Christmas Travel – Are Your Documents Valid For Your Winter Break?

Christmas markets, festive theme parks, even a bit of winter sun! There are many reasons why travelling abroad in the holiday season is an enticing idea and there are many travel agents and tour operators offering cheap winter breaks to a variety of countries. But before you book, there is a pretty important factor that you may need to consider – do you need a visa to visit Europe? And if so, how long will the process take?

In this article

jess petch

‘Tis the Season to Travel!…but how easy is it to go to the most popular Wintertime destinations? Our Visa expert Jess has put together a guide on the requirements for travelling to the Christmas hotspots.

What We’ll Cover

  • Which most popular winter destinations require visas

  • Which citizenships may require the visa

  • The types of visa available and their processing times

Do I need a visa to visit Europe? 

If you are a UK passport holder, or you possess a passport from an EU country, you do not require a visa to visit Europe. This is due to the Freedom of Movement Act which allows EU citizens to travel freely throughout the member states for the purposes of tourism, business or even to reside there.  

The above may change once Britain leaves the European Union. Check our blog closer to the Brexit deadline for updates on travel requirements and restrictions! 

However, individuals who hold a UK Travel Document or a passport from a non-EU country are most often required to obtain a visa to travel to Europe and this is referred to as a Schengen Visa. This allows entry into what is known as the Schengen Area, which is made up of the countries of the majority of mainland Europe.  See below for a list of countries in the Schengen Area: 

Austria Belgium Czech Republic Denmark 
Estonia Finland France Germany 
Greece Hungary Iceland Italy 
Latvia Liechtenstein Lithuania Luxembourg 
Malta Netherlands Norway Poland 
Portugal Slovakia Slovenia 
Sweden Switzerland Spain 

One of the most popular tourist destinations in the Schengen Area is France, likely because of incredible sights such as the Eiffel Tower, the famous Christmas Market at Champs de Mars and the magic of Disneyland. Sadly, many have been disappointed to discover that obtaining a Schengen Visa for France in time for December travels is no easy feat, and this is mainly due to one thing – appointment times.  

A major part of the process for obtaining a Schengen Visa is attending an appointment at the relevant Visa Centre; this is because you are required to have your biometric information collected (which isn’t as scary as it sounds – they simply take a photograph of your face and take a scan of your fingerprints!) as well as submitting the documentation required for the visa application.

The appointments for certain countries tend to book up very quickly. For instance, there are now no appointments available at the French Visa Application Centre in London until the end of December which has dashed many traveller’s hopes of a Christmas getaway to Paris, especially due to the fact that once you have attended your appointment, it can still take up to 3 weeks for the visa to be issued.  

Similar issues have arisen for those wanting to visit Santa in Lapland. The next available appointments at the Finland Visa Application Centre in London are not until the middle of December and with the 3-week processing time, Christmas will have long passed before the visa is in your hands. 

However, some of the Schengen Visa Centres still have appointments available from early November onward so if you are wanting to visit countries such as Spain, Belgium or Greece there is still a good amount of time for the process to be completed before the Christmas celebrations are in full swing. 

If you have your heart set on visiting a country such as France or Finland, all may not be lost. The Schengen Visa does allow you to enter the entirety of the Schengen Area and so it is still possible to travel to a country like France or Finland if your visa was granted by another state’s authority. To read our full guide on the Schengen Visa and check your eligibility, as well as how to apply, check out our blog here.

You may also be in luck if you hold a UK residence permit as some individuals will be exempt from needing to obtain a visa to travel to certain countries of the Schengen Area. This is provided that they travel with a family member who is an EU or EEA national. If your UK residence permit explicitly states one of the following terms, you may be able to travel without a visa: 

  • If your residence permit is in your passport: 
  • “Residence Card of a Family Member of an EEA National” 
  • “Permanent Residence Card” 
  • If your residence permit is in the form of a Biometric Card: 
  • “Residence Card of a Family Member of a Union Citizen” 

Not all Schengen countries provide this exemption so make sure to check and clarify if this applies for your travel plans. In the vast majority of cases for countries in the Schengen area, however, it is a requirement that your residence permit must be valid for a minimum of 90 days after your return to the UK from the Schengen Area so you may also need to think about renewing your permit prior to submitting a visa application.  

What about the USA? 

New York City is an extremely popular destination for travellers over winter as it offers many exciting events such as ice skating at the Rockerfeller Center, Christmas-themed shows at Radio City Music Hall and the world-famous Ball Drop in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. There are only a handful of citizenships that do not require any sort of additional documentation to travel to the United States but certain nationals are eligible to apply for the ESTA as part of the Visa Waiver Program. The process of applying for an ESTA is much quicker and easier than the standard United States Visa and allows citizens of the following countries to travel to the United States for tourism, business, or while in transit for up to 90 days: 

Czech Republic 
New Zealand 
San Marino 
South Korea 
Spain  Sweden  
United Kingdom 

The standard processing time for the ESTA is a speedy 72-hours, so those eligible to apply can take advantage of the quick turnaround time and jet off at short notice.  

A word of warning – an ESTA application can be rejected for something as small as a spelling mistake so it is imperative that you check all the supplied details carefully before submission and ensure the information you have provided matches your passport and supporting documentation. If you’re ever in doubt, we can assist with ESTA applications so feel free to get in touch to see how we can help! 

For those not eligible, however, the process for obtaining a US Tourist or Business Visa is unfortunately a much longer and more complex affair. Like with the application process for a Schengen Visa, individuals who want to visit the US must attend an appointment at the United States Embassy to give their fingerprints and be interviewed regarding their travel plans. At the time of writing, the next available appointments at the US Embassy are at the end of November, but if you have been refused or denied a US Visa previously, you have an even more limited choice of appointments as they set aside certain slots for more in-depth interviews for those applicants. Once you have attended your appointment, the visa will take up to 10 working days to process so it is important to bear this in mind if you’re hoping to travel in the earlier weeks of December. 

I want to go somewhere a bit warmer! Do I need a visa? 

For those seeking hotter climates as the year draws to a close, Brazil is a solid choice. December is actually classed as Spring in Brazil and enjoys average temperatures of 25°C, giving you ample opportunity to enjoy the beautiful beaches and take in the culture. Those who hold a British or European passport are in luck – you can travel to Brazil for up to 90 days without a visa. For those who do require a visa, you may be stumped by those pesky appointments yet again.

The processing time for this visa is up to 10 working days after attendance at the Consulate General and with no appointments until into December itself, it may be close to Christmas before you’re ready to travel.   

Another popular destination in the wintertime is Thailand, which remains warm and tropical with temperatures around 27 °C from November through to March. We have a dedicated blog post coming up detailing the application process for Thailand so keep an eye out for that!

key takeaways

Key Takeaways

Some of the most popular Winter breaks do require visas, whether you’re looking to travel to a Winter wonderland or even find some festive sun. Whether you’ll require one depends on your citizenship, so always make sure you check your details carefully and in plenty of time. Some visas have a quick turnaround, but you will still need time to gather your documentation and apply, so make sure you plan as far in advance as possible!

While you’re here, why not keep up to date with all the latest comings and goings by following us on social media?

Declan Ramsden
Declan Ramsden

Declan is a Content Creator at Vital Consular. He studied English Literature for 4 years before joining the company. Outside of work, he enjoys listening to retro music and reading classic novels – particularly Charles Dickens!

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