Unlocking the World

Travel to the UK during Covid-19: What you need to know before you go

CNN StaffUpdated 17th May 2021
The UK has been among the countries worst-hit by coronavirus.
Editor's Note — Coronavirus cases remain high across the globe. Health officials caution that travel increases your chances of getting and spreading the virus. Staying home is the best way to stem transmission. Below is information on what to know if you still plan to travel, last updated on May 17.
(CNN) — If you're planning to travel to the UK, here's what you'll need to know and expect if you want to visit during the global Covid-19 pandemic.

The basics

The United Kingdom has seen one of the highest number of deaths from Covid-19 in the world. Despite being the first country globally to start a vaccination scheme, the country experienced a deadly second wave over the winter months. A new variant, said to be much more infectious, was discovered in the UK, meaning that many countries canceled air links right before Christmas 2020.
In early January, the UK went into full lockdown. Although this lockdown is now being eased, some restrictions will likely be in place in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland until the summer.
The recent lockdown and the vaccination program have brought Covid-19 cases down in the UK.
During the 2021 lockdown, the UK clamped down on international travel. But on May 17, non-essential international travel resumed in England, Scotland and Wales under a risk-based "traffic light" system, dividing countries into "red", "amber" or "green" categories. There are currently 12 countries on the green list. See more below.
Northern Ireland has yet to announce a relaxation of its international travel rules.

What's on offer

In London, the UK has one of the world's greatest cities. But beyond the architectural marvels and nightlife of the capital, there is much to explore -- the rugged peaks of the Scottish Highlands, distant Welsh lakes and the wide sweep of Cornish beaches, for starters, plus historic towns and cities such as Bath, Oxford and Harrogate.

Who can go

All travelers entering the UK, including British citizens, must present a negative Covid test taken within 72 hours of arrival.
UK residents traveling from destinations on the "red list," which includes South Africa, India, Namibia and the United Arab Emirates, can enter the country, but they must quarantine on arrival in a hotel and follow testing requirements. See below for further details.
There are no international flights to Wales or Northern Ireland right now, travelers must transit through Scotland or England.
If you've arrived from a "red list" country and your final destination is in Wales or Northern Ireland, you will need to book a hotel in England or Scotland.
(The Republic of Ireland has entirely separate entrance regulations, which are enforced when crossing the land border.)

What are the restrictions?

All UK arrivals must provide a negative test taken within the past 72 hours, and complete a Passenger Locator Form before arriving in the UK.
On May 17, a traffic-light based travel system was introduced in England, Scotland and Wales.
Non-UK residents from "red list" countries are currently refused entry to the UK.
British people arriving home from "red list" destinations, which include South Africa and India -- must undergo the 10-day hotel quarantine at their own expense.
Before arriving in the UK, these travelers must purchase what the UK government calls a "quarantine package," covering the stay in hotel quarantine and food and drink while there.
Bookings must be made through this online portal. When the scheme began, the UK government said sixteen hotels had been contracted, with 4,600 rooms set aside for these quarantining arrivals.
The charge for a single adult is £1,750.
Anyone dodging quarantine risks fines ranging from £5,000 rising to £10,000.
Those arriving from places on the "amber" list -- which currently includes France, Greece, Spain and Italy -- will have to quarantine for 10 days at home upon arrival, take a pre-departure test and also take a PCR test on day two and eight of their isolation.
Travelers from "amber" destinations qualify for the test to release scheme, which means they can take a PCR test after five days' quarantine and, if their test comes back out negative, exit quarantine and go out into the community.
Travelers arriving from the "red list" countries and staying in a quarantine hotel are not eligible for Test to Release. Travelers to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland also cannot take advantage of the scheme.
Travelers arriving or departing from a "green" destination will have to take a pre-departure test, as well as a PCR test on or before day two of their arrival back in the UK. They will not need to quarantine.
The countries currently on the UK's "green" list are Portugal -- including the Azores and Madeira; Australia; Brunei; New Zealand; Iceland; Singapore; Faroe Islands; Gibraltar; Falkland Islands; Israel; South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands and St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha.
Some of these destinations do not currently permit non-essential UK travelers to enter.
Click here to view which country is on which list. The UK government has said the list will be reviewed every three weeks.
There will also be a "green watchlist" which countries could end up on if they're at risk of moving from "green" to "amber."
The UK government has said that travel certification -- AKA vaccine passports -- will be part of the route out of travel restrictions.
British travelers will be able to use the existing NHS health app to access their vaccine records, or alternatively request a paper letter.
The guidance says travel restrictions will be reviewed on June 28, and again no later than July 31 and October 1, 2021.

