04 Oct 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 27 September 2021

Travel abroad continues to increase as UK restrictions ease, but disruption remains a risk, as 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 if required.

Rules for international travel to England changed at 4am on Monday 4th October 2021 to a single red list of countries (with simplified travel measures for arrivals from the rest of the world). The rules for travel from countries not on the red list will depend on age and the vaccination status of the person travelling.

All travellers, particularly those at higher risk of severe COVID-19 infection, should continue to follow current UK guidance and attend for vaccination when invited by the NHS.

Advice for travellers

The national rules and restrictions relating to travel and COVID-19 may differ for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The passenger COVID charter provides guidance on rights, responsibilities, and reasonable expectations regarding international travel whilst COVID-19 measures remain in place. The UK government guide: Travel abroad: step by step; explains all the requirements to help UK residents plan safe international travel.

General 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 where possible.

Before Travel

Keep up to date with the latest official advice offered by the country you are departing from and travelling to. All countries may impose travel restrictions without notice.

Check current travel health recommendations on our Country Information pages. All countries have been classified as high, moderate or low risk for COVID-19 based on currently available information assessed by the UK Health Security Agency and the National Travel Health Network and Centre. If you need travel health advice, vaccines or malaria medication, speak to your GP, practice nurse, pharmacist or travel clinic.

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) provides guidance on COVID-19 and other risks overseas. Check FCDO travel advice for your destination. Check entry restrictions, screening and quarantine requirements on arrival. You can also subscribe to destination email updates. Contact the UK-based embassy of the country you are travelling to if you need more information.

Check (and make arrangements) for any COVID-19 tests required. Tests may be required before and/or on arrival in the country you are visiting, prior to return departure and/or after your arrival back in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.

Carry an official record of any test results you have; you may be asked for these at check in, border controls and at other times during your trip. Information about COVID-19 testing and travel is available here: COVID-19: Testing for international travel purposes.

Obtain UK proof of COVID-19 vaccination if required. You may be asked for this at check in, border controls and at other times during your trip. Plan for any possible delays to your return home and the financial implications or practical arrangements you may need to make.

Check any impact COVID-19 may have on your travel insurance, including medical repatriation costs for illness abroad or any travel restrictions. If you need to quarantine or self-isolate, you will be expected to do this in the country you are in. Travel insurance may be compromised if you extend your trip or travel abroad against UK government advice. The Association of British Insurers (ABI) provides information on COVID-19 travel insurance implications.

Contact your airline, tour operator, cruise line or other transport and accommodation providers for up-to-date information on your itinerary and travel plans. Check what the rules are for reducing transmission of COVID-19 infection. Guidance measures recommended aboard aircraft have been published [2, 3]. See also the International Air Travel Association (IATA).

Ensure you have extra supplies of any medication or medical equipment you need in case of delays such as having to self-isolate overseas. Remember to carry copies of prescriptions and carry medication in your hand luggage.

During travel (and at your destination)

Face coverings may be required in some situations including in the airport and on public transport. Face coverings do not replace social distancing and hygiene measures; you still need to take all other recommended precautions.

You should adhere to the requirements of the country you are visiting. Follow social distancing guidelines (also referred to in some countries as physical distancing) 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.

Air and cruise ship travel

There may be enhanced screening/monitoring at entry/exit ports. In some countries, borders may close or you may be required to self-isolate.

Air quality on board aircraft is carefully controlled, changed frequently and passed through filters efficient at removing viruses [4]. 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 [5]. Whilst there is definitive evidence of in-flight transmission of COVID-19 [6] mask-wearing appears to add an extra layer of protection [7].

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.

Wearing a face covering may be mandatory for the duration of your flight. Check with your airline.

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.

Follow any instructions provided in your flight about what to do if you feel unwell.

International cruise sailings have restarted from England. Cruise ships continue to experience COVID-19 outbreaks according to the FCDO. Confined settings on board, along with the combination of multiple households, allows COVID-19 to spread faster than on land. See our Cruise factsheet and the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) for further guidance.

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.

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:

Self-isolate (stay indoors and avoid contact with other people) and arrange a test locally at your destination.

Call your health provider and/or insurance company to discuss what to do.

Remember, if you have been in a malaria risk area in the last year, it is important to check for malaria 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/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 may 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 that you are fit to travel, before onward travel.

Following COVID-19 infection, some individuals may have natural immunity shown by a positive COVID-19 PCR test. England does not currently exempt travellers from testing and other entry requirements if they have proof of recent COVID-19 infection. Travellers needing a pre-departure COVID-19 test who have recently recovered from COVID-19 infection should consider using a lateral flow device (LFD) test. LFD tests have a lower sensitivity than PCR tests, so are less likely to test positive from previous infection.

If you run out of medication

If your return 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 obtaining safe medical supplies at your destination.

Do not wait until supplies of medication/equipment are low. In some countries the pandemic may affect supplies. See our Medicines and Travel factsheet for more information.

Returning to the UK

All travellers must check rules for entering or returning to the UK.

If you become unwell with a high temperature, new continuous cough or a loss of, or change in, your normal sense of taste or smell (anosmia), you should self-isolate and arrange to have a test.

If you return from malaria risk areas and are ill, you must seek urgent medical advice. Inform the health professional you have travelled to a malaria risk area in the last six months and need an urgent malaria test (malaria film) on the same day you developed a fever [8, 9].

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 [8, 9].

Resources

Ebola: new outbreak in DRC

Recurrence of Ebola virus disease reported in Democratic Republic of the Congo Read more

Malaria reminder during COVID-19 pandemic

Advice for travellers and health professionals Read more

Entering the UK: border measures update

Updated requirements for passengers returning to the UK Read more

International travel and demonstrating COVID-19 status

Government guidance on how to demonstrate your COVID-19 status for travel Read more
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