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England Has Reopened to Travelers—Here’s Everything You Need to Know

By Lottie Gross

Jul 29, 2021

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The whole of Great Britain, including Port Isaac on the Cornish coast, is open for vaccinated travelers.

Photo by Ian Woolcock / Shutterstock

The whole of Great Britain, including Port Isaac on the Cornish coast, is open for vaccinated travelers.

Vaccinated travelers from the U.S. no longer need to quarantine—but there are still some rules to follow.

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From August 2 some international visitors will finally be able to visit the U.K. with fewer restrictions, but it’s not as simple as flashing your passport at border control. There’s a “traffic light” system and testing requirements dependent on where you come from. Here’s what you need to know before you travel to the U.K. in 2021.

Is the U.K. open to U.S. travelers?

Yes, U.S. citizens can travel to England, Scotland, and Wales. Sixteen months after the U.K. closed its borders to the U.S., fully vaccinated American travelers will be able to enter England without having to quarantine from August 2. Both Scotland and Wales, which have land borders with England, are following suit with their entry policy for American travelers, but Northern Ireland is yet to announce whether similar allowances will be made.

Unvaccinated visitors to all four nations within the U.K. will still need to isolate for 10 days on arrival and complete three COVID tests.

Travel restrictions and requirements for entry to the U.K.

If you are . . .

Traveling to the U.K. from the U.S.

The U.K. is operating a “traffic light” system to dictate which travelers coming from which destinations are allowed to cross its borders. The USA is on the U.K.’s “amber list,” meaning unvaccinated travelers will need a negative PCR test before departure. You must also complete a Passenger Locator Form (PLF), and book and pay for two more day-2 and day-8 tests to be taken after your arrival in the U.K. You are required to isolate for 10 days on arrival, regardless of the results of your two PCR tests. Once your self-imposed quarantine is over, you can enjoy traveling in the U.K. for up to six months visa-free.

If you’re fully vaccinated, you won’t need to isolate at all and you don’t have to take the third PCR test. You still need to complete the Passenger Locator Form and the predeparture and day-2 tests.

Traveling to the U.K. from other international destinations 

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If traveling from other “amber” countries, with the exception of France, vaccinated travelers need not isolate on arrival in the U.K. and should just complete the PLF, take a predeparture PCR, and book a day-2 test. Amber list destinations include Canada, Italy, and Japan.

The U.K.’s “red list” is still rather extensive, including much of South and Central America and Mexico. Anyone wishing to travel from a “red list” destination must book a quarantine hotel package to isolate for 10 days, take a predeparture test, complete a PLF, and take two tests during the quarantine period.

How to travel to the U.K. in 2021

Flights and airfares to the U.K.

Despite the restrictions of the past 16 months, flights have been connecting the U.K. and major cities in the U.S. throughout the pandemic with some record low fares. Sadly, with the latest announcements regarding travel restrictions between the two countries lifting, prices have shot back up to their usual costs.

Right now, direct flights from New York to London in August are $1,200, and you can expect to pay as much as $1,500 if flying from California. Book with a layover and you’ll save around a third of the cost on your ticket; book for September onwards and prices begin to drop as the U.K.’s summer holidays end.

Requirements for returning to the United States from the U.K.

All travelers returning from the U.K. must have a negative PCR test before departure or be able to show proof of recovery from COVID-19 in the past three months. The CDC recommends that travelers should also take a viral test between three and five days after their arrival from the U.K., and unvaccinated travelers should quarantine for a full seven days after travel. (Vaccinated travelers don’t have to self-isolate.)

What it’s like traveling to the U.K. right now 

The U.K. is currently seeing a fourth peak in the virus, with cases sitting around 31,000 per day as of July 29. Despite the high case numbers, the death rate is far lower than previous peaks thanks to the vaccine rollout, which has seen almost 40 million people fully vaccinated since December 2020.

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On July 19, the law mandating that masks be worn in indoor public spaces and on public transport was removed in England, meaning you can go mask-free wherever you want. In Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, you must still wear a mask inside public places and on transport. “Around 70 percent of train passengers were still wearing masks despite the relaxed rules during my visit,” says AFAR deputy editor Tim Chester, who just returned from a two-week trip to England, “and pretty much everyone was masked up on the London underground.”

There are also some restrictions on the number of households allowed to meet inside in those three nations, while England has now lifted all coronavirus restrictions, allowing even nightclubs to reopen.

Needless to say, with the varying rules and regulations in place, planning a trip to the U.K. is still a little tricky. Even residents are getting confused about the restrictions, but it’s certainly not impossible and once you’ve got your head around the rules, you can relax.

You can find the current coronavirus rules for each nation at the following links:

England

Wales

Scotland

Northern Ireland

Carreg Cennen in Wales and many other attractions are open for business.

What can I do when I get to the U.K.? 

England is fully open now, which means even nightclubs are up and running—though you need to be fully vaccinated to attend. Indoor hospitality (excluding nightclubs) and attractions have been open for some months now across the U.K., which means you can explore the big blockbusters in London such as the Tower of London and V&A Museum, as well as country houses and estates across the nation like Blenheim Palace and Wales’s most striking castle, Carreg Cennen.

One of the most exciting developments for travelers to the U.K. this year, though, is the news that tour operators and cruise lines are focusing their efforts on the British Isles. The stunning Tradewinds Voyages tall ship Golden Horizon is taking to the seas around the U.K. from August 4, sailing along the coast of Devon, around the Scilly Isles and beyond, while Fred. Olsen has a whole host of itineraries taking in Scotland, England, and Wales.

Intrepid Travel has launched 20 new tours in the U.K. for 2021, including clifftop adventures in Cornwall, the Scottish Highlands, and walking and cycling trips in the dramatic Peak District.

>> Next: Europe’s Ever-Changing Rules Dampen Summer Travel Plans

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