Entering the UK from abroad: A quick guide
Travelling to the UK from overseas, or returning from a trip abroad? You’ll need tests, and possibly to quarantine—but the exact rules will depend on where you are coming from. This article outlines what you need to do when entering the UK, including what you need to do before travelling and when you get here. Check out our other article for the rundown on requirements for travelling abroad from the UK.
Which UK country are you visiting?
The first question to consider is where you are landing, and where you intend to visit. The UK Government's rules—which we've detailed throughout the rest of this article—only apply in England. Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales all have their own national governments who are responsible for setting all Covid-related rules, including entry requirements. While the four nations' rules are often aligned, this is not always the case. If you intend to move around in the UK within two weeks of landing in England, or if you're flying straight into one if the other nations, it's worth checking if different rules will apply.
How does the traffic light system work?
What you will need to do when you enter England—and indeed, whether you are even allowed in—will depend on the countries you have been in the last 10 days. This includes transit countries, e.g. an airport where you connected from one flight to another. To make things a little simpler, the UK Government has divided countries into ‘categories’, with different rules for each. These categories are referred to as the Green List, Amber List, and Red List. You might also hear this described as a “traffic light system”.
While these lists are reviewed and updated every 3 weeks, it isn’t impossible that a change might be made outside this cycle (e.g. if a new variant emerges). We're also now seeing exceptions being made to rules, such as France being on the Amber list but not eligible for quarantine exceptions for the fully vaccinated! We therefore recommend checking requirements from your origin both when you first start to plan a trip, and again as your travel date approaches.
Which list is my departure country on?
For an up-to-date, visual representation of which countries are on which list, take a look at our interactive Travel Requirements map. It automatically checks the UK Government site (as well as those of other governments, airlines and other reliable websites) every hour—making it easy for you to stay abreast of an ever-changing situation.
Does my vaccination status change my entry requirements?
Possibly, if you are travelling from an Amber list country. Entry requirements for Green and Red list countries are unaffected by your vaccination status.
Some travellers from some Amber list countries are allowed to avoid quarantine and only need to do a Day 2 test—i.e. they are subject to "Green List" rules. In order for this to apply, travellers need to be:
fully vaccinated in the UK or under the UK vaccine programme overseas; OR
participating or have participated in a formally approved clinical trial of a coronavirus vaccine in the UK; OR
ordinarily resident in the UK and under the age of 18 at the time of arrival
You are "fully vaccinated" if you received your second dose at least 14 full days before travelling.
It is important to note that not all Amber list countries qualify for these quarantine exemptions. At the time of writing, France is the only country which is not included—although this is likely to keep changing, so be sure to check the Travel Tool before booking.
From a Green list country, or from an Amber list country if you are eligible for quarantine exemption:
Before travelling to the UK from a green list country, you must take a COVID-19 test, fill out a passenger locator form, and book and pay for a Day 2 COVID-19 test to be taken when you arrive. There is no required quarantine unless your day 2 test is positive.
From an Amber list country if you are not eligible for quarantine exemption:
Before travelling back to the UK from an amber list country, you must take a COVID-19 test and fill out a passenger locator form. When in the country, you must quarantine for 10 days at home and take a COVID-19 test on or before day 2 and on or after day 8.
You have the opportunity to end your quarantine period early by paying for a private Test to Release COVID-19 test.
From a Red list country:
People travelling from a red list country will only be granted entry into the UK if they are a British or Irish national or have the right to reside in the UK.
Before travelling back to the UK from a red list country you must take a COVID-19 test, fill out a passenger locator form, and book a hotel package (which includes COVID-19 tests—so no need to book anything through CHT London). When you arrive, you will be escorted directly to your approved Quarantine Hotel where you will need to stay for 10 days. For each of the above, the requirement for a pre-departure test is that it must have been taken within 72 hours of travel. If you are leaving the UK for a very short trip, it could be that the PCR test you did before flying out of the country was taken recently enough to be used to get back home.
What if requirements change?
Given the landscape is changing rapidly, it’s worth trying to make arrangements that are as flexible as possible.
Some things to check for:
Does your ticket allow changes and/or cancellations? At the moment, most travel companies and airlines are offering more flexible terms than normal.
Will your insurance company cover you if you need to change your travel plans? What about if you test positive for COVID-19 before travelling, or while you are away? Many insurers have different terms for Coronavirus-related changes, and should make clear on their websites what they mean for you.
Do your private test providers offer changes and/or cancellations? Even if they say this is possible, an alarming number of travellers have reported difficulties getting their money back or making changes. TrustPilot scores and reviews—or other local equivalents for overseas providers—are a great way to understand how efficient and customer-friendly providers actually are when it comes to getting your money back. CHT London are proud to have an “Excellent” rating from over 600 reviews on TrustPilot, and offer free changes and full refunds up to 24 hours before a test slot.
Being informed and keeping up-to-date with the latest COVID-19 announcements is vital if you plan to travel—and the easiest way to do this is using CHT’s interactive Travel Requirements map.
No matter which country you are travelling to the UK from, you will need to book private COVID-19 tests, which is where we come in. We offer one of the widest variety of COVID-19 travel tests in the UK, and pride ourselves on delivering a smooth and stress-free experience.
If you are planning your trip back to the UK soon, then check out our website here to find out more.
This article was last updated on 19th July 2021.