a bridge over a river with a clock tower in the background

The UK has finally, officially confirmed plans to reduce quarantine times for travelers returning from destinations not on the approved “travel corridor” list.

Under the new guidelines, travelers entering the United Kingdom from countries such as the USA, and others not a part of the “no quarantine necessary” list will face a much improved 5 day quarantine time instead of 14, with an option to test out, via a private covid-19 test.

It’s not perfect, airline bosses aren’t entirely happy, but the new measures are a step in the right direction to get people moving safely once again. If you’re considering a trip, here’s what you need to know about the new rules, and how you can test out of 14 day quarantine after the 5th day…

UK Reduces Travel Quarantine

From December 15th, arrivals entering the UK from countries which aren’t exempt from quarantine will only be required to quarantine for 5 days, rather than 14 days. The news has been confirmed by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, and the BBC.

But, the 5 day shortened quarantine ONLY applies if you take a covid-19 test at your own expense after day 5, which means 5 days likely means 6 or 7 in reality, and if you have no access or financial means to a private covid-19 test, you may need to submit to the full 14 days.

GSTP endured the 14 day quarantine after arriving from California, and with things like running in public parks banned (you cannot leave your house), it’s incredibly difficult. No checks were made, nor any emails, phone calls or text messages during the time.

Here are a few issues with the new shortened quarantine proposals…

  1. Rather than use pre-flight PCR testing, which means people on the plane are less likely to be sick in the first place, and is used in Dubai, Hawaii, Maldives, Barbados and others, the UK is opting only to test passengers after they arrive.
  2. Pre-flight tests don’t stop 100% of cases, but current figures show only 1 in 1,500 travelers slip through the cracks with covid-19. Better to test pre-flight than not, and countries are doing this without prohibitive quarantine measures.
  3. No effort is being made to subsidize testing, as other countries have. The UK could refund the mandatory Air Passenger duty (APD) to passengers – or not charge it – to help cover costs, but this is not being done.
  4. Instead, the UK Gov is suggesting people who could be asymptomatic go out into the community on Day 5, at their own expense, potentially using mass transit to go obtain a test, if they opt not to have one virtually at home, via a mail in kit.

New data revealed few travelers followed the quarantine rules upon return, and that of all the options available: pre-flight testing, post flight testing and testing after a few days, that 14 day unsupervised quarantine, which government previously insisted, was the least effect method to keep covid-19 spread via travel out of local communities.

Airlines and travel industry leaders had hoped the UK would adopt a pre-travel test requirement to help keep sick people off planes, followed by a second test after 2-3 days, which multiple scientific studies have proven to be the most effective duo against spread, and stop a vast percentage of cases from reaching the community.

UK Quarantine: Private Testing Only

Many countries provide complimentary rapid covid-19 testing to arriving passengers in place of quarantine measures, or access to free testing later on, but the UK is opting not to make travel testing a part of its national health service.

Instead, all travelers must use a private testing option at their own expense.

This means that after 5 days of isolation, a traveler can take a private covid-19 test, at a current expense of at least £99 per person, and often more. Once a negative lab result is confirmed, the traveler would then be able to resume normal life, in accordance with current covid-19 restrictions in England.

a bridge over a river with a clock tower in the background

Does Reduced Quarantine Move The Needle?

The UK’s new reduced quarantine comes into effect on December 15th, 2020, giving travelers enough time to arrive, self isolate, test for covid-19 and take part in this year’s limited December Holiday festivities allowed throughout the country.

It also means that someone considering a visit to the country might be more likely to actually do so, losing just one week of vacation time to quarantine, rather than two.

But even then, it’s somewhat wishful thinking. Most travelers don’t have 5-7 days going spare, and the thought of paying for an Airbnb or hotel you cannot leave at all is less than ideal, as uncertainty looms around financial markets.

The news from Transport Secretary Grant Shapps may create a marginal boost in travel, but business travelers who rely on trips typically shorter than 5 days in total certainly won’t be making the jump, nor will many others. Despite an early role in the spread of covid-19, travel has remained an overstated factor in battling the pandemic.

Thanks to constant filtration bringing air from ceiling to floor, planes have air safety ratings 15x greater than most indoor spaces, and even 5x greater than hospital triage areas. With social distancing, mask wearing and testing involved, many destinations have safely rebooted travel without any significant rise in cases, including Barbados, Maldives, Dubai and Hawaii.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

Join the Conversation


  1. Well it’s a step forwards and sideways. As a very casual leisure traveller, I would at least consider taking a vacation with this sort of quarantine in place. If folks were allowed to take outdoor exercise as long as they stay 2m away from others during the five days, that’d probably be enough for me. Of course, I’m not a very exciting traveller and for sure I don’t travel for business so I don’t know how many people would be satisfied with even this level of restriction. Regardless, this move might show that governments are realizing a two-week lock-in with no chance for early release isn’t viable if they expect their economies to restart.

  2. So if I fly to Turkey in December 7th and come back on December 12th can I take a test on December 17th or do I have to quarantine for the full 14 days? I arrive in the Uk before the scheme starts but the 5 day point is after it starts..?

    1. Any arrivals before the 15th, to the best of my knowledge, must quarantine for 14 full days. Even though it means people arriving on the 15th will be out before you. Not ideal by any means.

  3. I was really thinking of pulling the trigger for December, but It looks like testing centers in the UK are swamped right now. If you can’t get a test, you are stuck in quarantine for 14 days. Any info on the testing situation?

  4. Is there any indication the FCO will change their advice against non essential travel to certain countries as without this surely it makes holidays as impossible as they are currently to those countries not on the travel corridor list?

    1. I mean, it does for those who are hellbent on their current travel insurance, but not for those who get covid-19 specific insurance, or just travel anyway. Hasn’t made an impact on my travels, not that I advise others to do the same.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *