Covid-19 UK travel restrictions and considerations for employers

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

As of Monday 15 February 2021, all travellers to the UK now face much tighter travel restrictions as the UK seeks to reduce the spread of new Covid-19 variants from high risk areas.

The previous travel corridor system, where inbound travellers were not required to self-isolate on arrival from certain low risk countries, has been suspended.

These rules bring the UK into line with much of the rest of the world which has had travel restrictions in place since March 2020. The UK was an outlier in keeping borders open until now.

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.
  • Employers should checks whether specialist visitors to the UK fall under one of the exemptions discussed below.

Rules for inbound travellers to the UK 

As a first step, travellers to the UK will need to check if they have been in any Red List Country in the past 10 days

If the traveller has not been in a Red List country in the last 10 days

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

  • 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 (and Republic of Ireland, Channel Islands and Isle of Man), will need to self-isolate for 10 days upon arrival;
  • those self-isolating must take a test on Day 2 and Day 8 at their own cost of £210 – tests can be ordered from the quarantine hotels portal; and
  • there is a Test to Release scheme where a test can be taken on Day 5 and self-isolation can end early if it is negative (the Day 8 test must still be taken).

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.

If the traveller has been in a Red List country in the last 10 days

If the traveller has been in any Red List country in the last 10 days, they will be banned from entry to the UK unless they hold a UK/Irish passport or a UK residence permit.

If they do have a UK/Irish passport or UK residence permit, they will need to complete the pre-arrival testing and passenger location form mentioned above and then quarantine in a government hotel for 10 days upon arrival at their own cost.

Rules for outbound travellers from the UK 

As of Monday 15 February 2021 under the nationwide lockdown, UK nationals and UK residents are not permitted to leave home, including travel internationally, unless a legal exemption applies.

Travel is therefore permitted for:

  • work, where it is not reasonable to work from home;
  • educational, childcare and caring responsibilities;
  • medical reasons; and
  • veterinary services.

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.