Covid-19 UK travel restrictions and considerations for employers

In this article, we tease out the current travel restrictions to and from the UK that have been put in place to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

Updated: 7 October 2021

Since 15 February 2021, travellers to the UK have faced much tighter travel restrictions as the UK seeks to reduce the spread of new Covid-19 variants from high risk areas (known as red list countries).

From 4 October 2021, an updated traffic light system has be in force: different rules will apply depending on (a) the country of departure (b) where the traveller has been in the last ten days and (c) the vaccination status of the traveller.

These are summarised in this table

Rules for inbound travellers to the UK 

As a first step, travellers to the UK will need to check if they have been in a red list country in in the last ten days.

Secondly, travellers should check if they have been full vaccinated on an approved programme.

Certain specialist jobs are exempt from the self-isolation rules. It is important to note that the Government has now removed "business directors" from this list which is a major change for business executive travellers.

Traveller has been in a red list country in the past ten days

If the traveller has been in any red list country in the last ten days, they will be banned from entry to the UK unless they hold a UK/Irish passport or a UK residence permit.

  • All arrivals must have a proof of a negative Covid-19 test before they are able to travel to the UK – the test must have been taken within 72 hours of the travel date.
  • All arrivals must complete the passenger locator form up to 48 hours before arrival.
  • All arrivals to the UK will need to quarantine in a Government managed hotel at their own cost and take two tests.

Note, there is no Test to Release scheme for those in managed quarantine and vaccination status is not relevant.

Traveller has not been in a red list country in the past ten days and is fully vaccinated under an approved programme

The UK border is still open and people may visit for any reason, subject to the following restrictions.

Traveller has not been in a red list country in the past ten days and has not been fully vaccinated under an approved programme

The UK border is still open and people may visit for any reason, subject to the following restrictions.

  • All arrivals must complete the passenger locator form up to 48 hours before arrival.
  • All arrivals must have a negative test taken within 72 hours of arrival
  • All arrivals must self-isolate for ten days at home or wherever they are staying
  • All arrivals must take a PCR test on day two and eight.
  • Self-isolation can end early if an additional day five test is taken and the result is negative.

Rules for outbound travellers from the UK 

Outbound travellers should check the restrictions in their destination countries. Many airlines also have their own policies around testing before they will allow a person to board, so always check with the airline.

Since the rules regarding international travel to and from the UK are changing so frequently, if you are planning to travel overseas, it is important that you constantly monitor the guidance and be aware that you may have to make last minute changes to your travel plans.

Considerations for employers

  • Many employers have had requests from their employees to work from other countries during the pandemic. Employers should be aware of the risk that employees could inadvertently trigger tax or employment liabilities. These risks are now compounded with immigration risk if an employees visa expires while they are outside of the UK, meaning that they may not be able to return without a new application.
  • Under the previous rules, business directors were able to rely on an exemption to the self-isolation rules. This exemption has now been removed and business directors must self-isolate or quarantine. This may render short business trips to the UK impractical depending on the country of departure.
  • Employers should check whether specialist visitors to the UK fall under one of the exemptions.