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Will I need a Covid-19 vaccine or the NHS app to travel in 2021?

Vaccination reduces or removes cost of tests for travel to countries like Spain, Malta and Portugal, and means you won't have to quarantine on return to the UK

Will I need a Covid-19 vaccine or the NHS app to travel in 2021?

Many countries have removed or reduced the tests required for UK travellers who have been vaccinated, while English residents travelling from amber countries will no longer have to quarantine on return. 

A limited, but growing number of countries such as Malta and France require UK visitors to be fully vaccinated to enter. More countries, like Greece and Spain, don’t require vaccination but do make entry easier for those that have been jabbed. If you can provide evidence of vaccination, you won’t be required to take a test removing some of the stress and costs involved in travel during a pandemic. 

The UK government has announced that English residents who have been fully vaccinated will no longer need to quarantine for ten days when returning from amber list countries  from 19 July, and take two tests rather than the three required if you have not been vaccinated.

While few countries have made vaccinations mandatory you may need one if you plan to take a cruise. Plus, a few tour operators and airlines require you to be inoculated – although not many.

Below, we’ve outlined where you can travel if you’ve been vaccinated; including recent concerns about whether five million UK residents who have been vaccinated with AstraZeneca doses manufactured in India, which the EU refers to as Covidshield, will be refused entry or asked to take tests because the European Medicines Agency hasn’t authorised the vaccine. 

We also explain how the NHS app or letter works and the destinations it is and may in future be accepted in as proof of vaccination. 

Find out more about how the traffic light system for travel will work this summer

How will the NHS app and vaccine passports work?

NHS app on phone

In England, the NHS app can be used to create a QR code which will detail whether you’ve been inoculated and how many jabs you’ve had. Find out how to use it in our NHS app for travel Q&A

The app is free, but it won’t work on some older smartphones. The NHS says ‘older models of Apple (iPhone 5S and iPhone 6/6Plus or earlier) and Android phones that do not support iOS 13.5 or Android 6.0 (Marshmallow) and higher will not be able to use the app. But, if you can’t use the app, use the NHS app service online from your computer. If you do not have access to a computer, call 119 to request paper proof of your vaccinations. Expect to wait up to seven working days for the letter to reach you

The QR codes, or paper alternatives can be used to prove your vaccination status, but be aware that not all countries will necessarily accept them. 

Can I use the NHS app or equivalent to gain entry to Spain, Italy, Portugal, Greece or France?

Spain

sitges promenade in spain

Arrivals from the UK either need to be fully vaccinated or show a negative Covid-19 test from the previous 48 hours.

Spain accepts all vaccines administered in the UK, including AstraZeneca vaccines manufactured in India. You must be fully-vaccinated at least 14 days before arrival in Spain. You can use either the NHS app or the NHS vaccine letter as evidence of vaccination.

For tests, Spain accepts PCR and LAMP tests, but not lateral flow tests. Passengers under 12 are exempt.

France

France has its own traffic light system and the UK is currently on France’s amber list. This means you must be fully vaccinated to gain entry (unless travel is essential) and you must provide a negative PCR test result. 

If the UK is placed onto France’s green list, you do not have to be fully vaccinated to travel. You can show either proof of inoculation or a negative test.

France will accept the NHS app or your NHS letter if you are from England. If you live in Scotland or Wales, France will accept your respective official certificates to demonstrate your vaccination status.

To count as fully vaccinated, you must have had both doses of your jab at least two weeks before you travel. If you’ve had the Johnson and Johnson single-dose vaccine, you must wait four weeks before travelling to France. See full details on France’s entry requirements

Greece

Greece will allow you to enter if you can show proof you have had both vaccinations at least 14 days before travelling, or proof of a negative PCR or rapid antigen test.

You can use the NHS app or letter as proof if you live in England. Greece will accept your respective NHS letter to demonstrate your vaccination status if you are from Wales or Scotland. See full details on Greece’s entry requirements.

Italy

Italy does not permit entry currently based on vaccination status, so you do not need to use the NHS app.

To enter Italy, you will need to provide proof of a negative test, isolate for five days on arrival and take a rapid antigen or PCR test at the end of the isolation period. See full details of Italy’s entry requirements.

Portugal

lisbon

Mainland Portugal will not accept proof of vaccination as a way to enter the country – all UK arrivals must provide proof of a negative Covid test. 

Madeira and Porto Santo however do allow entry based on vaccination status alone, but you must have been vaccinated at least 15 days before travelling. These islands will accept the NHS letter from English residents and the respective certificates from Scotland and Wales. The NHS app QR code is not currently accepted.

Other travellers will need to show a medical report as evidence of your status. This must be an official document that shows your name, date of birth, healthcare system ID, vaccine type and dates of both doses.  See full details of Portugal’s entry requirements.

Remember each country’s entry requirements can change, so check the government website before you book or travel. Each country may also require you to fill out additional paperwork and gain QR entry codes, so do your research.

