Feeling rusty? Everything you need to remember before travelling abroad

·12-min read
From passports to vaccine proof, masks, tests and security demands, there’s a lot to remember (Getty Images)
From passports to vaccine proof, masks, tests and security demands, there’s a lot to remember (Getty Images)

As the current deluge of travellers awaiting passports and queueing at airports suggests, international travel is firmly back.

Many of us are taking our first or second trip since the big travel shutdown of the Covid-19 pandemic - and airports and airlines have suggested that some of us are feeling rusty.

With airports emphasising the need to keep hand luggage liquids separate and electronics ready to remove - and airlines re-issuing rules around baggage, boarding etiquette and other standard aspects of travel - it seems we might need a refresher on the old holiday checklist.

So what are the top things to consider before you leave home and set of abroad, by plane, train or ferry?

Here’s everything you need to know.

I need my passport for everywhere “abroad”, right?

For British citizens, yes - everywhere except Ireland.

When visiting our emerald neighbour, part of the Common Travel Area, you don’t technically need a passport - though the Foreign Office advises “Irish immigration officers will check the ID of all passengers arriving by air from the UK and may ask for proof of nationality, particularly if you were born outside the UK. You are therefore advised to take your British passport with you.” In addition, Ryanair requires all UK travellers flying with it to Ireland to have a valid passport.

For everywhere else, yes, pack that passport. Which brings us to...

Is my passport in date?

Some countries demand that your passport is a certain amount of time away from its expiry date.

One development that has possibly cropped up since you last travelled: Brexit put a bit of a spanner in the works by changing the passport requirements for Britons visiting the EU and wider Schengen Area (including Switzerland and Norway).

While the UK was in the European Union, British passports were valid up to and including their expiry date for travel within the EU. But since the end of the Brexit transition phase, British passport holders are treated as “third country nationals” with stipulations about passport issue and expiry dates – together with limits on the length of stay almost everywhere in Europe.

If you are a non-EU national wishing to visit or travel within the EU and Schengen Area, your passport must pass these two independent tests:

  • It must be valid for at least three months after the date you intend to leave the EU country you are visiting

  • It must have an issue date within the past 10 years on the day you intend to arrive in the EU

All children’s passports meet this latter condition.

For everywhere else, the rules vary from country to country. Some destinations are happy that your passport expires after your trip there; others ask for one day’s validity, two or three months, or even six months.

Here’s a breakdown of the minimum validity rules for most of the world’s holiday destinations.

As another condition of Brexit, your passport should be stamped on entry and exit from each EU country. Make sure it is, to avoid being flagged as outstaying the time limit for non-EU tourists.

Do I need a Covid-19 test?

Some destinations are not yet open to Brits, others have dropped their travel restrictions entirely - while a few still require a Covid-19 test before travel. In many cases, those who are unvaccinated or only partly vaccinated still need to take a test.

The most common requirement is a PCR or antigen test within 72 hours or 48 hours before travel. Given the choice, the obvious one to go for is a cheaper, swifter antigen (lateral flow) test, but they often have to be taken within a tighter time frame before your flight.

But look out for exceptions - several countries require a PCR test specifically, or allow an antigen only within 24 hours of your journey. Here are some of the the ones to watch out for:

  • Japan

  • China

  • Russia

  • Thailand

See more information on these countries’ individual testing rules here.

Some countries that have recently dropped their pre-departure test for vaccinated visitors: Australia, Thailand, New Zealand, Malaysia, South Africa and Brazil.

Some countries have retained random testing after arrival, including Canada, where you risk 10 days hotel quarantine if you do test positive.

Do I need proof of vaccination, such as an NHS Covid Pass?

In the UK we’ve become accustomed to going about our business without showing proof of our jabs at every restaurant, bar and theatre. But many countries still ask for proof of vaccination as a condition of entry - with some also demanding it at hotel check-in or other indoor attractions.

