UK introduces Covid-19 tests: A guide for travellers

Everything travellers need to about the new testing rules in place when flying to the UK

(FILES) In this file photo taken on July 10, 2020 a passenger wearing a face mask or covering due to the COVID-19 pandemic, arrives at Heathrow airport, west London.  Britain's Transport Secretary Grant Shapps set out new rules which, from next week, will require passengers arriving in England by boat, train or plane - including UK nationals - to take a test up to 72 hours before leaving the country of departure.  Failure to comply will lead to an immediate £500 fine. / AFP / DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS

Amid rising numbers of confirmed Covid-19 cases, the British government has introduced new rules requiring passengers arriving in the UK to show negative coronavirus test results.

The UK's Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced on Friday that international travellers arriving in England from overseas will need to have a negative test result. The rule is also set to come into place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The UK is currently in lockdown, so traveller numbers are already restricted with only those who have legitimate reasons to travel allowed to fly in or out of the UK. If that's you, here's a guide to what you need to know before you go.

Do I need a negative Covid-19 test to travel to the UK?

FILE PHOTO: A public health campaign message is displayed on an arrivals information board at Heathrow Airport, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), London, Britain, July 29, 2020. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

From next week, all international travellers arriving in England must show a negative Covid-19 test result taken within 72 hours of the start of their journey. This includes UK citizens returning home, but excludes children under 11, hauliers and aircrew. Any further exemptions will be listed on the government's website. The exact date that the new rule begins has not yet been announced. Similar rules are set to be introduced for travellers flying to Scotland, but again no date has been announced.

What happens if I arrive without a negative test result?

Airlines and transport operators will be checking travellers' documents pre-boarding so you may not be able to get on a plane in the first place. Anyone who does travel to England and cannot show evidence of a negative coronavirus test result will face an immediate £500 ($678) fine. Spot checks will be underway at all ports of entry.

Why have the new rules been introduced?

epa08925320 An ambulance outside Chelsea and Westminster hospital in London, Britain, 07 January 2021. Britain's national health service (NHS) is coming under sever pressure as Covid-19 hospital admissions continue to rise across the UK.  EPA/ANDY RAIN

Case numbers of Covid-19 in the UK continue to rise and authorities have taken the decision to set new rules to try to limit the spread of the new strains of coronavirus circulating internationally.

Until now, there were no testing rules in place for travellers arriving or departing from UK airports. The country’s aviation industry has been urging new rules since April when Heathrow Airport's CEO John Holland-Kaye first asked for testing measures. In October, the CEO of British Airways Sean Doyle asked the UK government to introduce Covid tests for passengers before flights. "We believe the best way to reassure people is to introduce a reliable and affordable test before flying. For the UK this approach reduces the stress on NHS testing systems within the UK and on policing the quarantine system,” Doyle said in a statement.

If I have a negative test result, do I need to quarantine?

FOLKESTONE, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 28: A negative COVID-19 test result is displayed on a phone for travel to mainland France on December 28, 2020 in Folkestone, England. Last week, both freight and passenger travel from the UK to France were suspended due to concerns of a new COVID-19 virus variant prevalent in England. Travellers are now required to show a recent negative COVID-19 test result prior to crossing. (Photo by Kiran Ridley/Getty Images)

Travellers arriving into the UK from countries on the governments’ open travel corridor list do not need to quarantine. The list is updated regularly so travellers should check the latest inclusions before flying. The UAE is currently on the list, as is Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

Any travellers arriving from countries that are not on the travel corridor list must isolate at home for 10 days, regardless of their test result.

However, passengers arriving into England who have successfully demonstrated a negative result prior to departure from a country not on the travel corridor list have the option to reduce their self-isolation period by paying for a test through the Test to Release scheme. This requires a test to be taken on or after the fifth full day since leaving a country not on the travel corridor list. Travellers from South Africa are no longer eligible for this scheme.

Can I skip the test if I'm arriving by road or sea?

No, the rules apply to all modes of transport.UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps confirmed that inbound passengers arriving by boat, plane or train would have to take a test before departing the country they are in. Travellers must also continue to complete a passenger locator form before arriving in England or face fines.

Do I need a Covid-19 test to travel from the UK?

Travellers leaving the UK do not need to show a negative coronavirus test result unless the destination they are flying to requires it. This means passengers flying to Dubai do not need to take a Covid-19 test before flying. Instead, they can take a test on arrival at Dubai International Airport. Anyone flying from the UK to Abu Dhabi must take a PCR-test 72 hours ahead of their flight. Another test will be carried out upon arrival in the UAE.

What's considered a legitimate reason to travel?

British travellers returning to their homes in Spain wait to speak to airline staff after they were refused entry onto planes, at London's Heathrow airport on Saturday Jan. 2, 2021. Dozens of British residents in Spain were refused travel because airlines refused to take in as proof of residency documents used until the United Kingdom's departure from the European Union at midnight on Dec. 31, 2020. (AP Photo/Max Duncan)

There is currently a travel ban in place for British citizens who should not travel unless there is a legal reason to do so. Acceptable reasons include:

  • Travel for work purposes
  • Accessing education
  • Caring responsibilities
  • Medical reasons
  • Returning home

Are the rules the same across the UK?

In a handout picture released by the Scottish Government on April 23, 2020 Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon speaks during the Scottish government's daily briefing on the novel coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak, at St. Andrew's House, Edinburgh on April 23, 2020, as Britain continues life under lockdown.  Britain's health ministry on Thursday said 616 more people had died after testing positive for the novel coronavirus in hospital, taking the country's official death toll to 18,738.  - RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT  " AFP PHOTO / SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT "  -  NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS   -   DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS - NO ARCHIVES
 / AFP / Scottish Government / - / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT  " AFP PHOTO / SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT "  -  NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS   -   DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS - NO ARCHIVES

No, these rules apply to England. However, Scotland, which like the rest of the United Kingdom has tight Covid-19 restrictions in place, said it too would require travellers to show negative tests and the rule is also expected to be applied by Wales and Northern Ireland.

Is it a good time to travel to or from the UK?

A woman wearing a face mask crosses Oxford Circus in central London on January 8, 2021, as England entered a third lockdown due to the novel coronavirus Covid-19. Faced by a sharp rise in coronavirus infections, driven by the new strain, England entered a strict lockdown on January 5, 2021, with schools and non-essential shops closed for at least six weeks after previous measures failed to halt the steep rise in cases. / AFP / Tolga Akmen

Simply put, no it is not a good time to travel to or from the UK. The country is witnessing an escalation of coronavirus case numbers and is in lockdown with several restrictions in place. UK citizens are welcome to return home any time, but they are not allowed to depart the UK for a holiday. Similarly, foreigners in the UK can leave to go home, but travellers should not fly to the UK for leisure purposes. Anyone who does travel to the UK, will have to follow current 'Stay Home' rules and most tourist attractions and leisure facilities are currently closed.