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.
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.
Fully vaccinated adults across the UK no longer have to self-isolate after being in contact with someone with Covid. Double-jabbed adults can already avoid quarantine when returning to the UK from amber list countries.
Covid passports have been introduced in Scotland and Wales for entry to nightclubs and large events. England has scrapped its plans. Proof you’ve had the vaccine is also needed to travel to most other countries.
Some foreign vaccinations are recognised in the UK from Autumn 2021. You must have had a complete course of one of the following vaccines at least 14 days before you arrive in England:
- Pfizer BioNTech
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.
Covid passport 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).
The government in England dropped its plans for vaccine passports, which had been due to start at the end of September. Northern Ireland doesn’t have a formal vaccination passport scheme. In Wales and Scotland, you now need show proof you have been fully vaccinated to enter nightclubs, adult entertainment venues and many large events.
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.
How are the rules about self-isolation changing in the UK?
Double-vaccinated adults and under-18s in England and Northern Ireland no longer have to self-isolate if they are identified as a close contact of someone with Covid, as long as they themselves have no symptoms. These changes have already come into force in Scotland and Wales. Instead, they will be advised to take a PCR test, with no further consequences if the result is negative. If the result is positive, they will need to self-isolate. In Wales and Northern Ireland, people are also advised to take further PCR tests on day two and day eight.
From Monday 4 October, anyone who’s fully vaccinated will no longer have to take a PCR test before travelling back to England from one of these countries. 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.
Will other countries accept NHS COVID pass as a covid passport?
The NHS Covid Pass – or equivalents in other parts of the UK – allows fully vaccinated adults to avoid quarantine when they return from amber-list countries.
From Monday 4 October, the amber and green lists will be merged into one list. There will still be a red list of countries, but it is getting shorter.
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. The government says it will also recognise travellers as fully vaccinated if they were jabbed in another 17 countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Israel and Canada. For the full list of foreign vaccinations acceptable in the UK and countries with approved COVID-19 proof of vaccination, check here.
Adults fully vaccinated in the US and most European countries also don’t have to self-isolate on arrival from amber-list countries. Those vaccinated in the US can show a CDC card and proof of US residency, such as a passport or Green Card.
People who have had both doses of the COVID vaccine can use the NHS app at border controls to prove their vaccine status. You can show your NHS COVID Pass as proof of your COVID-19 status when travelling abroad. The government says more than 30 countries, including Greece and Spain, now accept the NHS pass.
You must check your destination’s entry rules before you book – and keep checking them before you travel.
It is likely that in addition to your NHS COVID Pass you will need to follow additional rules when travelling abroad. Government guidance for England and Scotland acknowledges that not many countries allow entry on proof of vaccination alone, so most people will still need to follow other rules when travelling abroad, such as taking a pre-departure Covid test. For example, you may still be required to:
- show other proof like a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test result
- isolate on arrival
Can I use the NHS Covid Pass in the EU?
You can’t yet use it EU-wide – but some individual countries do accept it. Over 30 EU countries including Spain, Greece and Malta are currently accepting the NHS Covid Pass.
The EU says it’s working to ensure its own certificate is compatible with similar products.
If it’s satisfied the NHS pass complies with EU standards and systems, it can decide to accept it.
The UK’s vaccine passport can also be uploaded to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Travel Pass to simplify travel with a wide variety of airlines. IATA has recognised the NHS Covid Pass as verified proof of vaccination for travel.
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 haven’t been double-jabbed with a vaccination recognised under England’s travel rules, you will still have to take a pre-departure test.
You will also need a PCR test on days two and eight after arriving, and you will have to self-isolate for 10 days on returning from a non-red list country.
Test to Release will remain an option for unvaccinated passengers who wish to shorten their isolation period.
Anyone who tests positive will need to isolate and take a confirmatory PCR test, at no additional cost.
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.
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
- Digital and/or paper format
- With QR code
- Free of charge
- In national language and English
- Safe and secure
- 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?
The UK government says it is “actively working” to reach agreements so foreign vaccination records (including USA) can be recognised. UK government ministers are preparing to change the rules to allow UK nationals who have been vaccinated overseas to register the jabs with their GP, clearing the way for them to return to the UK to visit family and friends without having to self-isolate for 10 days and pay for two PCR tests.
It could benefit some 300,000 expat British citizens living in just eight of the main EU countries, including Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Portugal, 700,000 Britons in the US and a further 150,000 in France, once it is removed from its current “amber-plus” status.
From 1 August, double-vaccinated expats are set to be free to travel to the UK, as the Government plans to recognise foreign jabs. Ministers are reportedly set to agree a reciprocal deal on quarantine-free travel with 33 countries.
