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Feeling rusty? Everything you need to remember before travelling abroad

The Independent logo The Independent 20/05/2022 Lucy Thackray
From passports to vaccine proof, masks, tests and security demands, there’s a lot to remember © Getty Images From passports to vaccine proof, masks, tests and security demands, there’s a lot to remember

As the current deluge of travellers awaiting passports and queueing at airports suggests, international travel is firmly back.

Many of us are taking our first or second trip since the big travel shutdown of the Covid-19 pandemic - and airports and airlines have suggested that some of us are feeling rusty.

With airports emphasising the need to keep hand luggage liquids separate and electronics ready to remove - and airlines re-issuing rules around baggage, boarding etiquette and other standard aspects of travel - it seems we might need a refresher on the old holiday checklist.

So what are the top things to consider before you leave home and set of abroad, by plane, train or ferry?

Here’s everything you need to know.

I need my passport for everywhere “abroad”, right?

For British citizens, yes - everywhere except Ireland.

When visiting our emerald neighbour, part of the Common Travel Area, you don’t technically need a passport - though the Foreign Office advises “Irish immigration officers will check the ID of all passengers arriving by air from the UK and may ask for proof of nationality, particularly if you were born outside the UK. You are therefore advised to take your British passport with you.” In addition, Ryanair requires all UK travellers flying with it to Ireland to have a valid passport.

For everywhere else, yes, pack that passport. Which brings us to...

Is my passport in date?

Some countries demand that your passport is a certain amount of time away from its expiry date.

One development that has possibly cropped up since you last travelled: Brexit put a bit of a spanner in the works by changing the passport requirements for Britons visiting the EU and wider Schengen Area (including Switzerland and Norway).

While the UK was in the European Union, British passports were valid up to and including their expiry date for travel within the EU. But since the end of the Brexit transition phase, British passport holders are treated as “third country nationals” with stipulations about passport issue and expiry dates – together with limits on the length of stay almost everywhere in Europe.

If you are a non-EU national wishing to visit or travel within the EU and Schengen Area, your passport must pass these two independent tests:

  • be valid for at least three months after the date you intend to leave the EU country you are visiting
  • have an issue date within the past 10 years on the day you intend to arrive in the EU

All children’s passports meet this latter condition.

For everywhere else, the rules vary from country to country. Some destinations are happy that your passport expires after your trip there; others ask for one day’s validity, two or three months, or even six months.

Here’s a breakdown of the minimum validity rules for most of the world’s holiday destinations.

As another condition of Brexit, your passport should be stamped on entry and exit from each EU country. Make sure it is, to avoid being flagged as outstaying the time limit for non-EU tourists.

Do I need a Covid-19 test?

Some destinations are not yet open to Brits, others have dropped their travel restrictions entirely - while some still require a Covid-19 test before travel. In many cases, those who are unvaccinated or only partly vaccinated still need to take a test.

The most common requirement is a PCR or antigen test within 72 hours before travel. Given the choice, the obvious one to go for is a cheap, swift antigen (lateral flow) test.

But look out for exceptions - several countries require a test within 24 hours or a PCR test specifically. Here are the ones to watch out for:

  • The US (on the day of outbound travel or the day before, stricter than most)
  • Some Caribbean islands (Barbados, St Kitts, Bahamas, Trinidad & Tobago)
  • Morocco
  • Madagascar
  • Rwanda
  • Uganda
  • Russia
  • Malaysia
  • Philippines
  • South Korea
  • French Polynesia
  • New Zealand

See more information on these countries’ individual testing rules here.

Some countries that have recently dropped their pre-departure test for vaccinated visitors: Australia, Thailand, South Africa, Brazil, Indonesia and India. Israel will drop its PCR test rule on 21 May.

Do I need proof of vaccination, such as an NHS Covid Pass?

In the UK we’ve become accustomed to going about our business without showing proof of our jabs at every restaurant, bar and theatre. But many countries still ask for proof of vaccination as a condition of entry - with some also demanding it at hotel check-in or other indoor attractions.

Spain is the most surprising example, with only vaccinated adults allowed to visit. Those are the rules for tourists aged 18 and above – teens aged 12-17 can bring a negative PCR test to enter, while children 11 and under are exempt from testing.

