If you’re an expat, you’ve probably got an interesting story to tell about living in a foreign city and trying to return to your home country during the COVID-19 pandemic. What COVID-19 travel guidelines do you need to follow? And what is the general state of global travel?
In this article, we cover everything expats living and working abroad in a foreign country need to know about travel and returning home in 2021. Where can you go? Do you need expat travel insurance with covid cover? And what are the rules on vaccination, quarantine restrictions and more? To help you keep track, we have created this handy checklist guide.
International COVID-19 travel restrictions checklist for expats
As the situation starts to return to normal and countries begin to open their borders to travel, you may be asking whether you’re allowed to travel to/from other countries and go home to visit your family finally.
If so, you may have questions, such as:
- Can I return to my country of origin?
- Do I need to be vaccinated to travel and, if so, do I need a particular type of vaccine?
- What type of health insurance/travel insurance will I need if I am moving between different countries?
- Is there a special expat travel insurance with covid cover?
In the UK, from October the rules on foreign travel to and from England are being simplified. The traffic light system is being scrapped, and fully vaccinated people will need fewer tests after travelling to most countries.
Let’s try to answer as many of your questions as possible, to help you make sense of the rules around traveling and restrictions during COVID-19 as an expat.
What are the global travel rules during COVID-19?
There’s not a single industry that’s been halted by the pandemic more so than travel & tourism. Every country has its own laws on who can enter and leave. Strict travel guidelines are in full force in many European countries.
In the UK, it’s advised not to travel to amber or red listed countries to reduce the spread of new strains of the virus. However, from Monday 4 October, the amber and green lists will be merged into one list. Anyone who’s fully vaccinated will no longer have to take a PCR test before travelling back to England from one of these countries. That includes all of Europe and many other popular destinations. They will still have to take a PCR test two days after arrival, but this will be replaced by a cheaper and simpler lateral flow test later in October.
In Spain, it’s mandatory to present proof of full vaccination or a negative test result, whereas prospective travelers to Denmark are subject to a mandatory COVID-19 test and a 10-day quarantine period.
How is the red list changing?
There will still be a red list of countries, but it is getting shorter.
Eight countries are being removed from the red list from 22 September, including Turkey, Pakistan and the Maldives.
If you visit a red list country, you’ll have to to spend 11 nights in a quarantine hotel, at a cost of £2,285 for solo travellers.
What are the current travel rules and covid restrictions?
Here’s a quick overview of the rules surrounding some of the most popular destinations. The vast majority of countries are amber, including popular tourist destinations such as Spain (and the Balearic Islands), France, Greece and Italy.
Adults fully vaccinated in the UK, the US and most European countries don’t have to self-isolate upon arrival in the UK.
Those who are not fully vaccinated must self-isolate for 10 days.
Going on holiday abroad means taking Covid tests:
- Your destination may require one – each country has its own rules for arriving holidaymakers
- In the three days before returning to the UK, you will need to take a PCR or lateral flow/antigen test. You cannot use the free NHS tests
Tests after you arrive in the UK must be PCR tests, booked before travel
- Lateral flow/antigen tests can be bought in the UK to take with you, or you can buy them (or PCR tests) when you are away. You must make sure they are of the right quality.
The government advises passengers returning from Spain to use a PCR test.
Most private providers charge above £60 for PCR tests and £30 for lateral flow devices.
When arriving in Spain you’ll need to show:
- A COVID Passport or proof of a negative test
- Or a medical certificate showing you’ve recovered from COVID-19 in the last 6 months.
You could be liable for a €3,000 fine if you don’t have one of these. You’ll need to take separate tests and/or show your COVID Passport again if you’re travelling from Spain to the Spanish Islands.
You can only travel to France if you’re fully vaccinated or have an essential reason. If you’re not fully vaccinated, you will need to:
- Complete an international travel certificate to confirm your essential reason for travel
- Complete a sworn statement to confirm you have not experienced coronavirus symptoms before travelling
- Show evidence of a negative PCR test taken no less than 24 hours before travelling
Travellers who are not fully vaccinated will need to quarantine for 7 days on arrival, then take another PCR test.
