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Will Americans be able to vacation in the UK this summer?

April 27, 2021
9 min read
View down Whitehall of buses and Big Ben
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On Sunday, we got the news that many of us had been waiting to hear for more than a year: Vacationing in Europe will soon be possible once again. Whether that means exploring Tuscany's rolling hills, taking the tram in Lisbon, lounging by the French Riviera or cruising through Amsterdam's canals, EU trips will make a comeback this summer.

According to a recent report from The New York Times, the European Union is expecting to reopen to fully vaccinated American tourists this summer. However, some details about the report remain scarce.

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For example, we don't yet know when the EU may reopen to fully vaccinated Americans and ultimately, it will be up to each individual member state if — and when — they want to allow U.S. tourists in. It will surely be an ever-evolving situation that could change at any moment.

Related: Want to travel to Europe this summer? Here’s what you need to know

But with the EU planning to reopen to Americans this summer, where does that leave the United Kingdom?

The U.K. formally left the EU on Jan. 31, 2020, though it had a transition period that largely left all relations and formalities in place. However, that transition period ended on Dec. 31, 2020. Largely overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic, the U.K. has been officially out of the EU as of Jan. 1, 2021.

So, this week's news that the EU will reopen to American tourists this summer means all but nothing for those looking for a summer trip to England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. But, will the U.K. actually be open to Americans, regardless of the EU's stance? Let's take a look.

Will the UK be open to Americans this summer?

Since the start of the pandemic, the U.K. has not explicitly closed its borders to Americans. So long as travelers coming from the United States have abided by the appropriate regulations — testing and quarantine at various times since 2020 — they have been allowed to enter. We expect that to continue to be the case this summer.

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Currently, England is still under a loose lockdown wherein non-essential international travel is still forbidden. As such, restrictions at the England border require that all arrivals take a pre-departure COVID-19 test before their flight, quarantine for 10 days and take two additional COVID-19 tests while in quarantine (on days two and eight, which must be booked prior to travel).

Related: Hotel quarantine, 3 COVID-19 tests and more: Everything you need to know about traveling to the UK

International travel may resume from May 17, at which point restrictions at the England border will loosen. At that point, England will implement a traffic light system wherein countries are categorized based on their risk level: red for high-risk countries, amber for medium-risk countries and green for the lowest-risk countries.

Castle Combe in Wiltshire, England. (Photo by Joe Daniel Price/Getty Images)

Arrivals coming from red-list countries will need to have a pre-departure COVID-19 test and then be required to pay £1,750 for a single adult to undergo a 10-day quarantine in a government-approved hotel. Additionally, England will only allow nationals and U.K. residents coming from red-list countries to enter. Currently, there are 40 countries on England's red list, which has been in effect from earlier this year.

Related: All 40 countries that are on the U.K.'s travel red list

Amber arrivals will be required to have a pre-departure test and then quarantine in their own accommodation for 10 days and take two COVID-19 tests while in quarantine — on days two and eight, which must be ordered before travel. Amber arrivals have the option to use England's Test to Release scheme, which allows them to take an additional COVID-19 PCR test after five full days of quarantine. If that test returns a negative result, they can forgo the remainder of their quarantine. Note, however, they will still be required to take the day eight test, even though they have already left quarantine.

Finally, arrivals from the lowest-risk green counties will not be required to quarantine on arrival in England. They will, however, be required to have a negative COVID-19 test result before boarding their flight, and the test can be a lateral flow antigen test. Additionally, green arrivals will have to take a PCR test on arrival or within two days of arriving.

At this point, the U.K. government has yet to detail which countries will appear on which list — the announcement is expected to come in early May. That said, we do already know the countries on the red list — there are 40 of them, and the U.S. isn't on it.

There's good reason to believe the United States will be placed on the green list. Given its high vaccination rate and falling cases, the U.S. could be a viable candidate for the green list. If it is placed on the green list, Americans can strongly consider a vacation in England this summer without the need for quarantine.

Related: Which countries could be on the UK’s green list?

Unfortunately, at this time, there's no exemption to the testing requirements for fully vaccinated travelers. If the U.S. is placed on the green list, Americans looking to visit England will still need a pre-departure test, as well as a post-arrival test.

It's worth noting that the traffic light system, at this point, applies to England. However, it's possible that the other three devolved nations — Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales — will follow suit.

Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Joe Daniel Price/Getty Images)

What about a US-UK travel corridor?

Since 2020, there have been reports of a travel corridor between the U.S. and the U.K. According to the reports, travelers would be able to venture between the two countries quarantine-free.

The U.S. has been closed to Europeans — including those coming from the U.K. — since March 2020. Only nationals have been permitted to enter the U.S. from the Schengen area. In order to make a travel corridor work, the U.S. will have to revise that guidance.

President Biden has been reported to be in favor of lifting the EU travel ban — especially as it relates to Brits. Biden has been reported to say that travel could reopen between the U.S. and the U.K. as soon as July. However, the possibility of a U.S.-U.K. corridor took a setback last week when the U.S. State Department added most of the world's countries to its "do not travel" advisory list — including the United Kingdom.

Related: Most of the world’s countries added to State Department’s ‘do not travel’ advisory

However, by summer time, it's entirely possible that the State Department revises that list to include the U.K., which has had one of the world's most successful vaccination programs to-date. According to Reuters, the U.K. has administered at least 46 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, and more than 33 million people have received at least one dose — about 50% of the population.

(Photo by Maremagnum/Getty Images)

"I think you’re going to have a hard time finding a hotel room in the U.K., because there’s going to be so many people wanting to go," United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby said of the possibility of a corridor between the two countries.

U.K. airlines have pushed the British government to open a corridor, as they rely heavily on transatlantic operations to America. Notably, prior to the pandemic, about 70% of Virgin Atlantic's route network was made up of transatlantic operations. Since the pandemic, it's had to turn to new routes to make up for the lack of demand on routes between the U.S. and U.K., but its CEO Shai Weiss hopes the demand will soon return.

"There is a great opportunity here to focus on the corridor between the US and the UK. The US has a hugely successful vaccination program," Weiss said. "Within the UK government’s traffic light framework, we have the opportunity to put the UK and US on a ‘green’ basis and get the economy moving again as of May 17."

Bottom line

Many Americans have set their sights on Europe for travel this summer. But with the U.K. excluded from those discussions because of Brexit, we'll have to continue to follow the situation in Britain on its own.

Related: The 7 best ways to redeem points and miles for flights to Europe

Summer vacations in England are looking hopeful, but there are still missing pieces to the puzzle that need to be worked out before we can say for certain they can happen. Ultimately, all eyes will turn to the U.K. government in "early May," as it unveils if travel will be permitted to resume from May 17. And, if that date does go ahead, which traffic light the U.S. will fall under.

We hope to be seeing green.

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.