The new Covid travel rules – from testing to proof of vaccination

Advice

Fully vaccinated holidaymakers will no longer have to take any Covid-19 tests for return to the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has confirmed. 

The Day 2 lateral flow test for immunised arrivals will be dropped, Mr Johnson told reporters on Monday. The changes are expected to come into effect at 4am on February 11.

This follows the end of pre-departure and Day 2 test for vaccinated travellers earlier in January. 

Children aged 12 to 15 years old are also set to be given access to digital Covid passes in time for half term. At present they are excluded from using it, curbing their ability to easily prove their jab status (families can request a NHS Covid Pass letter instead, although this may take seven working days to arrive).

This presents issues for families travelling to countries such as France, Italy and Spain, which require all over-12s to be double vaccinated, or else face tougher restrictions such as quarantine or daily testing. 

Elsewhere, some countries in Europe have reintroduced restrictions. A full lockdown has been imposed in the Netherlands, while Germany, Spain, Italy and France have tightened their Covid measures. France has gone one step further, and banned all non-essential travel from the United Kingdom.

Holidays to most open countries can still go ahead. Some destinations still require proof of a negative PCR test result from all arrivals, others only request a vaccine certificate for entry, while Austria is among the first to request both, plus a booster.

Hurdles remain for the unvaccinated, who must take a pre-departure test, enter a 10-day quarantine on return, and take two PCR tests. Some countries will also impose a quarantine on unvaccinated arrivals.

Here is everything you need to know about international travel, from testing requirements to paperwork and quarantine.

Which countries can I travel to?

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.

Soon vaccinated travellers will not be required to take a Day 2 lateral flow test. Anyone who tests positive must isolate – fully vaccinated travellers can stop self-isolating on day 6 if they take a rapid lateral flow test on day 5 and 6 and: 

  • both tests are negative
  • the tests were taken 24 hours apart
  • the traveller does not have a high temperature

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.  

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 UK travellers 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 – some countries, including the US, also accept rapid tests. 

Many countries accept a vaccine certificate instead of proof of a negative test. Check the destination’s FCDO page before you go. 

Do I need to take a test after arriving home?

This requirement will soon be dropped for fully vaccinated travellers. Until the changes Boris Johnson has announced come into force those who are fully vaccinated must take a PCR or lateral flow test on or before day two (arrival day is day zero). There is no need to isolate until you receive a negative result. Anyone who tests positive must isolate (see above).

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?

Under-18s no longer have to take a pre-departure test when returning to the UK, regardless of vaccination status. All children aged five and above must still take a lateral flow test on or before day two of their return. This will be dropped alongside the day 2 test for fully vaccinated adults on February 11.

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. In Austria, 16 and 17 years olds must be fully vaccinated, take a test and have a booster in order to enter.

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

How can I prove my vaccination status?

The NHS Covid Pass app offers a digital proof of vaccination for travel. It is currently accessible to travellers aged 16 and over.

However, Children aged 12 to 15 years old are also set to be given access to digital Covid passes in time for half term. Families can also request a NHS Covid Pass letter, although this takes around seven working days to arrive. 

Booster jabs are also shown on the NHS Covid Pass for travel.

How can I prove I have recovered from Covid? 

Those who have recovered from Covid within the past three months are likely to return a false-positive result on a PCR test, even though their infection risk has long passed. Should you need to take a PCR test for any aspect of your trip overseas, this could be an issue. Some countries will accept proof of recovery instead of a negative PCR test, however.

In the same way that you access your NHS Covid Pass (ie proof of vaccination) via the NHS app, you can access proof of your recovery from Covid. 

In the ‘Get your NHS COVID Pass’ section, click ‘Travel’, then ‘Show details’. Scroll through the QR codes confirming your vaccinations, and the final one should state ‘Recovered from COVID-19’. This can be printed and saved, along with your vaccination records. Note that you must have tested positive for Covid on an NHS PCR test, registered your result, and completed your isolation period. You will not get a proof of recovery certificate based on a positive lateral flow test. See more information.

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.

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.

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, certain non-EU European states, plus the United States, Canada, and a number of other long-haul destinations. 

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. Rules on testing and quarantine for children vary, see above. If arriving from a red list country, hotel quarantine rules apply.

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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