The new Covid travel rules – from lateral flow testing to isolation requirements


The testing rules for fully vaccinated travellers arriving in the UK have been eased in the latest travel review.

Those travelling to the UK will no longer have to take a pre-departure test from 4am on Friday (January 7) and the required Day 2 PCR test will been downgraded to a rapid lateral flow test from 4am on Sunday (January 9) – with the need to isolate until they receive a negative result removed from 4am on Friday (January 7).

The news follows the removal of all 11 countries from the red list last month, meaning no arrivals are currently subject to a 10-day stay in a quarantine hotel. 

Elsewhere, some countries in Europe have reintroduced restrictions. A full lockdown has been imposed in the Netherlands, while Germany, Spain, Italy and France have tightened their Covid measures. France has gone one step further, and banned all non-essential travel from the United Kingdom.

Holidays to most open countries can still go ahead. Some destinations still require proof of a negative PCR test result from all arrivals, others only request a vaccine certificate for entry, while Austria is among the first to request both, plus a booster.

Hurdles remain for the unvaccinated, who must take a pre-departure test, enter a 10-day quarantine on return, and take two PCR tests. Some countries will also impose a quarantine on unvaccinated arrivals.

Here is everything you need to know about international travel, from testing requirements to paperwork and quarantine.

Which countries can I travel to?

The UK Government has removed the 11 countries placed on its travel red list. If you are fully vaccinated you can currently travel to any country or territory without having to enter quarantine for 10 days on your return.

All vaccinated travellers must take a Day 2 PCR or lateral flow test (from 4am on Sunday, January 9) – the need to isolate will be scrapped from 4am on Friday, January 7. Anyone who tests positive must isolate for 10 days – fully vaccination travellers can cut their isolation short if they take a negative lateral flow test on day six and seven.

If you are not fully vaccinated, you must enter 10 days of self-isolation on return to the UK, with two further tests on days two and eight. The only country that unvaccinated Britons can return from, without quarantine, is Ireland. 

Are all countries letting in Britons?

All countries have their own requirements on testing, vaccination certification, quarantine and other documentation. Many nations are welcoming Britons, although some have border restrictions prohibiting Britons from entry. 

As the omicron variant continues to spread countries are tightening rules at their borders – France has banned all non-essential travel from the United Kingdom, while Austria has made a Covid booster mandatory for entry.

Check the destination’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) page to find out if you can go.

Do I need to take a test before I travel?

This depends on the destination. If there is a requirement, it is typically a PCR test taken no more than 72 hours before travel/arrival – some countries, including the US, also accept rapid tests. 

Many countries accept a vaccine certificate instead of proof of a negative test. Check the destination’s FCDO page before you go. 

Do I need to take a test after arriving home?

Those who are fully vaccinated must take a PCR or lateral flow test (from 4am on January 9) on or before day two (arrival day is day zero). There is no need to isolate until you receive a negative result (from 4am on January 7). Anyone who tests positive must isolate for 10 days – however if you are double jabbed and take a negative lateral flow test on day six and day seven of your isolation you can leave early. 

If you are not fully vaccinated, you must enter quarantine and take PCR tests on days two and eight. If you opt in for Test to Release, you can take a second test on day five to exit quarantine (if your result is negative), but will still need to take the further test on day eight.

What are the rules for under 18s?

Under 18s no longer have to take pre-departure test when returning to the UK from 4am on January 7, regardless of vaccination status. From 4am on January 9, all children aged five and above must still take a lateral flow test on or before day two of their return  

The majority of countries do not require vaccine certificates from under-18s, but some do. Malta, for example, requires 12- to 18-year-olds to be fully vaccinated before arrival. Children aged five to 11 can enter Malta if accompanied by vaccinated parents or legal guardians, provided they show a negative PCR test carried out within 72 hours of travel. In Austria, 16 and 17 years olds must be fully vaccinated, take a test and have a booster in order to enter.

Some other countries have imposed bans, quarantine or other stringent rules on unvaccinated children and teenagers. Read about them all here.

What paperwork do I need for travel?

Different countries have different requirements. France, for example, asks all arrivals to sign a declaration confirming you do not have Covid or symptoms (although, right now, travel to France from the UK is banned). Greece has a Passenger Locator Form, as does Spain.

Most countries also require a vaccination certificate to enter without quarantine or a PCR test result. If you have received two jabs, you can access your vaccine certificate on the NHS app, where you will find a QR code and the dates of your vaccinations. 

Some countries will also request vaccination certificates, or proof of a recent negative test result, in order to enter indoor venues like bars and restaurants – such as France and Italy.

To return to the UK, you must fill in a Passenger Locator Form. Make sure you have a code for your day two test booking, otherwise you will not be able to submit the form.

What travel insurance do I need?

Most insurance companies offer some degree of Covid cover. Check our Covid insurance guide for more information.

I live in another country, can I enter the UK?

It depends where you live, and whether you are vaccinated or not.

The UK recognises vaccines administered in other countries including the 27 EU states, certain non-EU European states, plus the United States, Canada, and a number of other long-haul destinations. 

All arrivals will however still need to take a pre-departure test, as well as a test on day two and isolate until a negative result is confirmed (more details above). 

Arrivals from all other countries will need to enter a 10-day quarantine on arrival in the UK, with tests on days two and eight (with the option to test to release on day five). They will also need to take a pre-departure test. Rules on testing and quarantine for children vary, see above. If arriving from a red list country, hotel quarantine rules apply.

Reader Service: It’s more important than ever to have holiday cancellation insurance. Learn how to get the right travel cover before you go.

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