The Independent’s travel correspondent is normally to be found scanning the horizon from the bridge of a close friend’s superyacht. But he put the binoculars down for long enough to tackle your urgent travel questions.
Red list ruminations
Q: I’m a British citizen, double vaccinated with Pfizer, and about to relocate from Ecuador – which is a red list country – to England. I have four linked questions.
1 Is this status likely to change in the next few weeks?
2 Am I allowed to fly from Ecuador to Spain and stay there for 10 days before going to the UK?
3 Would I still have to quarantine in the UK or could I just enter as normal?
4 Would I still need to do a PCR/lateral flow test to travel from Spain to London?
A: I am envious that you have been living in Ecuador – one of my absolute favourite Latin American countries, which is saying a lot since I am very fond of them all.
1 There is a reasonable chance that Ecuador will be among the nations taken off the UK’s red list this coming Thursday, along with some other Latin American nations, so don’t make any plans until then.
2 If it stays on red, then Spain is a great place to launder your red list status for 10 full days to avoid going into hotel quarantine. Your vaccination will be recognised for the purposes of entry to Spain. You can travel wherever you wish in the country; personally I would take up residence in Malaga, a glorious city in the deep south, with loads of flights onwards to Britain.
3 Unfortunately if things stay as they are, your Ecuador jabs will not be recognised by the UK. Unless that changes, you will still need to go into 10 days of self-isolation at home, which you can reduce to five days if you take a test to release – along with a lateral-flow test to travel from Spain to the UK, and a day two and day eight PCR test.
As I have said many times during this crisis, I do not make the UK rules – I merely report them.
Q: With the old traffic light system, I stayed away from amber list countries as they risk going red at short notice; under the new system how will we know if a country is at risk of going on the ‘no-go’ list?
Philip Uk 70
A: We still have a traffic light system. At one extreme, the red list, comprising 54 countries from which 11 nights of hotel quarantine is required. At the other, green list permanent member, Ireland, with no testing or quarantine requirements. In the middle, amber, with everyone else.
But the bulging red list nation is so absurdly long that I don’t see the government adding to it. So I would book with confidence.
Q: Any thoughts on countries that will come off the red list at the end of the week? And for the countries that hopefully do, do you think it will it be in time for the half-term break?
“Perry Loves Eys”
A: South Africa is a cert to leave the red list, as well as many of the 20 or so other African nations who are completely pointlessly in the punitive category.
I am expecting some “crowd-pleasers” such as Thailand and the Seychelles, and for some Latin American countries to be removed. Briefings to the Sunday Telegraph from government suggest as few as nine will remain – which would represent a five-sixths decline.
The trouble is, that ministers will probably want to come up with a plausible reason for demolishing most of the red list rather than just saying, as Ireland did last week, “the red list is no good at all and we’re tearing it up”.
Q: How optimistic do you think we can be about the ending of red listing of Argentina, Chile etc this week/soon? If Brazil looks a hopeful, could we presume that Argentina could be a strong possibility for the same treatment?
A: South America was bundled in its entirety as a founder member of the red list, because of problems in Brazil, and it appears that the UK still regards it as a collection of distant lands of which we know little rather than a fascinating mosaic of distinctive and fascinating nations with different risk profiles. Argentina and Brazil are near certainties, Chile less so.
Q: I am currently in France after having travelled from South Africa. If , as is expected, South Africa is removed from the red list on Thursday 7 October, does this mean I can go back to the UK immediately without completing my 10 days away or is there likely to be a later effective date?
A: Almost certainly not, unless the Department for Transport (which handles the red list of perceived high-risk countries) radically changes its procedures. Normally around five days elapse after the announcement from the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, before the measure takes effect. So I am looking at 4am Tuesday 12 October, plus or minus a day, for the red list removals to take effect.
Arrive at a UK port of entry before then, and you will need to declare on your passenger locator form that you were recently in South Africa, and will placed in 11 nights of hotel quarantine at your expense. And unlike Ireland’s decision to open the quarantine hotels and let everyone out 10 days ago, there is almost no chance that the UK will do the same.
