The success of the UK’s vaccination programme means the country is gradually opening up, and some people are busy making plans to travel abroad. To keep everyone safe from Covid-19, there are a few steps you need to take before booking your trip, from checking the rules relating to your destination to organising coronavirus tests before and after you return to the UK.
The Foreign Office has a detailed breakdown of everything you need to help you prepare at gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice, with separate travel guidance for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Here’s what you need to know before you pack your suitcase.
How do I find out the rules for my destination?
Each country sets its own rules about who they let in and what travellers must do in order to arrive safely. Before booking your trip, check whether the UK government advises against all but essential travel to your chosen destination, whether that country allows people from the UK to enter, whether you need to quarantine and whether you need to show proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test when you arrive. And because things can change at short notice, do check the latest government advice before travelling.
What do I need to do on my return?
The government has put all foreign destinations into one of three categories – red, amber and green. If Covid-19 conditions change in a territory, it could be moved to a different list, so it’s essential to stay up to date.
What do the three categories mean?
You shouldn’t travel anywhere on the red list except in extreme circumstances. You will only be able to travel to the UK from a red list country if you’re a British or Irish national, or if you have residence rights in the UK. If you’re coming from a red list country, you have to follow strict quarantine rules, including staying at a managed hotel, so check carefully.
The steps you take when coming from an amber list country depend on your vaccination status. If you’re fully vaccinated, you’ll need to have a Covid-19 PCR test before your return journey, fill in an online passenger locator form and to have booked a day-two Covid-19 test for after your return. You won’t need to quarantine unless your day-two test is positive.
If you’re not fully vaccinated, you’ll have to take extra steps. As well as having a Covid-19 test before you travel and filling in a passenger locator form, you must quarantine at home or wherever you’re staying for 10 days on arrival, and have Covid-19 tests booked for day two and day eight. You may be able to end your quarantine early if you take an additional Covid-19 test on day five through a “test to release” provider.
It’s worth remembering that you will have to pay privately for all your travel-related Covid-19 tests, and prices will vary.
After visiting a green list destination, you’ll need to complete a Covid-19 test before returning to the UK, even if you’re already fully vaccinated. You’ll also have to fill in a passenger locator form, and have a day-two Covid-19 test booked for your return.
What if I catch Covid while I’m abroad?
You’ll be denied entry to the UK if you test positive for Covid. So check that your insurance covers a longer stay as you’ll have to self-isolate in the country at your own expense, and undergo further testing.
How soon after my second vaccination can I travel?
You need to have had your second jab 14 full days before you travel as you’re then fully vaccinated. For some countries you can then use the NHS Covid letter as proof of your vaccine status.
How do I book a Covid-19 test before I travel?
If you’re returning from somewhere on the green or amber lists, you should look for a Covid-19 travel test provider and book the tests you need, making sure that you’ll get the results in good time.
To board your transport to the UK, you’ll need proof of a negative result – either a printed document or an email or text – from a test taken within the 72 hours before the service departs. If you’re returning to the UK from a red list country, as well as a negative test result you’ll need to have booked a stay at a managed quarantine hotel before you travel.
What if I’m travelling with children?
The rules of entry will depend on the country you’re visiting, and can be checked at gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice. When you’re returning, children aged 10 and under don’t need proof of a negative Covid-19 test but those aged five and above will need to be tested on or before day two after getting back. If you live in Scotland, children aged over 12 must take a PCR test before returning and within two days of arriving home.
If you’re quarantining, children aged four and under don’t have to take day-two and day-eight tests, but if you’re using the test to release scheme, children of all ages must be tested.
Are there any other rules to consider?
It’s important to take into account changes to travel to the European mainland now we have left the EU, not least that many countries require Britons to have at least six months left on their passports. Check the rules at gov.uk/check-a-passport-travel-europe, and allow up to 10 weeks for passport renewal.
You probably also need the reassurance of knowing that your travel insurance provides coronavirus cover and that you have an in-date European health insurance card (Ehic) or the new global health insurance card (Ghic). You might find that you have to provide extra documents that you didn’t need before if you plan to drive yourself, travel with a pet, or are taking food, drink, plants or plant products with you (check at gov.uk/visit-eu-switzerland-norway-iceland-liechtenstein).
‘Visiting a green list destination was important to us’
Mitra Abtahi, 48, a business insight analyst, lives in south-east London with her partner David Reilly and their son Sebastian, eight.
Going abroad is one of the things we all look forward to, and we associate it with having fun and spending time together with no distractions. It’s about switching off and making memories.
The lockdowns had a major effect on our lives and health, to be honest. Although we tried to experience new things, they didn’t ever feel like an adventure or an escape from the day-to-day. We really need to get away, especially as we don’t know for sure what’s going to happen after the summer and when we’ll get to travel again. I’m really looking forward to sun, sea and a bit of me-time.
We started planning in the spring and booked flights so we could go to Malta in August. Visiting a green list destination was important to us as we didn’t want to have to self-isolate on our return and risk Sebastian losing more time at school. Now we’re both fully vaccinated, we feel much happier travelling overseas. We’ve booked our pre-departure tests, organised our travel insurance, got proof of vaccinations both on paper and on our phones. We’ve taken extra precautions like reducing social interactions in the lead up to our holiday and booking taxis to collect us from the airport rather than using public transport, so now we can concentrate on all the fun things.
I never thought I’d say this as I used to travel a lot for work, but I’ve so missed going to the airport and catching a flight to another country. I can’t wait to get away – just to be out of our zone and somewhere completely different.
‘We’re going to holiday closer to home this year’
Fiona Dalziel, 54, business owner, lives with her husband, Mark, in Alloa, Clackmannanshire.
Mark and I used to travel a lot before Covid, to far-flung destinations such as India, Japan and Canada. Though we’re both double vaccinated, this year we just thought, no, we’re not going abroad. My husband runs a construction company and he’s less inclined to go away because if the guidance changes he doesn’t want to have to self-isolate when he comes back – he needs to know he’s only going to be off for two weeks.
So we bought a tent and we’re planning on holidaying closer to home for now. For me, camping wasn’t a huge leap but my husband had only ever spent one night in a tent at a festival. But the tent is palatial – a five-man tent for the two of us and we bought all the gear like the blow-up mattresses and we’re loving it. After 33 years together, I’ve got my husband camping in a tent!
We’ve been on two trips now – the first time was three-quarters of an hour away to Three Lochs Forest Drive. We loved it. We still managed to produce some gourmet dinners. Then we had three nights in Aberfoyle, which is not that far away either. We walked to the pub through the woods one night, sat by the side of the river, lots of great stuff. And we’ve got another trip planned already.
We live in a beautiful country and we’re a stone’s throw from the most beautiful scenery. On our first camping trip, we saw the best sunset I’ve seen in my life. I don’t think we’re going to be jumping on a plane soon, but I do miss it.
This advertiser content was paid for by the UK government. All together (“Travelling abroad has changed”) is a government-backed initiative tasked with informing the UK about the Covid-19 pandemic. For more information, visit gov.uk/coronavirus