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Will Expats Need a Covid Passport in 2021?

Sharon Clarkson

Medical Insurance Nurse

You may have heard that some countries are planning to introduce a COVID vaccine passport system (as proof of your vaccination for COVID-19) later this year or have already done so. The NHS COVID Pass in the UK has allowed individuals to demonstrate their COVID-19 status. The European Union made available its EU Digital COVID Certificate (or simply put, EU COVID-19 vaccine passport) for all EU citizens and residents, as well as for specific categories of travellers from third countries, from 1 July 2021, which is accepted in the UK from 1 August 2021.

How and when will you be able to get your hands on these vaccine passports? How much freedom will they give you? Will you need one if you want to travel or move overseas? And how does it affect expats living and working in a foreign country? Are foreign vaccinations going to be recognised in the UK? To help you keep track, we’ve created this handy guide. But first, a quick note to say that we are an expat health insurance company and we don’t actually help expats with getting COVID-19 passports.


What is a vaccine passport?

Before allowing travellers to enter, some countries require evidence that they have had certain vaccinations – for example, against yellow fever or polio.

A range of vaccine passports, also known as vaccine certificates or immunisation passports, exist for this very reason.

How do COVID passports work?

Each country has had a slightly unique approach to Coronavirus passports. Since this delicate issue is a crucial component in opening up international travel, it’s in everyone’s interests to find a solution quickly.

Unlike most traditional vaccination records, which have largely been paper-based, most countries are considering (or have already started developing) COVID-19 passports in a digital format too.

No; in fact, they have been around since the 1930s. The first vaccine passport was introduced for yellow fever in 1935, this was followed in 1944, by certificates for typhus, smallpox and cholera.

The biggest challenges most governments were carefully considering with COVID passports are:

  • How to avoid discrimination: for example not everyone will be eligible for vaccination
  • Security: how to ensure certificates (along with any other sensitive medical information) are delivered securely
  • Which criteria to use: will passengers also be allowed to travel if they’ve recently tested negative, or have recovered from Coronavirus

These passports usually contain information about the traveller and their inoculation, including:

  • Inoculation names
  • The date(s) they were administered
  • The date(s) they’re valid until
  • The manufacturer
  • Batch number
  • An official stamp from the administering centre

If a person has a medical reason that prevents them from getting a vaccine, an immunisation passport may still be given with a note from a physician saying why the person is exempt.

NHS COVID pass in the UK

An NHS COVID Pass shows your coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination details or test results. This is your COVID-19 status. You can already prove your Covid-19 status via the NHS App (not the NHS Covid-19 app which alerts you if you’ve been close to someone with the virus).

Some foreign vaccinations are recognised in the UK from Autumn 2021. What you need to do when you travel to England depends on whether you qualify as fully vaccinated or not. You can check countries with approved proof of vaccination and examples of proof required on the UK Government website here.

You must have had a complete course of one of the following vaccines at least 14 days before you arrive in England:

  • Oxford/AstraZeneca
  • Pfizer BioNTech
  • Moderna
  • Janssen (single dose vaccine)
  • Sinovac-CoronaVac
  • Sinopharm Beijing
  • Covaxin

Formulations of these vaccines, such as AstraZeneca Covishield, AstraZeneca Vaxzevria and Moderna Takeda, also qualify as approved vaccines.

The day you have your final dose does not count as one of the 14 days. To make sure your foreign vaccination is valid in the UK, you must be able to prove that you’ve been fully vaccinated under a vaccination programme with approved proof of certification.

The vaccine certificate must be issued by a national or state-level public health authority, be in English, French or Spanish, and include as a minimum:

  • Your forename and surname(s)
  • Your date of birth
  • Vaccine brand and manufacturer
  • Date of vaccination for every dose
  • Country or territory of vaccination and/or certificate issuer.

What is the new rule for PCR tests?

From 04:00 GMT on Tuesday 30 November, if you are entering the UK from a foreign country (apart from Ireland), you have two days to take a PCR test – a lateral flow test will no longer be accepted. There are concerns that a new variant, known as Omicron – which was identified in southern Africa – may not respond as well to vaccines.

The PCR test must be booked before you travel, and bought privately from a government-approved list of providers.

While you are waiting for a result, you must self-isolate – whether or not you have been vaccinated. You can stop self-isolating if your test is negative.

