Throughout 2021, many countries turned to COVID passports to allow people to travel more freely. The NHS COVID Pass and the EU Digital COVID Certificate (or simply put, EU COVID-19 vaccine passport) lets you share your coronavirus status records in a secure way.
Do you need one if you want to travel or move overseas? How does it affect expats living and working in a foreign country? Are foreign vaccinations recognised in the UK?
It is more important than ever to get international health insurance and check it is valid and provides sufficient cover. To help you keep track, we’ve created this handy guide.
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.
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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, natural immunity or immunisation passports, exist for this very reason.
How do COVID passports work?
They are a way of proving that a person has been vaccinated against (or in some cases recovered from or tested negative for) COVID-19.
Different countries took slightly different approaches to Coronavirus passports, in a bid to kick-start the tourism industry.
Documentation varies from physical certificates, digital forms and QR codes.
Is vaccine passports a new concept?
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
What information do vaccine passports usually contain?
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
What if you are not allowed to have a vaccine?
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, natural immunity 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).
What other rules are there for travelling to the UK?
From Friday 18th March 2022, when you travel to the UK you do not need to:
- complete a UK passenger locator form before you travel
- take any COVID-19 tests before you travel or after you arrive
- quarantine when you arrive
This apples whether you have had a COVID vaccine or not.
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.
The NHS app contains a 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.
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.
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.
Can I use the NHS Covid Pass in the EU?
You can show the vaccination records in your NHS COVID Pass as proof of your COVID-19 status when travelling abroad.
Proof of recovery from prior COVID-19 infection if you have tested positive on an NHS PCR test in the last 180 days is also shown.
You will also need to follow additional rules set by the country you are travelling to when abroad.
You should register with the NHS App before booking international travel.
Make sure you check that your first name and your surname on your passport match how they are displayed by your NHS COVID Pass at least 3 weeks before you travel. If the names are different, contact your GP practice to have your details updated. Please note, name changes could result in temporary issues with matching your GP record to your hospital and prescription records.
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.
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.
How can I access the NHS COVID Pass?
You can get a digital NHS COVID Pass for travel if you have had at least 1 dose of a COVID-19 vaccine recognised in the UK.
To get an NHS COVID Pass for travel in other formats (a letter, audio, big print or Braille) you need to have had 2 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine recognised in the UK, or 1 dose of the Janssen vaccine.
Your NHS appointment card from vaccination centres cannot be used to demonstrate your COVID-19 vaccine status.
Who can get an NHS COVID Pass?
You need to be aged 12 or over to get an NHS COVID Pass for travel.
An NHS COVID Pass for travel can be based on either your vaccination status or on a positive PCR test result (your recovery status).
What if I was vaccinated abroad?
If you live in England and had certain vaccines abroad, you can ask to have this added to your NHS vaccination record. Once it is added you can get an NHS COVID Pass.
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 introduced by the European Commission as a way to allow 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.
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 (now also valid in 37 non-EU countries and territories)
Can I travel to the UK and use the NHS COVID Pass instead?
The NHS COVID Pass was linked with the EU Gateway on 1 November 2021 to enable mutual verification of COVID-19 certificates. This agreement allowed the UK and all EU member states to scan their respective citizens’ COVID vaccination status using the EU Digital COVID Certificate (DCC).
Will UK accept the EU Digital COVID Certificate?
The UK government has now scrapped all entry requirements for incoming passengers. There are no vaccine requirements and passenger locator forms are no longer needed.
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, the EU Digital COVID-19 Passport may also be issued to non-European travellers, including those from the United States and the United Kingdom.
Can I store my EU Certified COVID-19 Passport in my Apple Wallet?
Digital formats are now readily available to store on your phone to make it easier to present your vaccine passport.
How does the EU Digital COVID Certificate work?
- 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
Is it a digital or a paper certificate?
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.
Who is eligible for a COVID passport in the EU?
All EU citizens and their families and non-EU nationals who are legally staying or residing in a Member State and have the right to travel to other Member States.
Read about what Brexit means for expats in our article.
Which countries are now using the EU's COVID travel pass (EUDCC)?
Additional to countries in the EU using the EU Digital COVID Certificate, 37 non-EU countries (and territories) are also using it, including:
- New Zealand
- United Arab Emirates
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.
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.
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 travelling.
Founder & Managing Director, William Russell
Can I travel to another country if I have not been vaccinated?
Travel rules are being relaxed and there are a number of countries you can travel to if you are not vaccinated.
For some destinations, you may still need to take a COVID test before travel and/or on arrival. Very few countries now require quarantine — unless of course you test positive for COVID on arrival – but it’s best to check requirements before you book. In some cases you may be able to get around these extra requirements by showing proof of recent recovery from COVID, or a medical exemption from getting vaccinated.
Can I return to my home country without a COVID passport?
Some testing and specific entry requirements remain in place in certain countries, but international travel has largely returned to ‘normal’.
For the most up-to-date advice on travelling abroad, including the latest information on coronavirus, safety and security, entry requirements and travel warnings, visit the UK government Foreign Travel Advice website.
Do I still need international health insurance if I have a COVID passport?
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
Can my workplace force me to get vaccinated?
This depends on the laws of the country in which you’re a 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.Planning your expat employees safe return to work
Can I get international health, life and income insurance after a COVID vaccine?
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?
Can I still become an expat without a COVID Passport?
In most countries now, COVID passports are no longer required and rules have been relaxed.
It’s always worth checking the local government website for the county you’re planning to move to well in advance.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.