Countries that still demand proof of vaccination and don’t allow in unvaccinated visitors include but are not limited to:

  • The US

  • Singapore

  • Fiji

  • New Zealand

  • Kenya

Countries that require either proof of vaccination OR a negative Covid test result include but are not limited to:

  • Spain

  • Morocco

  • Anguilla

  • Thailand

  • Sri Lanka

  • Laos

  • Indonesia

Some countries also attach expiry dates to their definition of fully vaccinated - for example, for trips to Morocco “passengers are required to have had three vaccine doses (or have had their second vaccine dose within the previous four months)”, advises the FCDO. (For the avoidance of doubt, the booster has no time limit.)

So do check individual Foreign Office rules for the country you’re headed to.

Does the country I’m visiting need me to pre-register online or fill in a digital form?

Thailand has thankfully dropped its convoluted Thailand Pass, which previously required all travellers to log extensive details ahead of trips there in order to be pre-approved for travel.

Other countries which still require registration of your details online include South Korea, with its Q-Code system, and the Maldives, whose Traveller Declaration Form is the only remaining requirement regardless of vaccination status. Israel has an “Entry Statement Form”, while Indonesia has a Peduli Lindungi app where you must have your vaccination certificate pre-approved before you go.

Spain has now scrapped its passenger locator form for vaccinated travellers, while Greece and Italy have ended theirs for all travellers.

Check the individual pre-registration rules on the FCDO website.

What’s this “Verifly” business?

Some airlines and cruise lines - such as British Airways and Viking Cruises - ask you to fill in travel details on an app called Verifly for certain destinations. (For BA these include the US, Canada and France).

This is essentially a checklist of documents you need for that destination, where you can upload each document - such as your Covid Pass - to be approved as genuine before you get to the airport. It essentially ticks you off as a passenger who has done the admin correctly.

This is not compulsory, but will likely speed up your check-in process, as pre-approved customers often join a specific queue. However, it’s tricky to get the hang of, and includes taking a selfie to verify your identity - so don’t leave it until the last minute.

Does my health insurance cover my destination?

For many places, your health insurance needs will be similar to what they always were - covering multi-trip policies, single-trip policies, policies including the US or another specific destination, and specialist add-ons such as winter sports cover.

Some countries previously required visitors to have taken out a certain level of travel insurance in order to visit, which might include a certain value of minimum coverage or cover for medical treatment for Covid-19. However, very few now do: these include Chile and

Do I really still need a visa in this day and age?

Not only do lots of countries still demand that tourists arrange and pay for a visa before arrival - some have tightened their visa restrictions or suspended certain kinds of visas during Covid-19.

There’s no visa for Britons travelling to the EU yet, though the ETIAS system looks likely to arrive in late 2023.

The US still requires its classic ESTA visa waiver ($14/£11); while India, Australia, Oman and the Philippines among others all demand a pre-arranged visa. Check what type is required - for example, e-visas, visas on arrival - on the Foreign Office website. Some country’s visas, such as China’s and India’s, remain restricted following the Covid shutdown.

How much luggage can I bring on a flight?

With DIY bag drops and online check-ins, it can be easy to forget that most airline fares include a set baggage limit. Increasingly this is hand luggage only, unless you specifically opt to have a bag in the hold or pay slightly more.

If you’ve gone for the cheapest ticket type on one of the UK’s most popular airlines, here’s what’s included - and what you’ll have to pay for any excess:

easyJet: one small cabin bag - max size 45 x 36 x 20 cm - per person (from £7.99 for larger allowance with an Upfront/Over wing seat). No weight limit. Package customers with easyJet Holidays hold luggage get a free allowance of one 23kg bag.

British Airways: one cabin bag of up to 23kg (56 x 45 x 25cm) plus one hand bag of up to 23kg (40 x 30 x 15cm). Added checked bag from £40.

Ryanair: A small personal bag that fits under the seat in front of you (no more than 40 x 25 x 20 cm). Add a second cabin bag (max 55 x 40 x 20cm) from €6/£5.

Tui: One piece of hand luggage up to 10kg (max 55 x 40 x 20cm). Package holiday customers with Tui get a 15kg hold luggage allowance. Added bags from £13.

