05 Aug 2021

COVID-19: general advice for travellers

Advice for travellers from the UK on travel abroad and reducing spread of respiratory viruses during the COVID-19 outbreak COVID-19: general advice for travellers
  • This updates the news item of 29 July 2021

Travel abroad is increasing as some UK restrictions ease, but disruption continues as new measures including border closures, movement restrictions or quarantine rules can be introduced at short notice [1]. Travellers should plan carefully and be prepared to stay overseas longer than planned.

People at higher risk from COVID-19 particularly those who are clinically extremely vulnerable [2] are at greater risk of severe illness and should continue to follow current UK guidance. Those who are in this group should check the advice in the UK nation they live in: England, Wales, Scotland, or Northern Ireland.

Risk of severe disease and life threatening complications is also higher in people with certain underlying health conditions, those who are older, male, from deprived areas or from certain non-white ethnicities [3]. All travellers should take precautions to reduce their risk of exposure to COVID-19 and attend for vaccination when invited by the NHS.

Travellers should also be aware that waiting times at borders are likely to be longer during this pandemic.

Advice for travellers

Preparations before travelling internationally

The UK government guide: Travel abroad: step by step; explains all the requirements to help UK residents plan safe international travel.

The passenger COVID charter provides guidance on rights, responsibilities and reasonable expectations regarding international travel whilst COVID-19 measures remain in place.

If you are planning to travel, check the following guidance to prepare for your trip and reduce your risk of COVID-19:

COVID-19 testing and travel

Air travel

Air quality on board aircraft is carefully controlled, changed very frequently and passed through filters efficient at removing viruses [6]. IATA state that the millions of flights since the start of the pandemic have resulted in a few confirmed cases of in-flight transmission. They describe risk of inflight transmission as low, provided a mask is worn [7]. Whilst there is definitive evidence of in-flight transmission of COVID-19 [8] mask-wearing appears to add an extra layer of protection [9].

Follow this advice if you are planning to fly:

  • Do not travel if you are unwell. Exit screening may be implemented and you may be denied boarding if you have symptoms of COVID-19.

  • Continue to take good hygiene measures (see below) and use the designated toilet for your area of the aircraft, washing your hands before you leave the toilet.

  • Avoid moving from your seat unnecessarily, but continue to exercise your legs (flex and extend the ankles) as much as possible to encourage blood flow from the lower legs.

  • If you are unwell, stay in your seat and follow any instructions provided during the flight, contacting the air crew as soon as possible.

Advice for preventing spread of respiratory viruses

  • Wash your hands often with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available. This is particularly important after taking public transport or being in a public space.

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces in the home and work environment.

  • Avoid close contact with anyone who is sick.

  • Follow social distancing guidelines and any local rules at your destination.

  • Open windows/doors to let fresh air in when sharing a space with others.

  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in a bin and wash hands with soap and water. Use a face covering when required or recommended.

  • If you feel unwell, stay at home, do not travel or attend work/school.

  • If you are unwell with any of the following: high temperature, new continuous cough or loss/change in your sense of taste or smell (anosmia), you must self-isolate and arrange to have a test (seek local advice if you are overseas).

  • Attend for vaccination when invited to do so by the NHS.

Advice if you have contact with a COVID-19 case while abroad

After contact with a known COVID-19 case, follow relevant public health advice and speak to your healthcare provider/travel insurance company for further guidance. If you are required to quarantine or self-isolate by local authorities, you must do so in the country you are in.

Advice if you become unwell abroad

If you develop COVID-19 symptoms: new continuous cough, high temperature or loss/change in your sense of taste or smell (anosmia) while abroad or during travel, you must immediately:

  • Stay indoors and avoid contact with other people.

  • Call your health provider and/or insurance company to discuss what to do. The FCDO website may also provide useful information with contact details and testing arrangements in other countries.

  • Remember, if you have been in a malaria risk area in the last year, it is important to exclude malaria as a cause if you have a high temperature (urgent blood test required).

  • Follow local public health guidance if available.

  • If you become unwell at an airport, bus or train station before or during a long trip, seek medical advice and do not start or continue your journey.

  • If you test positive for COVID-19 abroad, you must follow local public health advice regarding self-isolation. You should self-isolate in the country you are in, so you will need to stay longer than planned. Plan ahead for any possible delays to your return home and entry requirements at your next destination.

  • Once you have fully recovered, check with your health provider if you are fit to travel, before onward travel.

Advice if you run out of medication

If your return journey is delayed and you are concerned you may run out of medicines (including antimalarials) or medical equipment, contact your travel health insurance provider for advice about how to get safe medical supplies at your destination.

Other sources of information include:

Do not wait until your supplies of medication/equipment are low. In many countries medicines and equipment are not always easily available and the current pandemic may affect supplies. See our Medicines and Travel factsheet for more information. This is very important if you were advised to take malaria prevention tablets (chemoprophylaxis) for your destination. See our Malaria reminder during COVID-19 pandemic for more advice.

Advice for health professionals

During the current COVID-19 pandemic, individuals may present with a fever. In returned travellers, some will have other infections, including malaria, which can be fatal if not treated promptly. All individuals being assessed for possible COVID-19 must be asked if they have travelled abroad in the last six months. If they visited a country where malaria occurs, they must have an urgent same day malaria blood test result [10].


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