Travel

When can I travel abroad in 2021? How do I get a PCR test? Your holiday questions answered


Jumping on a plane isn’t as simple as it used to be (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Desperate for exotic climes? Join the club.

But are you not quite sure what hoops you have to jump through to get there?

Although restrictions are easing within the UK, rules around travelling abroad are still tight as other countries are at different stages in their vaccination programme, and some still have high case numbers.

We’ve asked the experts to help find the answers to the 12 questions everyone needs to ask before they book their holiday.

When can I travel abroad?

According to the current roadmap, international holidays be possible from May 17 onwards.

How will international travel work in summer?

A new traffic-light system will categorise countries based on risk. Wherever they go, all travellers must take a Covid-19 test no more than 72 hours before departure back to Britain.

Restrictions for returning passengers will then hinge on whether they’ve visited green (low-risk), amber (medium) or red (high) destinations:

The travel traffic light system: Explained

Green

You’ll need to take a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test on or before day two of your arrival back into the UK. Quarantining isn’t required.

Amber

You’ll need to quarantine for ten days, and take PCR tests on days two and eight – with the option of taking a Test to Release on day five.

Red

You’ll need to stay 11 days in an official quarantine hotel (booked in advance, and currently costing £1,750 per person), and take PCR tests on days two and eight.

Returning UK travellers must also submit an online Passenger Locator Form up to 48 hours ahead of re-arrival – having already booked and paid for their PCR tests.

When will the first ‘traffic light’ list be published?

The most clarity we’ve got at the moment is ‘early May’ – when the government will also confirm whether international travel can indeed resume from 17 May.

Traffic light system: How will countries be rated?

By the destination’s prevalence of Covid-19 and variants, its capability to analyse results, and its vaccination rates.

While a ‘Green Watchlist’ will list destinations in danger of moving from green to amber, such status changes could happen at short notice.

Which countries might be on the ‘green-list’?

At the moment, leading contenders could be Israel, the UAE (including Dubai), parts of the Caribbean, Malta and the USA.

Most of the popular European countries are expected to be omitted until an update on 28 June.

Which Covid tests are sanctioned?

Pre-departure (to Britain): Any test meeting the government’s specifications is accepted.

When presented, however, results must currently include ‘the date the test sample was collected or received by the test provider’ – seemingly ruling out self-administered tests.

Back at home: Strictly PCR tests. ‘Undertaken by trained testers with results analysed in laboratories, these pick up 99.9% of positive cases,’ explains Denis Kinane of Cignpost ExpressTest – which runs testing centres at Heathrow, Gatwick and Edinburgh airports.

How can I source Covid tests when abroad?

‘You need to find the right type of test in the required time-frame from a lab that can issue English, French or Spanish certification’, cautions Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel. ‘That’s a lot to ask, especially if you don’t speak the language.’

‘Some countries list approved providers on national, regional or local health authority websites,’ he continues. ‘Your destination country’s embassy will sometimes direct you, as may an airport.’

Failing that, Boland recommends recruiting native speakers – consider befriending hotel staff – able to search in the local language, or trying the British embassy.

The gov.uk website states: Where information about providers of tests is available locally, FCDO travel advice pages will be updated with this information.

When do I provide my test results?

Pre-departure test results must be presented when your return travel commences and again at the UK border.

How much do Covid tests cost?

Plenty. Rapid antigen (e.g lateral flow) tests are typically about £60 per person. The PCR tests demanded for those returning from green, amber or red-listed countries must be sourced through a list of government-approved providers. Cignpost ExpressTest’s two-test package for travellers returning from amber or red destinations is available for £189pp, for instance.

Factoring in additional examinations which may be required to meet your destination’s own entry rules, total test costs may exceed £300pp even for green-list countries.

This should soon lessen, though, partly due to travel-industry pressure – one testing firm, Randox, plans to halve the price of its airport PCR tests – and with the government potentially providing pre-departure tests for holidaymakers on a complimentary basis.

Am I exempt if I’ve had both Covid vaccine jabs?

No. Being fully vaccinated will make it simpler and cheaper to enter many countries, however.

What if I test positive?

You mustn’t travel; instead, follow local quarantine procedures – this will likely involve booking a hotel to stay for the required length of quarantine. Contact the nearest British embassy or consulate for advice.

Will my travel insurance protect me if I test positive for coronavirus abroad?

‘Good policies will do,’ answers Boland. ‘You want one that covers the cost of new flights as well as any extra quarantine-caused accommodation requirements. But be aware that almost all travel insurance is invalid if you travel against FCDO advice, and we don’t yet know how the traffic-light system will reflect this advice.’

Boland warns, ‘Travel insurance won’t usually cover you for cancellation if your destination introduces mandatory quarantine before you travel, and airlines often won’t issue refunds in those circumstances, either. To protect against this eventuality, book a package holiday with a reputable provider: that way, you should be able to rebook or get a refund.’

Do you have a story to share?

Get in touch at metrolifestyleteam@metro.co.uk.

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