A comprehensive guide to the UK’s COVID-19 international travel restrictions

11 min Read Published: 03 Dec 2021

A comprehensive guide to the UK's COVID-19 international travel restrictionsIt can be difficult to keep up with the UK's current international travel restrictions, especially as new variants arrive on the scene and rules seem to change by the day.

In this article, we break down the latest guidance from the UK government, covering everything from how to check if you are fully vaccinated to what the red list is.

How to check if you are fully vaccinated

Before you travel abroad, it is essential to know whether you qualify as fully vaccinated or not, as the rules for what you need to do when you return to the UK are different depending on your vaccination status.

There are different specifications as to what counts as full vaccination in each of the devolved nations, so first you need to check the rules for the country you will be returning to so that you do not break the law.

Follow the links below to find out what you need to qualify as fully vaccinated in:

Travel to England from abroad

Below we explain the rules for all those travelling to England from abroad, including what to do if you are fully vaccinated or not, and how to book and pay for COVID-19 tests.

If you are fully vaccinated

Before you travel to England, you must complete the following:

You must use a private COVID-19 PCR test provider as NHS-provided tests are not permitted. Take note of your COVID-19 PCR test booking reference number as you will need to enter it on your passenger locator form in order for it to be completed.

If you are going to be in England for fewer than 48 hours, you will still need to book and pay for a COVID-19 PCR test to be taken before you leave the country. You must self-isolate until you receive a negative result, or until you leave England, whichever is sooner.

After you arrive in England, you must complete the following:

  • Take the COVID-19 PCR test that you booked before your travel
  • Self-isolate in your home, or the place you are staying, until you receive a negative test result

You can take the test any time after you arrive as long as it is within 48 hours of arrival.

If your test result is negative, you can end your self-isolation immediately. If your test result is positive, you must self-isolate for 10 full days. If your test result is unclear, you must self-isolate for 10 full days, or you can choose to take another private test. If the result of that test is negative, you can stop self-isolating. If your test result is delayed for any reason, you must self-isolate until you receive a negative test result, or until day 14 after your arrival, whichever is sooner.

Below is a table which summarises the action fully-vaccinated people need to take depending on their COVID-19 PCR test result when returning to England from abroad.

COVID-19 PCR Test Result Negative Unclear Positive Delayed
Action To Be Taken You can end your self-isolation immediately. You must self-isolate for 10 full days. You can choose to take another private test. If the result of that test is negative, you can then stop self-isolating immediately. You must self-isolate for 10 full days. You must self-isolate until you receive a negative test result or until day 14 after arrival, whichever is sooner.

If you are not fully vaccinated

Before you travel to England, you must complete the following:

After you arrive in England, you must complete the following:

  • Self-isolate at home, or in the place you are staying, for 10 full days
  • Take the COVID-19 PCR test that you booked before your travel

You must take the first test on or before day 2 and the second test on or after day 8. The day that you arrived in England is day 0.

If you are in England for fewer than 10 days, you will need to self-isolate for the entire time that you are in the country. You will still need to book day 2 and day 8 PCR tests. You only need to take the tests if you are still in England on those days.

Below is a table which summarises the action people who are not fully-vaccinated need to take depending on their COVID-19 PCR test result when returning to England from abroad.

COVID-19 PCR Test Result Negative Unclear Positive
Day 2 If your day 2 test is negative, you must continue to self-isolate until you take your day 8 test. If the result of your day 2 test is unclear, you must self-isolate for 10 full days from this point. If your day 8 test is then negative, you can end your self-isolation on day 10 after your arrival in England, or once you receive your negative test result, whichever is sooner. If your day 2 test is positive, you must self-isolate for 10 full days from this point. You do not need to take a day 8 test if your day 2 test is positive.
Day 8 If your day 8 test is then negative, you can end your self-isolation on day 10, or when you receive your day 8 negative test result, whichever is sooner. If the result of your day 8 test is unclear, you must self-isolate for 10 full days from this point. You can choose to take another private PCR test at this point, and if this is then negative, you can end your self-isolation on day 10 after your arrival in England, or when you receive your negative test result, whichever is sooner. If your day 8 test is positive, you must self-isolate for 10 full days from this point.

Travel from red list territories

Travellers must adhere to a strict set of restrictions designed to minimise the risk of COVID-19 transmission when travelling to and from red list territories. The official government advice remains that UK citizens should not travel to red listed regions unless absolutely necessary.

Travellers must follow these rules whether they are fully vaccinated or not. In addition, if travellers have been in a red listed territory in the last 10 days, they will only be allowed to enter the UK if they are a British or Irish national or have residence rights in the UK.

Before returning to England from abroad, travellers must:

On arrival in England, travellers must immediately:

N.B. Anyone who does not abide by the above rules may be fined up to £10,000 for breaching the law.

Which countries are on the red list?

For up-to-date information on which countries are on the red list, use the GOV.UK website's guide to red list countries and territories. You can also sign up for an email alert to be notified when the list is updated.

Are the rules different in the devolved UK nations?

The above system applies to England, but the rules differ slightly in each of the devolved nations, so make sure to check each country's official travel advice carefully before you organise a trip abroad. For more information on international travel rules in each of the devolved nations, visit:

What are the rules if I am travelling within the UK?

Those holidaying in the UK do not need to take a COVID-19 PCR test or self-isolate on arrival in England, so long as they are travelling from within the UK, Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man (together known as the Common Travel Area). These rules apply so long as you have not been outside of the Common Travel Area in the previous 10 days.

Who is exempt from coronavirus travel restrictions?

Some people are exempt from some or all of the government's requirements, but the eligibility criteria is complex, so make sure to check the details on the GOV.UK website before assuming that you qualify: