Travel Advisory: Travelling safely amongst Covid-19
Updated: Mar 18, 2021
Be safe, informed and prepared.
Right now, travel restrictions still apply; every Traveller departing from an airport or sea port in England must complete a declaration form for international travel from England during stay at home restrictions. Travellers may be asked for evidence to support their reason for travel. As summer approaches, the Covid-19 pandemic lock-down in the UK is being eased. The travel, holiday and aviation business sectors are desperate for Holidaymakers to start booking trips and travelling again. Despite great progress made through lock downs and the huge success of the Covid-19 vaccination program in the UK, the rest of world is not moving as quickly. The possibility of emergence of new variants, a sudden outbreak with escalation of case numbers and the risk of overwhelming medical care resources remains ever present.
This article addresses issues that travellers should consider before, during and after international travel whilst Covid-19 remains an active threat. For practical advice about when it is safe to book and the conditions required to protect your holiday investment and consumer rights, travellers should look to those qualified. The scope of this article covers primarily Holidaymakers and Overlanders. Businesses will also be considering the safety of international travel including the redeployment of Expatriates and their families to overseas posts. Business issues are not going to be specifically addressed here but many of the principles do apply.
Travellers must expect that Countries will take decisive steps to protect their citizens and to change Covid-19 procedures or requirements with very short, or even no notice. If this happens then holiday companies, insurers and Embassies may be rapidly overloaded and very difficult to contact for extended periods whilst trying to support personnel stranded overseas.
Frankly, the '6 P's' applies here - 'Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance'. Being informed and prepared, having thought the consequences of potential incidents through and having a plan before you go, should help avoid nasty surprises. It will enhance your safety and enable you to remain self sufficient in most situations.
Before deciding to travel, it would be prudent to consider contingency costs and ask yourself some very basic questions. For example, what if:
The situation changes at home and your planned destination ceases to accept travellers from your country, or the case numbers escalate at your destination and your home country withdraws approval to travel?
You have a positive covid test on arrival and need to spend your holiday in quarantine?
The infection rate at your destination increases during your holiday and return flights are cancelled and / or you are required to quarantine (in a hotel at your cost) whilst away and / or on your return home?
You become ill and need to quarantine or have to be hospitalised overseas?
If you are comfortable with your answers and can live with the consequences then ...........
BEFORE YOU GO
Research your destination in depth ('Know before You Go!'). Not least consult information and guidance provided by your national government. For UK nationals its online at UK FCO Foreign Travel Advice. The website includes advice on country risk, travel warnings, entry requirements, safety and security. Covid-19 advice is also available here and to avoid being refused boarding, quarantined or turned around on arrival, its important that you understand the measures in place at your planned destination and any other specific country entry requirements. For example only, these might require you to have been vaccinated and / or have had a negative Covid-19 test result prior to travel; there are a number of private companies that provide a Covid-19 testing service. Should you not meet the specified requirements for any reason, you should expect firm action without appeal.
To avoid problems on arrival and return, make sure you understand your Customs allowances and take care not to breech rules regarding any banned substances.
Check the vaccination and immunisation requirements for country entry at your destination. A travel specialist Nurse at your doctors surgery should be able to provide advice and provide any immunisations required. Requirements and recommendations can also be found on the National Health Network and Centre Travel Pro website.
For treatment overseas, if travelling in Europe, some countries have specific requirements but most will accept a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) as proof entitlement for treatment for medical care that arises during your visit. If your EHIC has expired you can apply for a Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC).
A small First Aid Kit is highly recommended. The contents of the kit should be tailored to the country and type of travelling you are planning. Don't forget to include any prescribed medication and remember to take enough with you to cover your trip including any possible quarantine period. For warmer climates, include sunscreen and a good insect repellant.
Take sufficient Covid-19 Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) with you for your trip. Facemasks and gloves may be in short supply where you are going. Check the rules regarding alcohol based hand cleansers, they may need to go inside hold baggage or need to be purchased on arrival.
Monitor the Covid-19 situation at your planned destination. Remember not all countries will maintain reliable statistics. Some countries appear to be in denial of the pandemic, have poor or no material controls and its likely that the disease is running silently wild. In some cases a lack of finance, shortage of PPE and testing equipment, poor medical standards and resources are driving a somewhat misguided reliance on traditional medicines. These countries are typically included in HM Government's Covid-19 List of Red List Countries which provides a list of Countries from which entry to the UK is currently banned.
For those travelling with Pets, don't forget to make sure your Pets have received their inoculations too and have the required documentation.
A robust, comprehensive Travel Insurance Policy is required. Read the small print; you need to understand the scope of what is and is not covered. Nobody likes to pay large sums for insurance but a good policy is important especially when travelling amongst Covid-19. Remember that you typically get what you pay for; 'if you pay peanuts you get monkeys'. Do make sure your policy includes international medical evacuation or repatriation as otherwise this can be very expensive. Check what cover is included for Covid-19 related issues.
