UK Travel Restrictions For Arriving Passengers

uk travel restrictions

There are a number of UK travel restrictions that passengers should be aware of before visiting the country. This is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic where arriving travellers could face additional measures.

Britain welcomes thousands of people through its borders every year. It is one of the most important travel hubs in Western Europe and the world. In most cases, entering the country either with a visa, visa waivers such as the UK eTA or just a passport is a simple and secure process.

To help visitors prepare properly for arrival in the United Kingdom, this article explains what restrictions passengers may come across on their journey into the country. It details what rules must be followed by arriving travellers and the current COVID-19 restrictions that are in place.

COVID-19 restrictions on entering the UK

Like most countries around the world, the UK has introduced restrictions in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. These are to ensure that public health in Britain is properly protected and so that local outbreaks can be prevented.

At present, arrivals to the UK from most countries around the world must self-isolate for 14 days from entry when visiting Britain. All arriving visitors in the country must also complete a passenger locator form no less than 48 hours prior to departure to the UK.

The rules on self-isolation do not apply to all passengers arriving in the UK however. Visitors from select countries are exempted from the 14 days of quarantine.

Which passengers are exempt from the UK’s COVID self-isolation restrictions?

The United Kingdom has arranged travel corridors with numerous countries across Europe and the world to allow travel to continue to and from the country during the pandemic.

This allows visitors from countries designated as “reduced-risk”, due to low numbers of COVID cases, to enter the country without undergoing 14 days of self-isolation. The complete list of reduced risk countries includes:

  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Barbados
  • BES Islands
  • Brunei
  • Croatia
  • Curaçao
  • Cyprus
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Dominica
  • Estonia
  • Faroe Islands
  • Fiji
  • Finland
  • French Polynesia
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Greenland
  • Grenada
  • Guadeloupe
  • Hong Kong
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Jamaica
  • Japan
  • Latvia
  • Liechtenstein
  • Lithuania
  • Macau
  • Malaysia
  • Mauritius
  • New Caledonia
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Réunion
  • San Marino
  • Seychelles
  • South Korea
  • St Barthélemy, St Kitts and Nevis
  • St Lucia
  • St Pierre and Miquelon
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • St Vincent
  • Grenadine
  • Switzerland
  • Taiwan
  • The Channel Islands
  • The Isle of Man
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • Turkey
  • Vatican City
  • Vietnam

Travellers, however, are reminded that they may also be subject to any quarantine restrictions imposed by their home country when they return from the UK. This could include presenting a negative PCR test for COVID-19 or undergoing 14 days of self-isolation.

For this reason, passengers are advised to check the local COVID-19 measures that may be imposed on them when they arrive back from the United Kingdom before they travel.

Countries removed and added from the UK travel corridor list

The above list is subject to change depending on the coronavirus information for each country. The pandemic is an ongoing situation, this means that the travel corridor list will be updated depending on the number of cases and other data reported from foreign nations.

Holidaymakers and travellers are advised to check the list often and especially before departure to avoid disruptions to their plans.

Regarding the imposition of quarantine measures for new countries, MP Borish Johnson commented:

“Everybody understands that in a pandemic you don’t allow our population to be reinfected or the disease to come back in. That is why the quarantine measures are very important and we have to apply them in a very strict way.”

So far, these are the changes made to the original list:

  • Countries and territories removed from the corridor at 4am, Saturday 15 August 2020: Aruba, France, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, Turks and Caicos Islands
  • Countries and territories added to the list at 4am on Tuesday 11 August 2020: Brunei, Malaysia
  • Countries and territories removed from the corridor at 4am, Saturday 8 August 2020: Andorra, The Bahamas, Belgium
  • Countries removed from the corridor on July 31st: Luxembourg

Who can and can’t travel to the UK?

UK border security is a highly important matter for the national authorities. The country has strict measures in place to prevent illegal immigration and ensure the security of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

Foreign nationals from most countries around the world require a valid UK visa or visa waiver before they may enter Britain or transit through one of its airports. However, there are some exceptions to these rules.

Which nationalities can visit Britain visa-free?

