UPDATE (February 9): In an effort to stop as-yet-unidentified new strains of the virus entering the country, the UK government announced last month that all travel corridors would be temporarily scrapped.
All incoming travellers must now provide a negative test result from within the past 72 hours and quarantine for ten days (in England this can be cut to five days if they take another test at their own expense and it comes back negative).
Travel is also currently banned from around 33 ‘red list’ countries. British and Irish citizens, plus official UK residents, are still being allowed in, but must quarantine in a hotel at their own expense from Monday (February 15).
Starting next week, all arrivals in England, regardless of whether they are having to quarantine at home or in a hotel, must also take further tests on days two and eight after they arrive. These will be available to book via a dedicated website. The test-to-release scheme will still apply in England on day five (but as per the new testing rules, travellers must also take a test on day eight, even once they’ve stopped self-isolating).
Back in July 2020, after months of lockdown, travel finally became possible again. First holidays in the UK were officially back on the agenda, and then trips abroad became a reality once more, with the government removing travel restrictions on a sizeable list of countries (at least for travellers who live in England).
The UK government’s ‘travel corridor’ approach only removes the mandatory ten-day self-isolation period on return to the UK – and only for English residents. The rules vary in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The aim is to allow smoother travel between countries with similar or lower rates of infection. Travellers entering England from a ‘low-risk’ country won’t face a quarantine, while those travelling from ‘higher-risk’ countries will still be allowed to enter, but will have to self-isolate on arrival. The quarantine was originally 14 days, but as of mid-December, travellers have had to quarantine for only ten days, and are able to further reduce this by testing negative at their own expense. All arrivals will still need to provide contact details on arriving home via air, rail or sea.
From Monday (January 18), all travellers to the UK will also have to provide a negative test result from within the past 72 hours on arrival.
So, which countries count as ‘high risk’ or ‘low risk’?
The list of ‘travel corridor’ countries is changing all the time, with new nations being added and others being taken off with little notice. Spain, France, Malta, Croatia, mainland Portugal, Turkey, Italy, Germany, most of Greece and Sweden were all recently removed, due to rising cases in those destinations. The latest change introduces a quarantine for travellers arriving from Qatar, Aruba, and Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba.
Meanwhile, growing concern over a new, more infectious variant in South Africa has led to the UK banning travel altogether from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Angola, Eswatini, Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi, Lesotho, Botswana, Mauritius and the Seychelles. That means the last three countries have also been removed from the ‘travel corridor’ list.
Another more transmissible variant in Brazil has also led to a ban on travel from the following South American countries, starting today (January 15): Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela. Travel from Portugal and Cape Verde is also banned, due to their close travel links with Brazil.
There are a few extra things to note. First, the Foreign Office does still ‘currently advise British nationals against all but essential international travel’ for all destinations that aren’t on the ‘safe’ list.
Also, under the new nationwide lockdowns in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, you can only travel internationally for ‘essential’ reasons such as for work or education.
Finally, ‘high-value’ business travellers are exempt from quarantine when returning to England from any country. Certain performing arts professionals, TV production staff, journalists and recently signed elite sportspeople also no longer have to self-isolate.
So where might you be able to plan a holiday for later this year? Here’s the full list of destinations exempt from quarantine requirements:
Akrotiri and Dhekelia
Antigua and Barbuda
British Antarctic Territory
British Indian Ocean Territory
British Virgin Islands
The Channel Islands
Greece (only the islands of Corfu, Crete, Rhodes, Zakynthos and Kos)
The Isle of Man
Northern Mariana Islands
Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands
South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha
St Kitts and Nevis
St Pierre and Miquelon
St Vincent and the Grenadines
Turks and Caicos Islands
The list will continue to change over the coming months, but currently it includes no major destinations on the European mainland. Italy, Spain, most of Greece, Germany, the Netherlands, mainland Portugal and France have all been removed following an increase in cases.
It’s important to point out that the list also includes countries like Australia that are still not accepting travellers from the UK, so check your destination carefully before booking that trip. Here’s the full list of countries UK travellers can visit with no quarantine at either end.
Here’s everything you need to know about travel in Europe after Brexit.
How safe is it to fly right now? We asked an expert.