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Guide to UK travel restrictions: When can you actually travel in 2021?

Posted on February 22, 2021 by Vicky Smith
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The UK has entered the New Year with even tougher travel restrictions than anyone had predicted. 

In December it was announced a new variant of the coronavirus that appears to transmit easier had been discovered in the UK. As a result, Brits were almost immediately banned from travelling to dozens of countries and now we’re in a national lockdown.

Following the news, more than 50 countries announced blanket bans on UK air travel, while some such as Spain declared it would only allow its own citizens to return from Britain.

In addition to the problems caused by the new more transmissible variant, Britain leaving the EU on 1 January introduced further changes impacting travel. With the UK no longer part of the bloc, it’s not automatically included on the “safe” list for travel due to its level of coronavirus infections. 

So to help you plan for travel in 2021, let’s take a look at the restrictions and what to look out for so you can decide if your destination is a red, amber or green light for travel.

When can you travel infographic

Red – full stop to travel, you will not be able to go

The government has banned all travel from England apart from a few exceptions such as work purposes (it is important to remember our policies do not cover any work related trips). If and when tiers are re-introduced, if you are in a tier 4 or tier 5 area in England ‘all but essential’ travel is banned. So travel for holidays is out under these tiers. 

It’s a similar story for those living in Wales (travel for essential reasons only), Northern Ireland (avoid unnecessary travel) and Scotland (if you live in level three or four areas you should avoid unnecessary travel).

Some countries such as Spain stopped all flights from the UK until further notice, unless the flights contained their own citizens. Italy also says only Italian citizens may travel from the UK.

One country where travel is likely to remain banned to and from the UK is South Africa, where another new strain of the virus has been found. The UK government banned direct flights from South Africa on Christmas Eve. British Citizens who have travelled indirectly from South Africa can still enter the UK, but they must quarantine for 10 days after arrival.

Australia and New Zealand are also no-go destinations for Brits. Both countries are only allowing entry for their own citizens, who are required to quarantine at hotels on arrival and have two negative tests before they are able to return home.

So, how do you know which countries are a red light for travel?

Check your destination government’s current stance on accepting UK visitors. If there is a ban in place, you won’t be able to go. You’ll also need to check the UK government’s advice before booking to see if there is a current ban on travelling to and from your destination. 

What to do if you’re planning on travelling:

  • If you have already booked a trip you’ll need to speak to your travel provider to see how they can help. They may be able to change the dates of your holiday. 

Amber – You may be able to travel under certain circumstances

Travel is not impossible under an amber light, but you may need to qualify for travel or fulfil certain entry requirements. 

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) may advise against ‘all but essential travel’ to your chosen destination – but the choice is yours whether you decide to travel or not.

It’s important to note that a government enforced travel ban is different to FCDO travel advice and must not be ignored.

Separate to both of these is ‘travel corridors’ – which are places the government says you can travel to and from without needing to quarantine when you arrive home.

If your destination is not on the list of approved travel corridors you may still choose to travel there – but you would need to quarantine on arrival home.

However, at present all travel corridors are currently suspended as of 18 January 2021. We do not yet know a date for when it will be reinstated. See the latest news on Coronavirus travel corridors.

So, how do you know which countries are an amber light for travel?

As well as paying attention to the UK’s own travel advice, you will need to look at your destination country’s guidance. This could include quarantining on arrival – which may scupper holiday plans if you’re only intending to stay for a week or two. 

Your destination country may also only be allowing entry to travellers arriving for ‘essential reasons’, not tourism. So double check you will be OK to fly before heading off.

What to do if you’re planning on travelling:

  • Check all of the requirements of your destination before you travel.
  • Make sure you get a test within 72 hours of travel if that is what you are asked to do.
  • If you travel to a destination not on the travel corridor list then you can potentially reduce your quarantine time on arrival home in the UK by paying for a coronavirus test. The government has a list of approved test providers they will accept results from.
  • Before travelling double check your travel insurance covers you for the latest travel guidance. We can still provide you with travel insurance if you travel to a European destination where the FCDO has advised against ‘all but essential’ travel. You just need to add our European FCDO travel advice extension to your policy. 

Green – Travel is OK

You’re free to go ahead and book your trip if your destination:

  • Is on the government travel corridor list and not subject to any UK travel ban.
  • Has no travel bans in place for UK citizens.

However, because of the global pandemic you are likely to still need to tick a few boxes ahead of travelling.

What to do if you’re planning on travelling:

  • Double check the guidance for your destination country before you depart, including quarantine rules to make sure there have been no last minute changes.
  • Some countries may still require a negative test taken 72 hours before you travel just to be sure you are healthy when you fly.
  • Don’t forget that some destinations – such as China, Thailand, Egypt, Turkey and now the EU – require six month validity on your passport. So be sure to double check your passport expiry date before you jet off.

It’s too early to predict what restrictions may be in place in spring and summer. With the vaccine rollout occurring across the UK at pace and abroad, it’s likely this will have a positive impact on case numbers, allowing some restrictions to be lifted.

For now holidaymakers need to keep on top of the very latest travel advice – double checking the situation upon booking and again before they travel. 

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.