We are excited to be able to say we are outside the U.S. for the first time since we flew home from Europe on March 14, 2020! For vagabonds like us, this is very exciting. It’s also quite helpful to be able to tell our clients and followers the steps we had to take from our own first-hand experience.
Why Are We Traveling Abroad Right Now?
We had an opportunity to housesit in the UK and decided to venture into the unknown world of international travel during COVID. It has been extremely interesting! It is not for the faint of heart. This post shares in detail what hoops you have to jump through in order travel to Britain right now. Be mindful that the rules are constantly changing, so you really have to keep up with it if you plan to travel outside your home country.
In fact, we are really lucky that the U.K. will let us in, as most European borders are still closed to Americans. And every country has its own rules and regulations. But if you are able to plan, test, and quarantine, and have the time necessary to overcome all the necessary challenges, you can gain entry to Britain. For us, it’s worth it. But if you were planning to come to the U.K. on a two-week holiday, now is probably not the time.
Planning, Planning, Planning
We LOVE to plan trips – for ourselves and for other people. But the amount of planning necessary to travel from the U.S. to the U.K. in today’s environment takes preparation to a new level.
I found the information provided from the airlines was extremely helpful in learning the current rules and regulations to gain entry to the U.K. The airlines have a vested interest in making sure you meet the requirements, so they bump you to the U.K government website to lay out all the many steps needed to successfully cross the border.
Do You Have to Make Arrangements before Leaving the U.S.?
The answer to this question is an emphatic YES. Bear in mind that the information I am sharing is specific to our experience traveling from the U.S. to the U.K. in early April 2021. There are many steps you have to take before you even figure out what to pack and arrange transportation to the airport. Many of the requirements have a time fuse. These important, but somewhat onerous steps, include the following:
1) You must have a negative PCR (or antigen) test taken within 3 days of departure
2) You must plan to quarantine for 10 days (and that means going absolutely nowhere)
3) You must purchase COVID test kits from a specific provider approved by the U.K. government to be delivered to your place of quarantine a day or two after your arrival (Day 0). These tests must be self-administered on Day 2 and Day 8 and sent back to the lab for examination.
4) You must fill out a Passenger Locator Form within 48 hours of departure that confirms that you have purchased these tests and will quarantine as required. This also provides necessary information for contact tracing.
5) When you show up at the airport, you need your passport, proof of negative PCR test, and copy of your Passenger Locator Form. You should also have your receipt for your Day 2 and Day 8 tests, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
What Was Our Experience?
Getting a Negative PCR Test
I did my very best to dot every “I” and cross every “t” as we prepared to travel to the U.K.
We found an urgent care clinic fairly close to where we were staying in Ohio that said we would get results from our PCR test within 48 hours. We were planning to travel on Friday, so we had the test taken on Tuesday to give us plenty of time to receive what we needed. By Thursday afternoon, I started calling the clinic to ask when the results would be in. They didn’t know. I probably called them 4-5 times before we got to the airport on Friday (yes, I am that person…. isn’t that who you want in your travel advisor?).
We got the results just in the nick of time. About 5 minutes before we arrived at the airport I received a call from the clinic telling me our COVID test results were in. They sent them to me in an encrypted email. We used the airport Wi-Fi and downloaded our results. The clinic then also sent an email with an attachment that was easier to open.
Had we not received our test results in time, we would have taken a quick antigen test at the airport, for a $100 fee each. This was our back up. Fortunately, we didn’t have to use it.
We planned to print out our results before we left the house, but for obvious reasons, we weren’t able to do that.
At the American Airlines desk, they were very appreciative that we arrived early, as it took some time to check us in. They could see that our results were negative, but could not find what kind of test it was when looking at the information on our phones.
They were VERY nice, and helpful, but have to follow the rules and make sure that the kind of test used is one that is accepted by the destination country. I booted up my computer to see the form in a larger format. We then could see it was a PCR test, which is what was needed. They printed it out for us so we could then show it to border control when we reached the U.K.
Purchasing the Day 2 and Day 8 tests and Filling out the Passenger Locator Form
The U.K. Government provides a list of approved providers for the Day 2 and Day 8 tests. It’s a long list and each provider is different. I didn’t find any reviews or 5 out of 5 star ratings to help me choose which one to use.
I spent several hours selecting a test provider. Some required you to come in the lab to have your test done, which I didn’t understand since that would be breaking quarantine. Some had tests that were “out of stock” and said to check back later in April. One required that you watch a video, and then video yourself taking the COVID test at home to make sure it was you taking the test and ensure you took it correctly!
I finally settled on Nationwide Pathology. They had a courier service to help us get our tests quickly upon arrival. Mine was there when we arrived at our quarantine site the day before Easter. Greg’s was not. In the U.K., Easter Monday is a holiday, so there was no postal service. His kit didn’t arrive on Tuesday either, so we contacted them through their website and his test we delivered on Wednesday. That meant that his Day 2 test was sent in on Day 4 – but we did the best we could.