Q: Any insider info on which countries will remain on the red list (and by when changes will take effect)? Due to arrive at London Heathrow from the Seychelles on 15 November on Qatar Airways but have booked a British Airways flight on a separate ticket to fly directly to mainland Europe to sit out the 10 days. I would stay airside at LHR and hope that the airline will still let me board the flight to Heathrow without a red list hotel reservation. I really hope I won’t have to go through with all of that!
A: The Seychelles are almost certain to be off the red list by mid-November; if they don’t exit on 7 October it will probably be 28 November. But if I am wrong then as long as you stay airside at Heathrow there is no problem changing planes.
Q: We are due to travel to Jamaica at the end of October but FCDO advice is currently advising against all but essential travel. Do you think this advice will be lifted before then as it seems to make nonsense of them being on the amber list? Thanks
A: Nonsense, indeed. It will probably be fine, otherwise source travel insurance that includes cover for travel against Foreign Office advice.
Q: Before this week, with the “traffic light” system in place, I felt we were in a little more in control of being sure a country won’t turn red during those three weeks. We are looking to travel to the Maldives at the end of October for a week.
Is it likely the Maldives may turn red by then? If it is, do you have any other suggested countries you could advise on visiting from 28 October to 5 November for winter sun?
A: There is no chance that the Maldives will return to the red list before or during your holiday. It was removed from the government’s highest-risk category – requiring 11 nights hotel quarantine for arrivals to the UK – only three weeks ago, and I have seen nothing to suggest it could be readmitted to the club no nation wishes to belong to. Over the past fortnight there has been a slow but steady decline in the number of new cases, and the current infection rate is just 40 per cent of the overall rate in the UK.
Indeed I think it is unlikely that any more countries will be added. While there are concerns about coronavirus cases some nations – Serbia, Grenada and Mongolia have high rates, and Barbados is rising steeply – I think that because the UK has far higher rates than any other major European country, the relative risk is reasonably small.
However, I can suggest a million places I would rather be at that time of the year. Crete, Malta and southern Spain will be mostly sunny and warm. And as you plan to travel out at the very end of October you will avoid the half-term crowds.
For maximum guaranteed sun, and the world’s greatest archaeological wonders, take advantage of Egypt having just left the red list. It is half the flying time to the Maldives, and 100 times more interesting, in my opinion.
Q: Ireland has abolished its red list, but is in a Common Travel Area (CTA) with the UK which still has a red list. Surely if two governments want to have a CTA their red lists must be the same, otherwise what’s to stop someone flying into one and crossing over to the other without checks? Also, will Indonesia get off the red list, and why won’t the UK recognise my two AstraZeneca jabs that I had in Indonesia?
A: You are expected to obey the rules and of course I urge every traveller to do so. But I imagine some people have taken advantage of the border-free CTA to evade the law.
I give Indonesia 50:50 this time around, but if that doesn’t happen then the next round of changes on 28 October will probably bring good news. I have no idea how long the UK will keep its policy of “most foreign jabs aren’t good enough for us”.
Q: I am planning to go to Pakistan in the last week of December, returning in late January. Should I worry about it going on the red list?
A: Red lists are history for much of the world, with the Delta variant all conquering, and in your position I would have no fear.
Q: We are booked for Las Vegas in February. Will they be accepting the Indian made Astra Zeneca Jab?
A: Going upper case, to say THERE IS NO PROBLEM FOR BRITISH TRAVELLERS WHO HAVE HAD THE INDIAN-MADE AZ jab.
In particular the US welcomes people with any World Health Organisation-recognised jab.
For 36 hours in May Malta denied access to Brits with some AstraZeneca batch numbers, but I have heard of zero additional problems. There are quite enough real issues to worry about, without the Internet stoking anxieties that need not exist.
Q: I’m a British citizen, currently in Jordan, where I was given two doses of Sinopharm, which is approved by the World Health Organisation since May 2021. Why the new travel rules treat Britons abroad who received that vaccine as unvaccinated? Will the UK government consider adding Sinopharm to the list of approved vaccines?
