What is considered essential travel vs. non-essential travel during coronavirus restrictions?

Aug 14, 2020

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with new information.

If you’ve been following the effect that the coronavirus pandemic has had on the global travel industry, you may be aware of government-imposed travel warnings and restrictions as a result.

In March, the U.K. government’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) advised U.K. nationals against all non-essential international travel. That advice has since been revised to allow travel to dozens of destinations, including much of mainland Europe.

This FCO advice is subject to change quickly, as we saw most recently with France, the Netherlands, Malta, Monaco, Aruba and Turks & Caicos. Over the weekend, the government changed course. While it originally allowed travellers coming from these six countries to avoid quarantining for 14 days upon arrival in England, effective 4 a.m. on 15 August, arrivals from the six countries are required to self-isolate. Additionally, the FCO said that it now advises against all non-essential travel to the countries.

Follow The Points Guy on Facebook and Twitter, and to ensure you never miss anything, subscribe to our daily newsletter.

But what does this actually mean? If you want to travel right now, could your travel be deemed essential? If you’re looking at booking flights later in the year, would this be essential travel?

Let’s have a look at the definition of each type of travel.

"Houston, USA - February 6, 2008: This picture was taken in 2008 before the merger of United and Continental Airlines. The airline has kept the Continental livery but uses the United name."
(Photo by Maxian/Getty Images)

What is essential travel?

Unfortunately, the FCO does not have a simple definition of what is essential or non-essential travel. Ultimately, this a decision for the individual themselves based on the risk and their personal responsibility. If you choose to board a flight, it is currently unlikely that the British Government will stop you from doing so.

Like the lockdown and social distancing requirements, it is up to each individual to do the right thing to help protect the NHS and stop the continued spread of the coronavirus so that we can return to normal life and travel once this is all over.

The FCO recognises some people may have essential family and/or business travel. If you have a family emergency and need to urgently care for a loved one when no one else can, this could be considered essential travel. A pilot flying cargo planes full of medical supplies back and forth between China and the U.K., for example, would be essential travel as domestic and international freight transport is an essential service. The same goes for a lorry driver crossing from mainland Europe into the U.K.

Most business travel has ceased, as many businesses have suffered significant downturns and because it’s not necessarily safe to travel right now. Where there are no FCO restrictions against travelling to a certain destination, such as France, you are allowed to travel there for whatever reason you wish. However, you can expect the travelling experience to be different — you’ll need to wear a face mask the entire journey from when you enter the airport until you walk out of the airport at your destination, though you can remove it while eating with most airlines.

If you have been asked by your employer to travel for a business need and do not feel comfortable doing so, speak with your employer and direct them towards the FCO guidance. You should not travel at all if you are feeling unwell, regardless of whether you believe the reason for travelling is essential or not. Note that if you do travel abroad, there is no guarantee you will be able to return to the U.K. due to the constantly changing travel restrictions and interruptions. This may be particularly difficult if you travel to a remote island versus mainland Europe, for example, where you could potentially just drive back to the United Kingdom if necessary.

Related: What to do if you’re stranded abroad trying to get home to the UK

LONDON, May 1, 2020.A passenger wearing a face mask is seen at Heathrow Airport in London, Britain, on May 1, 2020. British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Friday that the country has met the goal of 100,000 tests per day as another 739 people with COVID-19 have died, bringing the total coronavirus-related death toll to 27,510 in Britain. As of Friday morning, 177,454 people have tested positive for the disease, said Hancock. (Photo by Tim Ireland/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/ via Getty Images)
(Photo by Tim Ireland/Xinhua via Getty)

What is non-essential travel?

The FCO has given some guidance that travelling to a second home in a destination where it advises against non-essential travel, either for isolation or a holiday, should be avoided. So, if there is travel advice against travelling to Spain, you should not visit your holiday home there regardless of how much you’re craving a holiday.

Be aware that you may need to quarantine for 14 days on your return to the U.K.

There are extensive, complex and constantly changing border restrictions for U.K. nationals attempting to travel abroad anyway. Most travel insurance policies will exclude claims where travel has been undertaken in disobedience of a government travel warning, such as this from the FCO.

Related: Does my travel insurance cover COVID-19?

Bottom line

Most of us have had some — or all — of our travel plans cancelled this year. As some of the world reopens to tourists, there are now options for you to have a summer holiday, but we aware there are all sorts of restrictions that are constantly changing. Even if you are able to travel somewhere right now, you can expect the experience to be different to what you are used to.

Featured image by martin-dm/Getty Images

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.