All the new UK travel rules explained for arrivals and departures

Feb 11, 2022

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Editors note: This post has been updated to include newly announced rules for Wales and Northern Ireland.

As of today, 11 February, all double-jabbed travellers arriving into England won’t need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 result – and they won’t need to quarantine, either. There will also be some changes to the requirements for unvaccinated travellers too.

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The Scottish government has also confirmed it will adopt the new rule, as have Wales and Northern Ireland. The changes are being implemented just in time for the half-term holidays when thousands of British families will be heading abroad for some winter sun, and also come a day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed plans to end all self-isolation laws in England completely later this month.

“It is my intention to return on the first day after the half-term recess to present our strategy for living with COVID,” he said during PMQs. “Provided the current encouraging trends in the data continue, it is my expectation that we will be able to end the last domestic restrictions – including the legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive — a full month early.”

But what does that mean for you? Whether you’re arriving to, or departing from, the UK, here are the latest travel rules.

In This Post

Can Brits visit any country?

As of right now, Brits can’t just enter any country they want to.

While all countries in Europe, barring Russia, have opened up to UK travellers again of late, several places in Africa and Asia still have bans imposed on Brits (and other countries classed as ‘high risk’) from travelling there altogether — or currently impose a lengthy quarantine period on arrival, making travel difficult.

Every country has its own requirements for proving vaccination status and showing proof of a negative COVID-19 test result, even if Brits are allowed in. Some countries do require quarantine on arrival – either at your accommodation or in a government-run hotel — whether you are fully vaccinated or unvaccinated.

Related: What it is like to spend 10 days in New Zealand’s government-managed quarantine hotel

Many countries will also require you to fill out a country-specific travel declaration form, as well as have different entry requirements for children. Note: despite the relaxing of many borders around Europe, vaccination requirements differ from country to country, and indeed many British families have fallen afoul this year of young teens who haven’t had their booster.

Before travelling anywhere, it’s best to check the FCDO website for the entry requirements to your destination. Keep in mind that they can change quite quickly.

Will I need to take a test before travelling to another country?

It all depends on the country you want to visit.

Today’s rule change only applies to people arriving into the U.K. — it doesn’t necessarily apply to Brits flying out of the country.

Many places will still require you to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test on arrival. Some places will only require this if you have not had a full course of an approved COVID-19 vaccine — while others will expect all travellers to be tested.

Related: We put 6 rapid COVID-19 PCR services to the test: from cheap to speedy and high-priced

The best way to find out what you’ll need is to follow the FCDO’s guidance for your chosen destination.

Generally speaking, there are two types of tests that are commonly accepted: PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests and lateral flow (antigen) tests.

Whatever test you take, you’ll need proof of the result, usually in the form of a ‘Fit To Fly’ certificate — and you’ll need to pay out of pocket for the test, as free tests on the NHS aren’t accepted for travel purposes.

The government has a list of approved providers here.

Will I need to test before I return home to the UK?

No, as of 11 February, you won’t need to take a test to arrive back in the country.

However, this only applies if you’ve had a full course of an approved COVID-19 vaccine — and completed the course more than 14 days ago.

Approved vaccines include two doses of Pfizer, Moderna and Oxford AstraZeneca jabs, as well as one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The full list of approved vaccines is available on the government’s website. If you’re not fully vaccinated, you’ll need to have proof of a negative COVID-19 test result, taken within 2 days before you travel to the U.K. You will also be required to book a paid-for PCR test to take after you arrive.

These rules may differ slightly across the U.K. — so keep up to date with the latest entry requirements here: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Will I need to fill out a Passenger Locator Form (PLF) before I travel?

Everyone travelling to the U.K. must complete a PLF no later or earlier than two days before they arrive at their destination. This is regardless of your vaccine status and the latest rule change. There are, however, plans to simplify the form in February. 

This should be filled out after you have booked your Day 2 test if you are unvaccinated as you will be required to provide a unique code as proof that you have testing arranged.

The Passenger Locator form can be accessed here.

What happens if I test positive for COVID-19 on my return home?

If you’ve tested on arriving into the U.K., and you’re positive, you will need to self-isolate. Under the current rules that means at least 5 full days, and this applies to anyone with COVID-19 symptoms or with a positive PCR or lateral flow test result.

From day 5 of your isolation, if you are symptom-free, you can take a lateral flow test. If your result is negative 2 days in a row (such as on day 5 and day 6) then you’re allowed to end the self-isolation period, according to the latest government guidance.

However, if you’re displaying COVID-19 symptoms after 10 days of self-isolation, you should still isolate and seek medical advice by calling 111.

The current self-isolation rules are set to end on 24 March, but as mentioned above Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to scrap all self-isolation laws earlier than expected, at least in England, this month.

Can I enter the UK if I live outside of the country?

Yes. At the time of writing, there are no countries on the red lists for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But keep in mind that the red list can be updated at any time.

How do I prove my vaccination status?

In England and Wales, the easiest way to prove you’ve been fully jabbed is to download the NHS Covid Pass, which is accessible on the NHS app.

If you’d prefer not to have the app on your phone, the Pass is also available to download online via the NHS website. You can also apply for a physical letter to be posted to you, by visiting the NHS website or calling 119. Letters last for 30 days, while the COVID Pass on the app will last longer.

Scotland, meanwhile, has its own NHS Scotland Covid Status app. Those in Northern Ireland can apply for a COVID-19 travel certificate on NI Direct.

Beyond the U.K, the EU Digital COVID Certificate (EU DCC) is also widely accepted (including by the U.K) – while many other countries beyond Europe offer country-specific vaccine certificates as proof. Travellers coming to England from abroad can see if their vaccine certificate will be accepted on the government website.

How can I provide proof of COVID-19 recovery?

Some destinations may require travellers to prove whether or not they’ve recently had and recovered from COVID-19 – providing antibodies against the virus.

In that case, travellers from England and Wales can access their records via the NHS Covid Pass. Scotland’s app also does the same thing, while Northern Ireland offers a COVID-19 recovery certificate.

Additional reporting by Joe Ellison.

Featured image by by Leon Neal/Getty Images

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