Unlocking the World

Travel to the UK during Covid-19: What you need to know before you go

CNN StaffUpdated 17th September 2021
The UK has been among the countries worst-hit by coronavirus.
Editor's Note — Coronavirus cases are in flux across the globe. Health officials caution that staying home is the best way to stem transmission until you're fully vaccinated. Below is information on what to know if you still plan to travel, last updated on September 17.
(CNN) — If you're planning to travel to the UK, here's what you'll need to know and expect if you want to visit during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The basics

The United Kingdom has seen one of the highest number of deaths from Covid-19 in the world, resulting in multiple lockdowns. In England, Scotland and Wales, most legal coronavirus restrictions have now been lifted, but there are still restrictions in place across the UK regarding international travel -- see more below.
In Northern Ireland, other domestic Covid-19 restrictions also remain.
Across the UK, there are fears about the impact of the Delta Covid variant.
International travel to and from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland currently takes place under a risk-based "traffic light" system, dividing countries into "red", "amber" or "green" categories.
For the full list of green list countries and requirements, see below.
The UK government has announced "a simplified system for international travel" to England will commence from October 4, with the amber list due to be eradicated. See more below.

What's on offer

In London, the UK has one of the world's greatest cities. But beyond the architectural marvels and nightlife of the capital, there is much to explore -- the rugged peaks of the Scottish Highlands, distant Welsh lakes and the wide sweep of Cornish beaches, for starters, plus historic towns and cities such as Bath, Oxford and Harrogate.

Who can go

All travelers entering the UK, including British citizens, must present a negative Covid test taken within 72 hours of arrival.
UK residents traveling from destinations on the "red list," which includes South Africa and Argentina, can enter the country but must quarantine on arrival in a hotel and follow testing requirements. See below for further details.
If you've arrived from a red list country and your final destination is in Wales or Northern Ireland, you will need to book a hotel in England or Scotland.
(The Republic of Ireland has entirely separate entrance regulations, which are enforced when crossing the land border.)

What are the restrictions?

All UK arrivals must provide a negative test taken within the past 72 hours, and complete a Passenger Locator Form before arriving in the UK.
A traffic light-based travel system -- red, amber and green -- is in place in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Non-UK residents from red list countries are currently refused entry to the UK.
British residents arriving home from red list destinations must undergo a 10-day hotel quarantine at their own expense.
Before arriving in the UK, these travelers must purchase what the UK government calls a "quarantine package," covering the stay in hotel quarantine and food and drink while there.
Bookings must be made through this online portal. The charge for a single adult occupying one room for 10 days is now £2,285. Anyone dodging quarantine risks fines of up to £10,000.
UK residents who've been fully vaccinated via the UK vaccine program who are returning to England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland from an amber country don't need to quarantine.
These amber travelers must still do a pre-departure test and a PCR test on day two, but they don't have to do a day eight test.
UK residents arriving back in the UK who aren't fully vaccinated must take a pre-departure test, quarantine for 10 days and take a PCR test on day two and day eight of quarantine. If these travelers are arriving in England, they can end their quarantine early via the Test to Release scheme. More information on that here.
Travelers who are fully vaccinated with vaccines authorized by the EMA and FDA in Europe and the USA, or via the Swiss vaccination program, can travel to England from amber countries without having to quarantine on arrival. They also don't need to take the day eight test.
Travelers arriving or departing from a green destination have to take a pre-departure test, as well as a PCR test on or before day two of their arrival back in the UK. They do not need to quarantine.
The countries currently on the UK's green list are Australia; Brunei; New Zealand; Iceland; Singapore; Faroe Islands; Gibraltar; Falkland Islands; Israel; South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands and St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha; Anguilla; Antigua; Barbados; Bermuda; British Antarctic Territory; British Indian Ocean Territory; British Virgin Islands; Cayman Islands; Dominica; Grenada; Madeira; Malta; Montserrat; Pitcairn Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands, Bulgaria, Hong Kong, Croatia, Taiwan, Austria, Germany, Latvia, Norway, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Canada, the Azores, Denmark, Finland, Liechtenstein, Lithuania and Switzerland.
Some of the green list destinations don't currently permit nonessential UK travelers to enter.
The UK government regularly reviews the green list and there's also a green watchlist which some countries are put on if they're at risk of moving from green to amber. Click here to view which country is on which list.
From October 4, the current system will be overhauled -- the UK government is getting rid of the amber list for England arrivals and instead countries will either be green or red, opening up more travel opportunities to and from the UK. It's not clear yet if the new rules will also apply to arrivals to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Testing requirements will also be loosened. From October 4, fully vaccinated travelers arriving from a non-red-list country won't need to take a pre-departure test before arriving in the UK.
Also from October 4, fully-vaccinated travelers from countries including Japan and Singapore will be subject to the same exceptions as travelers who are fully vaccinated with vaccines authorized by the EMA and FDA in Europe and the USA, or via the Swiss vaccination program.
The government has also announced that from the end of October, "eligible fully vaccinated passengers and those with an approved vaccine from a select group of non-red countries" will be permitted to replace their day two PCR test with a lateral flow test.
Cruising has now recommenced in the UK and several "staycation" cruises took place this summer, traversing the UK coastline. See government guidance here and check the specific cruise line for regulations. The UK government has also approved international cruises from England.
Brits can use the NHS app as an NHS Covid Pass to display vaccination details or recent Covid test results for domestic or international purposes. Alternatively, they can request a paper letter with vaccine status.
The UK government also encourages the use of the separate NHS Covid 19 app in England and Wales -- and its equivalents in Scotland and Northern Ireland -- in order to check into venues for contact tracing purposes. See more below.

