We have just finished up a two week trip to Portugal, which we booked when the country was proudly the most desirable place on the green list. One week later – as the whole of the UK knows already – it was struck from the list, without any prior warning that this would be the case.
In the most recent announcement, the green list “watchlist” has finally made an appearance. But, from the grumblings across social media, it doesn’t look like this threat will deter many from travelling to the Balearics or Malta.
So between our trip to Portugal, and last summers trips to Athens, France, Monaco & Italy, we have learned a few lessons about travelling in the pandemic. I am by no means encouraging others to defy the Government’s advice of not travelling to amber list countries – but I am sympathetic not only for the individuals that lose their money when the Government changes their mind, but also of the 1000s of foreign small businesses that are relying on the tourism to stay afloat. If you do decide to continue your trip if it changes to amber, please ensure you have made suitable provisions for quarantining when you arrive home.
Here are some of the considerations that had to make when Portugal changed to amber, along with some other tips worth noting for travelling in a pandemic:
If the category of your desired country changes, your flight may be the first item at risk. It is important that you check for constant updates with your airline. If the flight is still due to depart, but you are choosing not to fly, the airline is not required to refund you. If however, the airline cancels or rearranges your flight by more than 5 hours, you will be able to claim a refund. Some airlines are offering free/flexible transfers, so it is worth shopping around and researching what your airline offers in terms of flexibility.
When we travelled to Athens last year, I was shocked when our flight was allowed to be fully booked. In the height of the pandemic I just assumed that the flights would be at limited capacity like everything else. Well… they aren’t. It’s likely that you’ll be squished in like sardines for the majority of both the flight and the entrance into arrivals. If you are nervous about being in crowded places, I wouldn’t recommend flying for now.
There isn’t actually much risk associated with your accommodation, but to keep it this way it’s best to find free cancellation & no prepayment deals. You can find these filters on many popular booking sites such as TripAdvisor.
It’s best to manage your expectations with the hotel experience in the pandemic, too. Even just in the Algarve, the restrictions have been interpreted and actioned differently in each hotel. In some, the spas were open, but in others they were closed. Games rooms were generally closed. Self serviced buffets were now service only or table service. There are no banana boats *cry*. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to receive identical services to pre-pandemic life, and I wouldn’t want you to be disappointed.
Testing Requirements & Quarantining
This is likely to be the biggest change to your planned trip. The first thing to point out is that a country on the UK green list DOES NOT guarantee you are allowed into the destination country. It just means that you can arrive from that country into the UK and not have to quarantine. You must keep a constant eye on the FDCO advice for the country you are planning to travel to. You can easily do this by googling the countries name followed by “FDCO”.
For example (at the time of writing 25/06), the advice following Thursday’s green list update means that you can come back to the UK from Malta without quarantining. However, you can only enjoy a quarantine free once arriving in Malta if you have received both doses of your vaccine. In most cases it is 2 vaccine doses plus 2 weeks, but at the time of writing this hasn’t been clarified by Malta.
As for testing, it is likely you will have to produce a negative certificate for a PCR or antigen test to board your departure flight. Although, this is also ever changing. You’ll need to fill out a “passenger location form” for most destinations – which pretty much just notifies the local government of your contact details for the time you will be staying in the country.
When you come back, the process will be repeated with regards to a pre-departure test (antigen/lateral flow is the cheaper option) & a passenger locator form for the UK.
However, here is where it changes when your desired country goes from green to amber. Those returning from a green list country will require a day 2 PCR test only. Those returning from an amber list country will require a day 2 & day 8, and need to quarantine for 10 days (day 0 being the day you land in the UK).
You can exit your quarantine early by organising a day 5 test. This is referred to as “test to release”. But, you can’t stop your quarantine until you have received your PCR test result. It is likely that you’ll be able to end your quarantine on day 7 in this scenario.
All of these additional tests are likely to be the biggest change in cost for you. PCR tests are generally around the ~£60 mark (each), whilst antigen tests can be found for ~£25. But watch out, because the prices seem to be decreasing daily. Therefore, if the destination country does not require testing on arrival, your testing bill could be as low as 2x pre departure antigen tests at £50 per person. Alternatively you could be like us travelling back from Portugal, who in total are paying for 1x pre departure outbound PCR, 1x pre departure return antigen, and the 3x PCR test to release, totalling a whopping £265 each!
You’ll have to make sure that you book your PCR (day 2/5/8) with a company who is registered on the Government website, otherwise you will not be able to input the relevant test tracker code on your passenger locator form, and you will be fined. We have found that the in-person PCR tests are cheaper, although they are sparsely located throughout the UK. You will generally have the results for these faster, as theres no need to consider the transit time in sending a letterbox test back. You are allowed to leave your quarantine if dropping off a test result or travelling to/from a test centre.
Lastly, when arriving in the UK, make sure to keep the invoice of your day 2/5/8 tests. My partner, Chris, travelled back from France for work earlier in the year and they were not accepting any email confirmations as proof of PCR purchase – they were making people pay for new PCR tests before they could leave immigration!
Side note: if you are planning on quarantining when you get back home, remember to book a supermarket food delivery for your return!
You are unlikely to be covered by your travel insurance for anything COVID related. So this excludes reimbursement of any monies lost for cancelled flights/ hotels/ excursions. On a darker note, it also excludes any hospital fees if you contract COVID whilst you are abroad and need to be hospitalised. If you are worried about the exclusions, I would recommend discussing this with your insurance to get clarity. Or, if anyone knows of any insurances covering COVID, then let me know!
As mentioned briefly in the hotels section, you can protect yourself against lost monies by booking free cancellation & non prepayment accommodation, and searching for airlines offering flexible bookings.
Lastly, it is so important to understand that there will be need to be an element of spontaneity with travelling during a pandemic. Its not a stress-free ordeal, as governments decisions on travel remain fluid and there is no consistency with the advice. And I’m not just talking the UK government either, governments in your desired country of travel may decide to change things up whilst you are there! All I can advise is that you should keep yourself well informed, expect your plans to change and be prepared for it. This may include being prepared to move around your travel dates & keeping an emergency pot of spending money if required for extra testing.
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