What other rules are there for travelling to the UK?

All travellers coming to the UK must fill in a passenger locator form – even if they are just passing through – which they need to fill in 48 hours or less before their journey.

Fully vaccinated passengers travelling to the UK from many other countries no longer have to take a Covid test before setting off. This applies to people vaccinated in the UK, the EU, the US and dozens of other recognised countries – including Brazil, Hong Kong, India, Pakistan and Turkey. You must be able to prove you are fully vaccinated.

The changes also apply to under-18s resident in one of these countries, whether or not they are vaccinated.

Covid passport in the UK

Covid passports have been introduced in Scotland and Wales for entry to nightclubs and large events. However, from 6 December people will be allowed to present a negative test rather than proof of vaccination to enter venues that are already part of the scheme in Scotland. People now need to show their NHS Covid Pass to gain entry to some venues and places in Wales.

The vaccination passport scheme is expected to begin on 29 November in Northern Ireland, with a 14-day grace period until 13 December before fixed penalty notices will be issued.

England has scrapped its plans. However, people from England can use their NHS Covid Pass as a vaccine passport in other parts of the UK, because it contains records of vaccination (including boosters) and/or previous positive tests. Proof you’ve had the vaccine is also needed to travel to most other countries. Always check the entry requirements for the venue or the country you’re visiting.

What is the NHS app and the NHS Covid-19 app? Can I use either of them as a UK COVID vaccine passport?

The NHS app is separate from the NHS Covid-19 app, which is used for contact tracing. To use the app you need to be registered with a GP in England and aged 13 or over. The NHS is effectively what we can call a UK COVID passport. Over 1.3 million new people have registered to use the NHS App since the addition of COVID-19 vaccine status was announced on 7 May.

The NHS app app now contains a new section with information about your COVID vaccine status which is designed to be shown on request. You can also download a PDF copy or ask for it to be emailed to you. A full course is currently 2 doses of any approved vaccine.

Accessing the NHS COVID Pass through the NHS App

You can access your NHS COVID Pass through the free NHS App on a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet. Proof of your COVID-19 status will be shown within the NHS App. The NHS COVID Pass will show that you have had a full course of vaccinations, including a booster.

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Will other countries accept NHS COVID pass as a covid passport?

The NHS Covid Pass has been accepted as an equivalent to the European Union Digital Covid Certificate in a bid to make international travel easier for UK citizens.

An agreement between the EU and the UK means travellers can now have their vaccination status digitally verified with each other’s Covid vaccination certificate schemes.

Although most EU countries accept the NHS Covid Pass, only a few were actually able to scan their barcodes. The new agreement, made on the October 29, means that UK citizens can confirm their Covid vaccine status using the EU Digital Covid Certificate (EU DCC) gateway. It also opens up secure and safe access to non-EU countries that are also linked to the EU DCC gateway, including Norway, Switzerland, Israel and Iceland.

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Can I use the NHS Covid Pass in the EU?

Yes, you can now show the vaccination records contained within your NHS COVID Pass as proof of your COVID status when travelling abroad. You will also need to follow additional rules when travelling abroad.

You should register with the NHS App before booking international travel.

You should check that your first name and your surname on your passport match how they are displayed by your NHS COVID Pass at least 2 weeks before you travel. If the names are different, contact your GP practice to have your details updated.

If you have not been fully vaccinated, you should continue to follow the entry requirements of the country you are travelling to, such as proof of a negative COVID-19 test on arrival. You should carefully research the requirements of your destination country before travelling.

The NHS COVID Pass is available if you:

  • have had a full course of the COVID-19 vaccine (a full course is currently 2 doses of any approved vaccine)
  • were vaccinated in England
  • are aged 16 or over

The NHS COVID Pass is available in digital or paper format.

You can access your NHS COVID Pass 2 weeks after having your second dose of the vaccine.

Your NHS appointment card from vaccination centres cannot be used to demonstrate your COVID-19 vaccine status.

If you’re aged 16 or over, you can get an NHS COVID Pass depending on your vaccination status or COVID-19 test results.

If you aren’t fully vaccinated – and you’re over 18 – you need to:

  • Take a PCR or lateral flow/antigen test (not a free NHS test) in the three days before you travel to the UK
  • Take a test on or before day two and on or after day eight after your return.
  • Self-isolate at home for 10 days after arrival in the UK.

