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If you don’t like an argument based on semantics you should probably stop reading right now because, essentially, that’s what this post is all about.
As we finally get to a point where governments on both sides of the Atlantic start to openly acknowledge that we have to find a way to open up travel across The Pond, I keep seeing media outlets (and a well-known credit card site that poses as a media outlet) making the statement that US travelers visiting the UK currently “have to quarantine for 10 days” upon arrival. As a statement of fact, that’s incorrect and it’s a great example of lazy journalism.
Rules For Entering The UK (General)
You’ll find all the rules for entering England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland on this UK Government webpage, and the rules for each of the countries that make up the United Kingdom can vary, so all travelers should make sure that they check the specific requirements of the country they plan to visit.
All of the nations that make up the United Kingdom have divided the world into green, amber, and red counties based on metrics to do with how the coronavirus is spreading in different parts of the world. What awaits a traveler visiting the UK (i.e if COVID tests are needed and if quarantine/self-isolation is needed) depends on what color country (or countries) that traveler has visited in the 14 days leading up to their trip to the UK.
A traveler’s nationality or the passport they’re carrying has nothing to do with what hoops they have to jump through if they want to visit the UK. It’s all about where they’ve been in the 14 days leading up to their UK visit.
Rules For Entering The UK (From The United States)
The United States is currently considered an “amber list” country by all the nations that make up the United Kingdom and that means that in order to be allowed to travel, anyone wishing to fly from the United States to the UK must supply the following:
- Proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken in the 3 days before departing for the UK. This is required regardless of a traveler’s vaccination status.
- A passenger locator form (this can only be completed in the 48 hours leading up to arrival in the UK)
Now, this is the important bit and where semantics come into play.
Upon arriving into the UK from an amber list country (e.g. the United States), most travelers have to:
- Self-isolate/quarantine for up to 10 days
- Take COVID-19 tests on days 2 and 8 of their visit.
The important bit here is that the requirement to self-isolate for 10 days only applies to people who are not prepared to make the most of the UK’s “test to release” option. This is an option that allows travelers who are arriving from amber list countries to take a COVID-19 test on day 5 of their trip and, assuming the test shows that they’re COVID-free, resume their UK visit without any further need to self-isolate/quarantine.
There is no need for anyone who travels from the US to the UK to self-isolate/quarantine for a full 10 days if they don’t want to (this statement assumes that the traveler in question hasn’t been in a “red list” country in the 14 days leading up to their trip to the UK).
I’ve traveled between the US and the UK three times in the past 8 months and I’ve used the “test to release” option every time with no issues. I have never had to “quarantine for 10 days”.
Why I Think This Is Important
I realize that some people are now going to say that I’m playing with words and that it doesn’t really matter if the self-isolation period is 5 days or 10 days as both are too long and both are going to put people off from traveling…but that may not be true for everyone.
There are almost certainly people out there for whom a 5 day period of self-isolation is acceptable while a 10 day period is not, but with the media fixated on parroting the “must quarantine for 10 days” line, they have no idea that that’s not what they have to endure if they don’t want to.
If we continue to allow the lazy journalism that doesn’t bother to report the fact that there’s a way of avoiding a full 10-day quarantine in the UK, we’re going to have people who miss out on taking trips they would have taken had they been given all the facts.
If I wrote a blog post with a headline that reads “Get 50% Off Hotel Stays” when the content of the post would indicate that the headline should really have read “Get Up To 50% Off Hotel Stays” because a lot of the discounts on offer were noticeably lower, I’d have people coming at me from all angles accusing me of “clickbait”…and they’d be right.
“Get 50% off” and “get up to 50% off” are two very different things in the same way that “must quarantine for 10 days” and “must quarantine for up to 10 days” are very different, and it’s time to stop using the former when discussing the UK’s entry restrictions for travelers arriving from the US.
It’s also worth noting that the nature of UK COVID-19 testing has improved dramatically in the past six months so we’re now seeing a variety of UK COVID-19 test providers who can administer an approved test on day 5 of a traveler’s visit and have the result of the test available by midnight on the same day (I use the Collinson test at Heathrow). These tests are not cheap – usually around $140 – but they get the job done.
This British Airways page has some useful information on the COVID tests available in the UK but it doesn’t mention testingforall.org which I use for my day 2 and day 8 tests as it’s the most economical option that I’ve found (you still have to take a day 8 test even if you successfully “test to release”).
The next time you see a media outlet telling you that if you’re traveling from the US to the UK you have to quarantine for 10 days, please call them out on it because that’s simply not a statement of fact. People traveling from the US to the UK have the right to exit self-isolation after day 5 if they “test to release” and as someone who has used “test to release” three times and who has also done a 10-day period of self-isolation, I can tell you that 5 days indoors is very different from 10. Having to do neither would be preferable, but that’s a debate for another post.