Julie McKenna was thrilled as she arrived for a four-night trip in Mahon, Menorca, on 15 July, having not been abroad for two years.
But just two days into the holiday, her runny nose, lack of appetite and inability to warm up in 27°C heat started to bring down her spirits. Her husband, Andrew and two children suspected sunstroke. However, the emailed result from her pre-departure antigen test she took a day later on 17 July revealed otherwise. She had contracted Covid-19.
The family’s much longed-for trip started to unravel. Her children, aged 17 and 20, were allowed to fly home as they’d been staying in different rooms to Julie. Andrew, however, was told by Spanish authorities to self-isolate.
Several days later, an ambulance arrived to take them to a quarantine hotel. They were each given two masks to wear and a pair of black plastic gloves before being escorted down the hotel’s fire escape and into the ambulance.
What’s it like to quarantine abroad?
Julie and Andrew’s new quarantine accommodation was ‘very basic’ and looked like it had ‘not been used for years’, according to Julie. A security guard circled the apartment blocks, and Julie said it ‘felt like you’d done something wrong’.
Meals were delivered three times a day. At breakfast time they were offered bread rolls, ham and cheese toasties, yoghurt and fruit. Dinner consisted of a meat dish, a fish dish, salad and pasta. They weren’t asked about dietary requirements, but the couple were able to contact the hotel staff via WhatsApp if they needed anything.
When Andrew also tested positive on 24 July, things became more complicated. The couple had assumed that once they’d isolated for the time stipulated by the Menorcan authorities, they could immediately fly home. But Julie and Andrew needed to test negative before being allowed to fly.
It took until 1 August, 14 days after their original departure date before they were both in the clear. Once you’re released from quarantine, the authorities in Menorca no longer pay for accommodation or food, so Julie and Andrew had to pay for one more night in a hotel while awaiting their flight. The holiday company they’d booked their insurance through told them they would later be able to claim this back, but it’s money they are still waiting for.
The stress wasn’t over back home in the UK. Julie’s day two Covid PCR test came back positive and she was told to isolate for a further 10 days. This meant that her four-day holiday had led to almost four weeks of isolation.
Julie’s experience isn’t uncommon. Many UK residents test positive for Covid abroad, after catching it prior to – or even during – a holiday. To prepare yourself for this unfortunate scenario, follow our tips below.
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Tips on travelling abroad during the Covid-19 pandemic
Take out comprehensive travel insurance
There’s a long list of ways Covid-19 could disrupt your holiday, from catching coronavirus before you go, to testing positive overseas and needing to stay longer. Choose the wrong travel insurance policy, even if it includes ‘Covid cover’ and you could be left hundreds or even thousands of pounds out of pocket.
Which? analysed more than 260 travel insurance polices earlier this year and found many only cover you if you catch Covid-19 before you travel and have to cancel, or if you catch it while you’re abroad and require medical treatment. Don’t assume that every travel insurance policy will cover you if you’re forced to quarantine abroad; many won’t.
We’ve rated the best and worst travel insurance policies but you should always read the policy details in full to check exactly what is and isn’t covered and whether it’s suitable for your needs.
Pack free NHS antigen tests in your suitcase
In some countries, you may need to test negative to enable you to leave quarantine. If the tests cost money, this could quickly become expensive. To help reduce costs, pack some free NHS Covid antigen tests in your suitcase. You can use these to check your Covid status before splashing out on a final pre-departure test.
If you are unvaccinated and therefore are required to take a pre-departure test before you travel home, be aware though that you cannot use an NHS test for this reason. Make sure you get an official test in a nearby clinic or a certified private self-test kit before travelling back to the UK. Some self-testing kits are illegal – find out what to look out for.
Read our Covid testing Q&A to help answer any testing questions.
Book with a good package holiday provider
Under the Package Travel Regulations, a package holiday company should help a traveller in difficulty. The company should provide you with information on health services, local authorities and consular assistance. It should also assist you with making alternative travel arrangements home. It may also provide you with quarantine accommodation, but for no longer than three nights.
Use our Holiday company Checker tool, which separates the companies with good and bad Covid-related policies. A green-rated company is best.
Budget for the worst
Even if you have insurance, you may need to pay out up front to extend your trip should you catch Covid-19. You’ll likely have to pay for food and a quarantine hotel on the spot as your insurer will likely only pay you back after the event.
