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Cars & travel.

19 August 2021

From Covid passports to tests to fly: Your checklist for hassle-free holidays in 2021

Plan your next overseas trip with our timeline of everything you need to know and to book for pandemic travel
LB
Lauren Bell

Holidaying overseas has never been more complicated nor more rewarding, if you're willing to overcome the many hurdles to travel.

Before booking that long-awaited getaway, you’ll need to unpick the government’s rules as well as your destination’s entry requirements. You should also factor in the cost of Covid tests and make sure your vaccine paperwork and insurance are in order before boarding your flight. 

Then there’s quarantine conditions and further tests to unravel for your return journey, depending on where you choose to go.

To help streamline this process,  we’ve created a handy timeline of everything to consider when planning a break and travelling during the pandemic.  If you've done the legwork before you go, then once away you can (hopefully) finally relax.

A holiday timeline of everything to tick off before you fly
A holiday timeline of everything to tick off before you fly

Two months before you travel

Passport

new and old UK passport
Is your passport in date?

This should be first on any traveller’s checklist especially as the rules have changed due to Brexit. 

To travel to Schengen Area countries (which is most of Europe) you need to have at least three months left on your passport – but there’s an important caveat.

Passports are usually given 10 years’ validity, but some are issued with more if you renewed your current passport before the previous one expired. Any remaining validity (up to nine months) on the old one would likely have been added to the new passport’s expiry date.

But Schengen Area countries also require passports to be less than 10 years old on the day of travel. This means that you could have up to 15 months left on your passport and you’d still be refused entry to some countries. 

Read more on post-Brexit passports.

Global Health Insurance Card

Double check the expiry date on your Ehic (European Health Insurance Card), if it hasn’t run out yet it will continue to work as it always has. But if it has expired, replace it with a new Ghic (Global Health Insurance Card) which is free from the NHS. The card allows UK residents access to free or reduced cost healthcare in most European countries when travelling. 

You still need to take out a decent travel insurance policy – Ghic and Ehic aren’t a replacement. Everything you need to know about Ghic.

When booking your trip

Is your holiday destination on the green, amber or red list?

Green, amber, amber plus, red or the watchlist: find out what traffic light colours mean for your chosen destination, what tests you’ll need to take to travel and whether you’ll need to go into quarantine on your return.

The UK government's green list and amber list will continue to be updated, with just a few countries that offer your best bet for a quarantine-free holiday if you're fully vaccinated against Covid 19. But do check they'll permit you entry before making a booking. Just because they're assigned to the 'green' list doesn't mean they will allow you in for leisure travel.

There is also a risk that a green list country could later be changed to amber or red status as lists will be re-assessed every three weeks. Therefore, book your trip with a company that is clear about refunds if a country moves from green to amber or red. 

Check quarantine requirements

Some destinations may ask you to quarantine if you’re arriving from a country that’s considered high risk in terms of coronavirus. Others will allow you to skip quarantine if you’ve been vaccinated, can prove you’ve recently recovered from Covid-19 or can provide a negative test. Check the entry requirements on the government website before setting off. Preferably, locate the government website of the country you’re due to fly too, as this may be more up to date.

Additionally, it’s important to check whether the UK expects you to quarantine on your return and whether this can take place at home or at your expense in a hotel (red list). Hotel quarantine costs a whopping £1,750 for a single person, so don’t get caught out. England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales will likely all have their own rules, so check the relevant government websites for information.

And if, before travelling, you find out you’re expected to quarantine at either end, a good package holiday provider will allow you to move your holiday to a new destination or date, or refund you, check the details before booking. Alternatively, check to see whether this scenario is covered by your insurance policy.

Choose a good package holiday provider - read our travel agent reviews. 

Check Covid-19 test requirements

Some countries will expect you to provide proof of a negative coronavirus test to allow you entry. In most cases this needs to be taken 72 hours before departure, but it could be 72 hours before you land. You must check this carefully in the weeks leading up your holiday and book a test to ensure it’s within the required window. Find out where to get a cheap Covid test.

