The UK’s complex rules for international travellers have changed significantly. Here are the key questions and answers.
What has happened?
The “red list” of countries from which hotel quarantine is mandatory for UK arrivals has been cut to zero from 4am on 1 November.
It is the latest change in a swathe of new regulations, mainly about “the jabbed and the jabbed-nots,” which have come into effect over the past four weeks.
The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said: “We are accelerating towards a future where travel continues to reopen safely and remains open for good, and today’s rule changes are good news for families, businesses and the travel sector.
“Our priority remains to protect public health but, with more than eight in 10 people now fully vaccinated, we are able to take these steps to lower the cost of testing and help the sector to continue in its recovery.”
For travellers treated as fully vaccinated, the testing regime for arrivals to all four UK nations has become easier – with the “test to fly” dropped. The same applies for under-18s arriving from 92 countries whose vaccinations are recognised by the UK.
But for travellers regarded as unvaccinated (including non-British under-18s arriving from unrecognised nations), the changes are either neutral or negative.
Do we still have traffic lights?
Officially, no: the UK’s “traffic light” system that has applied since May 2021 has been ditched. But in practice a red/amber/green scheme is in place.
The line-up is:
- Red: it still exists, with hotel rooms on standby, in case new variants of concern arise. But the last seven countries, including Colombia, Peru and the Dominican Republic, were removed at the start of November.
- Amber: all nations except Ireland.
- Green: lreland, which retains its special status with neither quarantine nor testing required on arrival in the UK.
These rules are purely for travel to the UK. Some destinations, including Australia and New Zealand, remain closed to British visitors, while many others have testing requirements – which often apply only to unvaccinated travellers.
What has changed for fully vaccinated travellers?
The former requirement for a test before travel to the UK has been dropped. Travellers are still obliged to book and pay in advance for a “day two” test – which can be taken on the day of return or either of the two following days. It can be a cheap, quick lateral flow test, except in Northern Ireland where it must be a PCR.
What counts as fully vaccinated?
Having waited two weeks after completing a course of a vaccine in the UK, the European Union, the US or one of around 100 other countries, including Australia, Canada, India, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Switzerland and the UAE.
For the purposes of vaccinations received abroad, the government recognises Pfizer BioNTech, Oxford AstraZeneca, Moderna and Janssen (J&J).
Those jabbed with two different doses of these vaccines – for example, a person with one dose of Oxford AstraZeneca and one dose of Moderna – will be regarded as fully vaccinated.
What is the status of people vaccinated in other nations?
They are regarded by the UK as unvaccinated and must follow the rules for such travellers.
The decision by the government not to recognise jabs administered in more than 100 other countries has caused fury for people who want to travel to Britain.
What about under-18s?
If they normally reside in the UK then they are treated as fully vaccinated. If they do not live in the UK, they are treated as fully vaccinated only if they normally reside in one of the countries whose vaccines have been recognised by the British government.
So, for example, under-18s who live in France will be treated as fully vaccinated, but British children who live with expatriate families in Iran would not.
They must follow the rules for unvaccinated travellers. This means: a test before travel (not for under-11s), a “day two” and “day eight” PCR test (not for under 5s) and self-isolation for 10 days on arrival in the UK.
What happens to unvaccinated travellers to the UK?
Life for unjabbed arrivals – or those whose vaccinations are not recognised by Britain – is tougher than it has been since international travel was unlocked in May 2021. Multiple tests and self-isolation are obligatory even if you are coming in from one of the 41 former “green list” countries, such as Croatia, Germany or Canada.
Previously unjabbed arrivals from green nations were not required to quarantine and needed only to take a test before travel to the UK and a “day two” PCR test.
Now they must also self-isolate for 10 days, and take a second PCR test on day eight.
In England they have the option to pay for yet another test, on day five, to be released from quarantine if it is negative.
Any other business?
Travel to the European Union has been eased with the long-promised integration of NHS jabs and the EU digital Covid certificate is completed.
The government says: “We will look to set out a further review for the UK’s international travel policy early in the new year to provide further certainty for the spring and summer 2022 seasons.”
I asked the Department for Transport to clarify whether “early the new year” was the first week of January or the first month; officials declined to say.
What do you think about the changes?
The UK system remains fraught with complication, cost and uncertainty. Much more needs to change we can be said to have a coherent and effective set of rules governing international travel.
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