The government has announced a new ‘test to release’ system to reduce the quarantine time for people arriving into England from high-risk countries not on the travel corridor list.
Under the new system, travellers returning to England from countries not on the travel corridor list, such as France and mainland Portugal and Spain, will only have to quarantine for five days, provided they return a negative Covid-19 test on or after the fifth day.
Crucially, however, Which? understands that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) advice won’t change. The FCDO currently advises against non-essential travel to countries not on the travel corridor list. That means travellers will struggle to get travel insurance, and package holiday operators will not operate to those destinations.
Countries or territories that are on the government’s travel corridor list, including the Canary Islands, Madeira and Ireland, can be visited without needing to quarantine at all when you return to the UK.
However, some countries on this list, like Thailand, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand, are on our travel corridor list, but are barring most, if not all, UK nationals from entry. Others allow UK residents in, but require you to quarantine, like Barbados, or have a Covid-19 test before departure or on arrival, like the Canary Islands.
Find out how test to release and travel corridors affect your holiday plans:
- What is test to release?
- How do I get a test and who pays for it?
- What are the rules in the rest of the UK?
- What is the UK travel corridor system?
- Which countries are on the travel corridor list?
- Will my Christmas holiday go ahead?
- Should I book a holiday?
- When will I be able to travel without any quarantine?
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What is test to release and when does it start?
Test to release is a new government travel initiative, designed to reduce the amount of time holidaymakers need to quarantine for when they return to England (see below for rules in other parts of the UK).
Everyone entering England by plane, train or ferry will need to complete a passenger locator form. From 15 December, travellers from high-risk countries that aren’t on the travel corridor list will need to quarantine for 14 days unless they pay to have a private coronavirus test on or after the fifth day of self-isolation. If this test comes back negative, they can stop self-isolating immediately. If the results are positive, at least 10 further days of quarantine will be required.
How do I get a test and who pays for it?
If you want to make use of the test to release scheme, you should book a test from a government-approved private provider before you return to England, and state you’ve done this on your passenger locator form.
You must then go straight into self-isolation at home until you have your test. The test can be taken anytime on or after the fifth day of quarantine, either at home or at a private test facility. If the test is negative, you no longer need to self-isolate, saving yourself nine days or quarantine.
However, you’ll have to pay for your test and the cost may be as high as £120 per test. So it could cost a family of four nearly £500 to make use of the test to release scheme, though it’s hoped that private tests will become cheaper as demand grows.
You can’t have a free NHS test, as these are reserved for UK residents who have symptoms.
What are the rules in the rest of the UK?
The test to release scheme currently only applies to passengers entering England. It is not clear when or if similar initiatives will be announced in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
These countries can also all independently amend their travel corridor lists, so it’s essential you check the rules of the nation you will be flying from and returning to.
Confusingly, though, the government’s FCDO travel advice applies nationwide, which could potentially leave consumers who live in one part of the UK and book a holiday departing from another out of pocket.
For example, if you live in Scotland and have booked a package holiday to Madeira departing from an English airport, your holiday is unlikely to be cancelled, even though local advice currently prevents you from entering England from Scotland. That’s because the FCDO advice says it’s safe to go to Madeira. As a result, the holiday provider is not required to refund you in this scenario, so rescheduling the holiday is likely to be your best bet.
What is the UK ‘travel corridor’ system, and how does it work?
If a country is on the travel corridor list, you can visit without being required to quarantine when you return to the UK.
Countries on the travel corridor list have also had their FCDO warning removed. The advice against all but essential travel to all destinations was the basis of tour operators cancelling holidays abroad.
Holidays can now take place to countries on the travel corridor list that have also had their FCDO warning removed. It also means that travel insurance policies will be valid again to these destinations, although you may not be covered for claims relating to Covid-19.
When will travel corridors be reviewed?
Travel corridors are reviewed every week. Announcements are usually posted at around 5pm on a Thursday.
The next travel corridor review will be on Thursday 26 November.
