Unlocking the World

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

CNN StaffUpdated 28th July 2021
The UK has been among the countries worst-hit by coronavirus.
Editor's Note — Coronavirus cases are in flux across the globe. Health officials caution that staying home is the best way to stem transmission until you're fully vaccinated. Below is information on what to know if you still plan to travel, last updated on July 28.
(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 Covid-19 pandemic.

The basics

The United Kingdom has seen one of the highest number of deaths from Covid-19 in the world, resulting in multiple lockdowns. In England, most legal coronavirus restrictions have now been lifted, but there are still restrictions in place regarding travel -- see more below.
In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, some Covid-19 restrictions remain.
Across the UK, there are fears about the impact of the Delta Covid variant.
Nonessential international travel to and from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland currently takes place under a risk-based "traffic light" system, dividing countries into "red", "amber" or "green" categories.
For the full list of green list countries and requirements, see below.

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 must quarantine on arrival in a hotel and follow testing requirements. See below for further details.
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.
A traffic light-based travel system -- red, amber and green -- is in place in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Non-UK residents from red list countries are currently refused entry to the UK.
British residents arriving home from red list destinations must undergo a 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.
UK residents who've been fully vaccinated via the UK vaccine program who are returning to England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland from an amber country no longer need to quarantine.
This does not currently apply to anyone vaccinated abroad, although this is set to change. See below.
These amber travelers must still do a pre-departure test and a PCR test on day two, but they no longer have to do a day eight test.
UK residents arriving back in the UK who aren't fully vaccinated -- or who were fully vaccinated in another country -- must continue to follow the original amber rules: take a pre-departure test, quarantine for 10 days and take a PCR test on day two and day eight of quarantine. These travelers who are arriving back in England can end their quarantine early via the Test to Release scheme. More information on that here.
From August 2, travelers who are fully vaccinated with vaccines authorized by the EMA and FDA in Europe and the USA, or via the Swiss vaccination program, will be able to travel to England from amber countries without having to quarantine on arrival.
They also won't need to take the day eight test.
Fully vaccinated UK travelers arriving in the UK from France must still quarantine for 10 days and follow the original amber rules.
The guidance which previously suggested people shouldn't travel to amber countries has also changed in England.
Travelers arriving or departing from a green destination 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 do not need to quarantine.
The countries currently on the UK's green list are 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; Anguilla; Antigua; Barbados; Bermuda; British Antarctic Territory; British Indian Ocean Territory; British Virgin Islands; Cayman Islands; Dominica; Grenada; Madeira; Malta; Montserrat; Pitcairn Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands, Bulgaria and Hong Kong, Croatia and Taiwan.
Some of the green list destinations don't currently permit nonessential UK travelers to enter.
The UK government regularly reviews the greenlist and there's also a green watchlist which some countries are put on if they're at risk of moving from green to amber. Click here to view which country is on which list.
Cruising has now recommenced in the UK, but the cruises departing from British ports are currently only for UK travelers, and are "staycation" trips traversing the UK coastline. Numbers are also at reduced capacity and other restrictions are in place. See government guidance here.
The UK government has announced that international cruises will be able to recommence from England.
British travelers can use the existing NHS health app as a "vaccine passport" to access and demonstrate vaccine records on the app. Alternatively, you can request a paper letter with your vaccine status.

What's the Covid situation?

The UK suffered a devastating first wave in 2020, followed by a troubling winter 2020/2021 in the wake of the discovery of the Alpha (Kent) variant.
On June 1, zero Covid deaths were recorded across all four nations of the UK.
Recently, case rates have been rising again, amid increasing concerns about the impact of the Delta variant. They now appear to be falling again.
There have been more than 5.7 million Covid cases and more than 129,500 deaths in the UK as of July 28.
The UK was the world's first country to begin a vaccination program, which has lessened the burden on the National Health Service.
All adults in the UK have now been offered a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.
Rapid lateral flow tests are available for free via pharmacies and online, and UK citizens are encouraged to test themselves twice a week.
As of July 28, over 84 million vaccination doses have been administered in the UK and over 56% of the population has been fully vaccinated.
In March 2020, there was a UK-wide lockdown that lasted until the summer. Since then, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland developed their own region-specific measures.
Restrictions are now being eased across the UK, but what you are allowed to do in each region still varies -- see more below.

What can visitors expect?

