Need help? Find out more about our Covid Cover, how to update your policy online & the latest travel updates in our Covid Help Centre

New Covid travel rules for the UK

Posted on November 30, 2021 by Kelly Johnstone
Child playing in the sea with family member

Rules for travel are changing because of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

PCR tests have been reintroduced for day two testing and 10 countries in southern Africa have been added to the red list.

The red list changes come into effect from 4am, Sunday 28 November and the reintroduction of PCR tests for England came into effect from 4am Tuesday 30 November.

What’s changing to travel?

People travelling or returning to the UK from abroad need to take a PCR test before their second day back, and self-isolate on their return until they get a negative test result.

10 countries around South Africa and Botswana, where the variant was first discovered, have been added to the red list. Flights to the UK are also being cancelled from some of these countries.

The new red list countries are:

  • South Africa
  • Namibia
  • Zimbabwe
  • Botswana
  • Lesotho
  • Eswatini
  • Malawi
  • Mozambique
  • Zambia
  • Angola

The rules for returning to the UK from a red list country include a pre-departure PCR test, staying in a quarantine hotel for 10 days, and two PCR tests while you’re quarantined.

What else is changing?

Mandatory face coverings are being reintroduced into shops and public transport in England.

People who have been in contact with someone who has the Omicron variant will need to self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of their vaccine status.

Rules for vaccinated travellers

For vaccinated travellers coming back from a non-red country, you don’t need to take PCR tests before travelling back to the UK. You will need to take a day two PCR test.

The same rules apply for vaccinated travellers as non-vaccinated travellers when returning from a red list country.

From a red list country, you’ll need to:

  • Take a pre-departure test 72 hours before travelling back to the UK
  • Stay in a government-managed quarantine hotel for 10 days
  • Take two further PCR tests during your quarantine period (day two and day eight)

Rules for unvaccinated travellers

If you’re not fully vaccinated under the UK’s vaccination programme, or can’t prove your vaccination status, then travel restrictions will still apply even from non-red countries.

This means you’ll need the following for non-red list international destinations:

  • a pre-departure PCR test
  • a day 2 PCR test
  • a day 8 PCR test
  • self-isolate for 10 days

You can still use the Test to Release scheme to stop your self-isolation early at an extra expense.

The same rules apply for vaccinated travellers as non-vaccinated travellers when returning from a red list country.

You’ll need to:

  • Take a pre-departure test 72 hours before travelling back to the UK
  • Stay in a government-managed quarantine hotel for 10 days
  • Take two further PCR tests during your quarantine period (day two and day eight)

What about the travel rules for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales?

The rules for travelling back to the UK from an international country are the same, including Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales.

There may be some differences in the rules once you’re back (for example, mandatory face coverings).

What about travel rules for under 18s?

Under 18s are treated as if they are vaccinated and don’t have to quarantine on arrival or take pre-departure PCR tests from non-red list countries.

What about entry into other countries?

The UK’s system for international travel only affects re-entry into England and not entry into other countries. You might still need proof of negative COVID tests to gain entry – you’ll need to check the country’s entry requirements on the Foreign Office (FCDO) website.

Where can I get a Covid test for travel?

You’ll need to pre-book any PCR/lateral flow tests before you travel. You won’t be able to use NHS tests as proof and will need to pay for your tests privately.

If you need to book a Covid test for your next trip, with a Staysure policy, you’ll get 10% off with our partner Randox.

Does the traffic light system affect my travel insurance?

The UK’s system for international travel doesn’t affect your travel insurance.

You’ll still need to check that your destination is safe to travel to – as seen by the Foreign Office (FCDO) and that you’re eligible to gain entry to make sure your trip can go ahead for your cover to be valid.

Kelly Johnstone

by Kelly Johnstone

Kelly Johnstone is Staysure’s Head of Content. She’s known for a love of tea and shares data-driven and breaking travel news.