Expert Simon Calder answers your questions on the latest travel changes
In January, the travel correspondent of The Independent is normally to be found on the practice courts at Australia’s National Tennis Centre in Melbourne. But in the era of coronavirus, he chose instead to respond to questions from readers as the travel testing rules are relaxed.
Q: Dubai has recently updated its requirements for UK tourists, saying the Covid test certificate “must state the location of where the sample was taken”. But many test providers seem not to include this information. Any advice?
A: For UK visitors entering Dubai, Emirates tells me: “All passengers travelling from the UK to Dubai must hold a negative Covid‑19 PCR test certificate for a test taken no more than 48 hours before departure.”
It specifies that the certificate “must state the location of where the sample was taken” – and warns “NHS Covid-19 test certificates and home testing kits, are not accepted for travel from the United Kingdom”.
As mentioned many times, NHS tests are never acceptable for international travel. Regarding self-administered home testing kits: frankly, I’m surprised that any nation accepts them. At best they are not as accurate as medically conducted tests; at worst they are open to fraud. Anyway, in order to see if the test location is included, I’ve gone back through the PDFs of my certificates, and it’s about 50:50 in terms of whether they state where the test happened. ExpressTest and Randox mention it on those I have received, Collinson does not, but that is no guarantee that your test certificate will be the same.
I suggest you ask the provider to send you a PDF of a specimen certificate so you can check for yourself. Or (more of a stretch) ask Emirates to confirm they will accept certificates issued by their recommended suppliers.
Finally, I have no idea why testing firms would not include an obvious piece of information such as the test location – conversely, though, I don’t know why Dubai/the UAE would be so interested in it, if they are content with the standards of the test provider.
Q: Do you think that prices for package holidays as well as separate flights will go sky high (excuse the pun!) and if so, do you foresee that being immediate?
A: There are two schools of thought about this. My analysis of the market is that prices are certainly going to be higher on average this year than in 2019 because there will be a lot less supply, enabling airlines and holiday companies to keep prices high when demand returns.
This will enable the travel industry to start paying back the huge loans they have taken out. But whenever I talk to Britain’s biggest holiday company, Tui, they say average selling prices are higher only because people are going for longer and more upmarket trips.
We shall see at the end of the year. But mentally I am steeled for a 50 per cent hike on what I paid in 2019. That certainly worked out for me in Florida last month.
French travel ban
Q: When do you expect travel to recommence to France
A: I have promised: je vais manger mon chapeau if the ban is still in place on 15 January. I was pretty confident a week ago ...
Q: I hear a French minister has suggested that the UK travel ban could be relaxed in some way shortly. Any views on when skiing might be possible again in France (for UK skiers going to France)? I was to go the weekend after next and wondered what the possibility of that or shortly after (the following week) might be?
A: The French ban is futile and damaging. It is a perfect example of why the World Health Organisation says that, except in very limited circumstances, travel bans are not effective. My interpretation of the minister’s comments is that they will slightly relax the rules to allow for business travel, and then very shortly afterwards remove the whole dismal construct.
My date for that to happen is 15 January, so you should be in luck.
Q: I’m being encouraged to ‘hop over the French border’ from Switzerland by a UK-based tour operator to try to circumvent the current French rules requiring travellers from the UK to have a compelling reason for entry (skiing not being one!) This makes me extremely uncomfortable. What is your position on this?
A: That plan is certainly in breach of the spirit of the rules for France, and I certainly cannot condone it. However I can report that many British travellers have entered France via a third country since the travel ban began shortly before Christmas, and I have not heard of anyone encountering any problems.
Q: Are holders of EU passports (Portuguese) are we allowed to enter France from the UK en-route to Portugal. Fully jabbed.
Jones the flow
A: It’s messy. My understanding is that you would need to prove your main residence is in Portugal, in which case you should be free to go straight through. The rules say: “Upon arrival in France, all travellers must self-isolate for 48 hours, after which time a negative PCR or antigen test is required to exit self-isolation. Without a negative test result, you will be required to self-isolate for 10 days.”
Again, I have not been able to test procedures, but it seems likely that driving straight through to Spain en route to Portugal negates the need to quarantine. Clearly it is a lot easier simply to fly direct, but I presume you have good reasons for not so doing.
