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 United Kingdom has seen one of the highest number of deaths from Covid-19 in the world, resulting in multiple lockdown restrictions some of which are still in place in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland amid fears about the impact of the Delta Covid variant. See below for more.
On May 17, nonessential international travel resumed in England, Scotland and Wales under a risk-based “traffic light” system, dividing countries into “red”, “amber” or “green” categories. This system was implemented in Northern Ireland from May 24.
For the full list of green list countries, see 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, India, Namibia and the United Arab Emirates, 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 now 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, which include South Africa and India — 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. When the scheme began, the UK government said sixteen hotels had been contracted, with 4,600 rooms set aside for these quarantining arrivals.
The charge for a single adult is £1,750. Anyone dodging quarantine risks fines ranging from £5,000 rising to £10,000.
Those arriving from places on the amber list — which currently includes France, Greece, Spain and Italy — will have to quarantine for 10 days at home upon arrival, take a pre-departure test and also take a PCR test on day two and eight of their isolation.
Travelers from amber destinations qualify for the Test to Release scheme, which means they can take a PCR test after five days’ quarantine and, if their test comes back out negative, exit quarantine and go out into the community.
On July 8, UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced that from July 19, fully vaccinated UK residents returning from an amber country will no longer need to quarantine upon their return to England.
Amber travelers will still have to do a pre-departure test and a PCR test on day two, but they won’t have to do a day eight test.
The guidance which currently suggests people shouldn’t travel to amber countries is also due to change.
It’s unclear yet if the other UK nations will follow suit.
Travelers arriving from the red list countries and staying in a quarantine hotel are not eligible for Test to Release. Travelers to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland also cannot take advantage of the scheme.
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. Britons are only supposed to travel on vacation to places on the green list.
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; Balearic Islands; 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.
Some of the green list destinations do not currently permit nonessential UK travelers to enter.
The UK government has said the list will be reviewed every three weeks. There’s also a green watchlist which countries could end up on if they’re at risk of moving from green to amber. Click here to view which country is on which list.
Cruising has now recommenced in the UK, but the cruises departing from British ports are currently only for UK travelers, and are “staycation” trips traversing the UK coastline. Numbers are also at reduced capacity and other restrictions are in place.
British travelers can use the existing NHS health app as a “vaccine passport.” You can access vaccine records on the app. Alternatively, you can request a paper letter with your vaccine status.
What’s the Covid situation?
The UK suffered a devastating first wave in 2020, followed by a troubling winter in the wake of the discovery of the Alpha (Kent) variant.
There have been more than 5 million Covid cases and more than 128,600 deaths in the UK as of July 12.
The UK was the world’s first country to begin a vaccination program, which has lessened the burden on the National Health Service.
After an initial UK-wide lockdown in spring 2020 in response to the first wave of Covid-19, for the second wave, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland developed their own region-specific measures.
Restrictions are now being eased across the UK, but what you are allowed to do in each region still varies — see more below.
On June 1, zero Covid deaths were recorded across all four nations of the UK.
However case rates are rising again and there are currently growing fears in the UK about the risk of the Delta Covid variant first identified in India.
As of July 12, over 81 million vaccination doses have been administered in the UK and over 52% of the population has been fully vaccinated.
What can visitors expect?
England is currently emerging from its third national lockdown and is approaching the final phase of its easing of restrictions.
People can now meet inside in private households or at hospitality venues in a group of six people, or two households. Outside, up to 30 people can gather.
Nonessential retail is back. England’s museums and theme parks have opened their doors.
Many restaurants, bars and pubs have also reopened for outdoor and indoor dining.
Residents of England are permitted to stay overnight elsewhere in the country (in groups of up to six, or a larger group if all those present are from no more than two households) in self-contained accommodation, such as private holiday lets. Hotels, hostels and B&Bs are also permitted to reopen in England.
Travel within England is permitted, as is travel abroad in line with the traffic light system outlined above.
On July 19, English rules regarding social distancing, face masks and limits on gatherings are set to be removed.
Venues currently closed or operating under limitations — such as nightclubs and theaters — can fully reopen from this day. The government is encouraging venues with large numbers to use the NHS Covid pass which displays Covid vaccination details or recent test results and is accessed via the NHS App or website — as a means of entry.
The government has also said the one-meter rule will remain at the border in order to manage the risk of variants.
While the legal requirements on face masks will be lifted, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that “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.”
In Wales, up to six people from six households can dine inside at restaurants, bars and pubs.
Unlike in the other UK countries, Welsh residents cannot enter other people’s homes unless they’re in an “extended household.” Three households can join together to form an extended household.
Welsh residents can now meet in private gardens or outdoor spaces with up to 30 people.
Holiday accommodation, including hotels and self-contained accommodation, can reopen fully. Welsh residents can stay in accommodation with their household or extended household.
Theaters, museums and galleries are permitted to reopened.
Travel within Wales is permitted, as is travel abroad under the traffic light system.
Wales is currently at what the country classifies as Covid alert level one, and is currently considering when to move to alert level zero and what that would look like.
The Welsh government has confirmed that face coverings will continue to be required by law in certain settings — such as on public transport — in alert level one.
Wales next review of its Covid regulations will take place on July 14. Wales has not pinpointed a date when remaining Covid restrictions will be lifted.
Scotland has adopted a “levels” system — and most of Scotland is now in Level 1 or Level 2.
In Level 1, up to six people from three households can meet inside a private home and stay overnight, while up to eight people from three households can socalize together in an indoor public place.
In a garden, beach or park, up to 12 people from 12 households can gather.
Many Scottish museums, galleries and tourism accommodation have also reopened.
Some Scottish islands have moved to Level 0. The goal is for all of Scotland to move to Level 0 on July 19.
Check the Scottish government’s website for full information on what you can do in each Level.
Travel within Scotland and the rest of the UK is permitted, as is travel abroad under the traffic light system.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said all remaining Scottish Covid restrictions should be lifted August 9, “assuming we are meeting our revised strategic aim of alleviating the harm of the virus.”
In Northern Ireland, all non-essential shops have reopened and restaurants are open for indoor and outdoor dining for up to six people from two households. Children under 12 aren’t included in this total. A single household of no more than 10 people can also sit together inside. As of July 5, live music and theater is allowed.
Up to six people from two households can meet in a private home. Children under 12 are not counted in the total. For exact guidelines, see here.
Up to 15 people (including children) from no more than five households can also socialize outdoors in a private garden.
Overnight stays to self-contained holiday accommodation with your household — or with up to six people from no more than two households — are also now permitted. Children under 12 aren’t counted in this total. Northern Ireland outdoor visitor attractions have also reopened.
As of May 24, hotels and B&Bs have also reopened, as have museums and other indoor leisure and visitor attractions. Up to six people from two households can meet in a private home and stay overnight.
Travel within Northern Ireland is allowed now, as is travel abroad under the traffic light system.
Some restrictions are due to be eased on July 26, but Northern Ireland does not have a definitive date when all Covid restrictions will be removed.
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 hope 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.
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CNN’s Julia Buckley and Francesca Street contributed to this report