Holidays 2021: Everything you need to consider before booking – PCR tests, insurance and more

How to prepare for a trip away (Picture: Getty)

If the summer sun and the UK travel green list has sparked your wanderlust, listen up.

Though borders have been slowly reopening from May 17, that doesn’t guarantee smooth sailing for holidays abroad – so it’s wise to be fully prepared before booking.

In this article, we’ve covered everything you need to think about before confirming your trip.

Remember: the Covid-19 situation changes quickly, so always double check for up-to-the-minute information.

Here’s what you need to consider.

Is your holiday destination on the UK’s green list?

The ‘green, amber or red’ classification, which came into effect on May 17, is important.

Boardwalk to Camilo beach at sunrise, Lagos, Algarve, Portugal

Portugal was on the green list, but is moving to amber (Picture: Getty)

If your destination is on the green list, that means when you return home to the UK, you won’t have to self-isolate at all.

If it’s one of the 100+ on the amber list, you will need to self-isolate for up to ten days – but it’s also not recommended that you travel there for leisure just yet.

Travel to red list countries is a no-go for now, too.

Every three weeks, the list will be updated – so classifications may change quickly.

Portugal is an example of this. It was one of the UK’s only green list countries to allow in travellers from England, making it seem like an ideal holiday spot.

But on June 3, it was announced it was moving to the amber list from June 8 – leaving holidaymakers out there now in a scramble to return to avoid self-isolating for days at home.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland’s traffic light lists can differ to England’s, so it’s best to keep an eye on individual government website advice.

Your destination’s entry requirements

Your temperature says a lot about your state of health

Temperature checks are common these days (Picture: Getty)

Each country has its own entry requirements.

That’s regardless of what the UK has classified the country as – the ‘green list’ is not necessarily reciprocal.

Some countries won’t allow Brits to travel there at all, while others require Covid testing on arrival, proof of a negative result, and filling in numerous passengers forms.

Green list countries Australia and New Zealand aren’t letting British tourists in – while Singapore has a 21-day quarantine for arrivals.

Compare The Market’s Head of Travel Insurance, Chris King, told ‘Things are changing around the world every day so it’s key to do your research ahead of booking and travelling.

‘Check the relevant government websites, both here and for your destination.’

Covid vaccine passports

NHS app download screen

Can you prove you’ve had a vaccine? (Picture: Getty)

Vaccine passports’ for foreign travel were introduced from May 17.

Some countries may require proof of vaccination as one of the conditions of entry.

If you’ve yet to have one dose or two doses of vaccine, you’ll need to check a negative Covid-19 test will grant you entry instead.

But those in England who have received the vaccine will able to use the general NHS app to prove their status soon.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said on May 7: ‘From May 17, English residents will be able to use their existing NHS health app to gain access to their vaccine records.’

It’s hoped Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish residents will also be able to use the same app for this purpose at a later date.

For a paper copy, you’ll need to secure your records yourself, in advance, by calling 119.

PCR Covid tests

Doctor in protective workwear taking nose swab test from young woman

Tests, tests, tests – the key to travel in 2021 (Picture: Getty)

All travellers leaving the UK will need to submit to a number of PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests.

These take place before you travel, and upon return back to the UK. They often come with a cost. It’s wise to budget this into your holiday planning.

Testing rules right now are as follows:

  • Green countries: a test before you travel and one on arrival back in the UK
  • Amber countries: test on departure, and following your arrival home, PCR tests on day two and day eight. You have to pay for these ahead of time – they’re called Travel Test packages
  • Red countries: it’s not legal to travel to red countries for leisure, only if you have a specific, valid reason

Find out more about PCR tests and the various costs here.

DIY trip vs packaged holidays

Woman sat in camper van

What kind of holiday should you book? (Picture: Getty)

Consider carefully the pros and cons of booking independently vs booking a package holiday.

Trips booked through a travel agent or tour operator are usually ATOL protected, meaning you have certain financial protection if the holiday provider goes bust.

It also protects holidaymakers who end up stuck abroad for whatever reason.

Some holiday packages (such as TUI’s) will also factor in the cost of the PCR tests you’ll need to take.

If you decide to plan a DIY adventure and book flights through a budget airline – do the T&Cs say you’ll get your money back if the flight ends up being cancelled due to Covid?

