What is the Common Travel Area, and how does it work?

Jul 27, 2021

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International travel is complex during the coronavirus pandemic.

There are constantly shifting entry requirements, as well as potential documentation, testing and quarantine rules at your destination — and on your return.

If you’re keen on a holiday this year but want to limit the stress of travelling during the pandemic, you might want to look at the Common Travel Area.

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What is the Common Travel Area?

The Common Travel Area (CTA) is a long-standing arrangement between the United Kingdom and Ireland that allows citizens of these countries to travel freely between them.

It’s not dependent on either country’s membership in the European Union, and the agreement remains in place post-Brexit.

Where is the Common Travel Area?

The CTA covers the following:

  • United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland);
  • Ireland (Republic of);
  • Isle of Man;
  • Guernsey; and
  • Jersey.

Other British Overseas Territories, such as Gibraltar, are not part of the Common Travel Area.

Related: 6 reasons why you should book a trip to Gibraltar this summer

Gorey Harbour and Mont Orgueil Castle in Jersey, Channel Islands. (Photo by Maxian/Getty Images)

What does this mean for travel right now?

While each destination may have slightly different entry requirements, a key benefit of travelling within the Common Travel Area is that the traffic light system does not apply on your return to the United Kingdom.

This means there is no requirement to book or undertake COVID-19 tests before returning to the United Kingdom from the CTA, nor is there a requirement to self-isolate on your return, regardless of your vaccination status.

It also means the regular changes to the traffic light system, which are currently every three weeks, will not affect your travel and you can plan appropriately.

While it may be obvious that you can take a train from England to Wales without the need to show vaccination status or a negative test result, it also means flying from the United Kingdom to the Republic of Ireland is easier than you might think.

Ireland recently removed the requirement for a negative test result and quarantine on entry, provided you are fully vaccinated.

This means that as the Republic of Ireland is a part of the Common Travel Area, there is no testing or quarantine requirement at either end when travelling between the United Kingdom and Ireland.

This is the first European country where this applies for British travellers.

If you are a U.K. citizen, you will not need a passport to enter Ireland because of the Common Travel Area, though you will need some official photo identification such as a drivers licence.

Related: Why Ireland may now be the best choice for fully vaccinated Brits looking for a summer holiday

(Photo courtesy of Tourism Ireland)

Bottom line

If you are keen on a proper holiday right now but nervous about the constantly changing rules, testing requirements and traffic light system, consider the Common Travel Area.

It allows for much more normal travel with a minimum of fuss. Your obligations on return to the United Kingdom won’t change, but do check on the latest entry requirements and any local restrictions that may still exist at your destination within the CTA to know what to expect when you arrive.

Featured image by Susanne Neumann / Gettys

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