The new Covid travel rules – from testing to quarantine requirements

Advice

In a blow to international travel, 10 countries have now been added to the previously empty red list. 

As of 4am on November 28, arrivals from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Namibia, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola are subject to a 10-day stay in a quarantine hotel. Those who arrived before this deadline are being made to quarantine for 10 days at home. A flight ban is also in a place for these destinations. 

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. Meanwhile, Switzerland has announced that it is introducing a ten-day quarantine on all arrivals from Britain. 

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, from 4am on November 30, all travellers (regardless of vaccination status) must take a day 2 PCR test on arrival in the UK – to be taken by the end of the second full day after arrival – and isolate until a negative result is received. Anyone who tests positive must isolate for 10 days.

More 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 10 countries to the previously empty travel red list as concerns grow over the omicron variant, first 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 10 countries, if you are fully vaccinated you can currently 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. 

However, from Tuesday (November 30), all vaccinated travellers must take a day 2 PCR test – to be taken by the end of the second full day after arrival in the UK – and isolate until a negative result is received. Anyone who tests positive must isolate for 10 days.

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?

As of 4am on November 28 arrivals into the UK from South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola must 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 arrived before the deadline must self-isolate at home for 10 days. A flight ban is place for these destinations. 

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 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?

From November 30, those who are fully vaccinated must take a PCR test on or before day two (arrival day is day zero). You must self-isolate until you receive a negative result. Anyone who tests positive must isolate for 10 days. If you arrive in the country before 4am November 30, you must take a day 2 lateral flow test. 

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 from a non-red list country 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 PCR test on or before day two. Under 18s returning from red list countries must enter hotel quarantine.

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 and isolate until a negative result is confirmed. 

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 day two PCR test. If arriving from a red list country, hotel quarantine rules apply.

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 various African countries to the red list came with little warning. With the emergence of concerning new variant omicron, expect updates at any time. 

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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