Test to Release will remain an option for unvaccinated passengers to England who want to shorten their quarantine.

NHS COVID pass for foreigners

Can you have an NHS COVID Pass if you are a foreigner in the UK?

You do not require an NHS number or GP registration to receive the COVID-19 vaccination and should not be denied vaccination on this basis. If you do not have an NHS number or are not registered with a GP, you are still entitled to free COVID-19 vaccinations.

While registration with a GP is encouraged to access the vaccine, individuals can access walk-in vaccinations or request to book COVID-19 vaccination appointments as an unregistered patient through a local GP practice.

You can use this NHS England and NHS Improvement letter to help to access the COVID-19 vaccine without a GP registration.

If someone is denied care because they do not have an NHS number, they can contact NHS England’s customer contact centre.

UK citizens who have been vaccinated overseas will be able to register their vaccination status with their local doctor.

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The EU’s Digital Covid Certificate (EUDCC, or Covid passport)

Residents of EU member states, third-country nationals, and those permanently living in the EU are now allowed to apply for a covid vaccine passport. These covid certificates were proposed by the European Commission as a way to temporarily enable the safe, free movement of citizens within the EU during the pandemic. It’s now commonly known as the EU Digital Covid Certificate – but is a covid vaccine passport by any other name. It entered into application on 1 July 2021.

Because the UK is no longer in the EU, the EU Covid certificate is not available to most Britons. EU nationals vaccinated in the UK must check with their home countries to see if they are eligible.

The EU Digital Covid Certificate can be used to avoid self-isolating on arrival in the UK, if travelling from amber-list countries.

Key features of Digital Covid Certificate

  1. Digital and/or paper format
  2. With QR code
  3. Free of charge
  4. In national language and English
  5. Safe and secure
  6. Valid in all EU countries

Can I travel to the UK and use the NHS Covid Pass instead?

The NHS Covid Pass is a similar vaccine “passport”, but it is only for people who have been fully vaccinated through the NHS.

People in England arriving from an amber country can avoid quarantine by using the pass (or by calling 119 for a printed letter).

Will UK accept the EU Digital COVID Certificate?

Yes, however you must be able to prove that you’ve been fully vaccinated under a vaccination programme with approved proof of certification. You can verify your vaccination status in the UK passenger locator form if you are using the EU Digital COVID Certificate (EU DCC).

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Is EU Digital COVID Certificate accepted in all EU Member States?

Yes, it is. The EU Digital COVID Certificate holder should in principle be exempted from free movement restrictions: Member States should refrain from imposing additional travel restrictions on the holders of an EU Digital COVID Certificate, unless they are necessary and proportionate to safeguard public health.

Will EU Digital COVID Certificate be open for international travellers, including UK and USA?

Yes, in July 2021 European Commission has announced that the EU Digital COVID-19 Passport may also be issued to non-European travellers, including those from the United States and the United Kingdom, however, it will depend on the individual EU state.

Can I store my EU Certified COVID-19 Passport in my Apple Wallet?

While the digital format can be stored on any phone, individual EU countries can choose to implement support for digital wallets like Apple Wallet. Apple is expanding its Wallet feature in the EU. On Aug. 13, Spain rolled out the feature to its citizens to make it easier to present their vaccine passports. Australia also announced this month that it would allow the use of Wallet as a way for vaccinated citizens to show their certificates. So, it depends on the country you are based.

When travelling, every Digital Covid Certificate holder will have the same rights as citizens of the visited Member State who have been vaccinated, tested or recovered.
European Commission

  • It contains a QR code with a digital signature to protect it against falsification.
  • When the certificate is checked, the QR code is scanned and the signature verified.
  • Each issuing body (e.g. a test centre, a hospital, a health authority) has its own digital signature key. All of these are stored in a secure database in each participating country.
  • The personal data of the certificate holder is stored securely by European Commission.

That is up to the holder – you can choose from either. Both contain a “digitally signed QR code” which can be scanned on entry to a country. Member states have agreed on a common design. It contains all the same information as a typical vaccine passport such as supplier and batch number, and can also store data about test results and previous history of COVID-19 infections/recovery.

