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We might all be sick of Zoom meetings, long walks in the park and social distancing, but at least the rules surrounding those recent necessities in our lives are relatively straightforward when compared to the regulations around travel in 2021. We haven’t got all the answers, but here’s a guide to some of the basics you need to know before planning your next holiday from the UK.
Jumping on a plane and jetting off to somewhere wonderful used to be so easy. All you had to do was pack your passport, bring your ticket and get to the airport on time. Now in order to board an aircraft, it’s a lot more complicated – with travellers needing specific Covid tests, certain types of insurance and even proof of vaccinations.
There is also a rapidly evolving set of green-list destinations that are approved for leisure travel, but countries on the amber list can still be reached if you’re willing to self-isolate on your return. Things get really complicated when you factor in the reciprocity situation of your desired destination – and certain countries may not let you in at all!
The English government has opted for a three-stage approach when it comes to international travel. All travel for leisure was banned until 17 May with a traffic light system subsequently being used to designate where we can go after that date. The initial set of countries on the green list might have been small, but at least it was a start.
Iceland and Portugal were the two main countries on the government’s initial safe list that people booked to travel to, but a lot of paperwork is still required – and now Portugal has been moved off that list to amber. Iceland requires you to have fully vaccinated status or proof of recovery from Covid-19 before you can enter. Unlike other countries, the authorities here will not accept the paper vaccination card as proof, so you will have to download the NHS app or have an official letter from the NHS.
Over in Portugal, you need proof of a negative RT-PCR Covid test taken no more than 72 hours before departure. However, in the most recent UK government update of June 3, the country has been downgraded to amber status.
Australia and New Zealand are also in the safe tier, which means that passengers wanting to go to either country don’t need to self-isolate on their return. However, this is irrelevant as both countries have a current ban on international travel and anyone planning on going to either will have to quarantine in a hotel for a lengthy period.
The key here, then, is to familiarise yourself with the specific entry requirements of each country as much as you familiarise yourself with your own government’s rules. You will still need to book and pay for Covid tests on your return to the UK wherever you fly to, but there’s more to do before you can go anywhere.
The RT-PCR test required for travel by airlines as well as destination countries are catching a number of holidaymakers out. It is crucial that the test, which costs upwards of £60, is booked and paid for privately and not part of the free tests the NHS offers. A number of companies are now offering this service.
Travel at home is somewhat easier to understand with the Government’s roadmap giving clear dates to follow. The rules apply to England; however, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are also following nearly all the key dates.
For rail journeys you simply need to keep your face mask on unless you have a medical exemption, and hotels, rental properties and guest houses are now fully open to visitors.
An interesting aside is the cruise industry, which began operating soon after restrictions were lifted in May. Like all voyages, the first major one on the MSC Virtuosa was restricted to 1,000 passengers and could not leave the shores off the British Isles. The four-day journey signalled a return to travel for the industry, however, and has shown that cruises can adapt to current circumstances.
Requirements for boarding a cruise include either a negative PCR test or proof of full vaccination status. You also need travel insurance that includes Covid cover and all passengers will be tested again before boarding the ship. Face masks are required indoors unless you’re dining, and sporadic temperature checks will also take place.
There is understandably a lot of new information to digest whether you’re travelling abroad or staycationing at home, but the most important thing to do is check what you need before departure.