UK Summer Travel Restrictions

If you are traveling from the UK, make sure you have a valid reason.

New regulations for overseas travel came into effect in the UK on March 29th. Anyone traveling overseas from the UK without a valid work or personal reason faces a fine of up to £5000. This applies to all travel – commercial airlines, private aviation, and sea/rail. 

While this is undoubtedly a tightening up of UK travel law, it’s important to realize it is not a complete travel ban. Holiday and leisure travel is out, but there are plenty of valid reasons to leave the country. You will just need to plan travel appropriately and be prepared to declare your reasons.

Changing The Law

The change to the law became necessary as England dropped its stay at home order. Under this previous legislation, international travel was illegal due to the requirement to stay at home, except under certain circumstances. With this being removed in late March and further domestic travel allowed from April 12th, specific overseas travel rules were needed.

Legislation has been introduced under the following law – Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Steps) (England) Regulations 2021. You can access the full legislation on the UK Government website.

This law imposes a maximum fine of £5,000 for leaving the UK without a reasonable excuse. It also includes a £200 fixed penalty notice for failing to complete a travel declaration form (containing personal details and your reason to travel). 

Such fines and changes to the law are, of course, going to make some travel very difficult. But there is still plenty of travel permitted. The following are the main areas to be aware of.

The Law Only Applies To UK Residents

Restrictions apply to all UK residents, but they do not apply to anyone who has been in the UK temporarily and is not a resident. They also do not apply to any passenger transiting the UK to another destination.

In addition, there are several categories of exempt workers. You can find the complete list of these in the legislation (Schedule 6). They include pilots and aircrew, those on certain government business, diplomats, and certain key professions.

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Travel Permitted Within The Common Travel Area

The law does not apply to the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, and the Republic of Ireland (the so-called UK Common Travel Area). Travel within these areas is permitted for any reason (but possibly subject to local access restrictions).

The law applies to travel to all other countries outside the common travel area. Further restrictions are also in place for the defined ‘red list’ countries, where compulsory quarantine on return to the UK is in place. 

Travel For Work Is Permitted

Travel for tourism and leisure is not permitted, but travel for work is. This is a broad definition that includes any business-related travel. The guiding principle is that it is not possible to complete the work within the UK. 

This could include attending meetings, visiting clients, or moving between company locations. But it also applies to business development, negotiations, investment, or business research. After all, keeping businesses and the economy going is a big focus as restrictions are removed. As long as the purpose of travel is to manage or generate business, rather than personal enjoyment, it should be permitted.

Plenty Of Other Reasons Are Permitted As Well

It’s not just business travel that is allowed. There are many personal, family, and exceptional reasons that are acceptable. This includes travel for the following reasons:

  • Providing voluntary or charitable services. As with work, the guidance here is that such services cannot be provided within the UK.
  • Study or education.
  • Training or competition for elite sportspersons.
  • Medical reasons, or attending appointments.
  • Childcare purposes, including shared contact and care of children where parents live in different countries.
  • Moving house, viewing property to rent or buy, or dealing with rental properties.
  • Travel for legal obligations or to vote.
  • To attend a wedding (of a close relative).
  • To attend a funeral.
  • To attend childbirth (at the request of the mother).
  • To visit a dying relative or close friend.
  • To escape risk of harm.

Reporting Your Reason

So, if you have a valid reason to travel, how do you declare this? You are unlikely to find police questioning travellers at every airport (although they are entitled to!) Instead, it is a legal requirement to complete a travel declaration form before you travel. This includes personal information, your reason to travel, and a declaration. It can be completed online.

Note that this form is for outbound travel – and is in addition to the passenger locator form that must be competed for all arriving passengers, regardless of nationality.

You should also have other documentation available to support this – such as a letter from an employer for business travel or proof of other circumstances. But it is not necessary to submit such evidence, only to provide it if requested.

Changes In The Future?

The current legislation is set to be in place until June 30th, however there could be changes in either direction. A UK task force is due to report on re-opening travel in mid-April, with the government currently saying May 17th is the earliest possible date to allow more open travel. 

But with the situation changing quickly in many countries, it is too soon to say how long the rules will be in place. One thing that is sure to change is the ‘red list’ of countries and rules for testing or quarantining on return to the UK. If you are traveling, make sure you stay up to date with this and have a plan to deal with sudden changes.


If you have any questions about flight planning and its complexities, feel free to contact our team today for more information.

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