The rugged north coast of Madeira
The rugged north coast of Madeira

What do travellers need to do before going on holiday this summer?

Going on holiday is no longer a case of turning up at the airport

Cathy Adams
Thursday 27 May 2021 14:38
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Holidays abroad became legal again from England on 17 May, with many sun-starved travellers heading off to destinations on the government’s slender “green list”.

This list of 12 “safe” countries, a random assortment of places around the world including Gibraltar, Israel and Australia, requires visitors to present a negative test before departure back to the UK and one post-arrival PCR test, with no self-isolation necessary (provided the second test is negative). However, whether these nations will admit British visitors is another issue entirely, and there will be certain hurdles to jump for entry, including providing negative PCR tests or proof of vaccination.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are 43 countries currently on the “red list”, mandating hotel quarantine upon return to the UK, while the rest of the world is shuffled into the “amber” category, which requires 10 days of self-isolation in addition to testing. Holiday favourite Spain, which this week flung open its doors to British visitors with no restriction, is in this category.

On the green list, only Portugal (and its islands) is a mainstream summer holiday destination for Brits. To capitalise on a boom in demand, airlines and holiday companies have piled on more capacity to “green” Portugal, including its islands Madeira and Porto Santo in the Atlantic.

However, going on holiday is now no longer a case of booking a flight and turning up at the airport on time. There are multiple hoops to jump through before it’s wheels up.

Here’s what you need to know.

Check the entry requirements

Most countries have tight entry restrictions for British visitors, except for Spain.

Generally, holidaymakers will be expected to provide either proof of vaccination, proof of having recovered from Covid within a certain time frame or a negative PCR test taken typically within the three days before arrival. The latter rule is a common ask.

Travellers might also be required to fill in a health declaration certifying they haven’t got any Covid symptoms, or enter their details about travel and accommodation on a government website and app.

Madeira, for example, requires that all travellers who haven’t received two doses of a vaccine present a negative PCR test taken with 72 hours of travel and enter their details into the “Madeira Safe” website, which will create a QR code to present on arrival.

Equally, some countries may not be letting in British tourists full stop, such as Austria and Germany.

Entry restrictions for each country can be found on the UK’s Foreign Office (FCDO) website here.

Get a PCR test

If your holiday destination mandates a negative PCR test, sometimes called “Fit to Fly”, to be presented on arrival, this will typically need to be taken within 72 hours of arrival.

A PCR test will usually be turned around in 24 hours as samples are analysed by a lab, so make sure to factor this timing into your plans, especially if you are relying on an at-home test to be posted back.

The first port of call for an affordable test should be your airline or holiday company, which might offer discounted rates with a testing partner. For example, holiday firm Tui has partnered with Chronomics to offer bargain testing packages, while British Airways has partnered with Qured for its fliers.

There are also testing clinics at UK airports, such as Collinson at Gatwick (£82.50) and Cignpost Express Test at Heathrow (£59), although do bear in mind PCR tests aren’t instant and will require usually at least 24 hours to be processed.

High-street pharmacies now offer testing for travel. Boots charges £65 for an at-home test and £99 for an in-store test; Lloyds Pharmacy charges £119 for an at-home test and £150 in the clinic; and Superdrug’s in-store test will set you back £120. Both in-store and at-home tests will take at least 24 hours to process.

Note that testing for travel must be done through a private firm rather than the free NHS service, and be sure to check exactly what kind of test your destination requires. In some cases, only a PCR test administered by a professional will do; in others, a rapid antigen test might suffice.

Before travelling back to the UK

All UK-bound travellers need to organise a getting a Covid test (this can be lateral flow or antigen) while still in their destination - which must be negative in order for them to be allowed to travel back - and fill out a Passenger Locator Form (PLF), which will demand address and further booked Covid PCR tests before flying back to the UK.

In some cases, the lateral flow Covid test will be unsupervised, so travellers should make sure they understand how to do this.

Negative test results and PLFs will be checked by airline check-in staff, rather than at the border, so make sure you have internet access to show these to staff.

After arrival to the UK

Green arrivals must take a PCR test, called a “day 2 PCR” within two days of landing in the UK.

Amber arrivals must take a day two PCR as well as an identical test on day eight. They also must self-isolate for 10 days.

Red arrivals must have pre-booked an 11-night quarantine hotel package, which will include transfer from the airport to the hotel, two PCR tests, and full board.

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