If your insurance doesn’t cover you for quarantining abroad, you’ll need a spare sum of money to cover the cost of the extended stay.
Know your rights before travelling
While booking a package holiday and having good travel insurance will help in many scenarios, also consider whether the authorities in your destination will help financially if you catch Covid-19. The authorities in Menorca covered Julie’s accommodation and food costs, but not everywhere will. Read on for what happens in different popular destinations.
Looking to book tests for travel? Read our article that looks into the good and bad of travel test providers
What happens if I test positive while on holiday in Italy?
You must quarantine at your hotel, and you will have to pay for it yourself upfront. Therefore, having insurance that covers this scenario is vital. Make sure you read the policy details carefully and, if in doubt, check with the insurer whether this scenario is covered before buying the policy.
If you cannot stay at your hotel and don’t have an alternative option, such as at a family or friend’s house, the local authorities will help relocate you to a Covid hotel. Contact the UK embassy in Italy for help or a dedicated regional number.
Your quarantine will last a minimum of 10 days. Asymptomatic travellers are released 10 days after testing positive. However, symptomatic travellers should remain in isolation until they are asymptomatic for at least three days (loss of taste and smell symptoms excluded). You will then be given an antigen test; a negative result means your quarantine can end. If you still test positive, you will need to remain in quarantine for another seven days before taking another test.
What happens if I test positive while on holiday in Greece?
You’ll have to self-isolate for 10 days from the date of the positive result. However, if you’re still symptomatic following this period, you must continue to self-isolate until you have had three days without a fever or respiratory symptoms. The Greek authorities will pay for this stay.
It’s possible you will be able to quarantine in your hotel accommodation, but you may be moved to a state-provided quarantine hotel.
You will be told to take an antigen test at the end of your quarantine. Once you can provide a negative result, you can end your self-isolation.
For further information on what to do if you show signs of coronavirus while in Greece, head to the Greece coronavirus page on the UK government website for helpline numbers.
What happens if I test positive while on holiday in Spain?
If you test positive for Covid-19 in Spain, it’s likely you will be contacted and told what to do. If not, you must contact the health authorities of the region you are staying in and self-isolate. Find the regional numbers to call here. You will be told where to quarantine. In the meantime, stay in your accommodation away from others.
In most instances, you will need to pay to isolate for 10 days in a quarantine hotel, so make sure you have appropriate insurance to cover this.
However, some Spanish regions do offer free insurance to tourists who stay in regulated tourist accommodation.
However, cover in each region slightly varies. For example, in Andalucia and the Canaries, the free insurance will cover a maximum of 15 days or a cost of €5,000.
In the Balearics, the insurance covers a maximum of 14 days and a cost of up to €150,000. However, you will be on the same meal package as you originally paid for. So if you were on a bed and breakfast rate, you will only receive breakfast and will need to pay for extra meals.
Check the cover before travelling. Regardless, if you were to keep showing as positive on your antigen test past the 14/15 days covered, you would need to pay for the extra days of accommodation required. It’s always best to take out your own insurance.
Considering a holiday abroad? Read our guide on travelling to Spain, France, Italy and more
What happens if I test positive while on holiday in France?
You will need to self-isolate for 10 days from the date of your first symptoms. However, if you’re asymptomatic but test positive, you must self-isolate for 10 days from the time you took the test. You also need to enter your test result into the TousAntiCovid app.
The French authorities will not cover the cost of an extended stay, so ensure you take out comprehensive insurance. Just because a policy says it includes ‘covid cover’ doesn’t mean it will pay out if you’re forced to quarantine overseas, so check this when picking your insurer. Some policies only cover you for medical expenses you incur from catching Covid-19 abroad, for example.
If you don’t have a residence in France, you will need to contact the local Prefecture in the area you are visiting and you will be provided with a list of accommodations suitable for isolation.
What happens if I test positive while on holiday in Portugal?
You will have to self-isolate for 10 days. Portuguese authorities do not pay for this, so you will need to have insurance that will cover the cost of your extended stay and any related expenses. You can call a helpline if you test positive, or ask your hotel’s reception to help you.
In Madeira, the local government will pay for you and those you’ve been in close contact with (such as those you’ve shared a room with) to isolate at a designated hotel.