Oh – and if there are 2 travelers, you have to purchase 2 separate tests so you have 2 different reference numbers to put in each Passenger Locator Form. You cannot buy them together.
The Passenger Locator Form is a bit confusing. I thought the 2 of us could register with the same login. That was not the case. We each had to create a login and fill out our own Passenger Locator Form with our unique reference number.
When we reached our gate for the U.S – U.K. leg of our flight, our negative COVID tests and Passenger Locator Forms were checked again, just to make sure everything was in order.
What Happened at the U.K. Border? Did we Follow All the Rules?
We were not quite sure what to expect when we reached Border Control. We had every piece of paperwork that we knew we needed. The Border Agent was not satisfied with the Passenger Locator Form, however, and wanted to see the specific receipt for the Day 2 and Day 8 tests. Fortunately, I was able to pull that up on my phone. Had I known they would ask for it, I would have printed it out back in the U.S. I’m just glad my phone was all charged up and I had no issues accessing what he needed.
What Does Quarantine Mean in the U.K.?
Quarantine has been very nice for us. We are staying in a house with all the modern conveniences. We take walks up and down the short street in front of the house while in quarantine, and will take longer walks once our Day 8 test results are in and our 10-day quarantine is complete.
We’re busy and quite content. If we were in an apartment or had activities we were desperate to participate in outside our quarantine spot, this time could be extremely frustrating. It’s easy to feel very cooped up if you can’t get outside at all.
There are large fines for non-compliance and we want to do what’s right anyway to make sure we don’t help spread this virus, so we’ve been very good. If you break quarantine rules, you may face a penalty of up to £10,000. No thank you! I will follow the rules!
The gov.uk website is very specific about what you can and cannot do during quarantine. If you are traveling to the U.K., follow their guidelines to the letter. They include, but are not limited to following:
“You cannot leave the premises where you’re in quarantine”
“You cannot go out to work or to school”
“You cannot visit family or friends who do not live in the premises where you quarantine.”
“You must only exercise inside the place where you’re quarantining or garden.”
“You cannot leave the place where you’re quarantining to walk your dog. You will need to ask friends or relatives to help you with this.”
“You must not go shopping. If you need help buying groceries, other shopping or picking up medication, you should ask friends or relatives or order a delivery….”
You get the idea. They aren’t fooling around.
Some people are called by the government every single day to make sure they are not breaking quarantine. We have not been called, and have not even received a text. But there are stories of people walking 1 km from their place of quarantine and the government tracking them through GPS on their phone. Is this a myth? An urban legend? I don’t want to test it to find out. We have been extremely good throughout our quarantine.
Conclusions About the Process of Traveling to the U.K.
This process is not for the faint of heart. It can be tedious and costly. Our PCR tests were $200 each. The COVID tests for Day 2 and Day 8 with courier service were £239 ($328 US) each. You can participate in the Test to Release program and test on Day 5 so you can end quarantine once you receive a negative test result. That extra test is an additional £100 or so and you still have to wait to get your results, so we opted to wait for the 10 days to be up and get our negative results.
The U.K. is just now entering Stage 2 of gradually easing lockdown rules. Museums will hopefully open beginning May 17 when the U.K. expects to enter Stage 3 of their 4-step process to open up. So, if you come to the U.K. you can’t expect to be able to do all the things you would normally want to do if visiting as a tourist. You also have to have enough time to allocate to quarantine which simply wouldn’t work if you only have 1-2 week vacation.
But for us, we are on the grounds of a large estate watching dogs and writing blogs and helping people plan trips when the world starts to open up again. We are lucky to be here enjoying the British countryside while we wait for the rest of Europe to open their borders to travelers.
Dreaming of travel to Europe when things open up again? We can help with that! We are here for your custom trip planning to Italy, France, Ireland, the UK and all of Europe. We are experts in creating custom travel itineraries and leading small group trips to European destinations. We also book European cruises! Feel free to reach out via email — We’re always available to talk about travel!
We can also help with trips in the US while we wait for Europe to open up. We’ve traveled extensively throughout the US and visited many of our National Parks as well as wine regions, major cities, and tourist destinations. We just love to help people travel!
Betsy Ball – Betsy is co-founder and partner of Euro Travel Coach (ETC), which crafts custom European vacations for independent travelers and leads small group trips to Europe. She is a passionate and culturally curious traveler who thoroughly enjoys sharing her love for exploring Europe with ETC clients. Prior to founding ETC, Betsy taught International Business at Tarleton State University in Texas (part of the A & M System) where she led study abroad trips to multiple European countries and other worldwide destinations. She retired from teaching two and a half years ago and now travels 9 months of the year in Europe. She has a degree in hotel, restaurant management from Michigan State University and an MBA from Southern Methodist University in Dallas. She also holds a Level 3 certification from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust.
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