Brexit for freelancers

Last Updated on 11 August 2022

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

Now that the formalities of leaving the European Union are behind us it’s time to unpick the practical effects and what it means for people who freelance in the creative industries.

There will be plenty of effects on all citizens of the UK, but I’m going to focus here on practical issues for UK freelancers who also work in EU countries, and who are not fortunate enough to hold an EU passport.

I’ll try to keep this page up to date when things become clearer.
Bear in mind that Covid-19 travel restrictions may add further complications.
There is a summary checklist at the bottom of this post. Scroll down for that.

Bit of background

The EU’s single market and customs union are designed to reduce barriers between countries and help goods, money and people to move around more smoothly.

The effect of leaving both these EU arrangements means movement is more bureaucratic and restricted. It won’t necessarily be impossible to work in the EU, but you’ll be facing more form filling and possibly extra costs.

The deal that was agreed on Christmas Eve 2020 was mainly focused on trade in goods between the UK and EU countries. Services (like broadcast and film production) were not addressed, in effect suffering a “no deal” hard Brexit.

So what does this mean in practice?

Crossing borders (everyone, including tourists)

Border check

There is now a limit on how many days you can stay in EU countries.

In any 180 day period you can only clock up a total of 90 days. If you travel on lots of short trips to different EU countries you’ll need to get used to counting up the days for each trip.

Calculator for visits to Schengen area:

Overstaying could mean you are turned back at the border in future.

  • Your passport, whether blue or red, will need to have at least 6 months before it runs out, and be less than 10 years old.
  • You cannot use the blue EU channels at borders. You will be queuing with everyone else from outside the EU and European Free Trade Association.
  • Be prepared for more questions about why you’re visiting, and how long you’re intending to stay.
  • You may be asked to prove that you have a return ticket to the UK, and that you have money or credit cards to fund your stay in the EU countries you are visiting.
  • Check what your sandwiches are made of. You can’t take any dairy or meat products, fruit or veg from the UK into an EU country.
  • On the plus side you’ll get a pretty date stamp in your passport. This is needed so that everyone can work out if you’ve overstayed. You won’t be allowed to spend more than 90 days in the EU within any 180 day period.

From some time in 2024, Brits travelling to Schengen countries will have to buy an ETIAS ‘visa waiver’, very similar to the system currently in place when visiting the USA.

This will have to be done in advance. Cost is likely to be €7 per person for a three year waiver.

What do we mean by Schengen?

There are two types of country which often get bunched together as a kind of shorthand, but the rules on movement can be different depending on which type you’re visiting:

  1. Schengen countries inside and outside the EU
  • These 26 countries have freedom of movement between them. If you’re allowed in one, you’re allowed in the others.
  • Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Lichtenstein are associate members of the Schengen area even though they’re not in the EU.
  1. Non-Schengen countries in the EU

Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, and Cyprus are in the EU but not (yet) part of the Schengen area.

The Republic of Ireland is not in Schengen either, but has a common travel area (CTA) with the UK.

Here’s a useful link and a map of who’s in and who’s out:

Map of Schengen area

Driving (everyone)

Good news here. Most people with a UK driving licence won’t need an international licence after all.

More good news: you don’t need a ‘green card’ either. Read about this on here >

  • After January 2021 the car needed to show a separate GB sticker. This changed on 28 September 2021. The vehicle will now need to show a new UK sticker (not GB, note), or have a UK symbol on the registration plates.
    Read more on this fascinating topic here >

Crossing borders (for work)

This is where it gets more complicated.

You’ll be allowed to enter an EU country without a work visa for a business meeting, or to sign agreements. These days will also count towards your 90 day limit. Beyond that, you’ll need to do some research.

If you’re filming, touring, performing, or doing anything except being a tourist, there will be restrictions. You may need special permission in the form of a work visa or work permit.

Visa requirements vary widely from country to country. There is no blanket EU work visa or permit. Some countries require a work permit from day 1. Some allow you to do some work without a permit for a set number of days.


We tend to think of the EU as a single entity. While this is true for tariffs and customs procedures, each country has its own rules about who can enter and work.

