Do the new COVID-19 testing rules apply to cruises?

Dec 6, 2021

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This article will be updated as regulations change, however, we advise that you always check the latest protocols of your specific cruise operators and local travel rules for the destination you are visiting in advance of departure.


New COVID-19 testing requirements are being put in place around the world in an effort to slow down the spread of the Omicron variant. However, the new rules don’t apply to all travellers or forms of travel.

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This means that some — but not all — cruisers will be unaffected by the changing testing rules. Here, everything you need to know about the new COVID-19 testing requirement if you have a soon-to-depart cruise in the works:

How is the COVID-19 testing rule changing?

In the U.K. Government Health Secretary Sajid Javid has announced that as of 7 Dec, all inbound travellers to the U.K. must take a COVID test prior to departure. Regardless of vaccination status, all travellers must submit evidence of a negative lateral flow or PCR test in order to enter the U.K. The tests must be taken no more than 48 hours prior to departure. However, the rules do currently differ between domestic and international cruises. In addition, there are also new Day Two COVID-19 testing requirements for the majority of arrivals into the U.K.

Starting on Monday, Dec. 6, all travellers flying to the U.S. from a foreign country, whether they are vaccinated or not, must produce a negative COVID-19 test taken within one calendar day of their departure.

This includes international visitors as well as U.S. citizens and residents returning home. This is a significant change from the current policy, which allows a three-day window for fully vaccinated individuals to get a pre-travel COVID-19 test before flying to the U.S.

The change comes just days after the new omicron variant of COVID-19 was deemed a “variant of concern” (the most severe category) by the World Health Organization.

Will I need to take a COVID-19 test to enter the U.K. via a domestic cruise ship?

Passengers embarking on a domestic cruise must present a negative COVID-19 test before boarding, and cruise operators will follow COVID-19 vaccination policies that may vary between operators. You should your cruise operators specific requirements pre-travel.

You will be classed as fully vaccinated if you have completed the full course of immunisation through the U.K. vaccination programme more than 14 days before joining the cruise.

Travellers under the age of 18, those with a medical exemption or people involved in COVID-19 vaccination trials are not expected to be fully vaccinated.

It is however advised that all passengers from outside England check local travel restrictions before making plans.

It is also highly recommended that you get appropriate travel insurance and check that the cover provided is valid for your cruise trip.

You do not need to book or take a COVID-19 test upon arrival in the U.K. if you are on a domestic cruise that only calls at ports in the U.K. Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man.

Will I need to take a COVID-19 test to enter the U.K. via an international cruise ship?

Most travellers arriving in the U.K currently need to take one or more COVID-19 tests when they arrive. However, you do not need to take a test after your arrival if all of the following apply:

  • You arrive as a passenger on a cruise ship
  • You stay in the U.K for less than 48 hours
  • You leave on the same cruise ship that you arrived on

You can find out more and stay up to date with the latest advice on international cruises on the Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) website.

Will I need to complete a Passenger Locator Form (PLF) if I travel on an international cruise?

If you are visiting or returning to the U.K. on a cruise you must either:

  • Submit your PLF in the 48 hours before boarding if the cruise lasts 19 days or less
  • Submit your PLF during the cruise if your trip lasts longer than 19 days
  • When completing your PLF you must include all the countries you have been in the 10 days before arriving in the U.K. This is regardless of whether you disembarked in those countries or the length of your trip
  • You must still complete the form even if you are only transiting through the U.K. via cruise ship to travel to another country by any mode of transport.

Will I need to take a COVID-19 test to enter the U.S. by cruise ship?

No. Since the testing requirement announced on Thursday only will apply to travellers arriving in the U.S. by aeroplane, travellers arriving in the U.S. by cruise ship will not need a negative result on a COVID-19 test to enter the country.

In other words, if you cruise out of a U.S. port such as PortMiami to such international ports as Cozumel in Mexico or Nassau, in the Bahamas, you won’t need a COVID-19 test before disembarking at the end of the voyage.

But that doesn’t mean cruisers won’t have to take any COVID-19 tests in connection with such a sailing.

In keeping with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, cruise lines operating out of U.S. ports currently are requiring passengers to test negative for COVID-19 before boarding ships. Passengers typically have to test negative for COVID-19 within two or three days of arriving at a ship.

What kind of COVID-19 test will I need to fly home from an overseas cruise?

Travellers entering the U.K. by aeroplane can show a negative result from either an negative later flow or PCR test for COVID-19. This is regardless of vaccination status. The tests must be taken no more than 48 hours prior to departure.

Most cruise lines have been offering onboard COVID-19 tests to passengers in such situations either for free or for a modest fee in the day or two before the end of sailing. This means that cruisers typically have been able to walk off ships at the end of overseas sailings with the paperwork they need to fly home to the U.K. that same day.

In addition to pre-travel requirements, you will also need to take a day 2 PCR test and isolate until you receive a negative result.

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Featured image courtesy of Royal Caribbean.

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