Jet2: One piece of hand luggage up to 10kg (max 56cm x 45cm x 25cm), plus “a small personal item such as a handbag or laptop bag” as long as it fits under the seat in front of you. Added bag from £12. Package customers with Jet2 Holidays hold luggage get a free allowance of one 22kg bag.

Virgin Atlantic: Its most basic Economy Light fares only include one hand luggage item of up to 10kg. Economy Classic fares include one checked bag of up to 23kg.

How early should I get to the airport?

You may have read the recent horror stories of slow-moving queues and missed flights at the UK’s airports.

While this is partly due to short staffing and the sudden surge in holidaymakers flying from our terminals, airports say it is also down to rusty travellers forgetting the basics and holding up queues.

As a general rule, for short haul flights you should get to the airport two hours beforehand. If you were really nervous, you could add half an hour to that.

For long haul flights, most airports and airlines advise arriving three hours before. UK airports which have experienced longer than usual queues this spring have warned that turning up many hours before your flight - especially first thing in the morning - runs the risk of adding to already swollen queues and causing people with imminent flights to miss their plane.

What could hold me up at security?

Most frequent flyers have honed the “security dance” to the point where it’s a seamless, choreographed flow of moves: passport and boarding pouch in front pocket, liquids ready-separated, electronics ready to be removed.

But intel from airport bosses suggests that some holidaymakers have forgotten the basics when it comes to security queues. Here’s what you have to separate when flying from a UK airport (and most airports - though rules do differ slightly country to country):

  1. Only liquids 100ml and under can be taken through in hand luggage

  2. These should fit inside a small 20 x 20cm plastic bag - about the size of a standard zip-lock freezer bag, per person

  3. Liquids include pastes, creams and so on - including face cream and honey

  4. There are exceptions for essentials such as baby food and milk - read them here

  5. Electronics: make sure any laptops and tablets are charged and handy in your hand luggage case - you’ll need to remove them and place them in a separate security tray

  6. You may bring one cigarette lighter on board in your hand luggage, to go with your liquids

  7. Things that will hold you up include musical instruments, corkscrews, large scissors, medicines of more than 100ml, sports equipment, tools and e-cigarettes, which are either not allowed, need a doctor’s note or need to be flagged in advance

  8. You may be asked to remove your jacket, shoes and belts, so dress accordingly to help the queues flow

Do I need to wear a mask at the airport or on my flight?

If you’re flying, the rules now vary from airline to airline. The basic rules are that most UK airports now say mask-wearing is optional but advised; while airlines mostly say mask-wearing is optional only on routes to and from countries that have relaxed or scrapped their Covid health rules. This means they’d be optional between the UK and, say, Norway or Iceland - which have both done away with all Covid rules - but you’d have to wear them on a flight to Italy, where mask wearing on public transport is still mandatory. It’s worth bringing a couple in case of any mix-ups or rule changes.

You can read the full airline by airline breakdown here.

In terms of trains, domestic services within the UK are now mask-optional (though recommended), as are Eurostar services. However, individual countries’ train networks will have their own rules, so check ahead of travel.

For ferries, some operators such as Stena Line ask you to mask up at both ferry terminals and on board “where social distancing isn’t possible” - i.e. crowded communal areas. Others, such as Brittany Ferries, say mask-wearing is no longer compulsory but is recommended. So check with your individual operator just before travelling.

What will I need on arrival at my holiday destination?

While entry requirements vary country to country (as above), travel in general is more complex than it was pre-2020.

In addition, the UK’s new status as a “third country” relative to the EU means that border officials in EU countries are entitled to demand proof of your accommodation plans, onward travel arrangements and even financial resources on entry.

The Independent advises having a digital folder on your smartphone’s home screen, containing a few key documents in electronic form.

Things to put in your folder:

  • Your NHS Covid Pass or other proof of vaccination (usually not needed but useful if you have it)

  • Your QR code or passenger locator form confirmation, if the country demands one

  • Your boarding pass in PDF form

  • A scan of your passport (couldn’t hurt)

  • A screen shot of your first hotel’s address (often needed on the flight for boarding cards, or for taxis)

  • Proof of your accommodation booking (just in case)

Happy travels and enjoy your time out on the road.