What are the rules on COVID testing for international arrivals entry into the U.K.?

Heathrow Airport, Terminal 5, International Arrivals concourse, July 2009. Image ref CHE06002d, RP

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As I mentioned earlier this week, the government has now confirmed some of the details of their testing program for entry into the UK. This article will look at the details and what you need to know. I will update once we have more details. 

As usual, I will give my frank opinion. So far the reaction has not been exactly positive. Everything we have done regarding travel has been after months of inaction and indecision, rendering the action pointless. This one seems particularly ill-thought out. I have always been in favour of targeted testing, following the EU risk list for medium or high-risk destinations. Very few countries have a blanket approach to arrivals. After all, is it really worthwhile testing from countries such as New Zealand or Australia that have virtually no cases? The whole point of the travel corridors was to say that they were low-risk countries!

This will be pretty much the final death blow to the travel industry. Most destinations require a test on entry from the UK, so for a family of 4 it could mean around an extra £800 on a holiday – putting holidays out of reach for most. If this is just a temporary measure they need to be clear on a review or end date. Personally, I think countries need to take a much more granular approach to entry. People that are vaccinated (yes I know theoretically you could still be a carrier), that have had COVID recently and those from countries with very low case numbers should not be forced to spend money for health “theatre”. It should, like everything in life, be risk based on where there is a real threat. PCR tests 72 hours before do not mean that someone is free of the virus. Offering testing on arrival as well would make life much easier for many travellers, and hopefully would be subsidised by the airports. Dubai offers both options and seems to have a well organised system. 

Exempting countries that don’t have the infrastructure that could be rife with COVID also seems pointless while making those from countries with little COVID take the test. This will also change – Barbados for example is unable to turn tests around in 72 hours currently due to an outbreak, but normally they could. This could mean people getting stranded abroad if we don’t give other options for returning UK citizens. Plus you still have to isolate for 10 days from non-travel corridor countries anyway. 

As usual, despite having had the last 9 months to have a strategy, they have not announced when exactly it will start or what the required standard of testing should be. We just know it will be next week! Hopefully, they will give people notice as getting a test abroad at the moment is difficult in many places. 

 

What are the rules?

Passengers arriving from all international destinations from some point next week (It will not apply to arrivals from the Republic of Ireland) will be required to present a negative COVID-19 test result before departing for England. From next week inbound passengers arriving by boat, plane or train will have to take a test up to 72 hours before departing the country they are in, to help protect against the new strains of coronavirus such as those seen in Denmark and South Africa.

Passengers arriving from countries not on the government’s travel corridor list must still self-isolate for 10 days regardless of their pre-departure test result to provide further robust protection from those travelling from high-risk countries.

Prior to departure passengers will need to present proof of a negative COVID-19 test result to carriers, as well as their passenger locator form. The UK Border Force will conduct spot checks on arrival into England to ensure that passengers are fully compliant.

Permitted travellers will need to take their test up to 72 hours before departure, and this will apply irrespective of whether a country is on the travel corridor list. The government will set out the standards that these tests will need to meet and what proof passengers will need to present. The Transpoort Secertary, Mr Shapps, has confirmed that lateral flow tests and loop-mediated isothermal amplification (Lamp) tests will be allowed, in addition to the NHS-standard polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. This is good news as results are faster and they are often cheaper. 

Passengers arriving into England who have successfully demonstrated a negative result prior to departure from a country not on the travel corridor list will still have the option to reduce the self-isolation period from 10 to as little as 5 days by paying for a test through the Test to Release scheme. The scheme requires a test to be taken on or after the fifth full day since leaving a country not on the travel corridor list.

Passengers will be required to show their negative test result before boarding, and transport operators will deny boarding if necessary. On arrival back into the UK, Border Force will check passengers test results through the current spot check regime, to ensure that individuals are compliant with the new rules, and passengers will be subject to an immediate fine of £500.

There will be a limited number of exemptions, including for hauliers, children under 11, crews, and for those who travelling from countries without the infrastructure available to deliver the tests. As yet we do not know what the criteria for deciding this will be or which countries will be exempt. Further exemptions will be set out on GOV.UK.

All travellers will still be required to complete a passenger locator form before arrival into England. Those who fail to complete a passenger locator form will be subject to an increased fine of £500.