What's the Covid situation?

After a devastating first wave and troubling winter -- on January 26, the UK government said over 100,000 people have died from Covid-19 and this death rate is the highest in Europe and the fifth in the world -- cases have now dropped in the UK.
The UK was the world's first country to begin a vaccination program, which has lessened the burden on the National Health Service.
There have been over 4,400,000 Covid cases and more than 127,900 deaths in the UK as of May 17.
After an initial UK-wide lockdown in spring 2020 in response to the first wave of Covid-19, for the second wave, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland developed their own region-specific measures.
The announcement of a new variant of Covid-19 right before Christmas led cases in the UK to rise quickly, with many hospitals becoming over capacity. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan declared a "major incident" on January 8.
Cases are currently under control in the city -- on March 29, London recorded zero Covid-19 daily deaths for first time in six months.
On May 11, zero Covid deaths were recorded in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland, although four deaths were recorded in Wales.
Over 53 million people have had their first vaccination in the UK as of May 12, with 26.44% of the population fully vaccinated.

What can visitors expect?

  • England
England is currently emerging from its third national lockdown and has reached the third phase of its easing of restrictions.
People can now meet inside in a group of six people or two households. Outside, up to 30 people can gather.
Non-essential retail is back. England's museums and theme parks have opened their doors.
Many restaurants, bars and pubs have also reopened for outdoor and indoor dining.
Residents of England are permitted to stay overnight elsewhere in the country (in groups of up to six, or a larger group if all those present are from no more than two households) in self-contained accommodation, such as private holiday lets.
Hotels, hostels and B&Bs are also permitted to reopen in England.
Travel within England is permitted, as is travel abroad under the traffic light system.
June 21 is scheduled as the day when people in England may return to more of a pre-pandemic life -- with nightclubs potentially reopening, and larger events returning -- although it's all subject to change and worth keeping an eye on updates.
  • Wales
In Wales, up to six people from six households can dine inside at restaurants, bars and pubs.
Holiday accommodation, including hotels and self-contained accommodation, can reopen fully. Welsh residents can stay in accommodation with their household or extended household.
Theaters, museums and galleries are permitted to reopened.
Travel within Wales is permitted, as is travel abroad under the traffic light system.
  • Scotland
Most of Scotland is now in what the Scottish government calls Level 2 restrictions -- although the Moray region and Glasgow City will remain at Level 3 for a bit longer, while some Scottish islands will move down to Level 1.
Check the Scottish government's website for full information on what you can do in each Level.
In Level 2, six people can meet inside from up to three households -- this applies to private homes and hospitality venues.
Outdoors, up to eight people from eight households can meet.
On April 26, many Scottish museums, galleries and tourism accommodation reopened. Under Level 2 restrictions, a hotel bedroom should be occupied by people from only one household or extended household. In self-catered accommodation, up to six people from a total of three households can stay together.
Travel within Scotland is permitted, as is travel abroad under the traffic light system.
  • Northern Ireland
In Northern Ireland, all non-essential shops have reopened and restaurants are open for outdoor dining for up to six people from two households.
Up to 15 people (including children) from no more than three households can also socialize outdoors in a private garden.
Overnight stays to self-contained holiday accommodation with your household are also now permitted. Northern Ireland outdoor visitor attractions have also reopened.
Indoor leisure and museums are not open yet.
May 24 is bookmarked as the date where indoor visitor attractions could reopen and Northern Irish households could be allowed to mix inside private homes.
Nonessential travel in and out of Northern Ireland is not currently allowed.

Useful links

Our recent coverage

We interviewed an American who vacationed in London during lockdown in November. We also examined whether a UK/US travel corridor could be on the cards this summer, and we've taken a look at how the pandemic and Brexit will impact the UK's tourism appeal.
UK destinations currently preparing for domestic tourism to start back up are hoping to avoid some of the reports of chaos from last summer. We covered the steps being taken here.
Once the UK gets the virus under control, there's a vast amount to see. Check out our list of the top places to visit in the UK, or if it's England specifically you're interested, here are some of the loveliest spots in the country. You'll find our list of Scotland's top spots here.