How will the UK’s vaccine passports work with Europe’s digital green certificate?

The European Union has set out how it plans for a bloc wide vaccine passport to work. It’s called the Digital Green Certificate and is for EU nationals. This was rolled out on July 1 everywhere expect Ireland.

The EU’s plan sees details stored on passengers’ mobile phone, or they can request a paper version, but both will feature a QR code. This code will contain all essential information (such as test results and vaccine certificates) as well as a digital seal and secure key. Read more on the EU’s Digital Green Certificate plans.

How this will work with the UK’s NHS app is unclear. The EU is in talks with the UK on how to integrate systems.

Will the EU accept my Indian-made AstraZeneca vaccine, known as Covishield ?

It’s been suggested that up to five million UK citizens could be refused entry to some EU countries or required to take additional tests because they have had a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured in India.

These vaccines, which the EU refers to as Covishield, have not been approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). All other AstraZeneca vaccines administered in the UK, known in the EU, as Vaxzevria have been approved.

However, the EMA only advises countries on which vaccines to accept. Several countries, such as Spain, accept all WHO approved vaccines, which includes Covishield.

Given Covidshield and Vaxzevira are the same vaccine, it is also likely the EMA will approve its use across the EU at some point in the future.

It is possible to identify whether you have had the Indian produced AstraZeneca vaccine by the batch number. These are said to be batch numbers 4120Z001, 4120Z002, and 4120Z003. However, so far, no UK resident has been prevented from entering a country because of where their AstraZeneca vaccine was manufactured.

The department for Health and Social Care said: ‘All AstraZeneca vaccines given in the UK are the same product and appear on the NHS Covid Pass as Vaxzevria. The European Medicines Agency has authorised this vaccine and we’re confident travel will not be affected.’

Can I go on holiday if I haven’t had the vaccine?

In most cases, yes, but it will depend where you are going and how.

France and Malta will only accept vaccinated travellers from the UK at present, for example.  Most other European countries, including Spain, Greece and Croatia will allow UK residents entry if unvaccinated, but then require one or more tests. 

You will also have to take two tests when returning to the UK from green list countries and three for amber list countries, whether you have had the jab or not.

Some airlines, holiday companies and cruise lines have made vaccines mandatory.

Does my vaccine have an expiry date? Will I need a booster jab?

Austria and Croatia have set a vaccine expiry date of 270 days (approximately nine months) after the second jab for travellers entering the country. The UK government has not announced a vaccination booster. This means that currently, travellers attempting to visit Austria or Croatia more than 270 days after their second jab will face complications. No other EU countries have announced a ‘maximum validity’ period for vaccines.

Will airlines require vaccination to board a flight? 

In most cases, no. Ryanair, EasyJet and British Airways are not planning to introduce mandatory vaccination status. They will, however,  be required to enforce the entry requirements of the destination you are travelling to – so if you are traveling to a country that requires vaccination or a test, you won’t be able to board the plane unless you can provide this evidence. 

Requirements are different outside of Europe. Some airlines have indicated that vaccinations will be required to travel, such as Australian airline Qantas.

Will cruise lines and holiday companies require vaccination?

Saga, Cunard, P&O and Disney all require customers on cruises to have been vaccinated. Passengers will also need to take a Covid test at the departure terminal. In most cases it is only adults who need the vaccine.

Saga also requires customers to be vaccinated to go on regular holidays.

What if I can’t have the Covid-19 vaccine and I’ve already booked a holiday?

Under the Package Travel Regulations, travel companies (including cruise liners) are required by law to tell you about the health and safety requirements at your destination. So they have to inform you if you need to provide proof of Covid-19 inoculation. But they aren’t required to offer you a refund if you book, and subsequently refuse the vaccine.

If there’s a medical reason for doing so and you have evidence of this from your doctor, you may still be allowed into the country. For yellow fever, for example, GPs can issue a medical exemption form that’s typically accepted.

But if you choose not to have the vaccine, whether on medical grounds or for another reason, and decide not to go on the holiday as a result, this is likely to be considered ‘disinclination to travel’, and standard terms and conditions apply if you choose to cancel.

If you’re unable to be vaccinated against Covid-19, you may want to hold off on booking a holiday until the situation is clearer.

Vaccines and travel insurance

No travel insurance policy covers disinclination to travel, so if vaccines become mandatory at your destination, you won’t be able to claim back the costs of cancelling your holiday if you decide not to go.

Refusing a vaccine could also affect your emergency medical cover. Travel insurance policies sometimes contain exclusions relating to vaccinations. That means if you visit a country without getting the NHS-recommended inoculations, for example, you may not be covered if you end up getting a disease the vaccine would have protected against.

As far as we’re aware, no similar exclusions relating to the coronavirus vaccine have yet been added to travel insurance policies. But it’s something we could see in the coming weeks and months, as many travel insurers do now include cover for catching coronavirus while on holiday.

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