These certificates are available free of charge and available in both the member countries’ official language as well as English. Each issuing body (e.g. a hospital, a test centre, a health authority) has its own digital signature key. All of these are stored in a secure database in each country.

The EU Commission is planning on supporting member states with the development of software – not only to get them launched quickly but to ensure all the relevant authorities can process and verify the certificates across the EU.

EU citizens and their families, and legal residents, according to the officials. The bloc expects to open the scheme up to non-citizens – including Americans. Access will depend on individual countries providing certificates for their visitors.

Read about what Brexit means for expats in our article.

The below EU countries have begun using the EU’s ‘Digital COVID certificate’ (EUDCC) to enable their citizens to easily travel across the bloc:

  1. Austria
  2. Belgium
  3. Bulgaria
  4. Croatia
  5. Cyprus
  6. Czechia
  7. Denmark
  8. Estonia
  9. Finland
  10. Germany
  11. Greece
  12. Hungary
  13. Ireland
  14. Italy
  15. Latvia
  16. Lithuania
  17. Luxembourg
  18. Malta
  19. Netherlands
  20. Poland
  21. Portugal
  22. Romania
  23. Slovakia
  24. Slovenia
  25. Spain
  26. Sweden

Out of non-EU countries, they are joined by Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. San Marino and Vatical city are pending at the moment.

From 1 August UK nationals who have been vaccinated overseas will be able to talk to their GP, go through what vaccine they have had, and have it registered with the NHS that they have been vaccinated.
Nadhim Zahawi,
UK Vaccines Minister

Other countries issuing and accepting COVID passports

Covid passports in USA – how do they work?

Vaccinated people who have had a negative test taken no more than three days before travelling can enter the US without quarantining.

Another test, three to five days after arriving in the US, is recommended.

Vaccine certificates – including the NHS Covid Pass and equivalents from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – are accepted.

Children under 18 do not need to be vaccinated, but should also take a test after arriving.

Masks are mandatory on planes and in airports, and travellers must follow state and local rules at their destination.

Covid passports in France – how do they work?

In France, from 15 December, over-65s must have had a booster jab to travel or visit restaurants and museums. It is not clear whether this will apply to UK visitors.

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How can I get a COVID passport as an expat?

This will depend on the country you’re living in and where you received your vaccination. Every country has unique laws on travel during the coronavirus pandemic, so you may have to wait a while to see whether you’ll be offered a vaccine passport.

If you have resident status in a foreign country, you should have received or will be receiving, your vaccination from that country’s health authorities. In that case, it will be up to your resident country whether you receive a vaccine passport for COVID-19.

If you returned to your home country for your vaccination, or if you received your vaccination in a different country to the one you are now living in, then your immunisation passport may be offered by that country depending on its vaccine passport policy.

You probably won’t be able to ask for a vaccine passport from a different country to the one you received your immunisation from. This is because each country will have its own records of suppliers, batch numbers and so on.

How can I get an expat covid passport as a British national in Spain?

If you receive your COVID-19 vaccination in Spain, you can get an EU Digital COVID Certificate from the national authorities. The Certificate proves that you have been vaccinated against COVID-19, received a negative test result, or recovered from COVID-19. It will help facilitate your travel within the EU and, in some countries, you can use it to demonstrate your COVID-19 status to businesses and other organisations.

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Will I need a covid passport to go out?

This will depend on the laws implemented by each country. It may also be up to the discretion of certain businesses.

Many countries have introduced stay-at-home orders. Currently, these orders impact everyone, including those who have already been vaccinated. However, under some proposed plans, people would be allowed to forego stay-at-home orders if they could provide evidence that they have been vaccinated.

International travel during Covid-19

Fully vaccinated travellers are less likely to get and spread COVID-19. However, international travel poses additional risks, and even fully vaccinated travellers might be at increased risk for getting and possibly spreading some COVID-19 variants.

The COVID-19 situation, including the spread of new or concerning variants, differs from country to country. All travellers need to pay close attention to the conditions at their destination before traveling.

From 1 May 2021, Singapore became one of the first countries in the world to start accepting visitors with COVID passports. These visitors will need to hold a mobile travel pass containing certificates for Covid-19 tests, vaccination or recovery in the past 6 months.

