What the new travel rules mean for under-18s

Sisters relaxing on inflatables – AzmanL/E+

The traffic light system has been scrapped. Starting October 4, the green and amber lists will merge and the pre-departure test for return to the UK will be dropped.

British holidaymakers travelling with children will have welcomed the news that foreign travel rules are to become simpler and cheaper next month. Families have faced hundreds of pounds in testing costs for trips abroad since the ban on non-essential overseas trips was lifted on May 17.

Eight nations – including Turkey, Pakistan, Maldives, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Oman, Bangladesh and Kenya – are moving off the red list, effective September 22. They join the newly categorised “rest of the world” grouping, which includes all but the 54 remaining red list countries. For countries on the rest of the world list, the rules on return to England now depend on the vaccination status of the traveller.

Crucially, the costs of overseas breaks for families with children will be much reduced when both the pre-departure tests have been scrapped and day two PCR tests replaced with lateral flow tests come the end of October.

That said, unvaccinated over-18s returning from any destination not on the red list will face up to 10 days of quarantine at home and will be required to take PCR test on or before day two and day eight. This is a tightening of restrictions for this group – they could, up until the latest announcement, return from green list countries and territories without facing self-isolation or extra testing requirements.

The rule change led to a degree of confusion over the rules for children, specifically about whether those aged 12 and over would have to self-isolate for 10 days and take the tests that an unvaccinated traveller would be required to.

Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, tweeted on September 19: “Some incorrect commentary in some Sunday papers which I'm glad to quash. Under-18s resident in the UK are actually already exempt from self-isolation on arrival – there isn’t anything new here.”

Here’s what you need to know if travelling with children.

What are the rules for unvaccinated under-18s returning to England?

Travellers aged under 18 who are returning to England from countries not on the red list will not face self-isolation on return (this was already the case for under-18s returning from green or amber destinations). On or after October 4, they will not need to take a pre-departure test before coming back to England. Until then, this test is only required for children aged 11 and over.

The day two PCR test is to be replaced by a cheaper lateral flow test later in October. Children aged five and over must take this day two test.

Every adult returning to the UK must complete a passenger locator form in the 48 hours before arrival. They can include under-18s who are travelling with them on the same form, if they are staying at the same address. They must be under 16 if you are travelling into Scotland.

What about the red list?

Some 54 countries will remain on the red list after September 22. Hotel quarantine will remain for Britons returning from destinations on this list. Under-18s are included in this rule.

The cost for an adult staying in one of these government-approved hotels for 10 days (11 nights) is £2,285. It is £1,430 for each additional adult staying in the same room – or each child over 11.

The rate for children aged five to 11 is £325. There is no charge for children aged under five.

The price includes the cost of transport to and from the hotel, accommodation and any Covid-19 tests taken during quarantine.

Do any countries not permit entry to unvaccinated under-18s?

Malta requires 12-18 year olds to be fully vaccinated before arrival. Children aged five to 11 can enter Malta if accompanied by vaccinated parents or legal guardians, provided they show a negative PCR test carried out within 72 hours of travel.

Coronavirus vaccines are being rolled out to children aged 12-15 across parts of the UK from Monday September 20. In Northern Ireland, jabs are expected to be offered to children aged 12–15 from October.

What about rules on the ground when you’re on holiday?

Health passes or vaccine passes are in use in many countries across Europe. France, for example, currently requires people over the age of 12 to have proof of full vaccination, a negative test taken within the previous 72 hours or proof of recent recovery from Covid for entry to most venues, such as restaurants and tourist attractions.

Ensuring that children have an up-to-date result could be costly. Unvaccinated UK travellers aged between 12 and 18 (France has been vaccinating children aged 12-17 since June) are currently required to present a negative test – antigen or PCR – taken within 24 hours of departure) for entry to France. The country no longer offers free tests for tourists, so there will be a charge of €29 (£24.73) for an antigen test and €49 (£41.78) for each PCR test every 72 hours. The test must be taken in France, so you cannot use the pre-travel test for entry to venues.

In terms of showing proof, there is not a separate document or app for the pass sanitaire (health passport). You will require one of the following to enter a health passport venues:

  • Proof of full vaccination

  • A negative Covid test taken within the previous 72 hours

  • Proof of having recovered from Covid in the previous six months

Other countries where such passes are a factor include: Switzerland, Greece, Germany, Austria, Cyprus, among others. Always check the entry rules of the country you are travelling to before committing to booking.

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