The UK has been more conservative in terms of reopening to foreign travellers during the pandemic, at least compared to its European neighbours.
Canadians were first permitted entry to the United Kingdom without quarantine on August 30, 2021; rules have been changed multiple times since then, so keep an eye on this page for any updates.
United Kingdom Travel Restrictions
Throughout the pandemic, the UK has been well-known for implementing a “traffic light” system, in which all countries are placed on “green”, “amber”, or “red” lists based on their COVID-19 data.
As for the previous amber and green lists, they are being effectively merged into one group, which is now subdivided into “vaccinated” and “not vaccinated”. Effectively, all residents who have not visited or transited any “not allowed entry” countries in the the past 10 days will be allowed entry, sans quarantine, by their vaccination status.
The UK has officially re-introduced the “red” list for a countries in African where omicron is considered rampant: Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. Those who have transited any of these countries enroute to the UK must quarantine in a managed hotel, and take two COVID-19 tests.
How Can Canadians Enter the United Kingdom?
Travellers are allowed to enter the UK through all international airports, by train, and by sea, in the way of a cruise. As of October 2021, when departing Canada by air, travellers are required to present proof of vaccination.
Travellers coming directly from Canada or via other non-banned countries must fulfill the following conditions before entering the UK quarantine-free:
- Present evidence of a full course of COVID-19 vaccines 14 days prior to arrival.
- Mixed vaccines are permitted.
- Evidence must include full name, date of birth, vaccine brand and manufacturer, date of vaccination for each dose, and country or territory of vaccination and/or certificate issuer.
- Present a negative PCR or lateral flow COVID-19 test taken no less than 48 hours before departure.
- Children under 12 are exempt.
- Book and pay for an on-arrival (between Day 0 and Day 2) COVID-19 PCR test.
- This test must be from a private test provider.
- The UK government has introduced a webpage to find a test provider.
- Complete a passenger locator form in the 48 hours prior to arrival.
- This requires entering the COVID-19 test booking reference you received after you paid for your arrival test.
Unlike before, Canadians no longer have to avoid transiting certain countries on their way across the Atlantic, apart from the select few on the banned list. This greatly widens our travel options, specifically allowing for transit in the US en route to the UK.
Any upcoming changes are also announced on the UK Government website, where you can filter between England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.
Testing & Quarantine Upon Arrival
All passengers arriving from permitted countries must pay and take a COVID-19 test within two days of arrival. It is mandatory to book and pay for this test even if your stay will be less than two days. Furthermore, you must quarantine until you receive a negative result.
Should it return a positive result, you must quarantine for 10 days, as well pay and take another test on Day 8. Should the result be unclear, you can choose to either quarantine for 10 days or take another test and quarantine until you receive a negative result. If your test is delayed, you must quarantine until you receive either a negative result or you reach Day 14 of your quarantine.
Testing requirements are fulfilled differently between between England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales. (For the below, remember that you must book and pay for one prior to departure.)
In England, you can choose to take a test in London Heathrow for £77, a mailed test for £20, or anything in between. The full list of available providers is available on the UK Government website.
On the other end of the spectrum, Scotland and Wales have only one approved provider (CTM North) from whom you can book tests for £68 via the centralized Quarantine Management system. Be sure to scroll down to the “arriving from green list country” section.
Northern Ireland also recommends the £68 test, while also providing the same list as England, stating to check which ones are eligible for Northern Ireland.
From a quick scan of a couple of the websites, it is not always clear if a given testing provider is eligible for Northern Ireland or not, so I’d recommend reaching out to the labs directly or going with the £68 CTM North test for convenience.
Testing & Quarantine Upon Return
Travellers must complete a negative PCR test within 72 hours of boarding their flight back to Canada.
The UK makes this fairly easy, with tests available at all airports from £59 at London Heathrow and £80 at Glasgow Airport, to name a few examples. There are likely cheaper options in the city, and British Airways also offers discounted tests from £43.