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12 Comments on "What are the rules on COVID testing for international arrivals entry into the U.K.?"

  1. Morning. Now, I’m slightly confused on the new regulations! This has been copied and pasted from the Sky News pages. “These restrictions apply to anyone travelling to the UK by plane, ferry or train – apart from returning UK nationals and permanent residents – who are exempt, but may need to isolate for 10 days, depending on the country.”
    In my case, I’m due to travel to Krakow for 4 days mid March. The worst case scenario was to get a test prior to a LHR departure. Does this mean I have to find somewhere to be tested in Krakow prior to getting back to London? I’m on a BA flight and hotel package, and realise it’s not an imminent flight.

    • That may be an old article? Originally they thought that would be the case. However, mine is from the official statement in the gov.U.K. page yesterday. Yes as it stands by the information on the government website you would have to be tested unless Poland is exempt.

  2. Unfortunately the government is way behind the curve and yet still deliver a muddled policy. What about weekend trips? If you take a test in the UK before you depart and return to the UK within the 72hr window – Is that permitted?

    • It’s a good question. The wording currently would suggest yes but that would make the process completely pointless but there you have it. Jersey have an exemption for day trips which makes sense. Be interesting to see if they think of doing something similar.

  3. All these rules are very complicated and expensive and I do believe will kill travelling for long time. Personally I think the best solution would be a vaccine ( there is no proof you can or can not be a carrier when vaccinated – I guess we will find out soon when there is more data) plus test before departure. I guess lateral flow or saliva test should enough. Its not clear how we will be able to prove our immunisation status though. Stamp, QR code, passport, hollogram..? I can’t see any progress whatsoever. I don’t think there is any sense to plan any trip before June/July.

    • Yes it’s all now very complicated for many destinations. Hopefully if the government reach their vaccination targets it will only take 5 months to vaccinate the majority of people that want it. In the meantime hopefully they can ascertain if you can still spread it (unlikely in my opinion). Plus they definitely need a way to prove it – there must be something for yellow fever so presumably it will be the same. However given the government record it will be 2022 before they get round to it!

  4. Hi Michele, what happens if you return a positive test result before returning to the UK? Do they deny you entry into the UK even as a National? And then what, do you have to stay in the Country you have the test for an extended stay of how long? There is also the added expense of additional accommodation costs etc

    • It will depend on the country as to what happens where you are. But until you have a negative certificate the airline would not allow boarding.

  5. I have to say I agree with the principle of testing prior to travel at this time. It’s a pity the UK has taken so long and delivered such a muddled policy. I currently live in Kenya and we have had a policy of pre departure COVID tests since August 20. On arrival, your certificate checked and then you have a daily follow up for 14 days either by app or interactive SMS. Whilst there is a cost to this obviously, it does reduce the risks and should lead to a better onboard experience if everyone has been tested and negative prior to boarding.

    I think the move to a “passport” type solution where you have either vaccination, antibody test or -ve COVID test will help significantly.

    These are difficult times so if we want to fly, or must for business, these are the inconveniences and cost we must endure until things get better. I have travelled recently, and yes it is inconvenient and costly to get tested, but I think it is the best solution currently to ensure that we are not contributing to the spread of this virus.

    Best solution all round at the moment.

  6. How bonkers is that – so you need to have a negative test to fly to UK and then if not on a UK travel country exempt list you still need to isolate? Really who thinks up these things – a five year old? No can’t be a 5 year old would have more sense.

  7. adrian marklew | 10 January 2021 at 4:03 pm | Reply

    Hi,
    I recently enjoyed a trip to St Lucia where a negative PCR test is required before departure. Getttesting and ing the test was troublesome as my departure was brought forward by 2 days but that was my fault upgrading the cabin. Having said that it was encouraging to know that everyone on the flight and everyone entering the country had a negative test.
    I believe that testing and vaccination will be the way forward but the government needs to think through policies in respect to international travel. This industry has been decimated and will be critical to the country’s success post Brexit – there has to be better thought leadership within the government.

  8. adrian marklew | 10 January 2021 at 4:05 pm | Reply

    Sorry everyone, not sure what happened with the typo’s above.

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