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New visa requirements and travel rules for UK passport holders after Brexit

Travel may be difficult, or even off limits, for now - but that doesn't mean we can't make plans for the future. We hope that articles like this one will help you plan your next experience whenever that may be.

This past year has brought a lot of uncertainty over travel, with more people than ever before enjoying a staycation in the UK compared to boarding a flight to sunnier climes. While the UK is currently in lockdown, with only absolutely essential travel allowed, many travellers are wondering about passport and visa requirements, and travel rules that will apply once it’s safe to travel again.

Following Brexit many of us have even more questions, with the rules for UK passport holders entering EU countries changing over the past few months. But there’s no need to lose sleep worrying about what this means for your future travel plans. We’ve selected three of the most popular destinations from the UK and answered your questions about testing, health declaration forms and visa requirements for your trip.

What are COVID-19 PCR tests?

You’ve probably heard PCR tests mentioned on the news and wondered what exactly they are. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests simply test for the presence of an antigen. That is, they detect the genetic info of the virus, rather than the presence of antibodies or the body’s immune response.

Most COVID-19 tests carried out in the UK are currently PCR tests, and it’s only possible to get a positive result if the virus is present and you are actively infected. A sample is taken via a nasopharyngeal (nose) swab and you should get results within three days, often on the next day.

Which airlines require testing before departure?

Currently there are no airlines flying from the UK that require mandatory testing before departure, but you may need evidence of a negative COVID-19 test upon arrival at your destination. It’s important to check this before making travel plans as you may need to book a test up to 72 hours before departure.

If your destination requires you to show evidence of a negative test and you arrive at the airport without this, you may be refused boarding and fined for failing to comply with the regulations. British Airways has some helpful information on pre-departure COVID testing on its website, while Emirates has published a guide to travel requirements by destination.

The UK has also introduced mandatory testing for all international travellers arriving in the country, even if you are a UK citizen returning from a trip abroad. All travellers arriving in England must show evidence of a negative coronavirus (COVID-19) test, taken in the 72 hours before arrival in the UK. If you arrive in England without proof of a negative test, you may be denied entry and fined up to £500. There are some exemptions, such as children under 11 and those travelling for emergency medical treatment, or those who work in an exempt jobs category.

Even though you have provided a negative test result, you will still need to fill out a Passenger Locator Form and self-isolate for 10 days on arrival in or return to the UK. You can find out more about testing and exemption on the site.

What are travel health declaration forms?

Many destinations require you to fill out a health declaration form. This is a form which states you are free from respiratory diseases and fit to travel. If you are infected with COVID-19 during your trip, the information on your form will be used by health officials to contact the necessary organisations as well as to get in touch with any close contacts.

It’s best to fill out the form online before arriving at your destination, but make sure you check the rules. Most destinations allow you to fill this out up to 72 hours in advance of your trip. You’ll find health declaration forms for many destinations on the iVisa website.

What are quarantine forms?

Quarantine forms, more commonly known as passenger locator forms, are required for many destinations, including travellers arriving in the UK. These forms can usually be completed online up to 48 hours before arrival. You’ll need details of your passport, your travel plans and the address where you’ll be staying.

The information provided is used to contact you if someone you travelled with develops coronavirus symptoms, and may also be used to check you’re self-isolating if you need to. Once you’ve filled out the form you will normally received confirmation or a QR code via email, which you can print out as proof of completion.

What are the rules for UK passport holders travelling to France?

Entry rules due to COVID-19

Right now you can only enter France from the UK if you fall into one of the following categories:

  • You’re a French national or a national of the European area – or the spouse or child of one.
  • You’re a British or third country national habitually resident in France, the EU, or the European area, and you need to travel for essential reasons (such as those specified by the French government).
  • You’re a British or third country national travelling for exceptional reasons (such as those on the French Embassy London’s list).

Remember that even if you fall into one of the above categories, you should only travel if absolutely essential – and it’s always best to check the latest travel advice and visa requirements on the FCDO website.

Visa requirements for France after Brexit

Once travel between the UK and France is permitted again, things will be a little different to how they were pre-Brexit. UK passport holders can travel to countries in the Schengen area for up to 90 days in any 180-day period without a visa. This means most holidaymakers can visit France (or any country in the EU) without a visa, provided you’re not staying for more than three months.

If you need to stay longer than 90 days, the French Embassy can advise you on visa requirements. You may also be asked to show proof of accommodation and insurance, as well as be able to prove you have enough money for your stay. You should ensure you have at least six months’ validity left on your passport, too.

Requirements if transiting through France

Depending on whether you are transiting through France to another Schengen area country, or a country outside the Schengen area, you may need a transit visa. You can find out more about transit visa requirements on the France-Visas website.

Do I need to take a PCR test on arrival in France?

All travellers, including children aged 11 and over, will need to take a PCR test and present a negative COVID-19 test result, carried out less than 72 hours before departure. You will also be required to self-isolate for seven days on arrival, before taking another PCR test, and you can only exit self-isolation if your test result is negative. The French government website has helpful information on obtaining a COVID-19 test in France.

Do I need an EHIC or GHIC card to travel?

You may already hold a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), and the good news is that this it still valid while it remains in date. Since the UK’s departure from the EU, EHIC cards are being replaced by UK Global Health Insurance Cards (GHIC). You should apply for one of these, or ensure you have travel insurance with health cover, in advance of your trip.