Other countries that still demand proof of vaccination (if you have it, a test and/or quarantine if you don’t) include but are not limited to:

  • Italy
  • The US
  • Portugal
  • Cyprus
  • Thailand
  • Cambodia
  • Turkey
  • South Africa

Some countries also attach expiry dates to their definition of fully vaccinated - for example, in some EU countries your second jab should have been given within the past 270 days, after which a booster jab will be needed in order to remain “fully vaccinated”. (For the avoidance of doubt, the booster has no time limit.)

So do check individual Foreign Office rules.

Where can I travel without a vaccine?

Fully vaccinated people get lots of travel perks, from being allowed into Spain, the US and Singapore - full stop - to being allowed into South Africa and Turkey test-free.


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It's worth noting that some destinations are requiring a booster jab, i.e. three jabs, for arrivals to qualify as "fully vaccinated". As well as several EU countries who deem your second jab to “expire” after six or nine months, Japan - set to start a phased reopening to some countries this summer - will also likely demand three jabs from initial tourists.

However, if you haven’t had a full course of a Covid-19 vaccine, these places don’t require vaccination proof or even a test to enter:

  • Ireland
  • Denmark
  • Norway
  • Iceland
  • Poland
  • Montenegro
  • Hungary
  • Lithuania
  • Slovenia
  • Romania
  • Madeira
  • Sweden
  • Latvia
  • Moldova
  • Czech Republic
  • Croatia
  • Costa Rica (but you do need adequate travel insurance)
  • Mexico

Other countries will let you in with a test if you aren’t fully vaccinated. These include but are not limited to: India, the UAE and Morocco.

Does the country I’m visiting need me to pre-register online or fill in a passenger locator form?

While Thailand’s dropping of its pre-travel test was cause for celebration, its entry process remains complex. You must register all your details well in advance of your visit in order to receive a Thailand Pass.

Other countries which require pre-registration of your details include South Korea, with its Q-Code system, and Australia, whose Digital Passenger Declaration (DPD) should be filled in with 72 hours before travel, as well as the Maldives, whose Traveller Declaration Form is the only remaining requirement regardless of vaccination status. Israel scraps its PCR tests on 21 May, but is keeping its passenger locator form.

Spain has now scrapped its passenger locator form for vaccinated travellers (the only type allowed in), as have Greece and Italy.

Check the individual pre-registration rules on the FCDO website.

What’s this “Verifly” business?

Some airlines and cruise lines - such as British Airways, American Airlines and Viking Cruises - ask you to fill in an app called “Verifly” for certain destinations. (For BA they include the US, Canada and France).

This is essentially a checklist of documents you need for that destination, where you can upload each document - such as your Covid Pass - to be approved as genuine before you get to the airport. It essentially ticks you off as a passenger who has done the admin correctly.

It’s not compulsory, but could speed up your check-in process as pre-approved customers usually join a specific queue. However, it’s tricky to get the hang of - so don’t leave it until the last minute.

Does my health insurance cover my destination?

For many places, your health insurance needs will be similar to what they always were - covering multi-trip policies, single-trip policies, policies including the US etc and specialist add-ons such as winter sports cover.

However, some countries now require you to have a certain level of travel insurance, including a certain value of minimum coverage or cover for medical treatment for Covid-19. These include: Thailand, Costa Rica, Chile and Sri Lanka.

Do I really still need a visa in this day and age?

Not only do lots of countries still demand that tourists arrange and pay for a visa before arrival - some have tightened their visa restrictions or suspended certain kinds of visas during Covid-19.

There’s no visa for countries within the EU yet, though the ETIAS system looks likely to arrive in 2023.

The US still requires its classic ESTA visa waiver ($14/£11); while India, Australia, Oman and the Philippines among others all demand a pre-arranged visa. Check what type is required - for example, e-visas, visas on arrival - on the Foreign Office website.

How much luggage can I bring on a flight?

With DIY bag drops and online check-ins, it can be easy to forget that most airline fares include a set baggage limit. Increasingly this is hand luggage only, unless you specifically opt to have a bag in the hold or pay slightly more.

If you’ve gone for the cheapest ticket type on one of the UK’s most popular airlines, here’s what’s included - and what you’ll have to pay for any excess:

easyJet: one small cabin bag - max size 45 x 36 x 20 cm - per person (from £7.99 for larger allowance with an Upfront/Over wing seat). No weight limit. Package customers with easyJet Holidays hold luggage get a free allowance of one 23kg bag.

British Airways: one cabin bag of up to 23kg (56 x 45 x 25cm) plus one hand bag of up to 23kg (40 x 30 x 15cm). Added checked bag from £40.

