Travel & Holidays > Guides

Going on holiday? Make sure you know your ESTA from your Schengen

Tom Bailey

Tom Bailey
Jan 11, 2017

In Britain, we’re lucky to have one of the most powerful passports in the world.

Nearly all countries around the world let those in possession of one in, mostly hassle free.

However, not all visa-free travel is the same.

Some countries do not require visas, but have different conditions and rules for it. 

Just because your holiday destination allows visa-free entry, it does not mean some sort of application or fee much be paid for arrival.

Read our guide below to the different types of "visa-free" entry you are likely to encounter in your holidays. 

Before you travel, we recommend you compare travel insurance to get the right cover for your trip. 


Freedom of movement

Countries within the European Union are the most popular holiday destinations for Brits.

These require no visa for entry.

A key feature of the European Union is freedom of movement. This means that citizens of EU member states can travel freely between each country.

Within the EU exists the Schengen Area, which allows for travel between some EU countries without any border controls and passport inspections.

Britain is not part of this agreement, so to enter EU countries from Britain, Brits must show their passport. However, once in an EU country which is part of the Schengen Area, Brits can travel unimpeded by car or train, without need to show a passport (although flying still requires a passport).

Most destinations Brits will go to in Europe are part of the EU, with the most popular destinations being France, Italy and Greece. However, if you’re unsure check if your destination is an EU country.


Visa-free for a certain period

As mentioned, the British passport is one of the most powerful in the world.

Many countries – trusting British citizens not to be illegal immigrants – allow entry on a British passport visa-free for a specific amount of time.

For these countries, no advanced word of arrival is required.

Japan, for instance, allows Brits to come in for 90 days.

Some countries are shorter in their allowance. Vietnam, the favoured destination of British students and gap year backpackers, allows visa-free entry for up to 15 days.

China also allows 72-hours of visa-free entry, providing tourists arrive at Beijing or other major cities. Those arriving from Shanghai get even longer, with tourists allowed 144-hours.

To gain access, visitors will often have to complete a tourist card at the airport or on the flight. Often these are free, such as in China or Japan, while other countries, such as the Dominican Republic, charge, using them as a form of tax.


Visa-free with electronic travel authorisation

Other countries are slightly stricter.

While they do not require a visa for tourists, they do require holidaymakers to fill out a visa-waiver form online.

The US for instance, allows for 90 days for British holidaymakers. However, Brits have to apply for a Electronic System for Travel Authorization for entry.

This is done online and is very simple and last two years. However, it does cost $14.

Canada has a similar system. Brits can spend up to 6 months in Canada as a tourist, however to do so they must apply before for an Electronic Travel Authorization, which lasts for five years.


Within countries

Visas can get more complicated when certain territories are not fully under control of the country they are officially a part of or are not recognised internationally.

This is obviously the case for some of the more dangerous parts of the world, and British tourists are not likely to go there. However, it is also the case for some popular destinations

Hong Kong, for instance, is a popular destination for British tourists.

While it is part of China it is governed separately and allows Brits visa-free entry for up to 180 days.

The same is true of the Chinese controlled island of Macau, which also is governed under different rules.

* This information was correct at the time of publication. 


A Spokesman Said offers price comparison in energy, insurance and broadband that could save you hundreds.