Under what circumstances will your hotel or accommodation give you a refund?

And can you cancel your independently-booked flight or hotel if the FCO advice has changed prior to your departure?

These are all things worth thinking about – and why it’s also wise to have…

Comprehensive travel insurance

Some travel insurance providers have adapted to cover various Covid-related scenarios.

On top of standard loss and theft coverage, medical expenses, and general cancellation policy.

But you can’t get cover if you are travelling against FCO advice, so you’ll need to pick a green or amber destination.

Commercial airplane approaching the runway for landing during sunset

Before you jet off, are you covered with insurance? (Picture: Getty)

Before buying, consider if it:

  • Covers your chosen destination
  • Will cover medical expenses (hospital treatment) related to Covid-19
  • Will cover Covid-19 medical expenses if you have a pre-existing condition
  • Provides cancellation cover if, for example, you get Covid before your trip
  • Will cover costs if, for example, your flight won’t let you on board due to presumed coronavirus symptoms (such as a temperature)
  • Will cover costs if, for example, your flight is cancelled or the flight operator goes bust
  • Will help you cover costs related to your destination’s ‘green, amber or red’ rating changing while you’re abroad
  • Will help you get back to the UK if FCO advice suddenly changes while you’re away
  • Will help you cover costs if the country you’re visiting suddenly goes into lockdown

These are all possible scenarios for anyone going on holiday this summer.

Most insurers won’t be able to cover you for all of the above – from what we have researched.

But Chris King says it’s crucial to check if your policy does have some ‘enhanced’ Covid-19 cover.

He said: ‘The pandemic has changed the types of cover offered by insurers and people should consider the differences between policies when buying travel insurance.

‘Some policies may offer cover for Covid related disruption, for instance if your flight is cancelled or you are denied boarding due to suspected Covid symptoms, but some providers do not currently offer this ‘enhanced’ cover.

‘When buying a travel insurance policy, it is even more crucial to read details carefully to ensure you know what you will be covered for. It is also important to check the FCO guidance on any country you are planning to travel to as different places will have their own rules and restrictions.’

LV, for example, covers Covid-19 related medical expenses – but if FCO advice changes or lockdown strikes, you’re not covered.

Money Supermarket highlights numerous providers who cover coronavirus-related medical and certain cancellation scenarios, but not all.

Every travel insurance provider should have an FAQ on their website, stating what they will and won’t cover.

Here’s a few more:

Whichever you choose, you still need to read the T&Cs and do your research.

Preparing for the unexpected

sad woman at home for the corona virus

Expect the unexpected (Picture: Getty)

If you’re planning to travel in summer 2021 – it’s probably wise to expect the unexpected.

Ensure you’ve thought about all those things insurance can’t really cover, such as those mentioned above.

But also other scenarios: such as if you find yourself stuck at home self-isolating unexpectedly.

As is happening to UK travellers in Portugal – can you arrange to self-isolate for at least five days on your return if the country’s green, amber or red classification changes?

What about if an ‘amber’ trip to Spain suddenly turns red halfway through? Can you afford the money and time it’ll cost to be quarantined in a government-chosen hotel on arrival home?

Similarly, if one of your required Covid-19 tests is positive: are you able to self-isolate, and if you’re symptom-less, work from home?

If you wind up being away longer than anticipated, for any of the above reasons or if you fall ill with Covid-19 – will your pets, empty house etc be safely looked after?

Hopefully these things won’t happen – but all worth being aware of.

Considering the quality of your trip

Portrait of a Man in the City Wearing Protective Face Mask

Some countries require masks to be worn outdoors, as well as indoors (Picture: Getty)

Finally, you need to consider the quality of your trip.

Will you still be able to enjoy your holiday if you have to wear a mask in every hotel, bar or restaurant – and every time you take a stroll outside?

Madeira, which was one of the few initial green list destinations, has required mask use outdoors in public places (except for beaches) since July 2020.

In Spain, a law passed in April 2021 which says locals and tourists alike must wear masks in outdoor public spaces at all times – even when walking along the beach.

The only exception is if you are fully social distanced while sunbathing or swimming at the beach, specifically.

Check your destinations rules before you book – and if you go, be respectful and adhere to them.

After all, if you accidentally forget a coronavirus rule and you’re caught, do you have the extra cash to pay the fine?

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