You can travel to Germany if you are fully vaccinated. German citizens who are not fully vaccinated are also allowed to return home. Anyone entering Germany (even if they are vaccinated) must complete digital pre-registration before travelling.
Travellers are expected to show a negative PCR test taken no more than 72 hours before arriving in the UAE and – depending where in the UAE you arrive (and this includes Dubai and Abu Dhabi) – take a PCR test on arrival. Different Emirates have different laws, so make sure you check in advance. For instance, residents of Dubai returning home will need to apply for a permit to return.
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The United States has banned travel from many countries, including the UK and EU, for the time being. This applies to vaccinated as well as unvaccinated travellers. US Citizens (and close, non-US family members) and certain visa-holders are allowed to return home, provided they show proof of a negative PCR test and quarantine for 7 days on arrival. Individual states may have their own travel requirements.
Only Singaporean citizens and permanent residents are allowed to enter Singapore without permission. All other travellers must seek permission from the Singaporean government. People with a Singaporean working visa need to ask their company to approve their return to the country. You will need to:
- Take a PCR test before travelling
- Fill in an online health declaration on arrival
- Have COVID-19 travel insurance.
- Quarantine for 14 days at a government-approved facility (at your own expense).
Only Vietnamese passport holders and certain diplomats and highly-skilled workers are allowed to enter. All other arrivals, including foreign nationals, need to have their entry to the country sponsored by an employer. On arriving, you will have to quarantine for at least 7 days at a government hospital or designated hotel, at your own expense. After this, you will be issued a certificate, which you will need to keep to show customs when you leave the country.
UK and Ireland
There are different rules for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Ireland its own laws.
The UK has designated countries as Green, Amber and Red. Those arriving from Green list countries can usually enter the UK if they:
- Have proof of double vaccination
- Have completed a PCR test no more than 3 days before arriving
- Have completed a passenger locator form.
Those who have been fully vaccinated may be allowed to travel from Amber list countries. If you’re not fully vaccinated, you’ll have to quarantine on arrival. Only British and Irish citizens and UK residents can return from Red list countries and have to quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days. Read more about covid passports here.
Arrivals in Ireland will need to show proof of a negative PCR test or double vaccination, and fill in a passenger locator form. Travel between Ireland and Northern Ireland is permitted for British and Irish citizens who can show proof of their vaccination status. If you’re entering Ireland, you will need to provide proof of where you are staying.
You should always check the specific laws in the country you’re leaving and entering. You may want to contact the consulate of the country you intend to travel to for advice.
Your handy “preparing for your expat travel during Covid up-front” checklist
- ☐ Have you and every member of your family over the age of 18 received a full schedule of an internationally recognised COVID-19 vaccine?
- ☐ Your vaccine should be one of the following: Pfizer/BioNTech, Oxford/AstraZeneca, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson/Janssen. Your home country may have approved other types of vaccine but you should check that these are internationally recognised.
- ☐ Has your home country provided documentation to prove your vaccination status?
- ☐ If you’re going on a cruise, are you aware of the steps you need to take before boarding? Have you bought COVID-19 cruise ship insurance?
Your handy “planning a trip abroad as an expat during Covid” checklist
Have you looked at the entry rules for the country(ies) you want to visit? You may want to ask:
- ☐ Are travellers from your country allowed to visit your destination country (even if they are expatriates)?
- ☐ Will you need proof of vaccination?
- ☐ Will you have to quarantine on arrival?
- ☐ If you have to quarantine, will this be done at a private home/hotel, or in a government-organised space?
- ☐ Do you have to take COVID-19 tests after arriving? If so, on which days do you need to take them? What type of test (e.g. Lateral Flow, PCR) do you need to take? Where do you need to go to take these tests? Can you do them at home?
- ☐ Do you know how to report the test results to the relevant authorities?
- ☐ If you need to quarantine or take tests, have you made arrangements for these up-front e.g. by booking a safe place to quarantine or by purchasing tests?
- ☐ Have you taken out insurance to cover you if you contract COVID-19 overseas and require medical treatment, financial compensation or other support?
Your handy “when you arrive at the destination during Covid” checklist
Do you know the local laws and regulations on COVID-19 safety? For instance:
- ☐ Do you know when and where you have to wear a facemask?
