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UK introduces tighter travel restrictions to combat new Covid-19 variants

UPDATE: From 15 February 2021, new guidance is in effect - please see our updated note here: Covid-19 UK travel restrictions and considerations for employers - Macfarlanes

From Monday 18 January 2021, all travellers to the UK will face much tighter travel restrictions as the UK seeks to reduce the spread of new Covid-19 variants from high risk areas.

The previous travel corridor system, where inbound travellers were not required to self-isolate on arrival from certain low risk countries, has been suspended.

These rules bring the UK into line with much of the rest of the world which has had travel restrictions in place since March 2020. The UK was an outlier in keeping borders open until now.

Many employers have had requests from their employees to work from other countries during the pandemic. Employers should be aware of the risk that employees could inadvertently trigger tax or employment liabilities. These risks are now compounded with immigration risk if an employees visa expires while they are outside of the UK, meaning that they may not be able to return without a new application.

We have experienced a noticeable increase in concerns from employers over the travel restrictions and the difficulty in finding the right information. To help, we have gathered the main rules into one place below.

The UK Government has already indicated that it plans to tighten restrictions further with possible moves to enforce quarantine in specific hotels.

Rules for inbound travellers to the UK 

As of Monday 18 January 2021:

  • all arrivals must have a proof of a negative Covid-19 test before they are able to travel to the UK – the test must have been taken within 72 hours of the travel date;
  • all arrivals must complete the passenger locator form up to 48 hours before arrival;
  • all arrivals to the UK (and Republic of Ireland, Channel Islands and Isle of Man), will need to self-isolate for 10 days upon arrival;
  • those self-isolating can take a test after five days and, if negative, they can end their self-isolation (“Test to Release” scheme);
  • South America/Portugal - entry to the UK is banned for passengers arriving from South America, Portugal, Panama and Cape Verde:
    • UK and Irish nationals plus third country nationals with residence rights (for example ILR, Skilled Worker visa or a status from the EU Settlement Scheme) are exempt from the ban;
    • exempt travellers must self-isolate for 10 days and cannot use the Test to Release scheme; and
  • South Africa - entry to the UK is banned for passengers arriving who have been in South Africa in the previous 10 days before travel:
    • UK and Irish nationals plus third country nationals with residence rights (for example ILR, Skilled Worker visa or a status from the EU Settlement Scheme) are exempt from the ban but there are no direct flights.

Certain specialist jobs are exempt from the quarratine rules and an up to date list can be found here: Coronavirus (COVID-19): jobs that qualify for travel exemptions - GOV.UK (

NB the government has now removed "business directors" from this list which is a major change for business executive travellers.

Rules for outbound travellers from the UK 

As of Monday 18 January 2021:

  • under the nationwide lockdown, UK nationals and UK residents are not permitted to travel internationally unless a legal exemption applies;
  • travel is therefore permitted for:
    • work, where it is not reasonable to work from home;
    • educational, childcare and caring responsibilities;
    • medical reasons;
    • veterinary services;
  • outbound travellers should check the restrictions in their destination countries; and
  • many airlines also have their own policies around testing before they will allow a person to board, so always check with the airline.

Since the rules regarding international travel to and from the UK are changing so frequently, if you are planning to travel overseas, it is important that you constantly monitor the guidance and be aware that you may have to make last minute changes to your travel plans.

UK to close all travel corridors from Monday to halt virus variants


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