A breakdown of the new testing rules for travelers headed to the UK

Jan 6, 2022

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This article has been updated.

From Friday, Jan. 7, people entering England will no longer have to prove they are free of COVID-19 before they set off.

Instead, they will have to provide a negative PCR test upon arrival. Then, from Jan. 9, that rule will change again, meaning you will only have to provide a negative lateral flow test instead of a PCR.

The new rules come into play as British health authorities acknowledge that omicron is now the dominant variant in the country, rendering previous measures to hamper its entry into Britain redundant.

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In an effort to slow down the spread, the U.K. had introduced several legislative travel firewalls, including mandatory predeparture testing. But on Wednesday, after figures revealed that one in 25 people in England had the virus before Christmas, ministers relaxed the rules.

Here are your questions about travel to the U.K. answered:

Do I need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test before traveling to the U.K.?

No. Previously, anyone aged 12 and above traveling to the U.K. was required to show a negative test taken up to two days before departure. 

But as of 4 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 7, fully vaccinated travelers and people under 18 will no longer have to take a predeparture test before returning to England. 

From Sunday, Jan. 9, you will only be required to take a lateral flow Day 2 test, opposed to the more expensive PCR test previously required. 

Are free NHS lateral flow tests accepted?

No. Free NHS tests are not allowed. Instead, you must buy one from a private test provider, which you will need to book before departure. 

Several companies, such as Qured or Randox, sell at-home or mail-in COVID-19 tests. You can find a list of government-approved lateral flow tests here.

If the result is positive, you are required to then take a PCR test to confirm the result. If that also comes back positive, you will need to self-isolate for seven days, so long as you take two negative lateral flow tests 24 hours apart.

If you’re traveling internationally you must use a private test provider that has self-declared it meets the U.K. government minimum standards for commercial testing.

However, in all cases, it’s wise to be organized. While all of these services offer a quick turnaround, this could easily be affected by a surge in demand as the new testing rules come into force. Book your test as far in advance as you can to be safe, especially if you’re required to also book a video consultation with the test.

Will I still need to isolate and take a PCR test?

You are only expected to self-isolate if your post-arrival lateral flow test result is positive. That is to say: You do not have to isolate while you wait for your lateral flow result. 

If your lateral flow result is positive, then you must self-isolate while you await the result of a PCR test.

What if I am not fully vaccinated?

Then the old rules currently still apply. If you are not fully vaccinated you will still be required to take both a Day 2 and a Day 8 test and you may also be required to quarantine for 10 days even if you test negative.

Following your Day 2 test, you must continue to quarantine regardless of whether or not you receive a negative result.

Once you have taken your Day 8 test, you can leave quarantine on whichever is later: Day 10 of your arrival in the U.K. or when you receive a negative Day 8 result. If your Day 8 test is positive you must quarantine for an additional 10 days, with the Day 8 test being counted as Day Zero of your quarantine.

If you are entering the U.K. via a cruise ship you may be subject to slightly different testing requirements.

Will I need to fill out a Passenger Locator Form (PLF) before I travel?

Everyone traveling to the U.K. must complete a PLF no later or earlier than two days before they arrive at their destination. This is regardless of your vaccination status. This should be completed after you have booked your Day 2 test (and if unvaccinated, your Day 8 test) as you will be required to provide a unique code as proof that you have testing arranged.

The Passenger Locator form can be accessed here.

Being able to show proof of full vaccination will make your travels a lot easier.

Depending upon the Day 2 testing service you book you could be out of self-isolation within hours of your arrival in the U.K. if you are fully vaccinated.

If you are unvaccinated, you will be required to quarantine for much longer, which could cause disruptions to your visit.

Additional reporting by Jordan Waller.

Featured image by Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

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