If you’re doing some work in more than one EU country, you’ll need to check requirements in each country separately. Filming in five different countries may require five different work permits before you leave the UK.

It’s conceivable that this may change country by country over time. For example the UK has already agreed a ‘Services Mobility Agreement’ with Switzerland (which is not in the EU) removing the need for work permits in certain circumstances.

This list from the Incorporated Society of Musicians is very helpful and includes information which is relevant to other creatives:

I would also recommend this site set up by someone who’s an experienced agent based in both the UK and Vienna. He has a country by country list: has a list of countries and links to their requirements. The list is not user-friendly and puts the onus on you to find everything out. Some country sites are clearer than others. Some are not in English:

Taking equipment (for work)

If you’re travelling with kit for work, you’ll need a permit to take your kit into and out of the country in question. This is separate from any work permit.

This is likely to be particularly onerous for musicians and creative freelancers, who will need to get paperwork to cover things like musical instruments, cameras, tools or other work-related kit.

This may be required for equipment moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. (This is the famous ‘customs border down the Irish Sea‘ which came into effect on 1st January.)

The most widely recognised option would be an ATA Carnet. This is a temporary international customs document, effectively a passport for your kit.

You’ll need to present the Carnet at customs when you leave the UK and at your entry point into the EU. It is unlikely that you’ll need to present the Carnet between Schengen countries as there are usually no border posts, but check locally before you set off.

It costs to get a Carnet and they have to be renewed every year. But you can use them in any country, including outside Europe.

ATA Carnets are provided by the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry. At time of writing (2021) the cost is £360, plus a security deposit which varies considerably in price depending on the type and value of the equipment.

The Musician’s Union has managed to negotiate a discount carnet rate for members:
Read: MU secures ATA carnet discounts for touring musicians >

What’s your kit made of?

Street musicians

If you’re taking something made of an endangered wood or another restricted material, you may need to complete a CITES declaration too.

This is most likely to affect musicians with ivory or rare wood as part of an older instrument. The MU has this useful guide:…/musical-instruments-made-of-rare-materials

The EU has a guide showing what materials are covered and what to do:

Freelancer to do list

Freelancers working on their own as a sole trader or through their own company will clearly have to think about all the above in some detail.

Freelancers working as a team may find that some of the bureaucracy can be handled by the production office.

For example, you might be able to be included on a group work visa. You might even find that your kit can be included on their ATA Carnet in certain circumstances.

As a minimum it’s probably worth thinking about these:

  • Keep an eye on your passport expiry date. Always have at least 6 months left before it runs out.
  • From 2023 you’ll need an ETIAS visa waiver in advance of travelling (€7, valid for 3 years)
  • Apply for a GHIC card to replace your EHIC card when it runs out. This should allow you to gain access to local health care in the same way that you can in the UK. Even so, it’s advisable to have comprehensive travel health insurance.
  • Make a list of all the equipment you’d be likely to take out of the UK – make, serial numbers, everything. Get a quote for an ATA Carnet. If PAYE and working as a team, check whether an employer can include it on their Carnet.
  • Investigate work permit procedures from any country you are likely to work in, remembering that every country in the EU is responsible for its own rules. links to each country here >
  • Check support from your union. For example the MU, Equity and Prospect/BECTU are well aware of the problems people are now facing.
  • Don’t be afraid to call the British embassy in the country you are travelling to. They are there to give you advice.
  • If you’re planning travel arrangements and are taking equipment, suggests you leave an extra two hours at airports and borders in order to find the customs office and get everything checked and stamped. You’ll need to do this as you exit and enter each country, including the UK of course.
  • Put pressure on your MP (politely) to lobby for visa-free access for freelancers and musicians to EU countries. And sign petitions like this >

And finally…

…be nice to your EU colleagues. This bureaucracy is a pain to Brits, but that’s nothing compared to the hellish time colleagues from other EU countries have had if they live and work in the UK. Some have been unsure whether they’ll even be allowed to stay in their own home in the UK.

EU performers face some restrictions coming into the UK. But they will have no restrictions on working in the rest of the EU.

If you want a taste of what faces EU performers wanting to come to the UK, read this:

Please note:

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Posted on 07 January 2021

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