The new Covid rules on travelling abroad – from testing to quarantine requirements


In a blow to international travel, six countries have been added to the previously empty red list. From 4am on Sunday November 28, arrivals from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) and Namibia will be subject to a 10-day stay in a quarantine hotel. Those who arrive before this deadline must quarantine for 10 days at home. A flight ban will be in place from 12pm on Friday. 

Elsewhere, some countries in Europe have reintroduced restrictions. Lockdowns have been imposed in Austria and Slovakia, while the likes of Germany and the Netherlands have tightened their Covid measures. 

Holidays to most other open countries can still go ahead. However, some destinations do still require proof of a negative PCR test result from all arrivals, while others only request a vaccine certificate for entry. From the UK’s side, fully vaccinated travellers will just need to take a lateral flow test before day two after their arrival home.

Hurdles remain for those who are unvaccinated. Those who are not fully vaccinated still need to take a non-NHS pre-departure lateral flow test before arriving in the UK, and then a PCR before day two of arriving home. They must also enter a ten-day quarantine on return, with a further test on day eight. Some countries will also impose a quarantine on unvaccinated arrivals.

Below we explain everything you need to know about international travel, from testing requirements to paperwork and quarantine. Plus details on which nationals are eligible to enter the UK.

Which countries can I travel to?

The UK Government has announced the addition of six countries to the previously empty travel red list as concerns grow over a new Covid-19 variant detected in South Africa. 

Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, said the new variant “may be more transmissible” than the delta strain and added “the vaccines that we currently have may be less effective”.

With the exception of these six countries, if you are fully vaccinated you can travel to any country or territory without having to enter quarantine on your return. You are also exempt from needing to take a pre-departure test 72 hours before your arrival home. 

If you are not fully vaccinated, you must take a (non-NHS) lateral flow test up to 72 hours before travelling back to the UK, then enter 10 days of self-isolation on return to the UK, with two further tests on days two and eight. The only country that unvaccinated Britons can return from, without quarantine, is Ireland. 

Which countries are on the red list?

From 4am on November 28 arrivals into the UK from South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) and Lesotho will be forced to stay in a quarantine hotel for 10 days, at a price of up to £2,285. 

The rate for one additional adult, or a child aged 12 or over, is £1,430; while children aged between 5–11 are £325 each. Those in financial hardship have been able to avoid the large fee.

Those who arrive before the deadline must self-isolate at home for 10 days. A flight ban will be in place from 12pm on November 26.

Are all countries letting in Britons?

All countries have their own requirements on testing, vaccination certification, quarantine and other documentation. Many nations are welcoming Britons, although some have border restrictions prohibiting Britons from entry. Check the destination’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) page to find out if you can go.

Do I need to take a test before I travel?

This depends on the destination. If there is a requirement, it is typically a PCR test taken no more than 72 hours before travel/arrival. However, many countries now accept a vaccine certificate instead of a PCR test. Check the destination’s FCDO page before you go. 

Do I need to take a test before returning home?

If you are fully vaccinated, you now do not need to take a pre-departure lateral flow test before arriving in the UK. If you are not fully vaccinated, you must take a (non-NHS) lateral flow test 72 hours before arriving in the UK and have a certificate to prove your negative result – some airlines will deny boarding if you do not have this document.

Do I need to take a test after arriving home?

If you are fully vaccinated, you must take a non-NHS lateral flow test on or before day two (arrival day is day zero). 

If you are not fully vaccinated, you must enter quarantine and take PCR tests on days two and eight. If you opt in for Test to Release, you can take a second test on day five to exit quarantine (if your result is negative), but will still need to take the further test on day eight.

What are the rules for under 18s?

Travellers aged under 18 who are returning to England will not face self-isolation on return from any country or territory. They do not need to take a pre-departure test before coming back to England. Children aged 11 and above must take a lateral flow test on or before day two.

The majority of countries do not require vaccine certificates from under-18s, but some do. Malta, for example, requires 12 to 18-year-olds to be fully vaccinated before arrival. Children aged five to 11 can enter Malta if accompanied by vaccinated parents or legal guardians, provided they show a negative PCR test carried out within 72 hours of travel. 

Some other countries have imposed bans, quarantine or other stringent rules on unvaccinated children and teenagers. Read about them all here.

What paperwork do I need for travel?

Different countries have different requirements. France, for example, asks all arrivals to sign a declaration confirming you do not have Covid or symptoms. Greece has a Passenger Locator Form, as does Spain.

Eiffel Tower

France asks all arrivals to sign a declaration confirming you do not have Covid or symptoms

Credit: Tobias Lindner / EyeEm

Most countries also require a vaccination certificate to enter without quarantine or a PCR test result. If you have received two jabs, you can access your vaccine certificate on the NHS app, where you will find a QR code and the dates of your vaccinations. Some countries will also request vaccination certificates, or proof of a recent negative test result, in order to enter indoor venues like bars and restaurants – such as France and Italy.

To return to the UK, you must fill in a Passenger Locator Form. Make sure you have a code for your day two test booking, otherwise you will not be able to submit the form.

What travel insurance do I need?

Most insurance companies offer some degree of Covid cover. Check our Covid insurance guide for more information.

I live in another country, can I enter the UK?

It depends where you live, and whether you are vaccinated or not.

The UK recognises vaccines administered in other countries including the 27 EU states, a number of non-EU European states, plus the United States, Canada, and a number of other long haul destinations. This means that arrivals from these countries can enter the UK without needing to take a pre-departure test, or quarantine. They will, however, still need to take a test on day two. 

Arrivals from all other countries will need to enter a 10-day quarantine on arrival in the UK, with tests on days two and eight (with the option to test to release on day five). They will also need to take a pre-departure test, 72 hours before travel. However, Under 18s from these countries are exempt from quarantine and just need to take a lateral flow day two test.

When is the next travel update?

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps typically updates the country on the travel rules every three weeks. However, the addition of six southern African countries to the red list came with little warning.

Reader Service: It’s more important than ever to have holiday cancellation insurance. Learn how to get the right travel cover before you go.

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