or Portuguese citizens.”

Another EU travel benefit that Britons will lose after January 1 is the use of the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). The EHIC provides access to the state medical care of any EU country at a reduced cost or, in many cases, free of charge.

Portugal was the first EU country to offer a suggestion for preserving some of this health coverage.

“We launched a programme between the private hospitals in Portugal, called the health passport, where any British citizen has access to private hospitals in Portugal at the same cost as any Portuguese,” explained Mr Araujo. 

Ten months after global restrictions on travel began, Portugal is feeling the strain of depleted tourism, particularly the loss of British visitors.

Roughly 10 per cent of Portugal’s working population is employed in tourism and hospitality, explained Mr Araujo, and around 40,000 jobs have been lost in those sectors.

He emphasized that hotels, restaurants and other travel and hospitality businesses are working to strict health and safety protocols. “We’re seeing 2021 with some optimism,” he added. February or March could bring a rebound in visitor numbers. 

A move away from quarantine and uncertainty towards testing will, initially, be vital to facilitate this. 

“We have been asking different Governments of different countries not to impose quarantines but to find alternative solutions for controlling the pandemic and that has been one of the big battles we’re fighting", said Mr Araujo

Welcoming back Britons, amid Covid and after the transition period, is among these struggles. Both Mr Lobo Antunes and Mr Araujo emphasise that Portugal will do all it can to ensure UK travellers can continue to enjoy trips to the country in 2021 and beyond.