What's the Covid situation?

The UK suffered a devastating first wave in 2020, followed by a troubling winter 2020/2021 in the wake of the discovery of the Alpha (Kent) variant.
On June 1, 2020 zero Covid deaths were recorded across all four nations of the UK. Not long after, case rates were rising again amid increasing concerns about the impact of the Delta variant. Cases fell in July, but in recent weeks appeared to be on the rise again.
There have been more than 7.3 million Covid cases and over 134,100 deaths in the UK as of September 17.
The UK was the world's first country to begin a vaccination program, which has lessened the burden on the National Health Service (NHS).
All adults in the UK have now been offered a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.
Rapid lateral flow tests are available for free via pharmacies and online, and UK citizens are encouraged to test themselves twice a week.
As of September 17, over 93.5 million vaccination doses have been administered in the UK and over 66% of the population has been fully vaccinated.
In March 2020, there was a UK-wide lockdown that lasted until the summer. Since then, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland developed their own region-specific measures.
Restrictions are now eased across the UK, but some remain in Northern Ireland -- see more below.

What can visitors expect?

  • England
England has emerged from lockdown and most legal Covid-19 restrictions have now been lifted.
As of July 19, there are no longer limits on how many people can meet inside or outside at private households or in hospitality venues.
But the UK government still advises people to "limit the close contact you have with those you do not usually live with, and increase close contact gradually" and "meet outdoors where possible."
All English shops, museums, theme parks, bars, pubs, hotels, B&Bs, cinemas, theaters and nightclubs can reopen.
Social distancing and face masks are no longer required by law.
However some businesses are still implementing Covid-19 restrictions, so it's worth checking the situation before you go.
Travel within the UK is allowed, as is travel abroad, in line with the traffic light system outlined above.
The government has also said the one-meter rule will remain at the border in order to manage the risk of variants.
The government has been encouraging venues operating with large numbers -- like concert venues or nightclubs -- to use the NHS Covid Pass mentioned above as a means of entry.
However, while the government initially planned to make proof of full vaccination compulsory for entry to nightclubs or other large venues in England from the end of September -- this plan has been put on hold for now. The government continues to encourage venues' voluntary use of the NHS Covid Pass.
While the legal requirements on face masks have been lifted, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said "we expect and recommend that people wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces where you come into contact with those you don't normally meet, such as on public transport."
London Mayor Sadiq Khan asked Transport for London (who manage the city's transport network, including the Tube) to continue to mandate travelers wear face masks after July 19, unless they're medically exempt.
People in England who are identified as close contacts of someone who has tested positive for Covid-19 must self-isolate for 10 days -- unless they've been fully vaccinated.
Adults who've had both jabs and children under 18 -- as well as people who've taken part in an approved Covid-19 vaccine trial and those who can't get vaccinated for medical reasons -- who are identified as close contacts don't have to self-isolate, as long as they test negative for Covid-19 via a PCR test.
This close contact identification often takes place via the NHS Covid-19 app, which allows users to check in to restaurants, bars and other venues for track and trace purposes.
Using the app is not compulsory but is recommended by the UK government.
The UK government says it hopes to continue managing Covid-19 without reintroducing restrictions, but has published a document outlining what it calls a "Plan B" for England for winter 2021/22.
  • Wales
As of August 7, Wales' remaining legal Covid restrictions have been removed and Wales is currently at what the country classifies as Covid alert level 0.
There are no longer limits on numbers of people meeting indoors or outdoors, in homes, restaurants, bars or pubs.
All businesses -- from hotels to museums to nightclubs -- can reopen.
Travel within Wales and the rest of the UK is permitted, as is travel abroad under the traffic light system.
Face coverings are still required by law in certain indoor settings, but not in hospitality venues.
