International travel has changed significantly from what we were used to pre-pandemic, and as countries are restarting international travel there’s a lot more planning, paperwork and patience you need to organise.
While we will always defer to official government guidance for details on what you should or should not do when travelling internationally, here are 5 things you now need to know if you’re planning on travelling overseas.
Check your country of departure’s travel restrictions
The first thing you need to check is that your own country will allow you to travel overseas.
Many countries restricted international travel in the wake of the pandemic, prohibiting their own citizens and residents from travelling overseas without a ‘good reason’.
The UK Government issued an international travel ban in early 2021, effectively making it illegal to travel abroad unless for a limited number of specific reasons. While his travel ban has now been eased somewhat, the UK Government is still advising against all but essential travel to amber and red list countries (see below).
Australia has similar bans in place for its own citizens, prohibiting overseas travel unless for one of a limited number of exceptional reasons.
So make sure you check with your own government’s international travel advice and restrictions before making travel plans so that you’re clear you can actually leave the country for your intended purpose.
Check your destination country’s travel restrictions (including any layovers)
You’ll also need to check the travel restrictions in place at your destination, including any restrictions in place for a country where you have a layover. This will tell you what restrictions you need to follow upon arrival, and if you’ll actually be allowed to enter the country at all.
For example, the UK operates a ‘traffic light system’ for international arrivals, with different entry requirements depending upon which country you’ve traveled from (and transited through):
- ‘Green list’ countries are deemed to be the safest and have the least number of travel restrictions but still include testing upon arrival.
- ‘Amber list’ countries have more stringent requirements, including periods of mandatory self-isolation at home and testing upon arrival.
- ‘Red list’ countries have the greatest number of restrictions, with a mandatory period in hotel quarantine required upon arrival, as well as testing.
To add to the complexity, the rules differ depending upon whether you arrive in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, so make sure to check the correct information.
It’s hugely important to remember that transiting through a third country on your way to the UK impacts what you need to do upon arrival. In fact, if you’ve spent any time in a third country within 10 days of travelling to the UK, that will impact you.
For example, if you travel to the UK from a ‘green list’ country but have a layover in an ‘amber list’ country, you need to follow the arrival rules for an amber list country – regardless of whether you even left the airport.
Similarly, if you travelled to a ‘red list’ country, went back to a ‘green list’ country and then travelled to the UK 3 days later, you need to follow the ‘red list’ country restrictions.
Meanwhile, the US has ‘travel bans’ in place from a number of countries where all travel is prohibited, save for a limited number of exceptional reasons. So if you attempted to travel to the US from a country on the travel ban list you would likely be denied boarding to your plane or ship and would certainly be denied entry at the border.
So make sure you’re doing at least two travel restriction checks before you decide to travel – one for your country of departure and one for your destination – and also check the restrictions for any countries where you’ll have a layover or where you’ve been recently. This can all impact what restrictions you’ll face upon arrival at your destination.
Check the COVID-19 test requirements
It’s likely you’ll need to take at least two COVID-19 tests when travelling internationally: one before you depart, and another upon arrival. You may even need to take a third or fourth test, depending upon the restrictions in place for your countries of departure and arrival.
You may still need to take a COVID-19 test even if you’re fully vaccinated.
There are a number of different COVID-19 tests, of which the ‘gold standard’ is a laboratory-processed PCR test. However, some countries will accept the results from a lower standard rapid antigen test, which can be significantly cheaper.
Travellers to and from the UK cannot use a free NHS PCR test to meet the COVID-19 testing requirements, it must be from a private laboratory.
If you’re in the UK, you can purchase PCR tests from our testing partner Agilis Health, who will provide you with a result within 48 hours. Agilis Health PCR tests are fully compliant with all international requirements and can be used both prior to departure from the UK and upon arrival back in the country.
You’ll typically need a negative COVID-19 test result dated within 72 hours of departure to be able to travel, however there are very different rules for testing upon arrival depending upon where you travel to. Some countries require testing at the airport (e.g. Dubai), others require testing at home (travel from a ‘green list’ country to the UK) while some require periods of mandatory quarantine in government-approved facilities along with testing (e.g. Hong Kong).
Do make sure you check what COVID-19 tests you need before travel, as well as ensuring that the tests you’re taking are the right kind and are within date. And do this even if you’re fully vaccinated.
Check what proof of vaccination you need to show
If you’ve been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 it may open up new travel options to you.
A number of countries are fully open to vaccinated travellers, such as Barbados, Croatia, Iceland and the Seychelles. You may or may not still need to take a COVID-19 test to travel so make sure you check with your destination for the full requirements.
The EU is due to re-open to travellers with ‘approved COVID-19 vaccines’ and some Member States (like Austria) are also waiving the testing requirement entirely for fully vaccinated travellers. Meanwhile, Spain is understood to be allowing travellers who’ve had the Russian Sputnik 5 vaccine to enter the country despite the jab not yet being approved by the European Medical Agency regulator.
Within the EU itself, the Digital Green Certificate app will be launched in June that allows citizens and residents to show their vaccination, test or COVID-19 antibody status. The app will be used to show an individual’s COVID-19 status digitally in any other Member State.
While the Digital Green Certificate isn’t available to non-EU travellers, comparable digital health certificates may be used instead. It’s highly likely the UK’s NHS app – which now contains COVID-19 status information – will be accepted by the EU, however there is still no official confirmation.
Proving your vaccination status is likely to get easier over time, however initially it’ll be a complicated mix of paper-based certificates and digital apps, so this is one area you’ll need to be thoroughly prepared for before you travel.
Complete your Passenger Locator Form
It’s virtually certain that before you travel you’ll also need to fill out another piece of paperwork: a passenger locator form. This form helps local contact tracers get hold of you if someone you travelled with falls ill with COVID-19.
You’ll need to complete the passenger locator form for your destination country and do this before you arrive at the airport to avoid any issues. Travellers from the UK arriving at ports of departure without a completed passenger locator form risk being fined up to £5,000, so it’s essential you complete this for every member of your travel party before you set off.
So there are the 5 things you need to know about safely restarting international travel. The system is a complex minefield right now with many moving parts, but if you take time to check the basics around your countries of departure, arrival and any layovers, you’ll be well prepared. And as always, only ever use official government advice – the consequences of getting something wrong could have serious financial, health and travel consequences.