What happens if I get Covid while I’m on holiday?

If the worst happens and you test positive while abroad, this is the best course of action

Lucy Thackray
Friday 03 September 2021 12:45 BST
A masked guide at Athens’ Acropolis
A masked guide at Athens’ Acropolis (AP)

As we tentatively begin to travel again, testing positive for Covid while abroad is an uncomfortable reality. But what should you do if it happens to you?

It goes without saying that individual rules and guidelines on which healthcare providers and authorities to notify vary from country to country.

But we’ve rounded up the official advice for UK travellers who develop Covid symptoms or produce a positive test while on holiday.

What should I do if I develop Covid symptoms while abroad?

If you develop the key symptoms associated with Covid-19 - a new, continuous cough, a high temperature, or a loss or change in your sense of smell or taste - you should:

  • Stay indoors and avoid contact with others.
  • Call your travel insurance company to discuss what to do.
  • Follow public health guidance in the country you are in, which usually includes contacting a local English-speaking doctor or clinic.
  • Seek out local public health guidance on self-isolation. If you do need to self-isolate, it must be in the country you are in, regardless of when your journey home is booked.

If you develop symptoms while at an airport, bus or train station before or during a long trip, you should not start (or continue) your trip, but seek medical advice as quickly as possible.

Specific advice for individual countries, including how to access local healthcare, is available on the Foreign Office website.

For example, if symptoms strike while in Spain, you must stay in your accommodation and phone a hotline specific to the region you are in. You should then contact an English-speaking doctor or clinic (you can ask your hotel, or the FCO website has recommendations) to assess your symptoms and advise you on getting a test locally.

In France, the government advises anyone with possible coronavirus symptoms to call 112. You should not go directly to the doctor or emergency services.

What if I test positive for Covid-19 while abroad?

Not everyone who has Covid-19 will develop noticeable symptoms.

If you test positive at any stage of your trip - either after one of the routine tests required for many destinations, or while testing because of symptoms - you will need to notify your travel insurance provider, seek local medical advice and follow that country’s rules on self-isolation.

“You may need to seek treatment where you are, and stay until you have recovered,” says the Foreign Office. “If local authorities tell you to quarantine, you should expect to do that where you are.”

For example, if you test positive in Greece, you must self-isolate for 10 days from the date of the positive test - regardless of when your onward travel or flight home is booked. You must also continue to self-isolate if you are still showing symptoms at the end of that time, until you have shown no symptoms for three days.

“Depending on the circumstances, you may be able to self-isolate in your current accommodation, or Greek authorities will ask you to self-isolate in a state provided quarantine hotel. The expense of the accommodation in quarantine hotels is covered by the Greek state,” says the FCO.

Failure to quarantine in foreign countries can result in big fines (in Greece, up to €5,000).

In Spain, whether you have to quarantine in a hotel for your 10 days of isolation will be decided on a case-by-case basis, and may differ from region to region. You’ll find out once you ring your regional hotline (as above).

“You may be able to remain in your existing accommodation, or be required to transfer into a state hospital or other government-provided accommodation. You may be required to fund accommodation whilst you wait to be transferred,” says the FCO advice.

Once you have fully recovered, you should check with your health provider if you are fit to travel, before travelling onward. Some countries require a “fit to fly” certificate before you can depart.

When should I tell my travel insurance company?

If you test positive for Covid, you should contact your travel insurance provider straight away.

Your policy may or may not cover the cost of your treatment, depending on the advice for the country you’re in. Contact your insurance company if you have any doubts.

Cover available for self-isolation (eg extended hotel accommodation) while travelling will vary depending on the policy. If you have to self-isolate due to coronavirus while you are travelling, contact your travel insurer.

You should travel with your EHIC or GHIC card, if you have one, but remember that these only cover state healthcare, not private treatment, and you will be responsible for the cost of any treatment provided by a private doctor or hospital.

The cards usually allow you to access emergency state healthcare abroad for free, or for a reduced fee.

What if I come into contact with someone who then tests positive?

If you’ve crossed paths with someone who then tests positive, you should follow relevant public health advice in that country and speak to your travel insurance company for further guidance.

You should also seek a Covid test as soon as possible. If you are required to quarantine or self-isolate by local authorities, you must do so in the country you are in.

What can I do to prepare before I travel?

Assuming the FCO isn’t advising against non-essential travel to the country you’re going to (this would usually invalidate any travel insurance policy) - make sure you have robust travel insurance that covers coronavirus-related incidents.

Which? has ranked the best and worst travel insurance providers in the UK.

The Foreign Office also advises travellers to factor in and prepare for worst case scenarios: the possible delays and self-isolation timings and costs that you could be facing while in your destination.

“Plan ahead and make sure you can access money, understand what your insurance will cover, and can make arrangements to extend your stay and be away for longer than planned,” says the FCO guidance.

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