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What are the current travel rules, including quarantine and testing?

AllClear Team
Last updated 8 October 2021

Last updated on 8th October 2021 – 8-minute read

By Letitia Smith. Letitia is the Content Manager at AllClear. As a specialist travel insurance provider, we keep you updated on all the latest travel news.

Thanks to the vaccine success, travel resumed as of July 2021. Gradually travel restrictions have eased around the world, and countries continue to welcome tourists back.

Chris Rolland, AllClear CEO said: “A recent poll of over 3,000 AllClear customers found that 70% feel more confident about travelling following their vaccination.  We also know from separate research 72% of people in the UK would be happy to pay as much as £850 to ensure safety while travelling, with the top priority being to seek out better travel insurance.”

So we’ve put together this up-to-date guide to help you plan for your future travels. 

The end of the Traffic Light System and changes to testing rules

On the 4th of October 2021, the Traffic light system was scrapped, leaving countries categorised as either on the Red List or not. So, what does this mean for you if you’re dreaming of an Autumn escape?

For  fully vaccinated travellers:

  • If you are travelling from a country, not on the Red List, you can enter the UK without a pre-departure test
  • You do not have to take a PCR test eight days after arrival or isolate at home
  • You will still need to take a single test on the second day after arrival in the UK

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: ‘We are accelerating towards a future where travel continues to reopen safely and remains open for good, and today’s rule changes are good news for families, businesses and the travel sector…”

It’s also expected that the required PCR tests will change to a cheaper lateral flow test option by the end of October, althought this is yet to be confirmed.

For unvaccinated travellers:

  • Still need a pre-departure test before travelling back to England, and still have to buy a PCR for their day-two test.
  • A 10-day home quarantine is also still mandatory – regardless of where you have travelled from.
  • Can pay for a PCR test on day five if they want to end their quarantine early as part of the government’s Test to Release scheme.

The FCDO will no longer advise against travel to non-Red List countries on Covid-19 grounds (except in exceptional circumstances such as if the local healthcare system is overwhelmed.)

What do all these changes mean for you? You’ll have more countries to choose from for your next holiday and travel is more straightforward. You’ll be able to buy Travel Insurance for wider destinations, with the peace of mind that you’re fully covered.

What are the current countries on the Red List?

From 4am on Monday, 11 October only seven countries will remain on the red list. They are: Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

South Africa, Brazil, Seychelles and Mexcio have all come off the Red List.

Grant Shapps said of the changes: “With half-term and winter sun around the corner, we’re making it easier for families and loved ones to reunite, by significantly cutting the number of destinations on the Red List, thanks in part to the increased vaccination efforts around the globe.”

What happens if you come back from a Red List country?

Anyone returning from a Red List country is still required to pay £2,285 to quarantine for 11 nights at a government-approved hotel.

Travelling from the UK  – What you need to know

Post Pandemic Travel Tips

 For the latest travel advice on a particular country, visit the FCDO Foreign Travel Advice website.

If you live in Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland, you’ll also need to check your local government website for travel advice as this may differ. The Government’s Twitter feed is also a good way to keep up-to-date.

  •  Check the guidance for your destination country to ensure entry is permitted before departing, including any proof of vaccination you may need, as well as testing and quarantine rules
  • Check what extra things you may need to pack  
  • Know and follow the local COVID-19 rules and restrictions for your destination – there may be limits on group numbers and curfews
  • Make sure you have a Travel Insurance policy that includes Covid 19 cover
  • The FCDO recommends you should be prepared to stay abroad longer than planned. If you have pre-existing medical conditions, you should pack extra medication and details of prescriptions as a precaution.
  • Some destinations – such as China, Thailand, Egypt, Turkey and now the EU – need  six-month validity on your passport. So check your passport expiry date before booking your holiday.

What to look for in a Travel Insurance policy 

Comprehensive Travel Insurance is vital so you can travel with confidence. Look for a policy that covers you for cancellations, emergency medical treatment and repatriation costs related to COVID-19.

Remember that the validity of travel insurance is dependent on FCDO advice – as the current advice warns Brits against all but essential travel to a destination, then your travel insurance is not valid for a holiday. 

How do you get a COVID-19 test before you travel to your destination?

If you need to take a COVID-19 test before you travel abroad you’ll need to arrange and pay for a private test. Do your research and make sure the laboratory doing the test is UKAS certified. The cost for private tests ranges between £89 and £295.

You should NOT use the NHS testing service.

You can also find a list of approved test providers on the Government’s website.

What COVID-19 tests do you need to take to travel abroad?

When it comes to going on a trip abroad from the UK the PCR test is the main one you will encounter.

Some countries may ask you to provide proof of a negative PCR test for COVID-19 at least 72 hours before you leave the UK.

How much do COVID-19 tests for travel cost?

The cost of testing for travel varies massively. Some private clinics charge as much as £200 or more for one PCR test.

Some travel companies have put together testing packages at a reduced price to make it more affordable for customers.

Arriving back in the UK – What you need to know 

The second part of this blog post is all about quarantining and Covid-testing for when you return back to the UK. 

Is COVID-19 testing mandatory for your return to the UK? 

When you arrive back in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, and have travelled by plane, train or boat, you must provide proof of a negative test taken up to 72 hours before you start your journey home.

Even if you tested negative before leaving the UK, you’ll still need to provide a negative test within 72 hours of travelling back to the UK.

You shouldn’t need to provide proof of a negative test to travel within the UK. You also won’t need to take a test if your journey to the UK began in the Isle of Man, Jersey, Guernsey, Ascension, the Falkland Islands or St Helena. You also do not need to quarantine when arriving in England if travelling from these countries.

What sort of test do you need to take?

The Government has set out the standards for tests it will accept. If you do not take a test that meets the standards then you may not be allowed to travel home. Approved tests include:

  • A nucleic acid test, including a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test or derivative technologies, including loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) test.
  • An antigen test, such as a test from a lateral flow device.

You can find more information about the test and where to find test providers when abroad on the FCDO travel advice pages.

What’s the difference between a PCR test and lateral flow test?

The PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test is considered the ‘gold standard’ when it comes to screening for COVID-19 because the test can pick up the virus at low levels.

The PCR test involves a swab of your nose and back of your throat. Results need to be processed in a lab and may take 24 hours or more to come back depending on your supplier and reliability of delivery.

An antigen test, also known as a rapid test or lateral flow test, is less reliable but often a quicker way of determining whether someone is infectious.

This also involves taking a swab of the nose and sometimes the throat. You can get results within 15 minutes with some lateral flow test kits.

The antigen, or lateral flow test, is cheaper than the PCR test.

Will your Travel Insurance cover the costs of a Covid test abroad?

Travel Insurance only covers the cost of unexpected events and emergencies. The COVID-19 testing requirement is now a routine procedure for international arrivals, so it isn’t covered by your Travel Insurance.

What if you travel back to the UK without proof of a negative test?

You may not be allowed to board your transport back to the UK without proof of a negative test. There are fines of £500 for people who fail to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test upon arrival in the UK.

Do you need to complete a passenger locator form?

You’ll need to fill out a Public Health passenger locator form, within the 48 hours before you’re due to arrive in the UK. Once you arrive, you’ll be asked to present this form together with your negative COVID-19 test result.

Hopefully, this information guide is helpful, but be aware that Government advice can change quickly. Thanks also to Nigel Thompson, Travel Editor at the Mirror for some of this information above.

We’ll continue to keep you updated as we work to make travel safe again, so you can travel with confidence.