Ryanair: A small personal bag that fits under the seat in front of you (no more than 40 x 25 x 20 cm). Add a second cabin bag (max 55 x 40 x 20cm) from €6/£5.

Tui: One piece of hand luggage up to 10kg (max 55 x 40 x 20cm). Package holiday customers with Tui get a 15kg hold luggage allowance. Added bags from £13.

Jet2: One piece of hand luggage up to 10kg (max 56cm x 45cm x 25cm), plus “a small personal item such as a handbag or laptop bag” as long as it fits under the seat in front of you. Added bag from £12. Package customers with Jet2 Holidays hold luggage get a free allowance of one 22kg bag.

Virgin Atlantic: Its most basic Economy Light fares only include one hand luggage item of up to 10kg. Economy Classic fares include one checked bag of up to 23kg.

How early should I get to the airport?

You may have read the recent horror stories of slow-moving queues and missed flights at the UK’s airports.

While this is partly due to short staffing and the sudden surge in holidaymakers flying from our terminals, airports say it is also down to rusty travellers forgetting the basics and holding up queues.

As a general rule, for short haul flights you should get to the airport two hours before a short-haul flight. If you were really nervous, you could add a half-hour to that.

For long haul flights, most airports and airlines advise three hours before. UK airports which have experienced longer than usual queues this spring have warned that turning up many hours before your flight, especially first thing in the morning, can worsen already swollen queues and cause people with imminent flights to miss their plane.

What could hold me up at security?

Most frequent flyers have honed the “security dance” to the point where it’s a seamless, choreographed flow of moves: passport and boarding pouch in front pocket, liquids ready-separated, electronics ready to be removed.

But intel from airport bosses suggests that some holidaymakers have forgotten the basics when it comes to security queues. Here’s what you have to separate when flying from a UK airport (and most airports - though rules do differ slightly country to country):

  1. Only liquids 100ml and under can be taken through in hand luggage
  2. These should fit inside a small 20 x 20cm plastic bag - about the size of a standard zip-lock freezer bag, per person
  3. Liquids include pastes, creams and so on - including face cream and honey
  4. There are exceptions for essentials such as baby food and milk - read them here
  5. Electronics: make sure any laptops and tablets are charged and handy in your hand luggage case - you’ll need to remove them and place them in a separate security tray
  6. You may bring one cigarette lighter on board in your hand luggage, to go with your liquids
  7. Things that will hold you up include musical instruments, corkscrews, large scissors, medicines of more than 100ml, sports equipment, tools and e-cigarettes, which are either not allowed, need a doctor’s note or need to be flagged in advance
  8. You may be asked to remove your jacket, shoes and belts, so dress accordingly to help the queues flow

Do I need to wear a mask at the airport or on my flight?

If you’re flying, the rules now vary from airline to airline. The basic rules are that most UK airports now say mask-wearing is optional but advised; while airlines mostly say mask-wearing is optional only on routes to and from countries that have relaxed or scrapped their Covid health rules. This means they’d be optional between England and, say, Norway or Iceland, which have both done away with all Covid rules; but you’d have to wear them on a flight to Italy, where mask wearing on public transport is still mandatory.

You can read the full airline by airline breakdown here.

In terms of trains, domestic services within the UK are now mask-optional (though recommended); while Eurostar requires customers to wear them unless they have a proven medical exemption until 23 May. From this date, masks become optional on all Eurostar services.

For ferries, some operators such as Stena Line ask you to mask up at both ferry terminals and on board “where social distancing isn’t possible” - i.e. crowded communal areas. Others - such as Brittany Ferries - say mask-wearing is no longer compulsory but is recommended. So check with your individual operator just before travelling.

What will I need on arrival at my holiday destination?

While entry requirements vary country to country (as above), travel in general is more complex than it was pre-2020.

In addition, the UK’s new status as a “third country” relative to the EU means that border officials in EU countries are entitled to demand proof of your accommodation plans, onward travel arrangements and even financial resources on entry.

The Independent advises having a digital folder on your smartphone’s home screen, containing a few key documents in electronic form - as well as a couple of face masks handy on your person.

Things to put in your folder:

  • Your NHS Covid Pass or other proof of vaccination
  • The QR code or passenger locator form confirmation - if the country demands one
  • Your boarding pass in PDF form
  • A scan of your passport (couldn’t hurt)
  • A screen shot of your first hotel’s address (often needed offline, on the flight, for boarding cards)
  • Proof of your accommodation booking (just in case)

Happy travels and enjoy your time out on the road.

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