COVID international travel restrictions


30 April 2021

The latest information regarding outbound and return travel, including red list countries.

Outbound travel

Whilst the UK has this month greeted some lifting of domestic COVID restrictions with a welcome return to outdoor hospitality and non-essential retail, the Home Office has issued a reminder that international travel restrictions continue to apply and travel beyond the UK remains illegal except for a limited number of permitted reasons. In particular, the public are reminded that travel for foreign holidays is prohibited. It is important to note that these restrictions on international travel apply to both British nationals and non-UK nationals resident in the UK.

Where individuals are travelling for a permitted reason (this includes business travel where it is essential only), then passengers must complete a declaration form, prior to travel, declaring their reason for travel. It is important that travellers carry the completed declaration form from the start of their journey to leave the UK (rather than completing it on-route to the port). For a full list of permitted, reasonable, excuses for travel please see here. In particular, with regard to the exception to enable business travel, the Government will only consider there to be a reasonable excuse to travel “where it is not reasonably possible to complete that work within the UK.” As such, employers are encouraged to ensure use of remote working continues to be the default where possible. In addition to the pre-travel declaration form, individuals are encouraged to travel with evidence of the reason for their journey including for example a letter of support from their employer and evidence of their employment such as a company ID card.

It is important to remember that any sanctions imposed for a breach of international travel rules will apply to the individual in their own personal capacity – employers should be alert to the potential risk of any professional standing for regulated professionals in the event that a COVID sanction is applied.

Return travel to the UK

It is also important to remember that a number of mandatory actions are also required to enable individuals to return to the UK including:

  • completion of a passenger locator form no more than 48 hours prior to return to the UK
  • taking a COVID-19 test no more than three days before departing to the UK
  • travellers must be able to demonstrate a negative test result upon arrival in the UK.

We have, this month, seen substantive delays of more than six hours at some ports of entry due to passengers arriving without pre-booked test packages or incomplete passenger locator forms – this not only causes delay but also could subject the individual to sanctions so it is important to ensure anyone travelling is fully briefed of the requirements. Border Force have called upon airlines to assist with the documentation checking and passengers risk being refused boarding without all documentation in place prior to departure to the UK due to carrier liability penalties that may be imposed.

Arrivals from non-red list countries

  • Will need to quarantine in full for 10 days on return to the UK – this means that individuals should not leave their home either to exercise, walk their pets or to go to the supermarket – alternative arrangements should be made to access essential items during this period including for example use supermarket/food delivery services or friends/family to bring essential supplies; and
  • Individuals need to pre-book and pay for a Travel Test package. This is to secure a COVID test on days two and eight upon their return to the UK whilst in quarantine. NB. It is not permissible to use the NHS Test and Trace test services for this purpose. Travel test packages cost vary from £105 - £399 per person.

Arrivals from red list countries

  • British nationals and non-British nationals with a right of residence in the UK (e.g. those that hold Skilled Worker visas or family visas for the UK) are still permitted to travel to the UK from a red list country however quarantine in a managed quarantine facility is mandatory on arrival in the UK for a period of 10 days (11 nights). The cost of a quarantine package for an individual is £1,750 (this includes accommodation, food and COVID testing during their stay).
  • Visitors are not permitted to travel to the UK from a red list country
  • Direct flights from red list countries are suspended making travel times longer and booking more challenging and costly.

Update to the UK red-List countries for travel

COVID restrictions continue to change regularly and at short notice. The Government added India to the UK ‘red list’ with effect from 4:00am on Friday 23 April. Individuals arriving in the UK after this time are now required to quarantine in a managed hotel facility (see above for cost information).

Quarantine enforcement

On 12 April the Home Office announced an increase in enforcement action to ensure people are following COVID rules and obeying quarantine requirements upon return to the UK from abroad. Additional resourcing is being introduce to step-up home visits and calls to those in quarantine to ensure compliance. Any individuals suspected of breaching the rules will be referred to police officers who will investigate and consider further action. Individuals who fail to comply could be issued with a fixed penalty notice, starting at £1,000 and increasing up to £10,000 for repeat offences.

Passport renewals

Pending a further announcement from the Government (to be made no earlier than 
17 May) where the restriction on international travel will be reviewed, HM Passport Office has this month made a statement to encourage individuals to apply for their passport renewals early if required. Demand for passport renewal services is expected to surge if international travel restrictions are lifted as hoped. Whilst some priority service for renewals will be available, demand is expected to outstrip supply. In addition it should be noted that first time passport applicants or those that have lost or damaged their passports cannot use a priority service. HM Passport office advise to allow up to 10 weeks for any renewal application.

These articles are from the April 2021 issue of Employment and Immigration Law Update, our monthly newsletter for HR professionals. To download the latest issue, please visit  the newsletter section of our website. For further information please contact Sacha Wooldridge or another member of Birketts' Immigration Team.

The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at April 2021.

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