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Current COVID-19 considerations for travelling to and from England

03 August 2021

Significant changes to the COVID-19 requirements for entry to England were made with effect from 19 July 2021.

On the upside, these included a liberalisation of self-quarantine rules for certain individuals returning to England from an amber list country, including those who have been fully vaccinated in the UK, or, from 2 August 2021, the USA or listed European countries. However, a new ‘amber plus’ list was also implemented, and further countries have been added to the red list. Despite the upbeat messaging from Government, it is still far from plain sailing for international travel.

What are the five current sets of arrangements?

The updated international arrival guidance for England makes separate arrangements for the following:

  • Green list arrivals (including green watchlist)
  • Fully UK-vaccinated amber list arrivals
  • Amber list arrivals who are not fully UK-vaccinated
  • Amber plus list arrivals (currently only including France)
  • Red list arrivals

The COVID-19 testing and quarantine requirements are determined by the highest risk country the individual has been in during the ten days before their arrival in England. This includes being in a country for a transit stop where new passengers get on, or some passengers get off and re-join the service after being able to mix with other people outside.

Before departure, travellers should:

  • Check the rules for the country they are coming from and any countries they are travelling through;
  • Book any required post-arrival COVID-19 tests and hotel quarantine packages (children aged four and under are exempt from the COVID-19 testing requirement);
  • Complete a passenger locator form; and
  • Provide evidence of their vaccination status, if relevant

There are certain occupation-related exemptions from completing one or more of the above steps, which are outlined here. Of note is that since 29 June 2021, the exemption for business directors bringing significant jobs and investment to the UK has been reinstated.

Those travelling within the UK, or from Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man do not have to undertake any testing or quarantine if they have not been outside the Common Travel Area in the ten days before arrival in England.

We have summarised the general requirements for arrivals to England below.

Green list arrivals

Those arriving from a country on England’s green list (including the green watch list, which is for countries considered at risk of moving to the amber list) do not have to self-isolate on arrival to England. However, they do still have to undertake an approved COVID-19 test within two days of arrival. Where there is a positive result or the NHS notifies a person to self-isolate because a fellow traveller has tested positive, a ten-day self-isolation period is mandatory.

Amber list

The amber list is not exhaustive – it includes all countries and territories that are not included on the green or red list. Currently it includes over 140 countries.

Amber list arrivals who are fully vaccinated

A person who arrives in England from an amber list country does not need to self-isolate if they are:

  • Fully vaccinated under the UK programme, with their vaccination (for a single dose vaccine) or second dose (for a double dose vaccine) having been taken more than 14 days before arrival in England;
  • Fully vaccinated under a Federal Drug Administration authorised programme in the USA, and can provide proof of residence in the USA (for arrivals from 4 am BST on 2 August 2021);
  • Fully vaccinated under a European Medicines Agency authorised programme in the EU (for arrivals from 4 am BST on 2 August 2021)
  • Fully vaccinated under the Swiss vaccination programme (for arrivals from 4 am BST on 2 August 2021)
  • Part of a UK-approved vaccine trial; or

An approved COVID-19 test will have to be taken within two days of arrival to England. Where there is a positive result or the NHS notifies a person to self-isolate because a fellow traveller has tested positive, a ten-day self-isolation period is mandatory.

Amber list arrivals who are not fully vaccinated

Where an individual is not fully vaccinated under an approved programme, a ten-day self-isolation period must be undertaken, with COVID-19 tests within two days of arrival and on or after day eight of quarantine. A longer period of self-isolation will be required if the person receives a positive test result.

The option to leave self-isolation early may be possible under the Test to Release scheme. This scheme provides the option to pay for a private COVID-19 test on day five of quarantine provided the result of the test taken upon arrival to England was negative. If the result of the private test also provides a negative result, then the individual may leave quarantine early. Where a test result returns as inconclusive, self-isolation must continue. It is also important to note that the day eight COVID-19 test remains compulsory and must be taken in addition to the private test.

Amber plus list arrivals (arrivals from France)

France is currently the only country on the amber plus list, however other countries may be added in the future. An individual arriving from an amber plus country must follow the standard amber list requirements applicable to those who have not been fully vaccinated under an accepted programme.

Red list arrivals

Entry from a red list country will only be granted where there is an existing residence right or the person is a British or Irish national. Upon successful admittance to England, there is a mandatory ten-day isolation period which must be undertaken in an approved quarantine hotel. Approved COVID-19 tests must also be taken within the first two days of arrival, and on or after the eighth day of quarantine. These rules apply to vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, and unlike arrivals from the amber list, the Test to Release scheme is not applicable.

What things should employers and employees consider?

Due to the complexity of the rules surrounding arrivals into England and other countries, it is important to consider a wide variety of factors.

Decide whether international travel is necessary or desirable

Employers should make a call on whether business travel is essential, or if the required activities can be carried out effectively another way.

Holidaymakers should ensure they have a clear understanding of the potential inconveniences and costs they may personally be liable for.

All travellers should factor in potential delays during travel due to the additional checks and safety measures that are in place.

They should also consider the inherent health risks of travelling during the pandemic, including that they may need to isolate (or isolate for longer) and/or seek medical attention if they contract COVID-19. This may become expensive very quickly and, in the case of short-term business, training or holiday, may frustrate the purpose of the travel entirely.

It is also possible that an individual may need to extend their stay in the destination country if they are required to isolate, or if travel disruption makes it impossible for them to leave. Consular assistance and options for repatriation may be limited.

In all cases careful attention should be paid to the terms of travel insurance, and a contingency fund may also be prudent.

Monitor changes to the rules

We recommend monitoring the current COVID-19 travel requirements for England, including the red, amber and green lists for any changes in the lead-up to travel and during travel. Guidance for the countries of intended travel should be monitored in the same way. It should not be assumed that the arrangements for travel to other countries or for arrival in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland are the same as they are for England.

Understand vaccination recognition

Specific attention should be paid to the changing rules surrounding vaccination programmes. Those who wish to rely on vaccination status should ensure that they have acceptable proof of this. For entry to England this is currently the NHS COVID Pass, and further detailed information should be made available by 2 August 2021 for those vaccinated under the programmes that will become eligible then.

Use the Test to Release scheme where applicable

If an individual who is not fully vaccinated arrives from an amber list country, consider using the Test to Release scheme. For employers, this can help to minimise business disruption if the individual’s work activities must be done in person.

Consider issues relating to pay and leave following return from holiday

Whilst some employees may be required to travel to conduct business, it is a personal issue to go on holiday. Self-isolation periods of staff arising due to foreign travel can prove costly for businesses. Where the reason for travel is a holiday, issues regarding payment during isolation periods are raised. For those occupations where remote working is not possible, our employment team have compiled a table for English employers to refer to. This outlines rights to pay, and suggesting best practices on pay and leave.

If you have any queries about the issues raised in this article, please contact a member of our Immigration Team.


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