Simon Calder, also known as The Man Who Pays His Way, has been writing about travel for The Independent since 1994. In his weekly opinion column, he explores a key travel issue – and what it means for you.
The traveller in the last few months of 2021 faces a fundamental problem: how do I travel abroad, and come back to the UK, without calamity or quarantine?
So here you are, in 10 steps.
1. Is my passport valid?
For EU destinations, Brexit has made life more complicated. Your passport must have at least three months to run from the day you intend to return – and have been issued less than 10 years ago.
Some airlines and holiday companies conflate these two requirements and insist it was issued no more than nine years, nine months ago.
The Independent believes that is a wrong interpretation, and has asked the European Commission to clarify. Britain's biggest holiday company, Tui, and the largest budget airline, easyJet, have agreed to change their policies.
2. How do I decipher the “traffic light” system?
At present it’s simple. Vaccinated travellers: avoid “red list” nations such as Brazil, Nepal and South Africa.
Adults without both jabs: stick to “green list” destinations such as Croatia, Gibraltar and Slovenia. Though this changes on 4 October when the entire green list is moved to amber.
3. Will my chosen destination let me in?
Many nations ban visits from Britain. While the US is likely to open up in November, Australia, New Zealand and many more remain off limits indefinitely.
Search “Foreign Office” and the name of the country to find out about entry restrictions – and learn of any testing requirements.
4. Must I take a test before boarding a plane/train/ferry from the UK?
No, unless your destination demands one; this is more likely if you are not fully vaccinated.
5. How do I demonstrate I am vaccinated?
The standard NHS app should show your jabs, and can generate the QR code needed for foreign countries’ Covid status systems, such as Tous Anti Covid in France. Or search for “NHS Covid pass letter” and request a paper copy.
The exact options depend on the UK nation you live in.
6. Do I need a test before returning to the UK?
Yes, with a negative result in English, French or Spanish. A quick, cheap lateral flow test will suffice.
In resorts, pharmacies and some hotels offer easy testing options, and many airports have pre-check-in clinics with tests costing around €30 (£26).
For the avoidance of doubt: a lateral flow test is equally acceptable for travellers returning from Spain; ignore false rumours that you need a PCR test to travel from Spanish airports to the UK.
If you are on a trip of four days or less from the UK, it is perfectly acceptable to take a lateral flow test before you leave for abroad. It needs to be dated on one of the three days before your intended return.
This requirement will end for vaccinated travellers on 4 October 2021.
7. And a test after arrival?
Yes, which must be a PCR, taken on the day you return or one of the two following days. Book and pre-pay for this from the government’s list of suppliers. For maximum public health benefit and minimum hassle, choose a test at the airport on arrival. Expect to pay £60-£70.
From some date in late October, this requirement will be reduced to a lateral flow (antigen) test, which will prove cheaper.
8. Anything else?
Yes, armed with the reference number from this transaction you must complete the fiendish UK passenger locator form. When (eventually) you get it right, you should be sent an email attachment that you can proudly share with check-in staff – along with your pre-travel test certificate.
9. Will I wait for hours on return to the UK?
Probably not, because the checks have been outsourced to the hard-pressed airline, rail or ferry staff abroad. On two recent arrivals at Stansted, I waited no more than two minutes; at a busy time at Heathrow, it was less than 20 minutes.
10. It all sounds so tricky – any workarounds?
If you have been fully vaccinated, go to Ireland. No testing or quarantine required in either direction.