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Soon open to fully vaccinated Americans: Everything you need to know about traveling to the UK

July 29, 2021
11 min read
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On Wednesday afternoon, England made the announcement that many had been waiting on for months. As of Aug. 2 at 4 a.m., fully vaccinated Americans and EU travelers will no longer have to quarantine for 10 days on arrival in England when they are traveling from an "amber" country under the U.K.’s traffic light system.

In other words, England will be open again to American and EU tourists who are fully vaccinated.

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But, even with the requirement to self-isolate for American travelers no longer in the way, traveling to England at this time still has some intricacies.

Here's what you need to know if you plan to travel to England — and the U.K. — right now.

What do I need to visit the UK without quarantine?

If you were fully vaccinated in the U.S. or EU, you will be able to enter the U.K. as of 4 a.m. on Aug. 2 without the need to quarantine for 10 days and submit a COVID-19 PCR test on day eight. Additionally, arrivals from the following non-EU European countries will also get the exemption: Andorra, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Norway, San Marino, Switzerland and Vatican City.

Related: Are you fully vaccinated? Here’s what travel looks like for you right now

Eligible vaccinated passengers must be fully vaccinated and have had their final dose of the vaccine at least 14 days prior to arrival in the U.K. Additionally, the vaccine must be authorized by the Food and Drug Administration — in other words, the Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine — for Americans, the European Medicines Agency for EU arrivals or SwissMedic for Swiss arrivals.

To show proof of your vaccination status, Americans will need their U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention card as well as proof of U.S. residency. A passport should count as proof of your U.S. residency.

The Cotswolds. (Photo by coldsnowstorm/Getty Images)

What forms and testing do I need to visit the UK?

Since January 2021, the U.K. requires that all arriving passengers have proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of departure or face a fine of 500 pounds. (Arrivals coming from the Common Travel Area are exempt from this.) Eligible tests include a nucleic acid test (such as a PCR test), LAMP test or an antigen test, such as from a lateral flow device. You will need to show proof of this negative test result either on a printed document or on an email or text message that you can display on your phone.

Additionally, all arriving passengers must have filled out a passenger locator form. The form, which takes about 10 minutes to complete, must be finished before you travel to the U.K.

Lastly, all fully vaccinated American and EU arrivals must have pre-booked a COVID-19 PCR test to take on or before day two of being in the U.K. While you won't need to quarantine during the time waiting for the test result, you will still need to take the test. As mentioned, the test must be pre-booked prior to traveling to the U.K. through a government-approved provider — you can find the full list of providers here.

How do I order a day two test and how much will it cost?

As mentioned, the day two test must be pre-booked prior to your travel to the U.K. through a government-approved provider. You can order either an at-home, self-swab test or one taken at a health provider's site.

Note that you are not permitted to order a free COVID-19 PCR test via the U.K.'s National Health Service. Tests used for travel must be purchased by the traveler.

You can expect to pay between 25 and 100 pounds ($35 and $140) for a test. The cost will vary, depending on a number of factors. For example, if you want your results on the same day, you should expect to pay more. Check with your airline to see if it offers a discount on day two testing packages. British Airways, for example, offers a small discount when purchasing your test through its partner providers.

Keep in mind that you will not need to quarantine to wait for the result of the day two test. Instead, you will be free to roam around outside while you await the results. For that reason, it may not be worth paying extra for a same-day test result.

If you elect to opt for an at-home, self-swab test, consult with your hotel to see if it will accept delivery of the test on your behalf.

Brighton Pier. (Photo by Westend61/Getty Images)

What happens if my day two test comes back positive?

Within two days of arriving in the U.K., you will have taken the test. If the PCR test result comes back positive, you will be required to undergo a 10-day quarantine at your own expense. You will need to quarantine for 10 days from the day after you took the test.

You will likely need to find an Airbnb or hotel to quarantine in — unless you have family or friends in the U.K. who can host you for your quarantine. If not, this could be a large added expense that should be on the minds of travelers before heading for the U.K. You may want to look into your travel insurance to see if the provider will assist with the quarantine if you test positive.

Related: What to pack in case you test positive abroad for COVID-19 and can’t return to the US

Are vaccinated Americans allowed in just England or also the rest of the UK?

Wednesday's announcement came from the U.K.'s transport secretary Grant Shapps and pertained only to England. However, the four devolved nations have largely followed one another in their COVID-19-related travel restrictions: all have a traffic light system with largely the same countries occupying each level.