Those countries include much of Europe including Spain, Portugal, France and Greece, plus some long-haul destinations including Barbados, Anguilla and the Cayman Islands.
The picture in the US is, however, more complicated with individual US states having different approaches to vaccination with 50 different types of certificate, some solely on paper.
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.
- 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:
Out of non-EU countries, they are joined by Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. San Marino and Vatical city are pending at the moment.
UK Vaccines Minister
Covid passports in USA – how do they work?
In April, the White House ruled out introducing mandatory federal Covid vaccination passports, saying citizens’ privacy and rights should be protected. However four states have active vaccination apps, according to MIT Technology Review.
But some states have also opted to introduce their own measures to try to increase vaccination rates.
California will require all state employees and health care workers to show proof of vaccination or be tested weekly from next month. New York City will adopt a similar measure from mid-September requiring its municipal workers – including police officers and teachers – to be vaccinated or face weekly tests.
Covid passports in France – how do they work?
Authorities have set up a health pass that will allow people to access restaurants, bars, planes and trains. The pass will be required by all adults from the beginning of August and include children over the age of 12 from 30 September.
At present, venues that accommodate more than 50 people already require proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test.
In order to obtain the pass, people must have proof they are fully vaccinated, recently tested negative or recently recovered from the virus.
Covid passports in Israel – how do they work?
Israel introduced a vaccine pass earlier this year. It required people to show proof of either vaccination or having recently had the virus. The pass helped increase uptake of the vaccine, especially among younger people.
The green pass system will only allow those over the age of 12 who are vaccinated, recovered from Covid-19 or who present a negative test result to attend large events and enter certain public spaces, the Times of Israel reports. The new pass came into effect from 29 July.
Covid passports in China – how do they work?
China introduced a QR code system last year which categorised people into different colours. A green colour allows people to move around without restrictions while someone with a yellow code may be asked to stay at home for seven days.
The codes are a combination of big data and information submitted by the users themselves.
Many public spaces in China require people to show their QR code in order to gain entry.
Covid passports in Australia – how do they work?
At present, inoculated Australians have a digital certificate on their phones but it has no rights attached to it.
The country’s tourism minister Dan Tehan has said that a vaccine passport could give people “the right to be able to travel across borders when there are lockdowns, or if there are parts of a state which have been locked down, because of an outbreak”. He also said that giving more freedoms to people who are vaccinated would encourage more to get the jab.
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.
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|
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.
Can I travel to the UK from the US if I have been vaccinated?
From August 2, travellers who have had a full course of COVID-19 vaccination authorized by the EMA and FDA in Europe and the USA, or via the Swiss vaccination program, will be able to travel to the UK from amber countries without having to quarantine on arrival. They also won’t need to take the day eight test.
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.
Since 4 October, fully vaccinated passengers travelling to the UK from any non-red list country, 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, South Africa and Turkey.
You must be able to prove you are fully vaccinated.
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.
If you’re travelling from or through a country on the UK government’s red list, you will not be allowed to enter the UK unless you are a UK or Irish national (in which case you will need to quarantine as above).
People who fail to provide accurate details about the countries they have visited in the 10 days before arriving in the UK could be fined up to £10,000 and imprisoned for up to 10 years.
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.
Those arriving in England and Wales must fill in a passenger locator form through the UK government website and must also be able to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within the last three days.
Travellers must also self-isolate in a hotel for 10 days on arrival and will need to pay for a travel test package to be taken while in quarantine.
If you’re quarantining in England you may be able to take advantage of the Test to Release scheme. This allows you to end your quarantine early if you test negative after arriving.
Those arriving in Scotland must do all of the above, but their self-isolation must take place in a government-approved hotel. Travellers arriving in Northern Ireland must also quarantine for 10 days while also observing the country’s stay-at-home rule. They must not cross the border to Ireland after arriving.
Breaking any of the quarantine rules could result in a fine of £10,000.
What is the ‘travel traffic light system’ in the UK?
The UK government has adopted a three-tiered system to determine which countries its residents can safely travel to and from, and what safety precautions must be taken in light of the COVID pandemic. However, it looks like that has done little to reassure the British public to travel internationally again soon, with only 30% saying they will feel comfortable travelling once the new restrictions are lifted.
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. The government hopes this change will be in place “for when people return from half-term breaks”.
Who decides if a country is green, amber, or red?
All countries go on the amber list unless there is evidence to suggest they should be on the green or red lists. Ministers make the decision, based on advice from the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC), which looks at the Covid situation in each country.
The lists are reviewed every three weeks and, if conditions deteriorate, countries can move between lists without warning. The system is broadly the same for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
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”.
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?Domestic, international and travel insurance explained
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.