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COVID-19: Health Considerations for Travel


Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has impacted every country in the world since the virus was first identified in December 2019.  From the start of 2020 international travel has been severely disrupted.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) issues official guidance on overseas travel restrictions:

  • On 4 July 2020 the FCO published a list of countries that no longer pose an unacceptably high risk for British travellers, available here: FCO website
    • British people are advised against all non-essential travel to countries that do not appear on the FCO list.

Full details of FCO guidance for British people travelling overseas during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic can be found here: FCO website

Official guidelines are subject to change at short notice as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves.

This page aims to provide you with advice on protecting yourself against COVID-19 when travelling and ahead of planning any future travel. 

Risk for Travellers

COVID-19 is a respiratory infection which is spread by droplets released when an infected person coughs or sneezes. 

Travelling can increase risks to personal health and wellbeing. There is an increased risk of exposure to infectious diseases, including COVID-19, in enclosed spaces such as trains, buses and aircrafts due to the close proximity of people.

Countries may lift or implement travel bans or quarantine measures at any time to curtail the spread of COVID-19.  These may impact your trip.

  • You must comply with local public health authority guidelines in the country that you are visiting.
  • Further up to date information can be found by visiting the country information on the FCO website. 

Before Travel

You should not proceed with travel if you are already feeling unwell.  This may increase your chance of spreading infection to others.  Even if your symptoms are not related to COVID-19, you will increase your risk of either being denied boarding; or being quarantined if you are detected as being unwell either during your flight, or at entry or exit screening at airports or when crossing borders.

Before making travel plans you should check all of the following:

FCO Travel Advisory Notices 

Check the FCO website for the latest country specific outbreak advice including:

  • Travel restrictions: The FCO issues Travel Advisory Notices (travel restrictions), including if you are advised to avoid all travel to a country. This advice is updated regularly and can change from booking/planning a trip to your departure date. You must regularly check for the latest country specific advice here: FCO website 
  • Entry requirements set by the destination country in response to COVID-19
  • Reports of COVID-19 at the destination and measures the country is taking in response to the outbreak

Cruise Travel: On 12 March 2020 the FCO advised against cruise ship travel for all British Nationals aged 70 and over, and those with pre-existing health conditions. Further information can be found here: FCO website 

Pre-travel COVID-19 Testing

COVID-19 testing for the purposes of international travel is not available on the NHS. Pre-travel COVID-19 tests may be available in the private sector, however, private testing processes and accuracy of results may vary. This should be discussed with the test provider before payment. If you need to travel internationally for work and require evidence of a test, you should speak to your employer or occupational health adviser.

Risk of Exposure to Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Click the 'Alerts' link on a fitfortravel country page for details of your risk of exposure to coronavirus (COVID-19) in this country 

  • If there is a high risk of exposure to coronavirus (COVID-19) you are advised to avoid non-essential travel to this country.
  • If there is a moderate risk of exposure to coronavirus (COVID-19) you are advised to consider avoiding non-essential travel to this country if you are at an increased risk of severe COVID-19. 
    • To find out if you are at increased risk of severe COVID-19, check the following websites: 
      • Scotland: NHS inform website    
      • England, Wales and Northern Ireland: see website 
  • If there is a low risk of exposure to coronavirus (COVID-19) in this country travel can proceed as planned.
If you proceed with travel, ensure you are familiar with ways of reducing your risk of exposure to coronavirus (COVID-19).

Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is essential and must cover medical evacuation and repatriation in the event that you become unwell and have to be transported home.
  • If the FCO advise against travel to a country and you continue with your trip, your travel insurance may become invalid.
  • If you already have travel insurance and the FCO advise against travel after you have booked, you may be entitled to a full refund.
  • Even with good travel insurance, you will need to follow the guidance of local public health authorities at all time, including self-isolating if you develop symptoms. This may mean your return home could be delayed.
  • Be aware that some travel insurance policies may not cover any claims related to COVID-19.
If you booked your trip before the COVID-19 outbreak there is a possibility that travel arrangements and accommodation may be affected, rescheduled or cancelled. We recommend you contact your airline or travel agent to confirm if your trip will be affected.

