Common Travel Area between Ireland and the United Kingdom

Introduction

The Common Travel Area (CTA) is an arrangement between the United Kingdom (UK) and Ireland that gives a variety of rights to citizens of those countries. It includes more than the basic right to travel freely between both countries.

When the Common Travel Area arrangement began 1922, it was not contained in any legislation. It was an understanding between Ireland and the UK based on their common history. Over time, some of the rights came to be included in different pieces of legislation in both Ireland and the UK.

While the Common Travel Area is recognised under the Treaty of Amsterdam, it is not dependant on the European Union and the continuing membership of both countries.

On 8 May 2019, the Irish and UK governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding (pdf) reaffirming the Common Travel Area and identifying the rights and privileges of Irish and UK citizens within the CTA. It also reaffirms the commitment to maintain the CTA following Brexit (pdf).

The Common Travel Area and COVID-19

Each nation of the UK (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) has its own devolved government (in other words, its own separate, national powers). This means that each country has its own COVID-19 restrictions. You can read about travelling to Ireland during COVID-19.

If you are planning to travel between countries within the Common Travel Area, you should check:

  • The rules in the country you are travelling from
  • The rules in the country you are travelling to

You can read about current COVID-19 travel restrictions in:

Your rights within the Common Travel Area

Common Travel Area rights can only be exercised by citizens of Ireland and the UK. If you are not a citizen of Ireland or the UK, you cannot exercise Common Travel Area rights.

The UK, for the purposes of the Common Travel Area, covers England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.

Irish and UK citizens have the right to live, travel, work and study within the Common Travel Area. The rights of Irish citizens have been recognised in the UK’s Immigration and Social Security (EU Withdrawal) Act 2020.

Irish and UK citizens can live in either country and enjoy associated rights and privileges, including:

  • Access to social benefits
  • Access to healthcare
  • Access to social housing supports
  • The right to vote in certain elections

The Common Travel Area does not relate to goods or customs issues. You can read about the trade agreement between Ireland and the UK in Brexit and Ireland.

Border control and the Common Travel Area

There are no passport controls in operation for Irish and UK citizens travelling between the 2 countries. You do not need to have a passport to enter the other country.

However, you must show identification to board a ferry or an airplane, and some airlines and sea carriers only accept a passport as valid identification. You may also be asked by an immigration officer to prove that you are a citizen of Ireland or the UK, so you should carry a passport with you. If you have family members who are not UK or EEA citizens, they may need a visa to enter Ireland. A residency scheme for family members of UK citizens who move to Ireland after 1 January 2021 is now in place.

The Common Travel Area also involves some co-operation on matters relating to immigration issues. A non-EEA national, for example, may be refused permission to enter Ireland if they intend to travel onwards to the UK and they would not qualify for admission to the UK. Irish immigration officers have the power to carry out checks on people arriving in the State from the UK and to refuse them entry to the State on the same grounds as apply to people arriving from outside the Common Travel Area. These checks are carried out selectively.

In December 2011, the Irish and UK governments agreed measures to secure the external Common Travel Area border. This includes exchanging biographic and biometric visa data and co-operating on information about failed asylum seekers. There is a joint UK-Ireland Common Travel Area Forum which implements these measures.

Cross border workers

Irish and British citizens can live and work in both the Ireland and the UK and they can live in one country and work in the other country. For example, you might live in Ireland and work in Northern Ireland. This is called frontier working or cross-border working.

EEA and Swiss citizens who live in Ireland and work in Northern Ireland must have a Frontier Work Permit to continue working in Northern Ireland from 1 July 2021. The Permit scheme only applies to EEA and Swiss citizens who were already frontier workers before the end of 2020.

People with UK visas or residence permits

If you are a citizen of a country whose nationals need a visa to enter Ireland and you have a valid UK visa or residence permit, you may be required to have a visa to enter Ireland before you arrive in Ireland. The Short Stay Visa Waiver Programme allows nationals of a number of Eastern European, Middle East and Asian countries who have a short-term UK visa to come to Ireland without the need for a separate Irish visa. This programme is currently suspended due to COVID-19

Reciprocal visa arrangements: A British Irish Visa Scheme applies to visitors from China since 20 October 2014 and to visitors from India since 9 February 2015. This scheme allows visitors from these countries to travel freely within the Common Travel Area (in this case, Ireland and the UK but not the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man), using either an Irish or UK visa.

Both schemes are provided for in the Immigration Act (Visas) Order 2014 (SI 473/2014) as amended by Immigration Act (Visas) Order 2016 (SI 502/2016).

You can get further information about visa applications in our document, Visa requirements for entering Ireland, or from Irish embassies and consulates abroad.

Brexit and the Common Travel Area

The UK’s withdrawal from the European Union (EU) has not affect the rights of Irish citizens and UK citizens within the Common Travel Area. The right to live, work and access public services in the Common Travel Area is protected. Your Common Travel Area rights do not extend to your family. This means that if your spouse or partner, or other relative, is not an Irish or UK citizen, they may have to apply for residence in the UK after the transition period.

You can read about Residence rights of British citizens in Ireland

The Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Act 2019 places many of the Common Travel Area rights in legislation for the first time. The Act empowers the relevant ministers to legislate in the areas of providing equal access to healthcare and social welfare.

The withdrawal agreement between the UK and the European Union recognises the Common Travel Area in its Protocol, which deals with Ireland and Northern Ireland. Article 2 provides for the continued operation of the Common Travel Area.

You can read more about the UK leaving the EU in our documents:

You can get more information on the Common Travel Area from the Department of Foreign Affairs and on legal matters and rights from gov.ie.

Page edited: 20 July 2021