Which countries are on the travel corridor list?
These are all the countries and territories that the government has included on its quarantine exemption list. Estonia and Latvia were the latest countries to be removed from the travel corridor list.
Anguilla; Antigua and Bermuda; Aruba; Australia; the Azores; Barbados; Bermuda; Bhutan; Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba; British Antarctic Territory; British Indian Ocean Territory; British Virgin Islands; the Canary Islands; Cayman Islands; the Channel Islands; Chile; Cuba; Dominica; Falkland Islands; Faroe Islands; Fiji, Finland; Gibraltar; certain Greek islands (Corfu, Crete, Kos, Rhodes, Zakynthos); Greenland; Grenada; Hong Kong; Iceland; Ireland; the Isle of Man; Israel and Jerusalem; Japan; Laos; Kiribati; Macau; Madeira; Malaysia; Maldives; Mauritius; Micronesia; Mongolia; Montserrat; Namibia; New Caledonia; New Zealand; Northern Mariana Islands; Norway; Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands; Qatar; Rwanda; Samoa; Seychelles; Singapore; Solomon Islands; South Korea; South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands; Sri Lanka; St Barthelemy; St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha; St Kitts and Nevis; St Lucia; St Pierre and Miquelon; St Vincent and the Grenadines; Taiwan; Thailand; Timor-Leste; Tonga; Turks and Caicos Islands; United Arab Emirates; Uruguay; US Virgin Islands; Vanuatu; Vietnam.
This list applies to England. If you are travelling from Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, you should check the travel corridor list specific to those countries, as there may be minor differences.
Will I be able to enter all the countries on the list?
No. The government has said that some countries on the travel corridor list won’t have reciprocal arrangements with the UK. That means you may be denied entry, such as with New Zealand.
Other countries, including Thailand, may require you to quarantine for 14-days on arrival. If you have a holiday booked, or want to book one, you will need to check the entry requirements at the individual destination.
Will my Christmas holiday go ahead?
It depends. If you are due to travel to a country that’s on the travel corridor list and the FCDO advice says it’s safe to travel there, then your holiday is likely to go ahead regardless of whether you want to go on it or not. If you don’t want to travel, you’ll probably have to pay to cancel the booking, so rescheduling it might be your best option.
If you’re due to go on a package holiday to a country that the FCDO currently advises against visiting, the chances are your holiday will be cancelled.
Our understanding is that the FCDO is unlikely to be making changes to its travel advice following the test to release announcement. This means that package holidays to popular destinations like mainland Spain will be cancelled by the provider, entitling you to a full refund within 14 days.
If you have a flight-only booking to a destination not on the travel corridor list, your flight is likely to go ahead. If you don’t want to go, you should try and reschedule it. If you do want to travel, you will be able to make use of the test to release scheme upon your return, but make sure you check the entry requirements of the country you are visiting and bear in mind that you are unlikely to be covered by travel insurance.
Should I book a holiday over Christmas or for 2021?
The travel industry is hoping that the government’s test to release announcement will encourage more UK consumers to book holidays in the coming weeks.
According to a recent Skyscanner survey, four in ten (44%) UK travellers said a shorter quarantine time when they returned to the UK would make them more likely to book a holiday.
However, booking a holiday is still not risk-free. When the current lockdown in England ends on 2 December, the government has announced a return to the three tier system. Regions can therefore be moved into a higher tier at any time, which would have an impact on local travel advice.
The government’s travel corridor advice can also change quickly, so you should only book a holiday if the dates can be freely changed and if you’re willing to self-isolate for at least five days when you return to the UK.
When will I be able to travel without any quarantine?
There is speculation that the government is looking at ways of removing the need to quarantine altogether using daily lateral flow tests.
However, this is yet to be confirmed and is unlikely to be introduced until the New Year at the earliest.
Until the situation changes, you should only consider booking or going on a holiday if you are willing to self-isolate for at least five (and quite possibly more) days upon your return to the UK.