International leisure travel will become possible again from England on 17 May, finally paving the way for foreign holidays.
Despite this important step forward, trips abroad initially will in no way resemble the care-free travel we experienced pre-pandemic.
All kinds of restrictions will still be in place this summer, and will vary depending on where you go.
From mandatory testing to mask wearing, here’s how holidays will look when the ban lifts later this month.
Will I need to be vaccinated to go abroad?
No, although it will certainly widen the pool of destinations you can visit without restrictions, and could in many cases excuse you from the expense of a Covid PCR test before the outbound journey. Rules vary widely between destinations, but many countries have already said they will not require fully vaccinated travellers to present a negative test or undergo any sort of quarantine, including the Seychelles, Cyprus, Iceland, Croatia and Malta (from 1 June). In all cases travellers must have had both jabs and waited a further couple of weeks.
However, once the travel ban lifts, unvaccinated British travellers have also had the go-ahead from a host of destinations – Portugal and Greece among them – provided they produce a negative Covid test result before departure.
Can I get a vaccine passport?
There has been much talk of so-called “vaccine passports” – a universally recognised certification, most likely digital, that will prove to the host country you’ve been fully vaccinated. However, there are various different versions knocking around at present. The EU is developing its own digital green certificate; the International Air Transport Association (Iata) is piloting its own travel pass; and non-profit The Commons Project has come up with the CommonPass.
England’s own “vaccine passport” for international travellers will be based on the standard NHS smartphone app, the government has revealed.
The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, told Sky News: “In terms of vaccine certification, I can confirm we are working on an NHS application.
“The actual app will be the NHS app which is used for people when they book appointments with the NHS and so on, to be able to show you have had a vaccine or that you’ve had testing.”
This requires other countries to recognise the validity of the NHS app; Shapps has said he is “working internationally across the world to make sure that that system can be internationally recognised”.
Will I need to get tested?
You will certainly need to take at least two tests, and quite possibly more depending on where you’re going and what your vaccination status is.
Those travelling to a country on England’s green list of destinations – which come with the lightest travel restrictions – will need to take a pre-departure test when returning (though this can be a lateral flow or rapid antigen test), and then a PCR test within two days of arriving back in the country. Travellers may also have to take a PCR test before they make the outbound journey to their holiday destination depending on each individual country’s rules – in some cases this may not be required, particularly for those who have proof of full vaccination.
If you’re travelling back from an amber or red country, you’ll need at least three tests – the pre-departure one, followed by two PCR tests upon your arrival into England (on day two and day eight).
Will my holiday cost more then?
The testing requirements will certainly add a potentially significant cost to any travel plans. The cheapest private PCR test in the UK is currently just under £50 (though the average price is still a whopping £120). If you need one for the outbound journey, and one upon your return, it will cost a minimum of £100, plus at least £30 or so for a rapid antigen test.
Those returning from amber countries must factor in the cost of an additional PCR test, while red country returnees are looking at an extra £1,750 for an 11-night stay in hotel quarantine (the price includes both PCR tests).
Will I need to wear a mask abroad?
The rules will depend on your destination, but it’s likely masks will still be mandatory in certain settings, such as in taxis and on public transport, plus in indoor public spaces. Some countries currently enforce mask-wearing in outdoor public spaces too. For example, last month Spain introduced a requirement that tourists wear face coverings in nearly all public settings. Masks may be removed while swimming or sunbathing, but must be worn when walking along the beach.
However, as vaccine rates increase and Covid rates (hopefully) fall, countries may begin to relax rules around mask wearing. Check the Foreign Office advice for the latest rules in your chosen destination.
Will I need to socially distance on holiday?
Similarly, the rules around this will differ depending on the country. Most European destinations still require people to socially distance in public spaces, although the distance itself may vary. Spain recommends a 1.5m rules as opposed to the UK’s own 2m requirement. These measures too may be relaxed in due course – England is set to drop most social contact rules outdoors from 17 May.
Will attractions be open?
Depending on where you go – and whether the attraction is indoors or outdoors – different rules may be in place. If the situation mirrors that of last summer, as destinations gradually begin reopening tours, museums, galleries, churches and other tourist draws, they may well impose timed entry tickets and cap the number of visitors per day to ensure social distancing is still possible. It’s likely that more advanced planning than normal will be necessary, with tourists advised to book ahead for activities, attractions and meals out.
Will I have to quarantine when I get back?
Only if you return to England from a country on the amber or red list. If the former, you’ll have to self-isolate at home for 10 days – although you can pay for an extra test on day five which, if negative, allows you to finish quarantine early. If the latter, you’ll have to pay to spend 11 nights at a quarantine hotel.
Travellers should get more notice if a country moves between lists this year, with industry insiders revealing that the government is expected to reveal changes three weeks before they happen. This will give holidaymakers time to get home before, for example, a green country moves to the amber list, triggering mandatory quarantine.
Can I change my holiday or flight dates last minute if the rules change?
Most tour operators are offering flexible booking policies that allow customers to move their dates or change destinations, in some cases very last minute. The big players, such as Tui, are expected to automatically cancel all holidays and offer a refund or credit when a destination is moved off the green list.
Some airlines are also offering flexibility – easyJet and British Airways, for example, are allowing passengers to change dates or destinations up to two hours before a flight without having to pay a penalty fee. EasyJet has also introduced a guarantee of a full refund if local lockdown measures or national laws prevent travel – as the UK’s current ban on holidays abroad does – even if the flight operates.