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Mandatory COVID-19 testing for UK arrivals – What you need to know

Posted on January 21, 2021 by Vicky Smith
an image of a woman leaving the arrivals section of an airport

International travellers arriving in the UK will now need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken shortly before setting off.

We don’t yet know how long the government may choose to keep the new mandatory testing for travel to the UK in place, but it’s unlikely to lift before any changes to lockdown measures are made.

Mandatory testing for all arrivals is commonplace internationally. The US has recently announced it will also require proof of a negative COVID-19 test before travellers are allowed to board flights to the country.

France also requires travellers from the UK to produce a negative COVID-19 test result.

What are the rules on testing before travelling to UK

Arrivals to the UK who have travelled by plane, train or boat now need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken up to 72 hours before you start your journey.

If you tested negative before departing the UK this does not matter. You still need to provide a negative test within 72 hours of travelling to the UK.

You must also complete a passenger locator form before travel.

Do I need a COVID-19 test if I’ve had a vaccine?

At present there are no exceptions to the rules on COVID-19 testing if you have had a vaccine. It’s possible this may change over the course of the year as more is known about the vaccine’s effectiveness on controlling the virus and higher numbers of people receive the vaccine.

This is because scientists don’t yet know if the vaccine prevents you from being infectious to others should you be exposed to the virus.

What sort of test do you need to take?

The government has set out the standards for tests it will accept. If you do not take a test that meets the standards then you may not be allowed to travel.

The test needs to meet performance standards of ≥97% specificity, ≥80% sensitivity at viral loads above 100,000 copies/ml.

This could include tests such as:

  • A nucleic acid test, including a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test or derivative technologies, including loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) test.
  • An antigen test, such as a test from a lateral flow device.

It will be the traveller’s responsibility to ensure tests meet the minimum standards outlined here. You can find advice on where to find test providers when abroad on the FCDO travel advice pages.

The test result must be presented in English, French or Spanish on an original test result certificate. It must include the following information:

  • You name (matching the name on your travel documents)
  • You date of birth or age
  • The result
  • The date the test sample was collected
  • The name of the test provider
  • The name of the test device

Will my travel insurance cover the costs of a test abroad?

No, travel insurance only covers the cost of unexpected events and emergencies. The COVID-19 testing requirement is now a routine procedure for international arrivals.

In the UK private coronavirus tests vary in price from £89 to £295.

Don’t forget to include the cost of the test in your holiday budget. Everyone in the family will need a test result, apart from children under 11.

What happens if you travel to the UK without proof of a test?

You may not be allowed to board your transport to the UK without proof of a negative test.

Fines of £500 are also being handed out if you fail to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test when you arrive in the UK.

Do I still need to isolate for 10 days if I’ve had a negative test before arriving in the UK?

Yes you do, unless you have travelled from a country on the travel corridor list. However, at present the travel corridor list has been scrapped and we do not yet know a date for when it will be reinstated.

You can cut your isolation time in half to five days by using the Test to Release scheme. You need to pay for a private test and if that test comes back negative then you can end your self-isolation.

You can use the government list of approved testing providers to find a test it deems acceptable for the scheme.

Is the mandatory testing rule the same across the UK?

In Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales the same rules apply for pre-departure testing as in England. You must get a coronavirus test within three days before you travel to anywhere in the UK.

Do you have to get a test to travel within the UK?

You will not need to provide proof of a negative test to travel within the UK. You also do not need to take a test if your journey to the UK began in the Isle of Man, Jersey, Guernsey, Ascension, the Falkland Islands or St Helena.

Will mandatory testing be in place for summer holidays?

We don’t yet know how long the UK will keep the mandatory testing requirement for international arrivals.

At the moment UK officials are indicating lockdown is here to stay through February, with the possible easing of restrictions in March. However we don’t yet know exactly in what order restrictions may be eased, and if the new testing requirement is here to stay beyond winter to keep COVID-19 under control in the UK.

In terms of thinking ahead, it’s best to assume you will need a test if travelling abroad in spring or summer and plan where you can get your test done before your journey.

Vicky Smith

by Vicky Smith

Vicky Smith is a journalist and freelance content creator. She loves to travel with her family. Her favourite place in the world is a sandy beach in Cornwall.