  • England
England has emerged from lockdown and most legal Covid-19 restrictions have now been lifted.
As of July 19, there are no longer limits on how many people can meet inside or outside at private households or in hospitality venues.
But the UK government still advises people to "limit the close contact you have with those you do not usually live with, and increase close contact gradually" and "meet outdoors where possible."
All shops, museums, theme parks, bars, pubs, hotels, B&Bs, cinemas, theaters and nightclubs can reopen.
Social distancing and face masks are no longer required by law.
However some businesses are still implementing Covid-19 restrictions, so it's worth checking the situation before you go.
Travel within the UK is allowed, as is travel abroad, in line with the traffic light system outlined above.
The government is encouraging venues with large numbers -- like concert venues or nightclubs -- to use the NHS Covid pass (which displays Covid vaccination details or recent test results and is accessed via the NHS App or website) as a means of entry.
The government has also said the one-meter rule will remain at the border in order to manage the risk of variants.
While the legal requirements on face masks have been lifted, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that "we expect and recommend that people wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces where you come into contact with those you don't normally meet, such as on public transport."
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has asked Transport for London (who manage the city's transport network, including the Tube) to continue to mandate travelers wear face masks after July 19, unless they're medically exempt.
  • Wales
Wales is currently at what the country classifies as Covid alert level one.
In Wales, up to six people from six households can dine inside at restaurants, bars and pubs.
As of July 17, up to six people can meet indoors in private homes or holiday accommodation.
There are no longer any restrictions on Welsh residents gathering outside, whether in private gardens or public spaces like beaches or parks.
Holiday accommodation, including hotels and self-contained accommodation has reopened.
Theaters, museums and galleries are permitted to reopened.
Travel within Wales and the rest of the UK is permitted, as is travel abroad under the traffic light system.
Organized indoor events can now take place with 1,000 people seated or 200 people standing.
Nightclubs remain closed.
People in Wales should observe two-meter social distancing with those not in their household or extended household.
Wales plans to move to Covid alert level 0 on August 7, removing the remaining legal Covid restrictions.
In Level 0, Welsh government has confirmed that face coverings will continue to be required by law in certain indoor settings, but not in hospitality venues.
  • Scotland
Scotland has adopted a "levels" system and on July 19, the whole of Scotland moved to Level 0.
In Level 0, up to eight people from up to four households can meet indoors at home and stay overnight, while up to 10 people from four households can meet in a public indoor place like a pub.
Outdoors, up to 15 people from 15 households can gather.
Under-12s don't count towards these numbers.
Social distancing is still in place in Scotland, although it's not enforced among friends and family in private homes or outdoors. All households should remain one meter apart from one another in indoor settings like pubs or restaurants.
Face masks are still required in public indoor settings, such as public transport.
Check the Scottish government's website for full information on what you can do in each Level.
Museums, pubs, restaurants shops, tourist attractions and theaters can all reopen. Nightclubs are still shut.
Travel within Scotland and the rest of the UK is permitted, as is travel abroad under the traffic light system.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said all remaining Scottish Covid restrictions should be lifted August 9, "assuming we are meeting our revised strategic aim of alleviating the harm of the virus."
  • Northern Ireland
In Northern Ireland, all non-essential shops have reopened and restaurants are open for indoor and outdoor dining for up to six people from two households. Children under 12 aren't included in this total. A single household of no more than 10 people can also sit together inside. As of July 5, live music and theater is allowed.
Up to 10 people from three households can meet in a private home. Children under 12 are not counted in the total. For exact guidelines, see here.
Up to 15 people (including children) from any number of households can also socialize outdoors in a private garden.
Social distancing is still encouraged in Northern Ireland.
Overnight stays in self-contained holiday accommodation with your household -- or with up to 10 people from no more than three households -- are also permitted. Children under 12 aren't counted in this total. Northern Ireland outdoor visitor attractions have also reopened.
Hotels and B&Bs have also reopened, as have museums and other indoor leisure and visitor attractions.
Travel within Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK is allowed, as is travel abroad under the traffic light system.
Face coverings are required on public transport.
Northern Ireland does not have a definitive date when all Covid restrictions will be removed.

Useful links

Our recent coverage

Many in the travel industry have recently been questioning the UK's travel regulations. Wondering how confusion around the traffic light system has impacted British travelers? Look no further. We've also examined whether a UK/US travel corridor could be on the cards this summer, and we've looked more generally at how the pandemic and Brexit will impact the UK's tourism appeal.
Plus, we interviewed an American who vacationed in London during lockdown in November 2020, and covered the steps being taken as UK destinations hope to avoid some of the reports of domestic travel chaos from last summer.
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.