While the possibilities of a summer trip abroad are far wider and less complex than the previous two years, there is still plenty to navigate. Entry requirements and domestic Covid restrictions still vary wildly according to country, while rising prices and staff shortages are adding to the uncertainty.
But for many, the past two years have reinforced the benefits of travelling and the importance of dusting off that passport (on which more, later) and setting foot on a plane, train or ferry once again. Following this step-by-step guide should help get you on your way to an enjoyable and memorable trip overseas.
Passports at the ready
The current Passport Office backlog has been widely reported, but not all applications or renewals are taking the 10 weeks advised. Before booking any trip, check your passport is valid. For trips to the EU and Schengen area, you will need a passport issued less than 10 years before the date of entry and valid for at least three months after the day you intend to leave. Many others require at least six months’ validity, though some – including Australia, Mexico, St Lucia and the US – ask only that your passport is valid until the day you leave.
If your passport is not likely to meet the demand of the country you want to visit, factor in the potential for a 10-week application turnaround and make sure you follow the guidance scrupulously (common mistakes include using correction fluid for mistakes rather than crossing them out, mis-spellings, photos and countersignatories that do not meet the requirements and failing to send original documents back).
Search for application slots at midnight – appointments are released daily but are first come, first served. For urgent applications (if you have urgent family matters you need to attend to, say), you can write to your MP to intervene, which may expedite the application process.
Research your destination
Covid entry rules are not uniform and continue to change at short notice, so make sure you are up to date with the requirements of your chosen destination. Those that mandate vaccination might set an expiry on doses, so check in advance whether you need to have been boosted as well as whether the type of vaccine (for example, Moderna or Pfizer) is recognised.
If you need a Covid test prior to travel, make sure you understand the type required (for example, a rapid antigen or PCR test, which may or may not need to be professionally supervised) and how you need to present the result. Find out whether you need to fill out a passenger locator or health form in advance – these are always free of charge, so beware third-party sites that ask you to pay.
The Foreign Office lists country-specific travel advice (gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice) but this is not always up to date, so use this as a springboard for the relevant government’s requirements – links to ministries of health are usually provided under the Entry Requirements section. If you are unsure, you can also check with the relevant country’s embassy or consulate in the UK.
Covid isn’t the only barrier to travel – check whether you need a visa (or visa waiver, such as an Esta for the US or eTA for Canada) and apply in good time.
Book with a reputable provider
The world might be reopening, but the pandemic has demonstrated that requirements can change with little warning. Bargain prices are tempting, but book with a reputable provider. Holidays that have Abta and/or Atol protection are a good benchmark. Atol protection is a legal requirement for any package holiday that includes flights, while Abta covers packages sold in the UK including rail, cruise and self-drive trips. If your company goes bust while you are away, there is an obligation to get you home again.
The Aito (Association of Independent Tour Operators) kitemark means your holidays is financially protected including accommodation-only tours; if things go wrong, the operator is duty-bound to take care of you. The same applies to peripherals including airport parking – book with an authorised provider to avoid any nasty surprises.
Make sure your NHS Covid Pass is valid – and works
You can prove your Covid status (vaccination, recent recovery or negative test) using the NHS Covid Pass app, or by requesting a letter version by calling 119. Allow at least five working days to receive the paper version. If you previously requested a paper version, check whether it demonstrates all doses (such as a booster) as you may need to apply for a new version.
If you use the app, it is also worth downloading a PDF copy, saving a copy to Google Pay or Apple Wallet, or receiving an offline email copy in case your mobile device doesn’t have signal at the point where you need to demonstrate your Covid status. Once downloaded or emailed, this is valid for six months. If you downloaded versions previously, you should do so again, as older version were valid for only one month.
Recovery certificates are only issued on the NHS Covid Pass if you registered an PCR test, not a lateral flow/rapid antigen. Some countries, such as Spain and the US, will accept a recovery certificate signed by a medical professional – these are available from private practices that you will have to pay for (around £30-£60).
Protect your finances
Take out travel insurance as soon as you have booked. Doing so will protect you from that moment until the end of your trip, for example if circumstances change and your trip is cancelled – though it is always worth scrutinising the coverage and exclusions to understand what you are covered for.
A key consideration should be medical cover and repatriation costs. If you are hiring a car, consider taking out excess insurance in advance, rather than paying for cover through the hire company on arrival, since this tends to be more costly.
For travel to the EU and Switzerland (not Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein), apply for a free Ghic (gov.uk/global-health-insurance-card), which will entitle you to emergency, state-provided healthcare. The Ghic replaces Ehic, which remain valid until the date of expiry.
Don’t forget Brexit
If you haven’t travelled to the EU since Brexit, there are fundamental changes to the way in which we enter the bloc. Factor in more airport time for physical passport checks, and also be aware of the changes to requirements for anything from driving to taking your pet. British passport holders can spend up to 90 days in the EU in one 180-day period.
If driving your own car, you will need to take your licence, the V5C log book and your insurance certificate, as well as a Green Card (including for Ireland) – these can be obtained (in good time) from insurance providers. You should also display a GB sticker, even if your car displays the Euro symbol and Great Britain national identifier on its number plate. Take care when using your mobile abroad – many networks have reintroduced roaming fees in the EU; some offer the option to bolt on a travel plan.
Know your rights
Delays and cancellations are likely to persist on the turbulent ride out of the pandemic. Regulation 261/2004 says that you are entitled to compensation if your flight – which either departed from the UK, arrived in the UK with a UK or EU airline, or arrived in the EU with a UK airline – arrives late. The level of compensation varies according to the flight distance and length of delay, from three to four hours or more and from £220 to £550. For ferries, it is between 25 to 50 per cent of the ticket price depending on the duration of the journey and delay; Eurostar has a similar policy.
Passengers are also eligible for “care and assistance” (food and drink, hotel accommodation if the delay is overnight, transport to the hotel and two phone calls) if a flight is delayed at least two hours (flights under 1,500km) rising to four hours for flights over 3,500km. If your airline does not provide this, organise your own
reasonable care, keep the receipts and file a claim with the airline.
If your flight is cancelled, you should be given the option of re-routing (even on a rival carrier), rebooking on the next available flight, or a full refund within seven days. The same applies with ferry journeys. Package holidays should be refunded within 14 days.
What will you do about money?
Consider how you are going to pay while you’re abroad. It is useful to have some low-denomination currency for things such as transport and groceries (avoid buying at the airport, where rates are poor and charges high), but UK debit and credit cards can incur transaction fees every time you use them. Pre-paid currency cards can be beneficial, as well as challenger-bank travel cards such as Revolut, Monzo and Starling.
Your airline should advise how long you should allow at the airport. Checking in before you leave will help speed up the process, but with staff shortages persisting, it is wise to allow plenty of time for passport control and security. Check the airport’s website and social media accounts for updates.
If bag drop or security queues are holding you up and your gate is about to close, seek a member of staff and ask if they can move you to the front of the queue – they usually will. And if you think you are going to miss your flight, speak to an airline representative and ask if they can put you on the next available flight.