Hotel quarantine, 3 COVID-19 tests and more: Everything you need to know about travelling to the UK

Feb 18, 2021

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As of 15 February, travelling to the U.K. looks very different. All travellers arriving in the country from abroad are now required to have a negative COVID-19 test result, quarantine for 10 days and take two COVID-19 tests on days two and eight of their quarantine. Additionally, all travellers arriving in England from a travel ban country must pay for a 10-day quarantine at a government-approved hotel.

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Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the U.K. has largely been one of the countries with the laxest entry requirements. The country had never banned travel through its borders and it never required a negative test result. Instead, it implemented a quarantine programme — but only for travellers coming from select, high-risk countries.

Now, however, the U.K. has a list of 33 countries from where travel is banned. That list includes all of South America as well as Portugal, the United Arab Emirates and more. In all cases, the ban was made in order to reduce the chances of importing new, more contagious strains of COVID-19. The travel ban applies to people who have been in or transited any of the countries in the past 10 days. It does not, however, apply to British and Irish nationals or third-country nationals with residence rights in the U.K. They can still enter the country, but they must undergo a 10-day quarantine in a government-approved hotel.

Related: UK bans arrivals from South America and Portugal

While all travellers arriving in the U.K. still need to complete a passenger locator form before arriving in the country, there are some new rules, introduced in the past few weeks. Here’s what you need to know if you plan to travel to the U.K. (Note that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland largely have their own restrictions. Scotland, for example, requires all travellers entering the country from an international destination to undergo their quarantine in a hotel, rather than only travellers arriving from travel ban countries.)

Pre-departure COVID-19 testing

All arrivals into the U.K. are required to have proof of a negative COVID-19 test in order to board their plane. The test must be taken up to three days before departure. Failure to comply with the pre-departure testing requirement may result in denied boarding and a fine of £500 at the border.

Related: England requires all travellers coming from abroad have a negative COVID-19 test result

The test must be either a nucleic acid test, a PCR test or a derivative technology, including loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) tests. Additionally, an antigen test, such as from a lateral flow device, will be accepted. Your test result must include your name, birth date, test result, the date the sample was collected or received by the provider, the name of the test provider and the name of the test device.

There are some exemptions to the new pre-departure testing requirement. At this time, that includes some workers, children under 11, those travelling for certain medical reasons, airline crews and some others.

Travellers entering England from Ireland, the Falkland Islands, Ascension Islands and St Helena are permanently exempt from the pre-departure test requirement. You also will not need a test if you are arriving in England from Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Isle of Man, Jersey or Guernsey. You will, however, still need to have a negative COVID-19 test result even if you’re already vaccinated.

(Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images)

Mandatory 10-day self-isolation

All incoming travellers are required to undergo a 10-day quarantine. But where they have to undergo their quarantine depends on where they came from and falls into one of two categories: at home or in a hotel.

At home

All arrivals from non-travel ban countries can undergo their 10-day quarantine at home. You must not have passed through a travel ban country in the past 10 days. You will be required to order a COVID-19 test kit prior to travel and take two tests on days two and eight of your quarantine.

Keep in mind that it’s possible to test out of a full 10-day quarantine in England using the Test to Release scheme. After you arrive in the country, you are required to quarantine for five days. After five days of quarantine, you can elect to pay for a private COVID-19 test through a government-approved provider. If the result comes back negative, you can forgo the remainder of your quarantine period. However, you still must take two additional COVID-19 tests on days two and eight of being back in the country (more on that below).

At a government-approved hotel

If you arrive in England from one of 33 travel ban countries, you must undergo your 10-day quarantine in a government-approved hotel. Travellers who were in one of the following 33 countries in the past 10 days are required to undergo hotel quarantine:

Angola, Argentina, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Burundi, Cape Verde, Chile, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador, Eswatini, French Guiana, Guyana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal (including Madeira and the Azores), Rwanda, Seychelles, South Africa, Suriname, Tanzania, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, Venezuela, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Related: All 33 countries that are on the UK’s travel ban list

The hotel quarantine costs £1,750 for one adult. The package includes 10 full days (11 nights) of accommodation at the hotel, as well as food and beverages (breakfast, lunch, evening meal and hotel and cold drinks), transfers to and from the airport, security while at the hotel and two COVID-19 tests that you’ll need to take on days two and eight of your quarantine.

If two adults are sharing the same room, there’s an additional charge of £650 — a total of £2,400 for two people for the quarantine. Additionally, if there is a child aged between 5 and 12 years old, there’s a charge of £325 for the full quarantine. Children younger than 5 are not charged for the hotel quarantine and are not required to take COVID-19 tests during quarantine.

Related: How do I book my hotel quarantine stay?

You must book your hotel quarantine package prior to departing for England. Additionally, you must arrive at one of five airports in England, where the government has contracted hotels in the surrounding area to host quarantined guests:

  • London Heathrow Airport
  • London Gatwick Airport
  • London City Airport
  • Birmingham Airport
  • Farnborough Airport

COVID-19 test during quarantine

As of 15 February, all arrivals are required to take two tests whilst in their 10-day quarantine — regardless if the quarantine is at home or at a hotel.

Related: Government details stricter quarantine measures, hotel quarantine to cost £1,750

If you’re required to quarantine in a hotel, the two additional tests are included in the price of your hotel package. You’ll self-administer the tests in your room.

If you’re quarantining at home, you are required to order the kit of two COVID-19 tests through a government portal prior to your scheduled departure. The kit costs £210 and will be shipped to the location of your quarantine. You will then self-administer the tests on days two and eight of quarantine.

Regardless if you’re quarantining at home or at a hotel, if either of your tests returns a positive result, you’ll have to quarantine for an additional 10 days from the date the test was administered. If you need to extend your stay in a quarantine hotel because of a positive test result, you will need to pay extra at the following rates:

  • £152 per day for one adult in one room;
  • £41 per day for the second adult;
  • £12 per day for a child aged between 5 and 12.

What happens if I don’t follow the rules?

The changes that have been implemented since January 2021 have represented a massive change to the way passengers are able to travel to the U.K. All passengers must arrive with a negative COVID-19 test result in addition to quarantining for a full 10-day period, taking two COVID-19 tests whilst in quarantine and potentially having to quarantine in a hotel.

Because of the drastic rule changes, the government is ramping up its efforts to punish those who try to bypass restrictions. Most drastically, if the government finds out that you lied about your whereabouts on your passenger locator form, you could be charged with up to 10 years in prison and up to a £10,000 fine.

If you arrive in England from a travel ban country and don’t have a quarantine package booked, you may be subject to a £4,000 fine — and then pay the cost of the quarantine hotel package on top of that.

During the week of hotel quarantine launch, the government said that it had fined four travellers £10,000 in Birmingham who arrived from a travel ban country without hotel quarantine packages booked.

The move to remove travel corridors and require pre-departure testing before arriving into England will further strain the already-struggling aviation and travel industries. In addition to the new restrictions, which will discourage tourism, England is still under its third national lockdown. As such, all non-essential travel is off the cards.

In 2020, about 1.8 billion travellers took to the skies, compared to the 4.5 billion that flew in 2019.

Featured photo by Hollie Adams/Getty Images.

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