What were the UK’s covid travel rules until omicron?

How have covid travel rules been affected by omicron?

 With travel restrictions having been significantly eased in the run-up to the detection of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, many travellers were looking to go abroad for the first time since the outbreak of the pandemic.


However, there were still some restrictions that many were still not aware of, even before Omicron for travelling to and from the UK, particularly for the unvaccinated. Now, with a new and unknown variant, rapid antigen testing (more information here) and PCR tests have once again become increasingly important.

Before travelling to the UK pre-omicron

Whether a UK citizen returning from holiday or a tourist visiting from abroad and up to the present day, the responsibility for checking what you need to do before travelling to the UK is on the individual traveller.

Fully vaccinated people pre-omicron

Fully vaccinated travellers coming to the UK no longer needed to take a pre-departure Covid test before leaving. These rules apply to people who received their vaccinations in the UK, the EU, the US and many other approved countries such as South Africa, Brazil, Hong Kong, India, Pakistan and Turkey.

You must be able to prove you are fully vaccinated before travelling. Check if your vaccine is approved and the UK Gov list of countries and territories with approved proof of vaccination, via the government’s website.

Unvaccinated people pre-omicron

Unvaccinated in the days before the Omicron variant still needed to take a PCR or lateral flow/antigen test in the three days before arriving in the UK and show a negative result to travel.

They also needed to book a COVID test for day two and day eight after arrival in the UK. This, as is the case with all PCR tests before entering the UK, must have been booked and paid for before travelling.

Pre-departure and day 2 and 8 tests cannot be done using free NHS testing.

All travellers coming to the UK must complete a passenger locator form 48 hours or less before travel and again, this was the case before the new variant reared its head. Even if you are just passing through and not staying in the UK, you will still need to complete the Passenger Locator Form.

Arriving in the UK

 When arriving in the UK, there were and still are different protocols for vaccinated and unvaccinated travellers.

Fully vaccinated travellers before omicron

 Fully vaccinated people travelling to the UK pre-Omicron needed to take a lateral flow test on day two after arrival, which needed to be ordered and paid for before entering the UK. Travellers needed to buy lateral flow tests from a private company and could not and cannot use free NHS lateral flow kits.

Unvaccinated people pre-omicron

The UK had, before the Omicron variant scrapped its red list, meaning that no travellers or citizens returning to the UK needed to pay for a quarantined hotel on arrival, in any circumstances (note that this has now changed and you should check the red list before travelling.)

With the UK now once again having a red list for travel, it is important that people travelling to red list countries, or coming back from them are prepared for hotel quarantine, its costs and what they will need to maintain a level of comfort.

For example, if you need to quarantine in a government-certified hotel after travelling back from a red list area or country and you have a favourite pillow or duvets such as a Hungarian goose down duvet or pillow, consider bringing it with you to take to the hotel quarantine to make your time that little bit easier.

Who qualifies as fully vaccinated?

To qualify as fully vaccinated, and to be able to follow the rules pertaining to fully vaccinated travellers to the UK:

  • You must have proof of complete vaccination with both doses of an approved vaccine
  • You must have had your final dose at least fourteen days before you arrive in England. The day on which you have had the last dose does not count as part of the fourteen days
  • Your proof of vaccines must have been issued by either the UK vaccination programme or an overseas programme approved for travel to the UK

Some of the rules and regulations around fully vaccinated people may also apply before undergoing any healthcare services including the likes of fertility treatment (read more), invasive surgeries and more. it is therefore important to check before travelling or undergoing any procedure or surgery in the UK.

How do you prove your vaccination status in the UK?

If you are fully vaccinated under the UK vaccination programme, you can prove your status using the NHS COVID Pass for England and Wales, NHS Scotland COVID Status app or COVIDCert NI in Northern Ireland. Paper vaccination certificates are also accepted.

However, if you were vaccinated outside of the UK, there is other proof required. Check how to prove your vaccination status for the country or territory where you were vaccinated on the UK Government website. If you cannot prove that you are fully vaccinated, you must follow the directions for not fully vaccinated people.

Vaccination exceptions

Even if you are not fully vaccinated, rules for fully vaccinated passengers apply to you if you fall under the following categories:

  • Those under 18 and UK resident or resident in a country or territory which has approved proof of vaccination
  • People taking part in an approved COVID-19 vaccine trial in the UK or the USA
  • Residents of England who are unable to have a coronavirus vaccine because of a medical reason which has been approved under the medical exemptions process