Update: COVID-19 Testing for Travelers to England

January 15, 2021

In response to the changes in the transmission of COVID-19, both domestically and across the globe, the UK government has announced that passengers from all international destinations will now be required to present a negative COVID-19 test result before departing for England.

How It works

Effective 4:00 am on Monday, 18 January 2021, all travelers must present a negative COVID-19 test before boarding a plane, train, or boat bound for England. The test must be taken no more than 72 hours prior to departure. Travelers are required to take a test even if they are UK citizens. Travelers do not currently need to take a test if they began their journey to England from:

  • Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man, Jersey, or Guernsey;
  • Ascension, Falkland Islands, St Helena; and
  • (Until 4:00 am on Thursday, 21 January 2021) Antigua and Barbuda, St Lucia, or Barbados.

Travelers also do not need to take a test if one of the following exemptions apply:

  • A child under age 11
  • Traveling for urgent medical care or accompanying someone who is, and it is not reasonably practical to get a COVID-19 test prior to departure
  • If a medical condition means a traveler cannot take a test, a note from a medical practitioner must be presented on arrival in England
  • People who have an exempt job:
    • border and customs officials;
    • channel tunnel system workers;
    • hauliers;
    • air, maritime, and rail crew;
    • civil aviation inspectors;
    • people transporting human cells and blood products;
    • seamen and masters and inspectors and surveyors of ships;
    • specialist technical workers doing emergency works; and
    • in limited circumstances:
      • defence personnel, visiting forces, and government contractors;
      • foreign government officials; and
      • UK government officials conducting essential state business, essential government work, or essential policing.

Test Specifications

The UK government has outlined standards for predeparture testing, and the test must:

  • Meet performance standards of ≥97% specificity, ≥80% sensitivity at viral loads above 100,000 copies/ml;
  • This could include tests such as:
    • a nucleic acid test, including a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test or derivative technologies, including loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) tests
    • an antigen test, such as a test from a lateral flow device

It is the traveler’s responsibility to ensure that the test meets the minimum standards.

The test result must be in either English, French, or Spanish, and translations will not be accepted. The original test result certificate must be provided, either as a physical printed document, or via email/text message which can be presented on a mobile phone, and include:

  • the traveler’s name, which should match the name on their travel documents;
  • the traveler’s date of birth or age;
  • the result of the test;
  • the date the test sample was collected or received by the test provider;
  • the name of the test provider and their contact details; and
  • the name of the test device.

If the result is positive the traveler must not travel, and if the result is inconclusive another test must be taken.

Provision of a Negative Test and Other Entry Requirements

Effective 4:00 am on Monday, 18 January 2021, all travel corridors to England are suspended. All arrivals in England are required to follow the self-isolation rules regardless of their predeparture test result. Travelers may still opt into the test to release for international travel scheme to shorten the self-isolation period, with some exceptions.

Travelers are also still required to complete a passenger locator form before traveling to England.


From 4:00 am on Monday, 18 January 2021, failure to present proof of a negative test result certificate that meets the aforementioned requirements may stop a traveler from boarding any form of transport bound for England.

If a traveler arrives in England without proof of a negative test result that meets requirements, they could receive a fine of £500 for noncompliance.

Return to Work Resources

We have developed many customizable resources to support employers’ efforts in safely returning to work. These include tracking of state and local orders on return to work requirements and essential/nonessential work; policy templates and guidelines for key topics such as social distancing procedures, temperature testing, and workplace arrangements for high-risk employees; and webinar training on safety measures for return to work. View the full list of return to work resources and consult our workplace reopening checklist.


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If you have any questions or would like more information on the issues discussed in this alert, please contact any of the following Morgan Lewis lawyers:

Yvette Allen

Washington, DC
Shannon A. Donnelly