You can check here if you need a free UK GHIC, which gives you access to state-provided healthcare during your trip to countries in the EU. Most people can apply for their GHIC online, but some may need to do so by post. Every family member needs their own card, and you can apply for yourself, or on behalf of a partner or dependent children under the age of 16.

What are the visa requirements and rules for UK passport holders travelling to the US?

Entry rules and visa requirements due to COVID-19

A travel ban is currently in place for any British nationals who have been in the UK, Ireland, Schengen Zone, Iran, Brazil, China and a list of other countries you’ll find here. If this applies to you, you cannot currently enter the US.

If you want to transit through the US and have not been to any of the countries on the list, you can apply for an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) visa waiver. The US State Department website is the best place to get more information on visa requirements.

United States citizens and people with American nationality, as well as their children and spouses, are exempt from the US travel ban. So are parents or legal guardians and unmarried brothers and sisters of US citizens, or people with American nationality who are under 21 years of age. You may also find you’re exempt if you’re travelling for business, or if you’re an investor, trader, academic, or highly qualified person travelling for humanitarian purposes or for reasons of American public health or national security.

Again, it’s always best to double check before planning and booking travel.

Requirements if transitting through the US

If you’re transiting through the US (for example, if your flight lands at a US airport and you’re then taking a connecting flight less than 24 hours later) you may need a visa. It’s always best to double-check if you need a C1-Visa with the US Embassy and Consulates in the UK, the FCDO, and your airline before your flight.

Do I need to take a PCR test on arrival in the US?

Right now, UK passport holders are banned from entering the US. Those exempt from the travel ban will need to take a PCR or antigen test up to 72 hours before arrival and present evidence of their negative result. Children under two years of age are exempt from testing, as are travellers transiting through the UK who are not staying in the country for longer than 24 hours. It’s likely that a negative test result will be needed for all arrivals from the UK once the travel ban ends, but we’ll need to wait to find out.

What are the visa requirements and rules for UK passport holders travelling to Thailand?

Entry rules due to COVID-19

If you’re travelling to Thailand, you’ll be required to enter a mandatory, 14-day state quarantine in a Thai goverment-designated facility, at your own expense. Should you be suspected to be infected with the virus upon arrival, you may find you’re denied entry to the country. Some travellers may be tested for COVID-19 on entry and again during quarantine.

If you test positive while in quarantine, the following rules will apply:

  • You and those travelling with you will be transferred to hospital and held in isolation.
  • You must remain in hospital for 14 days, even if you later have a negative test.
  • Before being considered for release, you must provide two negative tests, five days apart.
  • If, after 14 days, you still test positive, you may require to enter another period of self-isolation, either in hospital, at a state facility, or at your accommodation.

You may be required to download the Thai COVID-19 tracking app on arrival in the country. You’ll also need to submit a Thailand Health Declaration, or T.8 Form, which you can fill out online up to 72 hours before your departure.

Visa requirements for UK passport holders

Anyone entering Thailand will need to fulfil the country’s visa requirements and apply for permission to travel. You can do this online on the Royal Thai Government’s website or find out more on the Thai immigration website.

Requirements if transitting through Thailand

If you transit through Thailand – i.e. if you’re landing in Thailand and taking a connecting flight to your final destination you may need a Thailand Health Declaration and proof of travel insurance. We recommend checking requirements with the Thai Embassy and your airline before travelling, as these are changing on a regular basis.

Do I need to take a PCR test on arrival in Thailand?

You do not currently need to provide a negative PCR test result to enter Thailand, or take a PCR test on arrival. This is because all visitors to the country must enter state quarantine for 14 days. You may be asked to take a test during quarantine or before quarantine ends.

We know all this information can seem a little overwhelming, but a little time spent checking the rules and regulations now will ensure that when it’s finally safe to travel again you have a trip that’s memorable for all the right reasons.

So before you book your flights and plan your trip, make sure you check the FCDO site and your airline’s website for the most up-to-date travel information and visa requirements. Pack face masks and hand sanitiser for your journey, and ensure your passport has plenty of validity before you set off. And perhaps most importantly, don’t forget to relax and enjoy your trip!

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Do I need to take a PCR test before my flight?

Not all destinations require a PCR test, but some may deny you entry if you fail to produce a negative test result. You’ll generally need to organise this up to 72 hours before your departure, so it’s vital to check the entry requirements for your destination well in advance on the FCDO website.

Can I go on holiday right now?

The UK is still in lockdown, which means that only essential travel is allowed. You can’t currently go on holiday either in the UK or abroad, but you can start planning your next trip in the meantime.

Do I need a visa to visit Europe after Brexit?

Provided you’re not staying for more than 90 days in any 180-day period, you won’t need a visa to visit any country in the EU. So that long weekend in Paris will be just as simple to organise as before Brexit, but just make sure you have your GHIC or travel insurance with health cover organised before setting off.

Do I really need to self isolate on return to the UK?

Yes. The rules say you must show evidence of a negative COVID-19 test and also self-isolate for 10 days on return to or arrival in the UK. Once lockdown ends and travel is safe again, these rules may change.

This article was last updated on 20 January 2021 and travel restrictions may have changed since. Please check your local government websites for the latest rules and regulations.

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