I’ve bounced back and forth between the US and UK this year more than a handful of times, and spent more than 28 days in isolation over the course of the year in doing so. I’ve also taken more covid-19 tets than I could begin to count.
Tests and forms may not be ideal, but I can assure you that the travel restrictions and protocols to enter England and the United Kingdom are much better now, than before.
With all that real world experience, I wanted to put together a guide on how to plan for your next trip to the UK, because frankly it’s a wonderful time to visit. Restaurants are starting to buzz again, attractions aren’t too overcrowded and cities like London are alive.
The weather is terrible, but that’s London, right? And yes, the sun does shine from time to time and can actually be glorious! Here’s what you need to know about passenger locator forms, covid-19 testing, proof of vaccination and everything else…
Planning Travel To The UK
If you’re planning travel to the UK and don’t want to spend 10 days in managed hotel isolation, you’ll want to avoid entering from, or transiting via a “red list” country.
Fully vaccinated arrivals from many countries, including the USA and most of Europe, are able to visit the UK without any quarantine period, and per newly announced UK travel rules, the entry process is getting easier than ever.
For a start, pre-departure testing is going away for most visitors.
In many cases, You’ll just need to fill out a form, prove they’ve been fully vaccinated with an approved vaccine and take a test after you arrive. Yep, pre-departure “fit to fly” tests are really being dropped for many visitors.
Steps To Visit The UK Without Quarantine
If you want to visit the UK without isolating for 10 days, the simplest solution is to be coming from a green list country.
The UK previously had a confusing red, amber and green list, but from October 4th onward, a simple “green means go” or “red means don’t” list will apply. If you want to enter the UK without quarantine, from October 4th, you’ll simply need to…
- Be fully vaccinated (by UK, US, European or UK Overseas agency).
- Fill out a Passenger Locator Form (PLF) within 48 hours of departure.
- Pay for a PCR test, for after you arrive in the UK (must be booked in advance of travel).
For arrivals into the UK before this date, check out this official government resource. Also, more countries are expected to be added to the trusted vaccination country list, but that’s where it is for now. We’ll update as countries are added.
If you’re not fully vaccinated, the only way into the UK without isolation is by spending a least 10 days in a “green list” country before departure, but let’s focus on things for people who are fully vaccinated, and the details about each step.
UK Passenger Locator Form (PLF)
As simple (or not?!) as the above sounds, there’s a rhyme and order to it, which we’ll get into more below. Basically, don’t fill out your passenger locator form PLF until you’ve paid for and booked your ‘Day 2’ covid-19 test. You’ll need a code from your confirmation to finish the UK Passenger Locator Form.
You’ll also need your flight number, seat number, as well as address of where you’ll be staying, and a few relevant details like that. Having them handy will help speed things up.
The passenger locator form is semi pedantic, and should take around 5-10 minutes per person to complete. Sadly, each adult over 18 must complete their own, but kids can be added to one of the adult forms, with relative ease.
UK Proof Of Vaccination
The UK currently recognizes NHS app vaccination proof, EU DCC proof of vaccination from EU nations, as well as proof of vaccination from the USA and UK Overseas covid-19 vaccination programs. Here’s the finer details.
For people vaccinated anywhere else, your proof of vaccination may not currently count and means you’ll still need to isolate for 10 days, and still need to take both a pre-departure “fit to fly” test as well as ‘Day 2+8 Test Package’.
The UK Government has a handy page, which spells out specifically how to prove your vaccination status, based on where you were vaccinated.
For example, US travelers can enter without quarantine, provided they show their US CDC vaccination card and a US passport or residency. EU travelers can show either the paper or digital format of their proof.
UK Pre-Flight and Post Arrival Testing
All vaccinated visitors coming from a green list country won’t need a test before they fly to the UK, starting from October 4th. They will, however, need a pre-booked test to be taken after they arrive, called a “day 2” test. It can actually be taken earlier than that.
For now, it must be a PCR test, but from later in October cheaper tests will be accepted. We’ll update this article accordingly.
Pre-Flight Test For UK
For pre-departure testing to the UK, antigen tests are accepted, including tests taken at home, such as Qured or Abbot BinaxNOW, provided you have a negative certificate for the test, and not just “your word”. PCR tests are fine too, but they’re typically far more expensive, and not necessary.
These are required for travel before October 4th, 2021, but NOT after.
These ‘pre departure’ tests can be taken anytime in the 3 days before travel, which creates a nice window of time. If you travel on a Friday, a test on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday would work just fine, and there’s no silly 72 hour restriction, it’s just the day itself. Here’s the actual example from the UK GOV website…
“For example, if you travel directly to England on Friday, you can take the test on or after Tuesday. You will need to have the negative result available before boarding on Friday.”UK Government
“Day 2” Test For UK Arrival
As noted, you can’t finish filling out your UK passenger locator form (PLF), until you’ve booked your day 2 test, to be taken after you arrive only.
You get a confirmation code when you book the “Day 2” arrival test, which syncs up with the PLF and allows it to be completed. Tests now cost around £20 and up, which is much better than the £150 or so many providers were charging earlier in the year.
Unbeknownst to many, you can actually opt to test on arrival at Heathrow, using the Express test post arrival testing facilities.
The test can be taken on, or before day two after you arrive in the UK, so immediately after landing is fine. Again, just remember to pre-book so that you can fill out the PLF form. The tests can also be ordered to your home, or with advance info provided to your hotel, sent to a hotel.
Hot tip: If you’ve been in Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man for the last 10 days before entering the UK, you don’t need a PCR test after arrival.
A variety of options exist for home testing, and you’re allowed to go out and visit a clinic to conduct your test outside of the home too. British Airways has a really helpful page with discounts and rundowns on testing providers.
If you’re on the move, the arrival test offered at the airport is tough to beat, since it’s all done from your end before you even leave the airport. I’ve used the Qured testing service a few times, which works well since it included a pre-paid envelope, which you just drop off after swabbing yourself.
What About Shorter Trips?
Lots of business people, particularly, aren’t entering the UK for two or more days, which means a day 2 test isn’t highly practical. Still, the rules say you clearly need to buy one, even if you don’t take it. Here’s what the UK GOV website has to say…
If you will be in England for less than 2 days you still need to book and pay for a day 2 COVID-19 test. You only need to take the test if you are still in England on day 2.UK GOV
At least someone is getting rich, right? Ultimately, for the sake of clarity, you need to book a Day 2 PCR test to enter the UK, even if you’re fully vaccinated, and even from green list countries. Ireland, Isle of Man and Channel Islands are the only currently exempted places.
Practical Travel Tips For Visiting The UK
I’ve gotten in the habit of streamlining my arrivals, after many attempts this year.
When you fill out your Passenger Locator Form (PLF), after buying your tests, you’ll get a PDF sent to your email, with proof you completed the form. First thing, be sure to give a valid email, so you can receive it.
Second, I now send myself an email with proof of everything in one place, or upload it to my Google Drive for offline viewing. I’ll get a copy of my post arrival test order, my PLF form and put it all in one email, so I can quickly help the immigration officer view all they wish to see, without fumbling around.
If you’re worried about your phone’s data not working, having paper copies of each, or offline downloads on your phone definitely helps. And finally, be sure to double check you have not only your passport, but proof of vaccination.
It’s a lot more hassle than pre-covid-19 times, but a trip to the UK is always special. For some, some added expense with testing and a few forms is still worth it.