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15 Jan 2021

Travel corridor removal and test to release scheme: what quarantine rules mean for your holiday plans

Government announces the removal of all travel corridors - what does this mean for you and how can you shorten your quarantine time?
Heathrow airport airline waiting at red traffic li

The UK government will remove all travel corridors from 4am on Monday, meaning everyone arriving back into the UK will have to quarantine. This will be in place until at least 15 February.

The quarantine time will be 10 days, unless you take part in the government's test to release system which reduces the quarantine time for people arriving into England if you test negative. However, you will need to get a test from the list of government approved providers.

This will come into force the same day as the recently announced test before travel scheme, which means you will have to present a negative Covid-19 test before you travel to the UK.

Because of the removal of all corridors, flights may be cut, so if you are currently abroad, get in touch with your travel provider to see if you need to return home earlier.

Find out how test to release and travel corridors affect your holiday plans:

    Find out what you need to know about the new testing requirement for travellers coming to the UK

    Travel bans due to new coronavirus strains

    Cancelled flights

    In December, the UK banned travel from South Africa amid concerns over another new strain of the virus. People who have transited through South Africa in the past 10 days will also be banned. You will not be permitted entry to the UK. Some travellers are exempt (including UK and Irish nationals, UK visa holders and permanent residents), but they will have to self-isolate for 10 days on arrival.

    Additionally, from 15 January, the UK banned arrivals from Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Cape Verde, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela following evidence of a new variant in Brazil. There's also a travel suspension on travellers from Portugal, because of its major travel links with Brazil.

    For more impartial advice and exclusive investigations from our experts, subscribe to Which? Travel.

    What is test to release?

    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. Since 15 December, travellers from high-risk countries that aren't on the travel corridor list are required to quarantine for 10 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.

    This new test and release system only applies to countries that are not travel corridors. Passengers from a country that's on the travel corridor list don't need to self-isolate.

    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.

    You can still decide to opt into the test to release scheme after returning to England, but you'll need to complete the passenger locator form again.

    woman taking covid swab test
    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.

    If there are travel restrictions in place where you live, for example Scotland, and have booked a package holiday departing from an English airport, your holiday is unlikely to be cancelled. This is even though local advice might prevent you from entering England from Scotland. If the FCDO advice says it's safe to travel to that country, 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. Holidays can 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, unless it specifically says this in its policy.

    Currently though, the UK is locked down, so nobody should be going abroad except for essential reasons. Additionally, the UK has taken all countries off the corridor list and some countries have banned UK nationals from entering. Just because a country is on the travel corridor list doesn't necessarily mean this will be reciprocated and you'll be permitted to enter - check before travel.

    When will travel corridors be reviewed?

    Travel corridors are reviewed every week. Announcements are usually posted at around 5pm on a Thursday.

    Changes to the travel corridors usually come into effect from 4am on the following Saturday.

    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.

    Can I get a refund if travel corridors change?

    It depends. If your holiday destination is removed from the travel corridor list, the first thing you should do is check the FCDO travel advice.

    If it hasn't been updated to advise against all non essential travel to your destination, as is currently the case with the Canary Islands, your holiday provider won't cancel your booking and you won't be able to get your money back even if it has been removed from the travel corridor list. So, if you aren't willing to quarantine for between five and 10 days when you return to the UK, your best bet is to try and postpone your booking - most operators will waive the admin charge to do this, but the new dates may mean you have to pay more.

    If the FCDO advice has been updated to advise against all non-essential travel, package tour operators such as Jet2 and TUI will cancel your entire booking and are legally required to give you a full cash refund within 14 days, assuming you don't want to reschedule your holiday instead.

    The same rules apply to package bookings made through online travel agents (OTAs), however some, including Loveholidays and Onthebeach, are not automatically cancelling bookings, even when the travel corridor and FCDO advice changes. Both companies are refusing to refund customers for the airfare portion of their booking if the airline is still running the flight and, while the accommodation part of the booking may be refundable, you'll need to discuss directly this with the company.

    Coronavirus: what it means for your travel insurance.

    Should I book a holiday this year?
    family on beach

    Despite the now shorter quarantine time if you use the government test to release scheme, now isn't a great time to book a holiday.

    Booking a holiday is far from risk-free, especially since we're in a strict national lockdown. Additionally, many countries have banned UK arrivals because of the new coronavirus variant. It isn't a good time to book.

    Even if the lockdown is lifted and countries permit British travellers again, 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.

    Until the situation changes, you should only consider booking or going on a holiday once travel bans are lifted and you'll need to decide if you are willing to self-isolate for at least five (and quite possibly more) days upon your return to the UK.