Update: 17 September 2021

From Monday 4 October, a simplified system for international travel and relaxed measures for fully vaccinated travellers and children will make it easier to go on an overseas holiday. Read more on our webpage: What you need to know about foreign travel from October.


Many people are keen to get away on an overseas trip to make up for the holidays they’ve missed since the start of the pandemic and to see family and friends abroad. 

Travelling abroad during the pandemic will be different than it was before – with additional health and safety measures in place to help prevent the spread of infection and to keep you and your fellow travellers safe. However, these new measures shouldn’t stop you from having a great time, and to help you have a safe and enjoyable break, ABTA has put together some advice to help guide you through what you need to do before you go and what to expect while you’re on holiday.

A key part of your preparations will be familiarising yourself with the traffic light system which sets out what you need to do when you come back to the UK and the travel requirements for your specific destination. You can find out more about the latest advice and what it means for your travel plans by visiting our webpage Government requirements for travel.

As always, if you have any queries or if there is something you are unsure about, speak to your ABTA Member travel provider. They will be able to guide you through each step of your journey and make sure you have the most up-to-date information and advice so you can get ready for your trip. 


How to prepare before you go

  • Check the latest Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office travel advice for the country you’re visiting at www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice. This includes local rules relating to coronavirus and details of any entry requirements, such as if you need to present proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test result and which test types will be accepted (e.g. you can’t use a free NHS test for travel). You can sign up to receive country specific email alerts to get important updates. 
  • Check www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice to find out if the destination you’re visiting requires visitors to present proof of vaccination for entry. You can show proof that you’ve been fully vaccinated against coronavirus through the NHS COVID Pass, which is available in a digital format or as a letter sent to you in the post. If you’re a resident in England and registered with a GP, you can also get the NHS COVID Pass using the free NHS App, but do check that your destination will accept the app before choosing this option. Visit the Government’s website for more information on demonstrating your COVID-19 vaccination status when travelling abroad.
  • Check the Government’s traffic light list to find out what you need to do for your return journey to the UK. This includes taking at least two COVID-19 tests; in the three days before you travel to the UK and a second by day two of your return. You’ll need to arrange and pay for these tests through a private testing provider, so free tests from the NHS will not be accepted. Visit our Government requirements for Travel page for more details.
  • Take out comprehensive travel insurance as soon as you book your holiday, making sure it covers your specific needs. Many insurance policies, including ABTA Travel Sure, now include different types of cover for coronavirus, such as medical expenses while on holiday or cover for cancellation if you’re unable to travel. Read the policy details carefully to ensure it has the level of cover you want. You can find more advice on travel insurance at abta.com/travelinsurance
  • Allow plenty of time to get your usual travel documents in order, which includes checking your passport to see if it’s nearing its expiry date, applying for a visa if needed, and checking the latest travel health advice for your destination at TravelHealthPro. Many countries require at least six months’ validity on your passport from your date of arrival and the passport office is currently advising that it may take up to 10 weeks for applications to be processed, so make sure you give yourself plenty of time to apply.
  • Research the health and safety measures that will be in place on your journey, such as the rules around face coverings and if there are any medical exemptions. While you are no longer legally required to wear a face covering in enclosed public spaces in England, government guidance says it “expects and recommends” them to be worn in crowded areas, such as public transport, and face coverings must still be worn in other parts of the UK. Businesses and travel operators set their own rules for customers and passengers, so make sure you speak to your travel provider and check the websites of your transport provider and your transport hub e.g. airport, train station or port to find the latest information and guidance.
  • If you’re travelling to Europe, find out what extra steps you may need to take now that the UK has left the EU. This includes checking your mobile phone company’s policy on data roaming, that you have the right documents for driving or taking your pet abroad, and checking your EHIC’s expiry date and replacing it with a GHIC if necessary. If you renewed your current passport before the previous one expired, be aware that any extra months added to your passport over 10 years may not count towards the minimum three months needed. You can find more advice at abta.com/brexit.


What to expect at the airport / station / port 

  • Whether you’re travelling via an airport, train station or port, you’ll encounter a range of measures to keep you and others safe, many of which will now be familiar to you. 
  • These will include wearing a face covering and practising social distancing, as well as being encouraged to use contactless payments and the extra hand sanitising stations that have been installed. You’ll also find the use of protective screens at check-in, boarding and at gates, and there will be additional cleaning procedures targeted at common use surfaces, which may include UV light treatment on escalator handrails and security trays. 
  • If you’re travelling to a destination that requires you to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test, you’ll be asked to present your results as a printed document, an email or a text message as part of the check-in procedure. You won’t be allowed to travel without proof of a negative result from an approved private testing provider (remember that free tests from the NHS cannot be used for travel).
  • If you’re embarking on a cruise, you may be given a specific arrival time to help manage the ebb-and-flow in car parks, drop-off areas and terminals to allow for social distancing when going from your car to your cabin.
  • Facilities such as shops and restaurants may be closed or have a reduced capacity, so you may want to take refreshments with you or book a table in advance. If you plan to use one of the terminal lounges, check they are open and what requirements are in place. 


What to expect on your journey 

  • Whether you’re travelling by plane, train, or boat, you’ll find there are additional or enhanced procedures in place to limit the spread of the virus, including more regular cleaning and disinfecting schedules targeted at surfaces that are touched frequently and the use of apps to store tickets and boarding passes. 
  • You’ll also need to wear a face covering while onboard, so make sure you take enough for your journey as it’s recommended that they are changed every four hours. Many airlines require passengers to wear medical face masks, so check with your airline which type of mask you will need.
  • If you’re flying to your destination, the majority of modern, large, commercial aircraft use advanced HEPA filtration systems that are 99.9% effective at removing germs and viruses like COVID-19, and completely renew the air in the cabin every six minutes.
  • It’s likely there will be a reduced food and drink service, so it’s a good idea to take refreshments for your journey.


What to expect while you’re away

  • The local rules to help prevent the spread of coronavirus will vary depending on which destination you are visiting and may be different from the rules in the UK. It’s important that you follow the advice of the local and public health authority in destination, which may include wearing face coverings in public spaces, restrictions on the number of people at the beach or in public areas to aid social distancing, and in some circumstances curfews. The FCDO travel advice page for the country you are visiting has a ‘Coronavirus’ section which provides useful information on the local measures that are in place to keep you and others safe. If you’re not sure what the local requirements are, ask your travel provider, accommodation staff and excursion providers for further guidance.
  • Be aware that your holiday may be different to previous experiences, with new measures including enhanced cleaning procedures at your hotel, the offer of a waiter service instead of a buffet, more options for al fresco dining and socialising, and reduced access to certain facilities to prevent the spread of the virus. These measures will change on an ongoing basis to respond to the situation in destination, so make sure you follow the advice of accommodation staff and excursion providers, or ask your travel provider if you have any questions.
  • If you’ve booked a cruise, in addition to rigorous cleaning procedures and the use of face coverings and social distancing in public areas, common changes onboard include improved ventilation systems to aid filtration and provide more fresh air, and enhanced medical care for COVID-19 including dedicated cabin capacity for isolation and shoreside assistance. When disembarking for excursions, make sure you follow the local rules for the countries you are visiting and visit the FCDO travel advice pages for more information. You’ll find detailed information about the new measures for your trip by visiting your cruise line’s website and make sure you ask your cruise provider if you need further guidance.
Jackie Steadman, TravelTime World airport/flight experience travelling during coronavirus

Wondering what flying is like during the pandemic? Jackie Steadman from TravelTime World talks through her recent airport/flight experience and what changes holidaymakers need to know.