The Welsh government also advises people to meet outdoors if possible, as well as "limit the number of people you meet at any one occasion, the amount of time you spend with people and maintain physical distancing where you can."
Wales also uses the NHS Covid-19 app for test and trace. Using the app is not compulsory but is recommended by the Welsh government.
Fully vaccinated adults in Wales -- as well as those under 18 and vaccine trial participants -- don't need to self isolate if they're a close contact of someone who has tested positive for Covid.
The Welsh government has announced that from October 11, people in Wales must show their NHS Covid Pass to enter venues with large numbers of people, including nightclubs.
  • Scotland
On August 9, Scotland removed most remaining Covid restrictions.
There are now no limitations on the number of people gathering in homes, restaurants, bars or pubs.
Museums, pubs, restaurants shops, tourist attractions and theaters can all reopen. Nightclubs are now able to open again.
The legal requirement on social distancing has also been removed.
Travel within Scotland and the rest of the UK is permitted, as is travel abroad under the traffic light system.
Face coverings are still mandatory in indoor public places and public transport. There is also a maximum of 2,000 people at any indoor event, and 5,000 people outdoors.
The Scottish government still advises avoiding "crowded places" and keeping "distance from other people where possible." Scottish residents are also advised to meet outside if possible.
Scotland has confirmed that from October 1, proof of full vaccination will be compulsory for entry to Scottish nightclubs or events with large numbers of people in attendance. People in Scotland will be able to use the NHS Scotland Covid Status App to confirm they're jabbed, or they can request a paper record of vaccination.
Scotland also has its own version of the NHS Covid-19 app called Protect Scotland. It's not compulsory, but its use is recommended by the Scottish government.
Adults who've been been double-vaccinated for two weeks or more -- and children between five and 17 -- who are identified as close contacts of someone who has tested positive for Covid-19 do not have to to self-isolate, so long as they test negative for Covid-19 via a PCR test.
  • Northern Ireland
In Northern Ireland, all non-essential shops have reopened and restaurants are open for indoor and outdoor dining. Restrictions have been removed regarding the number of households who can sit together in hospitality venues.
There are no longer any restrictions on how many people can meet in a private garden. Up to 15 people from four households can meet in a private home and stay over night. Children under 12 are not counted in the total. For exact guidelines, see here.
People in Northern Ireland are required to keep a minimum of one-meter distance in public transport if possible. Regulations also dictate one-meter social distancing in indoor hospitality settings and indoor visitor attractions. In outdoor settings, social distancing is "strongly advised."
Overnight stays in self-contained holiday accommodation with your household -- or with up to 15 people from no more than four households -- are also permitted. Children under 12 aren't counted in this total. Northern Ireland outdoor visitor attractions have also reopened.
Hotels and B&Bs have also reopened, as have museums and other indoor leisure and visitor attractions. Live music and theater is allowed but nightclubs remain closed.
Travel within Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK is allowed, as is travel abroad under the traffic light system.
Face coverings are required on public transport and some other indoor public settings.
Northern Ireland has its own version of the NHS Covid-19 contact tracing app called StopCOVID NI. It's not compulsory, but its use is recommended by the Northern Irish government.

Useful links

Our recent coverage

Many in the travel industry have recently been questioning the UK's travel regulations. Wondering how confusion around the traffic light system has impacted British travelers? Look no further. We've also examined whether a UK/US travel corridor could be on the cards this summer, and we've looked more generally at how the pandemic and Brexit will impact the UK's tourism appeal.
Plus, we interviewed an American who vacationed in London during lockdown in November 2020, and covered the steps being taken as UK destinations hoped to avoid some of the reports of domestic travel chaos from last summer.
Once the UK gets the virus under control, there's a vast amount to see. Check out our list of the top places to visit in the UK, or if it's England specifically you're interested, here are some of the loveliest spots in the country. You'll find our list of Scotland's top spots here.