The new testing rules for UK arrivals, explained

Jan 6, 2022

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This article has been updated.

From Friday 7 January people entering England will no longer have to prove they are free of COVID-19 before they set off.

Instead, they will have to provide a negative PCR test upon arrival. Then, from 9 January, that rule will change again, meaning you will only have to provide a negative lateral flow test instead of a PCR.

The new rules come into play as British health authorities acknowledge that omicron is now the dominant variant in the country, rendering previous measures to hamper its entry into Britain redundant.

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In an effort to slow down the spread the U.K. had built several legislative travel firewalls to slow the virus’ progress, including mandatory pre-departure testing. But on Wednesday, after figures revealed that one in 25 people in England had the virus before Christmas, ministers relaxed the rules.

Here are your questions answered:

Do I need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test before travelling to the U.K.?

No. Previously, anyone aged 12 and above travelling to the U.K. was required to show a negative test taken up to two days before departure. 

But as of 4 a.m. on Friday 7 January, fully vaccinated travellers and under-18s will no longer have to take a pre-departure test before returning to England. 

From Sunday 9 January you will only be required to take a lateral flow Day 2 test, opposed to the more expensive PCR test previously. 

Are free NHS lateral flow tests accepted?

No. Free NHS tests are not allowed. Instead, you must buy one from a private test provider, which you will need to book before departure. 

Several companies, such as Qured or Randox sell at-home or mail-in COVID-19 tests. You can find a list of government-approved lateral flow tests here.

If the result is positive, you are required to then take a PCR test to confirm the result. If that also comes back positive, you will need to self-isolate for seven days, so long as you take two negative lateral flow tests taken 24 hours apart.

The government, however, have been keen to remind the British public that a lateral flow test is not valid for international travel outside the U.K., and that COVID-19 testing for international travel is not currently available on the NHS. If you’re travelling internationally you must use a private test provider that has self-declared that they meet the U.K. government minimum standards for commercial testing.

However, in all cases, it’s wise to be organised. While all of these services offer a quick turnaround, this could easily be affected by a surge in demand as the new testing rules come into force. Book your test as far in advance as you can to be safe, especially if you’re required to also book a video consultancy of the test.

Will I still need to isolate and take a PCR test?

You are only expected to self-isolate if your post-arrival lateral flow test result is positive. That is to say: You do not have to isolate while you wait for your lateral flow result. 

If your lateral flow result is positive, then you must self-isolate while you await the result of a PCR test.

What if I am not fully vaccinated?

Then the old rules currently still apply. If you are not fully vaccinated you will still be required to take both a Day 2 and a Day 8 test and you may also be required to quarantine for 10 days even if you test negative.

Following your Day 2 test, you must continue to quarantine regardless of whether or not you receive a negative result.

Once you have taken your Day 8 test you can leave quarantine on whichever is later: Day 10 of arrival in the U.K. or when you receive a negative Day 8 result. If your Day 8 test is positive you must quarantine for a further 10 days, with the Day 8 test being counted as Day Zero of your quarantine.

If you are entering the U.K. via a cruise ship you may be subject to slightly different testing requirements.

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. This should be booked after you have booked your Day 2 (and if unvaccinated, your Day 8 test) 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.

Being able to show proof of a full vaccine will make your travels a lot easier.

Depending upon the Day 2 testing service that you book you could be out of self-isolation within hours of your arrival in the U.K. if you have a full vaccination status.

If you are unvaccinated you will be required to quarantine for much longer, which could cause disruptions to your visit.


Additional reporting by Jordan Waller.

Featured image by Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

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