At present, the UK has visa-free arrangements with several countries. Passengers classified as non-visa nationals may enter the country with only a valid passport with over 6 months of validity remaining.

Citizens from the following countries are considered to be non-visa nationals:

  • Andorra
  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Australia
  • Bahamas
  • Barbados
  • Belize
  • Botswana
  • Brazil
  • Brunei
  • Canada
  • Chile
  • Costa Rica
  • Dominica
  • East Timor
  • El Salvador
  • Grenada
  • Guatemala
  • Honduras
  • Hong Kong
  • Israel
  • Japan
  • Kiribati
  • Macau
  • Malaysia
  • Maldives
  • Marshall Islands
  • Mauritius
  • Mexico
  • Micronesia
  • Monaco
  • Namibia
  • Nauru
  • New Zealand
  • Nicaragua
  • Palau
  • Panama
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Paraguay
  • Saint Kitts and Nevis
  • Saint Lucia
  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Samoa
  • San Marino
  • Seychelles
  • Singapore
  • Solomon Islands
  • South Korea
  • Taiwan
  • Tonga
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • Tuvalu
  • United States of America
  • Uruguay
  • Vanuatu
  • Vatican City

On arrival, non-visa nationals are permitted to stay in the UK for up to 6 months with just a passport. However, to stay longer or to take up employment, travellers will require an appropriate type of UK visa.

Additionally, European Union (EU) citizens and nations from countries participating in the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) may enter and stay in Britain without a visa. However, this is set to change as of 31st December 2020.

Britain left the EU on March 1st 2020 and is currently in the process of organising its transition out of the multi-national body. This transition period ends in 2020 and from 2021 onwards how EU citizens travel to the UK could be subject to change.

It is expected that visitors from the EU and EFTA will be required to apply online for a UK eTA before travelling to Great Britain and Northern Ireland for short trips of up to 6 months. The application process is expected to be short, only taking around 15 minutes to complete, and valid eTAs will last for a number of years before expiring.

Arrivals from the common travel area

The Common Travel Area (CTA) is a free movement zone in the North Atlantic. Its participating members are as follows:

  • The United Kingdom
  • The Republic of Ireland
  • The Channel Islands
  • The Isle of Man

Citizens of the Common Travel Area may visit each other’s territory with a minimal amount of document checks. They also receive the reciprocal right to study, work, vote in elections and receive access to government welfare.

In some cases, participating countries in the CTA also recognise the validity of visas issued by fellow members permitting travellers onward journeys to other Common Travel Area nations. This has been trialled with Chinese and Indian visitors since 2016.

Visa exemption for direct airside transit passengers

Many foreign nationals from around the world transit through one of the UK’s major international airports to another destination. A large number of these passengers may fly to Britain without needing a visa.

Visa exemptions are usually made for direct airside transit passengers. This means that they are landing in the UK to transfer to an onward flight (to a destination other than Ireland) that departs on the same day from the same airport.

In this case only, the following nationals are exempt from holding a visa for direct airside transit:

  • Armenia
  • Azerbaijan
  • Bahrain
  • Benin
  • Bhutan
  • Bolivia
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Burkina Faso
  • Cambodia
  • Cape Verde
  • Central African Republic
  • Chad
  • Colombia
  • Comoros
  • Cuba
  • Djibouti
  • Dominican Republic
  • Ecuador
  • Equatorial Guinea
  • Fiji
  • Gabon
  • Georgia
  • Guyana
  • Haiti
  • Indonesia
  • Jordan
  • Kazakhstan
  • North Korea
  • Kuwait
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Laos
  • Madagascar
  • Mauritania
  • Montenegro
  • Morocco
  • Mozambique
  • Oman
  • Peru
  • Philippines
  • Qatar
  • Russia
  • Sao Tome and Principe
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Suriname
  • Tajikistan
  • Thailand
  • Togo
  • Tunisia
  • Turkmenistan
  • Ukraine
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Uzbekistan
  • Zambia
  • Venezuela

The majority of people arriving in Britain enjoy a safe and pleasant experience throughout their stay. However, as always, it’s important that passengers arriving in the country ensure that they meet all the requirements that are necessary for foreign visitors.