Q: Are there any countries currently letting vaccinated UK passport holders in without a pre-departure or arrival test and no quarantine? We want a quick, cheap and easy weekend away abroad.
A: When I read the start of your message, I was all ready to recommend Mexico – which has been remarkably laissez-faire all the way through the coronavirus pandemic. But clearly that won’t work for a weekend away.
The “cop-out” answer is to recommend somewhere in the UK: my top city breaks at present are Bristol, Liverpool, Newcastle, Glasgow and Belfast.
For a properly international trip, the obvious choice is Ireland – and in particular the fine city of Cork. Entry rules will be relaxed imminently.
If, though, you want somewhere in Continental Europe, it looks like Spain to me: lots of flights, too. I’d be heading for Malaga, which is southern and beautiful.
Q: I’m flying to Vienna in mid February. As per current Austrian travel restrictions, I must be boosted (I am) and present a negative PCR result from 48 hours before arrival.
Do you have any insight as to what kind of PCR test would be advisable to take? What will satisfy the authorities and guarantee me a result in time for arrival (specific provider, NHS walk-in etc)?
A: 1 Whatever the rules are today, there is no guarantee they will be the same in 5/6 weeks’ time.
2 You cannot use any NHS tests for the purposes of international travel.
3 I like airport test centres with nearby labs. I have had very good and very poor experiences with Collinson at Heathrow, and good experiences with ExpressTest and Halo.
Q: My girlfriend and I have recently had Covid and need to provide “proof of recovery” in order to enter the USA. Is the NHS Covid certificate (which shows proof of recovery along with vaccination status) acceptable to the US authorities?
I can’t find any concrete information on this. I can see online that it is possible to purchase signed certificates (£100-plus) by a health care practitioner but am dubious as to whether this is a bit of a scam?
A: I hope you and your girlfriend are in good health. According to the Foreign Office: “The USA will accept the UK’s proof of Covid-19 recovery and vaccination record.”
I certainly wouldn’t go for any online certificates. Just arrive in very good time for your flight (and/or use the Verifly app if you are with British Airways) – so you have time to get a last-minute lateral flow test if need be.
Q: Like many that are vaccinated, I recently tested positive and have recovered from Covid. It’s likely that the PCR required for international travel may still show as being positive for the virus, and may do so for a few weeks. Is there any way that I can still travel, as I now have raised antibodies and am at a lower risk, or do I have to wait for a negative PCR?
A: I am intrigued by the phrase you use: “The PCR required for international travel.” There is no such requirement. For the avoidance of doubt, whatever some testing companies may falsely claim, you do not need a PCR or lateral flow test to leave the UK.
While some destinations certainly demand a PCR test, many do not – with proof of being double jabbed being sufficient. Let me know where you are going and I can try to advise.
Q: My wife and I are due to travel to Austria skiing on 28 January. We’re fully jabbed and boosted but we are isolating having tested positive at the end of last week. As Austria need a clear PCR (no proof of recovery accepted for holidays) and you can still get a positive PCR up to 90 days later it feels like a huge risk.
The travel company allow changes to be made to the booking up to 14 days before hand but other countries could easily change their requirements in the meantime such as Bulgaria this afternoon.
I’m thinking of forgetting this year and rolling the booking on to next year- do you have any additional advice/thoughts/inside knowledge?
Andy J S
A: Skiing in Austria sounds heavenly to me). Anecdotally I know of many people who have tested negative on a PCR within two weeks of a positive test, and no one who tested positive after a couple of months. So I would be optimistic. Test as early as you can – ideally still outside that 14-day window. Assuming you were positive on 31 December, I would test again on 14 January. Good luck.
Q: I purchased a day two lateral flow test at the end of November for a trip away - just as they bought back the PCR testing! With the new testing coming in and emergence of the omicron variant, I decided to postpone the trip. That trip is now in a few weeks and I still have the lateral flow test - unused and I haven’t submitted the reference number given to me for the PLF. Could I now use this for my rescheduled trip?
A: If the test is still “in date” then I cannot see any objection to that. Of course you won’t be able to tell until you fill in the passenger locator form (allowed only 48 hours before your departure back to the UK) whether the code is accepted. Do let us know how you get on.