Covid: What are the new UK travel rules?

By Diogene De Souza




The UK’s new Covid-related entry rules are starting to get a bit confusing. Pre-departure Covid tests, quarantine rules, flight bans, travel bans (yes, they’re separate things!), special forms to fill in and procedures to follow…

So here’s the no-nonsense lowdown on what you need to know if you’re planning a flight to the UK.

Quarantine Rules

The UK closed all travel corridors from January 18. This means there will now be no exemptions to the quarantine-on-arrival rules – all inbound international passengers (including UK citizens) will need to self-isolate for ten days. In most cases, you can reduce this by getting a test after five days in the country. Crew are exempt – they do not need to self-isolate on arrival (except if they’ve been in a ‘red list’ country within the past 10 days – more on that below).

Pre-Departure Covid Tests

All passengers (including UK citizens) now need proof of a negative Covid test taken within three days of their departure to the UK. This test can be an antigen test, or a nucleic acid test (PCR or LAMP test). Crew are exempt – they do not need proof of a test prior to arrival. Full guidance can be found here.

Flight Bans

Direct passenger flights from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Cape Verde, Portugal, South Africa and the UAE are banned, except for air ambulance flights and emergency diverts. Check the EGTT Notams for details of these.

Travel Bans

Flight bans ban flights. Travel bans ban travel. These are separate things!

So there are some restrictions on inbound travel, which were introduced following the discovery of new coronavirus strains in Brazil and South Africa.

Entry to the UK is now prohibited to non British and Irish nationals/residents who have been in or transited through these ‘red list’ countries in the past ten days:

  • Angola
  • Argentina
  • Bolivia
  • Botswana
  • Brazil
  • Burundi
  • Cape Verde
  • Chile
  • Colombia
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Ecuador
  • Eswatini
  • French Guiana
  • Guyana
  • Lesotho
  • Malawi
  • Mauritius
  • Mozambique
  • Namibia
  • Panama
  • Paraguay
  • Peru
  • Portugal (including Madeira and the Azores)
  • Rwanda
  • Seychelles
  • South Africa
  • Suriname
  • Tanzania
  • United Arab Emirates (UAE)
  • Uruguay
  • Venezuela
  • Zambia
  • Zimbabwe

Hotel quarantine for ‘red list’ travellers

From Feb 15, anyone who has been in one of the ‘red list’ countries within the past 10 days will have to stay at a quarantine hotel for 10 days on arrival. This will only apply to returning UK citizens and residents, as foreigners who have been in these countries are banned from entry.

This will cost £1,750 per person, to cover transport, tests and accommodation – all of which will need to be booked in advance through an online booking system which is due to go live on Feb 11. Everyone will be required to take 2 mandatory Covid tests – on day 2 and day 8 of their 10-day quarantine.

The government guidance for all this can be found here.

Flight Crew Beware!

The government page which has all the guidance on job-related exemptions, says this: “These exemptions are not valid for countries from where travel to the UK is currently banned.”

That effectively means that flight crew are not exempt from the quarantine rules if they have been in a ‘red list’ country within the past 10 days – they will be treated just the same as passengers.

For crew who are British and Irish nationals/residents, that means you will have to stay at the quarantine hotel for 10 days. For foreign crew, it means you will be denied entry. We got in touch with the UK Border Force at several UK airports, who all confirmed this is the case.

Passenger Locator Form

All inbound passengers need to complete a passenger locator form before they arrive in the UK (except if travelling from one of the following places, and they were there for 10 days or more: Ireland, the Channel Islands, or the Isle of Man). Crew need to complete the form too, unless they travelled in a part of the aircraft that is not accessible to passengers, for example a fully enclosed cockpit. You cannot submit the form until 48 hours before you’re due to arrive in the UK.

Enhanced General Aircraft Declaration Process

Operators headed to the UK still need to adhere to the Enhanced General Aircraft Declaration process that was introduced back in May 2020. You can view the full government-issued guidance here, but here are the important bits:

First off, there’s an announcement you need to make prior to letting your pax off the plane. The UK government has written the script they’d like you to read:

All inbound flights must also file a General Aircraft Declaration (GAD), confirming that they’ve got no symptomatic pax on board. Here’s a copy of this form, which you can download from the UK government site:

The Health Control Unit at Heathrow are the people you need to send this to (heathrow.hcu@phe.gov.uk) – as well as the local authorities at whichever airport you’re flying to. Full instructions on what to do can be found here, but here’s a summary of how it works:

  1. Before you set off: Send the GAD to the Health Control Unit at Heathrow before you set off.
  2. While in flight: Notify them of any potentially symptomatic passengers while in flight, and give them a further update within two hours of arrival.
  3. Prior to disembarkation: Hand over the GAD to the local airport operator and PHE prior to disembarkation. All this may trigger further protocols once you are on the ground.
  4. Disembark: If no suspected symptomatic passengers onboard, you can disembark.

Emergency medical attention will always supersede any public health intervention – if you or a passenger needs an ambulance on arrival, follow SOPs for a medical emergency.

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2 Comments

  • Anonymous says:

    Why are airline crew not forced to isolate after every flight?

  • Ian Dingwall says:

    I am trying to return from UAE aftercworking . I have been in a bubble with heaktg checks ,vivid testing and movement restriction . However I am now looking at ways to return as my Emirates flight has been cancelled .
    I live in Scotkand and have a flat thatvwill be used for self isolation purposes on my return . However with the proposed new hotel to pay govt requirement I am concerned if this is applied to me on arriving at the first airport in the UK even though i would get a connecting flight to GLA , al be it from a different airline .
    Can anyone tell me what is actually occurring on landing in UK regarding this as there appears not to be anyone in govt to contact to find out

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