Many other countries have already opened their borders or declared they will be accepting visitors who can prove they have been vaccinated. They include:

Countries accepting vaccinated passengers in 2021
Barbados Belize
Croatia Cyprus
Ecuador Estonia
France Georgia
Greece Hawaii
Hungary Iceland
Israel Lebanon
Lithuania Malta
Montenegro Poland
Portugal Romania
Portugal Romania
Seychelles Slovenia
Spain Thailand
Portugal Romania

Many other countries are expected to follow suit.

Can I travel to another country if I have not been vaccinated?

Yes, both in the UK and EU. It is important to note that the EU Digital COVID Certificate should facilitate free movement inside the EU. It will not be a pre-condition to free movement, which is a fundamental right in the EU.

Will I need a COVID passport to travel?

Whilst, not every country has confirmed they will be accepting or issuing COVID vaccine certificates, many have already confirmed they will need it as a requirement for entry. If you want to enjoy travelling without regular testing and long quarantine periods in the near future, it’s highly likely you will benefit from having a covid passport.

Since these passports already exist for other diseases, it’s also likely COVID-19 will be added to the current list of vaccines required for international travel.

Some countries also require health insurance for entry
learn more here
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The UK’s response to COVID and travel

Many foreign countries insist that visitors are fully vaccinated as an entry requirement. Others will waive quarantine restrictions if you can prove your status.

Can people travel to the UK during COVID-19?

People can travel to the UK from the USA and other countries, but it’s recommended they only do this in exceptional circumstances. People in England can now travel to some countries without having to quarantine when they return.

What are the UK quarantine and travel restrictions?

There are currently very tight restrictions on travel and different rules depending on which part of the UK visitors arrive in.

Ten southern African countries have been added to the UK’s travel red list, because of fears about Omicron.

These are South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini Angola, Namibia, Mozambique and Zambia.

The only people allowed to enter the UK from these countries are UK or Irish nations, or UK residents.

They will have to pay for and self-isolate in a pre-booked government-approved hotel for 10 days.

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Could COVID passports become compulsory in the UK?

The government says there will be some places where COVID passports will never be required – such as essential shops, public services, and public transport. It has also said there will be exemptions for some people “for whom vaccination is not advised, and repeat testing is difficult”.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever to get travel insurance and check it is valid and provides sufficient cover. Insurance can save you a lot of money if you get into difficulties. Make sure your insurance policy also covers the cost of medical treatment abroad, repatriation and any planned activities.
Inez Cooper
Co-Founder & Managing Director, William Russell


Always check the entry requirements for the venue or the country you’re visiting.

Will I need a COVID passport to go to the pub?

There is no legal requirement to have a COVID passport to be able to go to a pub or restaurant.

However, the government says it is legal for such businesses to ask customers for proof of COVID status if they wish to – as long as they do not break equality laws.

This depends on the laws on international travel in your home country.

During the pandemic, many countries have altered their rules to restrict or deny entry – even to their own citizens.

Some countries, including the UK, require that all international arrivals – including British citizens – must take a COVID-19 test and quarantine on arrival at their own expense.

For this reason, many nations are advising their citizens to remain abroad until they receive further instructions. The UK government has published guidelines to British citizens who are waiting to return home.

Absolutely, as they are two different things.

While a COVID-19 vaccine passport will allow you to move about more freely, international health insurance covers you and your family for health issues while you’re living as an expat in a foreign country.

It can provide cover for treatment for most diseases, including COVID-19, as well as cancer. Still not sure which insurance you might need?

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This depends on the laws of the country in which you’re resident.

Generally speaking, no one should be forced to receive a vaccine if they don’t want one. However, this choice may prohibit them from taking part in certain activities, including doing their job, on the grounds that they present a risk to colleagues or customers.

COVID-19 vaccinations are widely considered safe and everyone is being encouraged to get them.

Planning your expat employees safe return to work

Yes. Our underwriters would need to review the medical information provided on your application and any relevant reports, but having a vaccine would not prevent them from offering terms for an international insurance policy.

What do you need to know about COVID-19 and insurance?

Whilst travel is still heavily restricted in most countries – there are often exceptions for those who need to travel for work or other exceptional circumstances. It’s always worth checking the local government website for the county you’re planning to move to well in advance. Many countries are accepting people who are relocating or work in specific industries/job roles.

Read about how to be come a digital nomad and find a remote job

Peace of mind when you move

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.

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