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The new Covid travel rules – from testing to quarantine requirements



In a blow to international travel, 11 countries have been added to the previously empty red list. 

Arrivals from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Namibia, Nigeria, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola are now subject to a 10-day stay in a quarantine hotel. 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, Italy 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, since 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. Additionally, from 4am on Tuesday December 7 all people aged 12 years and over must take a PCR or Lateral Flow COVID-19 test before they travel to England from abroad.

More hurdles remain for those who are unvaccinated. In addition to the measures above, 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 11 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 11 countries, if you are fully vaccinated you can currently travel to any country or territory without having to enter quarantine for 10 days on your return.

However, since 4am on 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. Additionally, from 4am on Tuesday December 7 all people aged 12 years and over must take a PCR or Lateral Flow COVID-19 test before they travel to England from abroad.

If you are not fully vaccinated, you must 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?

Arrivals into the UK from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Namibia, Nigeria, 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.

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?

From 4am, Tuesday December 7 all people aged 12 years and over must take a PCR or Lateral Flow COVID-19 test before they travel to England from abroad.

Before Tuesday December 7, 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 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 12 who are returning to England from a non-red list country do not need to take a pre-departure test before coming back to England; from December 7 at 4am, children aged 12 to 17 must take a PCR or Lateral Flow COVID-19 test in the 2 days before travel to England. Additionally, children aged 12 and above must take a PCR test on or before day two and isolated until a negative result is returned. 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.



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