A: “UK exceptionalism” has permeated every aspect of travel during the coronavirus pandemic. The government won’t even recognise Pfizer BioNTech jabs administered in Turkey as acceptable for avoiding quarantine on arrival in the UK, even though the scientist who developed the vaccine is Turkish.
So I fear a Chinese vaccine administered in Jordan will be equally unwelcome. Sorry.
Q: I’m double jabbed. I will be in Spain between 11 and 27 October. The need for a day two PCR test is likely to be dropped and replaced during this time. However, I still need to book and prepay before leaving or whilst away as the code is needed for the return leg passenger locator form. I’m planning to use the airport based testing centre on my return to East Midlands. How do I deal with this change?
A: With just 25 days remaining in October, we still don’t know from which one the day two PCR test will be replaced with a cheaper lateral flow test. So please just wait.
I am going to upper case again to broadcast as widely as possible my appeal. PLEASE DO NOT BOOK TRAVEL TESTS IN ADVANCE. There is no upside and only a potential downside, as British visitors to Turkey found this week when they learnt late on Friday that they no longer needed PCR tests to visit.
My ferry from Hook of Holland to Harwich on Sunday night left at 10pm; I booked a test at 8.30pm and completed my passenger locator form.
I applaud you for taking the test on arrival at East Midlands airport – it maximises any benefit. Trust me, the company will be delighted to take your booking at any time.
Ski Some Day
Q: We’re thinking about skiing in Europe this January: France, Austria or Italy. No one can predict the future but, based on experience to date, which of the Alpine nations might be expected to be the least hassle to visit?
A: Going in January? Assuming you’re not planning to be there at the very start of the month (in which case accommodation could be an issue), then just wait until late December and book once you know how the rules are looking – and also what the snow conditions are. Personally I’d be in the fabulous Val d’Aran in the Spanish Pyrenees.
Q: I am due to travel to Australia through Hong Kong in November, but obviously UK residents have to quarantine, which were not prepared to do. The flights are still going ahead as scheduled - what are my rights to a refund as a UK resident who can’t get into the countries please?
A: Sorry to hear about your situation – and I am intrigued about when and also why you booked such flights? Presumably a great deal was available and things looked optimistic.
Scott Morrison, Australia’s prime minister, reiterated today that the nation will not be open to foreigners before next year.
Unfortunately the airline can probably say, “The flights are going ahead and the fact you can’t catch them isn’t our problem”. You have no legal right to a refund, but you might get a voucher for future travel.
Q: Have you got advice on how 12-15 year olds from the UK can prove they have recovered from Coronavirus (accepted by Greece for entry) or have had one dose of vaccine (accepted by Italy for its green pass)?
The UK Covid pass is only issued to those 16 years and over because the government says it isn’t required domestically. However when travelling in Europe it would make life much easier for 12-15s as the European equivalent is issued for teenagers.
Our teenagers may need to take multiple lateral flow tests just because they can’t officially prove their status.
A: The UK government has demonstrated time and again that it isn’t really interested in British families going on holiday abroad. Add in the separation created by Brexit, which leaves the UK outside the excellent EU digital Covid certificate, and I am afraid it is an expensive mess.
You might wish to express your frustration to your MP.
Q: I’m a British citizen but live in Portugal and recently was in hospital. I had Covid and I now have an EU digital certificate/QR code of natural recovery/immunity and expires in February.
Do you know if they are allowing people in the same situation as me entry without quarantine into the UK?
A: Jake, I care that you have had Covid, and I hope you are doing well. Unfortunately the UK government doesn’t care, or at least the fact that you have more Covid antibodies than the average person makes no difference. If you haven’t been fully jabbed, you’re in self-isolation.
Q: We have a flight booked for US on 12 November. Do you think as double-jabbed passengers we might actually make it to see our grandchildren and if we need to show a lateral flow, can i use the ones I use for my hospital job and register with gov.uk?
A: Sorry, still no news from Washington DC about which date in November the UK might open. You will need to obtain a private test, not an NHS one.