- ☐ Do you know the rules about how many people are allowed to gather inside and outdoors?
- ☐ Is there a local curfew?
- ☐ Do you know what to do if you need to self-isolate?
- ☐ Does your destination country have local laws in place i.e. those affecting only certain cities or regions?
- ☐ Do you know what to do in a medical emergency? For instance, if you contract COVID-19, do you know where to self-isolate and for how long? If you need to visit a hospital, do you know where your nearest one will be?
- ☐ Do you have all of your insurance documents?
Frequently asked questions about travel restrictions during COVID-19 for expats
What is a COVID Passport?
A COVID-19 passport is official documentation that proves you’ve received one or multiple doses of a coronavirus vaccine. It will be provided by the state in which you had your vaccination(s). Find out more in our guide to COVID Passports.
Will I be able to travel without having a COVID-19 vaccine?
It’s looking increasingly likely that many countries will only allow in travellers who have had a vaccine. However, right now, there is no worldwide law that states you must be vaccinated. Some countries will allow you to enter with no vaccine, so long as you can show proof of a negative COVID-19 test and/or quarantine on arrival.
Do I need special COVID-19 travel insurance to go abroad?
Wherever you’re travelling, getting the right travel insurance is one of the most important things to do before you go. It could save you and your family a lot of money and difficulty if things go wrong before or during your trip.
Travel insurance policies are designed to provide cover for many eventualities, including medical expenses, a trip being cut short or cancelled, and loss or theft of possessions. You may need travel insurance that includes COVID-19 cover, depending on which country you travel to. If you have global health insurance or expat medical insurance, this may cover you against COVID-19 if you travel to other countries. Check with your provider to be sure.
Find out more about COVID-19 and international insurance and about the difference between international travel, health and local insurance.
Can I get vaccinated in another country?
Yes, in certain circumstances. Check out our guide to getting vaccinated in another country if you’re an expat.
Will I be safe if I contract COVID-19 in a foreign country?
The healthcare system in the country you’re travelling to might not be as well-equipped as the one in your home country. If the country you travel to is already over-burdened, you may find it hard to get a hospital bed, ventilator and other life-saving equipment. We’ve published our list of the best healthcare systems worldwide to reassure travellers that many countries have outstanding healthcare systems.
What are the rules for travelling on cruise ships?
International cruise ship travel means staying overnight for at least 1 night on a sea-going cruise ship with people from multiple households starting, calling or ending at ports outside of the UK. Before boarding a cruise you should buy travel insurance, and make sure you are content with the level of cover it provides. If you already have travel insurance check it is valid and provides appropriate cover. Certain operators may require evidence of a certain level of travel insurance if you are not fully vaccinated. You should consult your operator’s booking conditions and contact them if you require further information. You may need to pay for costs including medical care, quarantine, testing and return travel to the UK if your cruise is affected by a COVID-19 outbreak. Cruise ships are back sailing the seas, but are heavily regulated. You will need either proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test before embarking, and may be asked to take a test in the terminal. You may then be asked to take daily tests, observe social distancing and wear a mask while on board. You will also have to stay in your COVID-safe bubble during any shore excursions.
Are the rules different for business travel?
You may find the rules in many countries are more relaxed for business travel, but you shouldn’t count on it.
If you’re a business traveller with an essential reason to travel to another country, this can sometimes be arranged by your own company and the company(ies) in the country you want to visit.
The rules may be different for certain jobs, meaning people entering the country in these roles may be exempt from quarantining on arrival and other local restrictions. These roles may include:
- Foreign diplomats, civil servants and political representatives
- Military or international police officers
- Healthcare workers
- Company executives
- Highly-skilled workers such as engineers, scientists, teachers and academics
- Journalists and media representatives
- Athletes, actors, musicians and other high-profile individuals with a reason to travel, plus members of their entourages.
Peace of mind when you go overseas
No matter where you go, you can take one thing off your mind. William Russell offers international health insurance that covers you for everything from minor injuries to long hospital stays. We can even offer medical evacuation to patients who require treatment in other countries. At William Russell, we have been providing worldwide health cover for 30 years, helping expats like you and their families to settle into their new homes. Speak to us today to find out more about how global health insurance could support you.