In the event that you need medical care whilst abroad, most travel insurance company's operate a 24 hr help line and they should be able to provide a list of approved clinics and hospitals for treatment if required. You should be aware that this does not guarantee entry if clinics and hospitals are overrun with patients. UK nationals should be aware that most insurance policies are not valid if travel starts to a country where no travel is recommended by the UK FCO.
The following documentation should be carried. In some cases an electronic copy stored on a phone or laptop maybe sufficient:
Passport. Make sure that your Passport is valid for at least 6 months after your planned return.
Check VISA requirements and ensure its valid for the dates of travel.
Special area or other permits (if appropriate)
Covid-19 vaccination certificate (if required)
Covid 19 negative test result (if required)
Personal Vaccination and Immunisation Card
National and International driving licence requirements (if driving abroad).
If driving your vehicle overseas, vehicle documents (registration, insurance, carnet de passage etc)
Hard copy of your personal prescription (if appropriate)
Pet Passport and associated documentation (if appropriate)
Copy of spectacles prescription (if appropriate)
EHIC or GHIC card.
Travel documents (tickets / boarding cards etc)
Copy of your insurance policy with key contact numbers
International phrase book (or download a translation app for your phone such as Google Translate).
Most countries now use bank teller machines ('hole in the wall') that enable you to draw cash in local currency if required. Credit / debit / pre payment cards can normally be used. Consider carrying cards from two different major card providers to ensure that at least one will be accepted at your destination. Carry enough local currency in cash to cover at least the cost of the transfer to your first night's accommodation and any snacks etc.
Ok so you've now planned your trip. Its prudent to think about what can go wrong and, if it does, what can you do about it? This does not need to be a grand document but at the very least you should have thought through everything, how you might respond and roughly what its going to cost. Make sure that you have key phone numbers with you for organisations that you might need to seek assistance from. Consider the consequences of becoming unwell or being stranded overseas.
Don't forget, in case of an emergency at home, you need somebody at home to know how to contact you whilst you are away.
Ensure your mobile phone is setup for international roaming (voice, messaging and data) to ensure contact can be maintained with friends and family at home, the internet (social media) and email whilst travelling. If you decide to purchase a local SIM Card, remember that you all need to let family and friends know so they can contact you as your mobile number will change.
Your first night
It is good practice to have a confirmed booking for overnight accommodation at least for your first night's stay. Ensure you pre-book the airport transfer to your accommodation with a reputable company; your hotel may be able to provide somebody to meet you on arrival to assist with any problems. You do not want to arrive in a foreign country probably tired and not being able to find a place to stay.
Before leaving home
And finally ......... before leaving home for the airport (rail terminal or seaport) especially during Covid-19, check to confirm there are no delays or cancellations or if their are any other travel disruptions.
WHEN YOU ARE AWAY
Follow airline guidelines and procedures within the airports and on the aircraft. HM Government have provided safer travel and working principles for Airports and Aviation Operators which you may wish to take a look at.
Where possible avoid crowds and maintain social distancing
Wear facemasks. (Some countries may require specific type of face masks to be worn and these may need to be purchased locally.)
Wash your hands regularly.
Maintain regular contact with those at home by whatever means best.
Know how to seek assistance if required.
Don't take risks that you wouldn't take at home.
Be polite and discreet, do not attract unwanted attention to yourself.
Keep your mobile phone charged.
Liaise closely with your airline / travel company in case of changes.
The country political, health and security risk in the country your are visiting.
Covid-19 in the country you are visiting and at home. Consider the reliability and accuracy of the information. Monitor indicators such as local reports of availability of critical care beds and associated equipment such as ventilators, doctors and nursing staff.
Local and international news for events including strikes, extreme weather, natural disaster and terrorist attacks.
Overlanders: The Covid associated risks in countries along your planned route to ensure borders are open and that its safe to travel.
And finally ........... don't forget the basics to stay well. For example in the sunshine remember to 'Slip Slop Slap' (Slip on a shirt, Slop on your sunscreen and Slap on a hat) to avoid sunburn.
WHEN YOU GET BACK
Be prepared to have to provide a negative Covid-19 test on departure and / or arrival and / or go into quarantine or self isolate on arrival.
Provide full Track and Trace contact details as appropriate to ensure you can be reached promptly if necessary.
Monitor your own health and seek medical advice if required. Remember to tell the doctor where you have been travelling in the last few months.
Monitor media reports for up to 12 months in case there is a report of a disease outbreak in the area you were staying or the aircraft / train or ship you travelled on.
UK FCO Foreign Travel Advice - Travel Advice for all Countries
HM Government Travel Abroad: Step by step guide
Travel Health Pro - National Travel Health Network and Centre (NathNac)
HM Government Coronavirus (COVID-19): declaration form for international travel from England during stay at home restrictions
HM Government Covid-19 List of Red List Countries
List of Private Providers for Covid-19 Test to release for international travel
HM Government Coronavirus (COVID-19): safer aviation guidance for operators
WHO Covid 19 Dashboard - Global monitoring of Covid 19
John Hopkins University Coronovirus Resource Centre
Note to readers: The above represents a personal view based on international travel experience. Always follow the direction of Government, service providers and authorities.