Q: We are going to the US at Christmas, me and dad are both vaccinated, my 12-year-old daughter isn’t, will she be allowed to travel?
A: Almost certainly. We don’t know exactly when the US will allow British travellers back in, but the last possible date – according to the most recent White House assertion – is 30 November, meaning that your December trip should be fine.
We don’t know for certain the vaccination rules, but if current US regulations (as presently used for 150 or so countries ) continue, then all UK vaccines will be recognised – and, I believe, under 18s travelling with vaccinated adults will be allowed in with only a test.
Q: Myself and my wife are travelling from the UK to the US on 20 December to 27 December. Can you confirm if any Covid tests are required before departure and how to show proof of vaccination to the US as we are both fully vaccinated, as well as any COVID tests upon return?
A: Likely to be a lateral flow test before departure, and NHS vaccine pass on arrival. Full details not yet available.
Q: Currently the Foreign Office states that you cannot use the NHS Covid passport to gain entry to Portugal. The easyJet website might state that NHS Covid passport is valid, but isn’t overly clear. Can you confirm please?
A: Portugal is the worst of all leading European nations in explaining what the rules are, but until you hear differently from me assume a lateral flow test is needed with 48 hours of arrival in mainland Portugal.
Q: Currently the Foreign Office states that you cannot use the NHS Covid passport to gain entry to Portugal. You must either test or have an EU digital Covid certificate, I had heard that discussions were ongoing between Europe and the UK with a view to accepting the NHS Covid app, negating the need for testing, any idea when this may be?
A: ”Discussions are continuing” is the official line. But since we have known all about the EU digital Covid certificate since March this year, the progress is, to say it least, disappointing.
Brexit has had some unpredictable consequences.
Q: I am travelling to Paris in November. I am double vaccinated and have the NHS App. Looking at the government advice I cannot work out if i need to apply to convert this or if it will work automatically with the QR code? I have seen some websites that say you have to apply in advance to get it converted.
Also there is a form to complete ahead of travel, a declaration of such but it does not show where to send this. do you simply complete it and present it at the border? I am a UK citizen and will be travelling on the Eurostar.
A: How lovely to be going to Paris – which, In November, is quiet and mistily atmospheric. Complete the “déclaration sur l’honneur” before travel to France, take it with you in case anyone asks, and download the TousAntiCovid app which works well with the NHS QR code.
Q: We are planning to travel to Belize in December with our kids for the Christmas holidays. Belize currently requires a PCR test 96 hours before or a rapid antigen 48 hours before. The flight has a long layover in the US which makes the journey around 28 hours all together. What does the 48 hours prior refers to – prior to departure (of first or second flight) or arrival in Belize? And would you recommend Belize for the holidays?
A: Belize is a tiny old fragment of empire (formerly known as British Honduras) and superb family destination, especially at Christmas. On the coast you can find reasonably idyllic beaches with excellent snorkelling options. Inland, the jungle is punctuated by a dozen sets of Mayan ruins, most significantly Caracol – which makes for a great expedition into an amazing hinterland.
First, though, you need to get there. Countries’ stipulations in terms of timings can be infuriatingly vague – and Belize is no exception. You need to present a negative PCR test within 96 hours “prior to travel” or rapid antigen (lateral flow) within 48 hours of the same unclear deadline.
As you will be travelling through the US, and therefore will certainly need a negative lateral flow test, just get it done in the UK airport before you depart. You are almost certain to get to Belize within 48 hours – and just in case you don’t, my reading of the Belizean rules is that there is no need to get stressed at all.
Belize kindly says: “If you are unable to take a test prior to travel, you must take a test on arrival at your own expense for US$50 [£37] per passenger.” So you will be let in, you might just need to spend a bit more cash and time.
Q: I have a P & O cruise booked for the Caribbean at Christmas. Do you think this will still go ahead?
A: Yes, but I would be cautious about getting too excited about it. The more destinations on a trip, the more possibilities for sudden changes. Sorry I can’t be more optimistic.
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