Try to book with a package holiday company that will allow you to move your holiday if your test result doesn't come back in time. See more advice in our dos and don'ts of booking in 2021.

Some destinations may not insist on a test as long as you’ve had both vaccinations, or you’ve recently recovered from Covid-19. Each country has its own rules for entry and it’s up to you to check these carefully. 

Additionally, you need to provide a negative Covid-19 test before you return to the UK. The test must have been taken in the three days before your departure. The proof must be in English, French or Spanish. You'll need to research where to take a test while abroad or purchase and pack a lateral flow testing kit to use before flying home. The NHS lateral flow kits are not accepted.

Check vaccine passport requirements

Airport travel during a pandemic
Airport travel during a pandemic

If a country will allow you to travel there if you're fully vaccinated, you can use the NHS app to prove this, or request a letter by calling up the NHS 119 helpline, if you are an English resident. 

Check Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) advice

If the FCDO advises against travel to a country, this could invalidate your insurance. If you’ve booked a package holiday, you will likely be offered a refund, which makes it easy to cancel or rebook for a time when your insurance will be valid. However, this isn’t always the case. Holiday companies that are Abta members are expected to offer an alternative holiday or a refund. 

For flight or hotel-only booking you won’t be entitled to a refund, unless you paid for a refundable room or ticket.

Insurance

Take out travel insurance at the same time as booking a trip.

From getting sick abroad to having to cancel your flights because of self-isolation, the coronavirus pandemic could wreck your holiday, even if you’ve been vaccinated. Read more about Coronavirus travel insurance

Two weeks before you travel

Download vaccine passport or print proof of immunity 

Covid-19 vaccine passport QR code on phone
NHS Covid Pass

In some countries, proof of previous infection from Covid-19 (via an antibody test), or vaccination (both doses) will be enough to allow you to fly there without the need for tests or quarantines.

You’ll need to have your paperwork ready to show to your airline and at border control. The NHS app in England is now ready to use as proof of vaccination status and you can create a QR code on there to prove you've had both vaccines. However, not all countries will necessarily accept it, so you need to check the government website before travelling. Plus, some countries might ask you to still show a negative test, even if you've had the jab.

Make sure you download the app and the QR code several days before you trip in case there are any technical glitches and you need to order a paper copy instead.

Read more on using the NHS app for travel.

Pre-book tests

As outlined above, you'll need to pre-book your private pre-travel or pre-departure Covid tests, if the UK government or your chosen destination requires them.

One week before travel

Re-check FCDO advice, the traffic lights and entry, quarantine and testing requirements at your destination in case there have been any updates.

Three days before travel

Entry paperwork

couple booking using credit card on laptop

Complete any additional paperwork your destination requires before travelling. For Greece, for example, you need to complete a passenger locator form. Grenada requests a Pure Safe travel certificate and the Balearic islands require a health control form. 

Covid test

If your destination requires it you may need to take a Covid test within 72 hours of flying.


Checklist for travelling home

Checklist for travelling home
Checklist for travelling home

72 hours before flying home

Passenger locator forms

The UK currently requires people entering the country to present a passenger locator form. It must be completed before you arrive and submitted within a 48-hour window of disembarking. You will likely be asked to show this when you board your plane, train or ferry.

You must fill out your passport and travel details, as well as the address where you’ll be staying. You’ll also need the reference numbers for the two Covid tests that you must take on day two and eight after arriving in the UK. For green (and amber if vaccinated) you don't need the day eight test or reference number.

If you’re coming from a country on the red list that requires hotel quarantine upon landing, you will also need to provide the invoice number for the hotel you’re due to stay in. 

Take Covid tests

You'll need to take that lateral flow test before, 72 hours before flying home and have the paperwork with you to present at the airport. You'll also need proof of your Day 2 Covid test booking back in the UK.