The UK does provide free PCR tests for those who are suffering from symptoms or those who have been in contact with someone who tested positive, but it is specifically stated that these are not to be used for travel.
As of October 2021, Switch Health’s RT-LAMP Test Kit can also be ordered prior to your trip and self-administered within 72 hours of your return flight to Canada. We’d recommend purchasing a Switch Health RT-LAMP Test Kit for the smoothest travel experience on your return journey.
Fully vaccinated Canadians can return to Canada by air without undergoing quarantine, upon completing a negative test at the airport on arrival into Canada. Canadians are considered fully vaccinated if they’ve received a full series of one of (or a mix of) Health Canada’s approved vaccines – Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, or Johnson & Johnson – at least 14 days before entering Canada.
Current Health Requirements in the United Kingdom
Across England, Scotland, and Wales, the majority of restrictions have dropped and life is more or less back to normal.
In Northern Ireland, a maximum of 15 people can gather indoors at restaurants and nightclubs. A one-metre distance must be maintained between groups inside all indoor premises, and masks are required on all public transport, in shops, and inside other indoor settings. Exceptions are made at weddings and civil partnerships, where dancing is allowed. There are no longer any indoors in private dwellings as well
In Scotland, proof of vaccination is mandatory beginning October 1, 2021 (via either the NHS Scotland app or a paper copy of your vaccination record) in order to enter late night venues and large events.
Wales will have the same vaccination rules beginning October 11, 2021. Proof will be required via the NHS Covid Pass and will otherwise require a negative lateral flow COVID-19 test taken within the past 48 hours.
Otherwise, Scotland and Wales have largely done away with social distancing outside of healthcare settings; however, masks remain compulsory on public transportation and in indoor spaces such as shops.
England has re-introduced masking requirements inside shops on all forms of transportation, as a way to combat the omicron variant.
How to Get to the United Kingdom
Pre-pandemic, airfare between Canada and the UK was fairly affordable at around the $700–800 range for a round-trip flight in economy class.
Those fares have largely returned on both Air Canada and British Airways for the fall of 2021 and spring of 2022, so a simple round-trip booking may be your best bet if you’re happy to fly in economy class.
If you want to travel in greater luxury, then the first loyalty program that comes to mind for most Canadians is Air Canada’s Aeroplan program, given the ease of earning and its favourable rates for long-haul travel.
Direct flights to London will cost 60,000 Aeroplan points from the East Coast and 70,000 Aeroplan points from the West Coast per person one-way in business class. Of course, the price can fluctuate due to the dynamic nature of Air Canada flights.
Alternatively, you can use British Airways Avios to fly Aer Lingus from either Toronto, Chicago, Boston, New York, Washington Dulles, or Seattle to Dublin. Flights from the former start from 50,000 Avios one-way in business class, while flights from Seattle will start from 62,500 Avios one-way in business class.
From Dublin, you can use more Avios to book a connecting flight into London or take a cheap Ryanair flight.
The reason to fly into Dublin instead of London is because direct flights on British Airways attract atrocious fuel surcharges. Furthermore, while this does incur a connection, it is not any more inconvenient from a COVID-19 perspective, as transit passengers from Dublin are not subject to additional testing requirements.
If you’re an aspirational traveller looking to celebrate your first post-pandemic trip with some luxury flying, you could consider aiming for Lufthansa First Class from a US gateway airport via Frankfurt or Munich for 100,000 Aeroplan points.
The United Kingdom has greatly revamped their entry requirements due to the evolving omicron variant..
There will now be a pre-departure test that must be taken within 48 hours of departure as well as an on-arrival test-and-quarantine release scheme.
At least the negative PCR test requirement for re-entering Canada is easily attainable in the UK, with plenty of labs to choose from and prices under $100.
In terms of countries reopening to Canadian travellers, I myself have been particularly looking forward to this one. I’ve been on many a return trip since my study abroad in London, and I’m always looking forward to revisiting my favourite old haunts.
As always, you can refer to our Travel During COVID-19 Resource for Canadians for the most up-to-date information on travelling in the pandemic era.