Later on Wednesday, Scotland and Wales followed suit and said that as of the same date and time, fully vaccinated travelers from the U.S. and EU will be permitted to travel to Scotland and Wales without the need to quarantine.

On Thursday afternoon, Northern Ireland finally followed suit. As of the same time, fully vaccinated Americans and Europeans can travel to the whole of the U.K. without the need to quarantine from an amber country.

What about children who are unvaccinated?

If you are planning to travel to the U.K. and are fully vaccinated but want to take your unvaccinated children with you, here's what you need to know. Children younger than 18 who reside in the U.S. or EU will not need to isolate if they are coming from an amber list country.

Children who are younger than 5 do not need to test at all — pre-departure or post-arrival. Children who are aged between 5 and 10 will need to take a PCR test on day two after arrival. Finally, those aged between 11 and 17 will need a pre-departure test and a PCR test before or on day two.

Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Rory McDonald/Getty Images)

What if I'm coming from a red list country?

The U.K. is still using a traffic light system to categorize countries based on their COVID-19 risk level: red for high risk, amber for medium risk and green for low risk. At this time, the U.S. and most EU countries remain on the amber list, which requires a 10-day quarantine on arrival (and tests on days two and eight of quarantine) for unvaccinated travelers.

Note that the Aug. 2 changes that are set to exempt American and EU fully vaccinated travelers only apply if they are coming from an amber country. If you have been in — including transited — a red list country in the 10 days prior to entry, you will be considered to be coming from a red list country, regardless of your vaccination status.

Red list arrivals are subject to a hotel quarantine in a government-supervised facility. The cost of hotel quarantine is 1,750 pounds (about $2,445) for a single traveler.

Note that while the U.S. and EU countries are not on the red list at this time, they could be moved to the red list at a moment's notice. Additionally, note that some major transit hubs such as Dubai (DXB), Abu Dhabi (AUH) and Doha (DOH) are on the red list at this time. So, if you're traveling to the U.K. via any of these Middle Eastern hubs, you will be considered a red list arrival. You will need to communicate this on your passenger locator form.

Do the new rules have any effect on transiting through Heathrow?

If you've got a flight itinerary that takes you through London Heathrow without needing to leave the airport, you will be able to do so.

Additionally, if you are transiting through Heathrow on to another international destination, you do not need to quarantine or take a COVID-19 test on arrival or on day two and day eight. However, you must present to your airline a completed passenger locator form and proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of departure.

Related: Everything you need to know about transiting through European airports during the pandemic

On your passenger locator form, be sure to select "Stay in the U.K." under the "Your travel plans" section. You'll also want to answer no to any questions about whether you are required to complete COVID-19 tests on arrival.

What is 'amber plus'?

To make matters even more confusing, there is one relatively new addition to the traffic light system, dubbed "amber plus." Anyone who has traveled to, from or transited through an amber plus country in the past 10 days will still be required to abide by full amber arrival rules, even if they are fully vaccinated.

In other words, traveling to, from or through an amber plus country will still require you to quarantine for 10 days and take a COVID-19 test on days two and eight of quarantine.

Currently, there is only one country — France — on the amber plus list. However, it's worth noting that a country could be moved from amber to amber plus at any moment.

Cornwall. (Photo by Ashley Cooper/Getty Images)

I'm not vaccinated. Can I still enter the UK?

Since the start of the pandemic, the U.K. has not placed an outright ban on Americans entering the country. However, travelers coming from the U.S. have long been subject to quarantine requirements. That still holds true for unvaccinated Americans.

Unvaccinated Americans are allowed to enter the U.K., however, they will be designated as true amber arrivals, meaning they will need to quarantine for 10 days on arrival, as well as take a COVID-19 PCR test on days two and eight. Quarantining amber arrivals in England can elect to shorten their quarantine period using Test to Release to take an additional test after five days of quarantine.

Bottom line

Ultimately, when this change takes effect as of 4 a.m. on Aug. 2, it will be welcome news for Americans and EU travelers hoping to see friends and family in Britain or just visit the U.K. for vacation. That said, there are still rules that need to be followed by fully vaccinated Americans and Europeans.

Unfortunately, the U.S. has yet to lift its ban on travelers who are noncitizens coming from the Schengen Area, United Kingdom, Brazil, China and others. Hopefully, with the U.K. and EU lifting requirements for American travelers, the U.S. may follow suit at some point in the not-too-distant future.

Until then, transatlantic travel largely remains a one-way operation.

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
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