UK traveling changed on 4 October 2021 with the application of the new international border protocols, which eliminated the previous “traffic lights” system.
Green-list countries and amber-list countries turned into red-list countries or directly went into the “rest of the world” (ROW) category —a new classification designed to simplify travel to the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic. The category of each country was updated according to the latest COVID-19 infection rates and statistics around the world.
After the evaluation, the UK government reduced the red list from 54 to 7 countries. While places like Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil were removed from the red list, other territories in the Americas still remain on it, such as Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Venezuela, Peru, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti.
Red-list countries nationals are not permitted into the UK unless they have residence rights in one of the UK territories.
British and Irish citizens, as well as those with residence rights in the UK, must take a COVID-19 test at least 3 days before they travel back to the UK from a red-list country.
They must also book a managed quarantine service through the Corporate Travel Management’s website 10 days before they travel to the UK. They must stay at a managed quarantine hotel for 10 days upon their arrival and take a COVID-19 test on day 2 and after day 8.
The COVID-19 test can be PCR or lateral flow test in England. Instead, Wales and Scotland have totally replaced PCR with lateral flow tests in October 2021.
Managed quarantine services were created to help travelers meet the quarantine requirements for red-list countries. Managed quarantines are organized in packages that people who recently visited a red-list country can buy before they arrive in the UK.
The package provides transport from the airport to the managed quarantine hotel and a stay of 10 days and 11 nights with food catered by the hotel’s staff. The package also includes COVID-19 tests for day 2 and day 8. Other services (laundry, wifi, etc.) depend on the hotel.
There are certain rules regarding travel quarantine in quarantine hotels. For example, travelers can’t receive any visitors in the hotel. Unless there is an emergency, they can only spend time with those they’ve traveled with. And they can only leave their room to fulfill legal obligations, attend a funeral, get medical assistance, or escape an obvious risk of harm such as during a fire or a domestic abuse situation.
It’s a form that people coming from red-list countries must fulfill online within 48 hours prior to their arrival in the UK, even if they’re not going to stay in there (for example, if they’ll only be in the UK because of a flight’s layover). The form is presented during check-in right before boarding the transport that will take the passenger to the UK (train, ferry, plane).
Border Force officers will require the form to be 100% completed, containing passport and vaccination details, travel date and address of the destination, reference numbers for COVID-19 tests, and invoice numbers for quarantine hotel booking.
Exceptions to red list restrictions can be applied for medical reasons if travelers can prove a severe health condition that would worsen if they stayed in a managed quarantine facility or if the managed quarantine facility couldn’t provide what they need to cover or keep the condition under control. In this case, the travelers would have to quarantine somewhere else.
Some professionals are also excepted from quarantine upon arrival in the UK. Aircraft pilots, for example, must only provide a negative lateral flow device (LFD) test if they’re fully vaccinated —especially if they’re UK citizens.
All the countries not on the red list are on the ROW list, referred to as the non-red list. If nationals of these countries want to visit the UK, they may face fewer restrictions, but it really depends on their vaccination status.
Ten days long quarantine with COVID-19 tests on day 2 and day 8, along with COVID-19 pre-departure tests, are mandatory for unvaccinated travelers from the non-red list. They can isolate themselves at home or at hotels.
On the other hand, fully vaccinated travelers are exempt from quarantine but not from taking COVID-19 tests, which should be booked and bought within 48 hours upon arrival to England. Fully vaccinated people are those who got authorized vaccines and certificates in approved territories (currently 18 countries, including the UK, the US, the EU, Japan, and Singapore).
Traveling within the UK is completely free as it is not considered international travel. Scotland, England, Wales, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Isle of Man, Guernsey, Jersey are interchangeable destinations with no entry requirements.
If a traveler has a family member severely ill or dying, he or she can ask to be excepted from managed quarantine because of compassionate reasons. Ideally, this should be done two weeks before arrival.
Travelers should wait for their case to be assessed as breaking quarantine or evading COVID-19 tests is a criminal offense in the UK. Fines can be as high as £10,000 (more than 13,000 USD).
Children under 4 years old do not need to take COVID-19 tests if they return to the UK from a non-red list country. Children aged 5-17 should be tested on day 2 after arriving in England or Wales.
In Scotland, children under 10 years are exempt from taking COVID-19 tests, and children aged 11-17 must take a day 2 lateral flow test (PCR until the end of October). In Northern Ireland, children in the age range of 5-17 must take a day 2 PCR test (Northern Ireland hasn’t confirmed LFT adoption) and children in the age range of 11-17 must take a pre-departure test additionally.
The UK government recommends checking specific local restrictions so that visitors can plan their travel accordingly.