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Six things you need to know before booking an overseas holiday right now

July 19 is here! But what does it mean for travel? Get up to speed with the latest restrictions British travellers face abroad

Written by
Lorna Parkes

July 19 was dubiously crowned ‘freedom day’ in the UK, but travelling abroad still falls a long way short of being as free and easy as it was pre-pandemic. That said, there’s every reason to be optimistic if you’re in desperate need of some reliable summer rays or a dose of adventure – even more so if you’ve got a degree of flexibility in your schedule (and a relaxed attitude to choosing a destination).

When it comes to booking a holiday right now, the only guarantee is that nothing is guaranteed. With the lifting of quarantine for fully vaccinated UK residents returning from ‘amber list’ countries, the flight route map is looking busier than it has done at any point over the past 18 months. But there are some eye-watering complexities to booking a trip, and you should steel yourself for last-minute changes. Here’s what you need to know.

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Everything you need to know about booking an overseas trip

1. Every country has different entry requirements

For the past year one of the biggest disincentives to travel has been the British government’s fluctuating quarantine rules for returning holidaymakers. Ditching quarantine requirements for double-jabbed travellers returning from ‘amber list’ countries to England has effectively turned around 150 countries ‘green’

But there’s a major catch. The question of who will let us in is another matter altogether. Before booking any trip, it’s crucial that you check the rules of the destination you’re hoping to travel to. Plenty of countries are still welcoming Brits with open arms (for now), but entry requirements vary and can change fast enough to give you whiplash. 

Some destinations may require incoming Brits to show proof of vaccination through the NHS app. Others require a negative PCR or rapid antigen test within 72 hours of arrival. There may also be forms to fill in pre-arrival, and you could be subject to extra screening at your destination airport. Some countries on the ‘amber list’ still aren’t even letting any leisure travellers in. The FCDO website has all this information listed in excruciating detail, country by country.

2. If you’re not double-jabbed, quarantine-free options are slim

If you’ve not yet had both doses of the vaccine, there are still options open to you – but you can expect extra hoops to jump through. July 2021 research from Which? surveyed popular British holiday destinations including Spain, Portugal and Greece and found that unvaccinated travellers are in line to pay significantly more than – and in some cases more than double – vaccinated travellers for testing.

Crucially, you can only travel to ‘green list’ destinations without quarantining on your return. The list is growing but changing all the time, though for ‘amber list’ destinations there’s still the option of ‘test to release’, where you pay for an extra test (so three instead of two) to be let out of quarantine on day five rather than day ten. Also make sure you’ve done the maths if you’re planning a last-minute getaway: you’re only classed as fully vaccinated 14 days after the second dose was administered.


3. Your destination could move to the red list at very short notice

Grant Shapps’s announcements every three weeks to update the ‘green’, ‘amber’ and ‘red’ lists have become a wild ride. Tip-offs circulate in the media before each announcement, prophesying which countries could win or lose, but they’re not always right. The government has been criticised for eyebrow-raising decisions where countries with low-to-non-existent case rates have been left off the ‘green list’ updates. Our advice would be to book as close to your date of departure as you dare – and don’t trust the crystal-ball gazers.

Changes to the lists come into effect the week after the updates are announced, but the government has also warned that a country or territory can be moved between lists ‘without warning’ if there is a ‘sudden change in conditions’ in that destination. Countries on both the ‘green watchlist’ and the newly unlocked ‘amber list’ still come with an immediate ‘red list’ quarantine risk if there is a rapid, unexpected surge in case numbers.

4. Comprehensive travel insurance for Covid-19 is pretty hard to find

With new health secretary Sajid Javid forecasting that cases could rise to more than 100,000 a day after all pandemic restrictions are scrapped on July 19, it’s a sober warning that the risk of receiving a positive test between booking and travelling remains a strong possibility. Travel insurance is more important than ever, but Covid-19 coverage is still spotty. 

May 2021 data from Defaqto, the independent financial services ratings agency, found that 98 percent of travel insurance providers now cover Covid-19 medical costs incurred while abroad. However, one in five still don’t cover cancellation costs in the event of a positive test result before departure and only 35 percent cover cancellation costs if you can’t take your trip because of self-isolation.

Travel operators, rather than traditional insurers, are offering some of the best deals. Tui, for example, now includes coronavirus cover on most holidays and even flight-only bookings due to depart up to October 31, while easyJet recently launched a travel insurance policy with comprehensive Covid-19 cover.

But perhaps most importantly, the FCDO still advises against ‘all but essential travel’ to dozens of ‘amber list’ countries. This is the death knell for insurance coverage. Virtually no company will cover you to travel to these destinations, so check the guidance carefully and weigh up how much you are prepared to gamble.


5. You’ll need to find a legit test centre before you fly home

Even if you’re fully vaccinated and even if you’re travelling back to the UK from a ‘green list’ destination, the British government requires you to take a Covid-19 test in the three days before you board your flight home. It has to be with a private test provider and it has to be a test that meets certain standards – specifically, a PCR test, a LAMP test or an antigen test. 

Lateral flow tests are antigen tests, but the government has specified that the lateral flow tests currently being distributed by the NHS cannot be used (so no stuffing one in your bag for the return trip, thinking job done). Handily, easyJet has an interactive map with links to testing centres in every destination it’s currently flying to. Most resorts also have their own list of test providers.

6. If you test positive for covid while abroad, you’ll be temporarily stranded

To state the obvious, if your pre-departure test for travel back to the UK is positive, you’ll have no option but to extend your trip and go into isolation overseas. Typically you’ll have to isolate for ten days, and you won’t be allowed back into the UK until you have a negative test result. That means extra accommodation, extra testing – and rearranging your flight home.

Defaqto’s research found that only four percent of insurers would cover the costs of quarantining abroad due to Covid-19. Package trips come with extra support, but even then ABTA says travel companies ‘are not required to cover the costs associated with extending your stay’. Reading the small print in your booking terms has never been so important. 

Local support varies from destination to destination; you may be able to isolate in your hotel, but some countries, such as Cyprus, mandate that you must be transferred to a specific quarantine hotel. Some territories, like the Canary Islands, cover the costs of extended stays, but many others don’t. In some cases, you may even be moved directly to a state medical facility. Book for a peak period such as school holidays and your relocation options could be threadbare. 

The moral of this story? Pack some emergency creature comforts and a stash of extra underwear. Just in case.

Now familiarise yourself with those lists


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