Physical distancing and hygiene measures

It is important to check with your travel agent or travel company ahead of planned travel what precautionary measures they have implemented including physical distancing, face coverings and additional hygiene measures, and consider how these will affect you. These measures may include less people being able to travel on aircraft, buses or trains at any one time, and crowd control in transport hubs and airports.
Make sure you plan ahead of your trip and consider packing plenty of snacks, particularly if you are travelling with children, or have any medical conditions such as diabetes.
  • Shops and restaurants in airports and transport hubs may not be operating, or have restrictions in place
  • Food and drinks may not be available to purchase on board aircraft or other public transport during your trip. 

Since 15 June 2020, it has become law that you must wear a face covering if you are using public transport in England. Further information about this can be found about on the GOV.UK website.

Since 22 June 2020, it is mandatory in Scotland to wear face coverings on public transport. Further information can be found on the GOV.SCOT website.

Local Medical Facilities

Before you travel, make sure that you know how to access health care at your destination. Local healthcare at your destination may be impacted by COVID-19, meaning that accessing medical care for any reason may be challenging.

You should ensure that you are up to date with any recommended travel vaccinations, and that your health is in good condition before you travel, to reduce your risk of requiring medical care abroad.

GOV.UK Border Control self-isolation (quarantine) rules

Check the GOV.UK website before both your outbound and inbound journeys for any self-isolation (quarantine) rules you must follow on return to the UK. These may change at short notice.

During Travel

Expect delays and allow extra time for travel. Be prepared to queue or take different routes in and around stations and airports to comply with physical distancing measures.

You will need to comply with local public health authority guidelines at all times including with measures such as entry requirements, quarantine measures and possible testing for COVID-19. These measures may impact your trip, particularly if mandatory quarantine is required upon arrival.

Reducing your risk of exposure to coronavirus (COVID-19)

You should pay strict attention to personal hygiene:

  • Wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds, particularly before eating and drinking, after being in public areas, using public transport and using the toilet.
  • Carry an alcohol based hand sanitiser, containing at least 60% alcohol, for use when soap and water is not immediately available. Remember this should be 100mls or less to comply with airport liquid/gel restrictions.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with a disposable tissue and dispose of used tissues immediately in a waste bin.
  • Wearing a face covering may be mandatory in some countries when in public. If it is not, consider wearing a face covering when physical distancing isn't possible in public areas or enclosed spaces. 
  • Purchase travel tickets online and use e-tickets and contactless payment where possible.
  • Sanitise your tray table and arm rests on public transport with disinfectant wipes, remember to sanitise your hands afterwards.
  • Increase the cleaning at your place of residence, including wiping down frequently touched surfaces such as light switches and toilet flush buttons. 

Try to avoid:

  • Touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Sharing food, drinks and personal items such as mobile phones.
  • Touching common surfaces such as handrails and doorknobs as much as possible.

Try to maintain physical distancing (1-2 meters) from others as much as possible

  • Avoid time in crowded public areas and enclosed spaces, including elevators and meeting rooms, as much as practically possible. You should comply with local guidance on physical distancing.
  • Walk or cycle where possible, and try to limit your use of shared transport.
  • Consider using room service, or purchase take-away meals to eat in your room or other non-crowded areas. Only use sit-down restaurants if physical distancing is maintained.
  • Exercise outdoors or in your room whenever possible to avoid the use of indoor gyms, swimming pools or exercise areas.  

You must isolate yourself immediately if you become unwell during your trip with symptoms such as:

  • a high temperature
  • a new continuous cough
  • a loss or change in taste or smell.

If your symptoms become severe, you should seek medical advice as soon as possible.  Follow the guidance of local public health authorities at all times to avoid spreading the virus.

For further information see respiratory hygiene and COVID-19 pages.

After Travel

You should follow the latest UK guidance on measures you need to take upon your return to the UK including instructions regarding self-isolation. 

UK guidance, including links specific to each of the 4 UK nations, is available on GOV.UK website

You should proceed straight home after you arrive back in the UK, and avoid public transport whenever possible. Only members of your household should collect you from the airport or station.

If you develop any symptoms compatible with COVID-19 you should self-isolate immediately and follow the latest guidance, available on:

  • Scotland: NHS inform website
  • England, Wales and Northern Ireland: website

You may need to discuss with your employer before you return to work after travelling abroad.

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