Travel expert Simon Calder answers questions about your next trip abroad
In late September the travel correspondent of The Independent can usually be found attending to his distillery interests in western Scotland. However, supply chain difficulties have left his plans to assess a series of single malts in some disarray.
So instead he has focused on the many questions arising from another exciting week in travel.
Q: I live in England, but one of my nearest airports is Cardiff in Wales.
If I flew to Cardiff from overseas, whose travel rules do I follow. How good are airline staff at understanding that there are four sets of rules in the UK and what will they expect before I board?
On the same subject – my mum lives in Wales. If we fly into an English airport what will be expected from my mum: Welsh rules or English rules?
A: The general rule: you follow the rules of the UK nation where you will finish your journey – usually your home. So if, as seems entirely possible, the government in Wales keeps its testing rules the same as they are now, from 4 October you will be in an odd position when travelling to/from England.
Unlike most other people on the flight from Spain, Greece, etc, you will need therefore to test to fly before departure. I don’t imagine anyone at the airport will be interested in your certificate, but Welsh law (currently) requires it.
At present “day two” PCR tests are mandatory for arrivals to Wales and England, so that part is easy – for now.
For your mother, the reverse situation applies. She should follow English rules – and doing that could well be trickier. If Wales maintains a “test to fly” requirement, she may well be exempt if her final destination is England. But trying to explain that to an official at Alicante airport who has been ordered to check all the tests-to-fly could be a problem.
In terms of post-arrival tests: if Wales keeps its PCR requirement but England downgrades to lateral flow, which are cheaper, then your mother should just book the lateral flow test and finalise the passenger locator form accordingly. The completed form is all she needs to board a flight to the UK.
Q: We will be driving home to Scotland from Spain, under the new rules, via France and England. I can’t work out what testing we need. We are double vaccinated. As we will arrive in England first, I assume we don’t need a pre-departure test. But do I book & pay for a “2 day test” in England and then another when back in Scotland?
A: As with Wales, we certainly don’t know what rules will be in place from 4 October – when England eases its demands for travellers coming in.
But if, as ministers suggest, Scotland insists on a test before travel back to the UK, then you will be required to take it. You will only need one so-called day two test, and you should take this in Scotland.
Q: My wife and I were delighted when the Maldives were taken off the red list as we are due to fly there on 27 October. Our delight was short-lived when we heard the Foreign Office advises against all but essential travel to the Maldives. Our insurer has confirmed we would not be covered.
Are you picking up any vibes as to whether the Maldives might come off the FCDO’s own label red list? This inconsistency and lack of clarity as to the path ahead is even more frustrating than it has been waiting for the Department for Transport’s red list decision.
A: I love your term “FCDO’s own label red list”. This week the Maldives was one of eight countries removed from the red list operated by the Department for Transport (DfT); until Wednesday anyone arriving in the UK from the Indian Ocean archipelago was required to go into hotel quarantine for 11 nights.
Yet a different government department, the Foreign Office still insists: “[We] advise against all but essential travel to the whole of the Maldives based on the current assessment of Covid-19 risks”. Which is surprising as the DfT has just taken the archipelago off the list due, presumably, to a reduction of Covid-19 risks.
The Foreign Office stresses that it measures different parameters to the DfT. The FCDO is concerned with the risk to the individual traveller to the Maldives, and judges “there is an unacceptably high risk to an individual”.
The traffic light system aims to mitigate the overall risk to UK public health of inbound travel to the UK.
“We are monitoring the international situation closely and keeping our advice under constant review, so that it reflects our latest assessment of risks to British people,” the Foreign Office says.
It is entirely reasonable that the two would diverge in their perception of risk: the danger of terrorism is irrelevant to Covid measures. But it is frustrating and confusion that the two do not align on the key issue of coronavirus risk.
Anyway, given the eccentric previous performance of the Foreign Office (which warned for months against travel to Canada even though its Covid rates were way below our own), it is difficult to know when the travel warning may be retracted.
Q: We are due to fly to Jamaica with Tui on 21 October for my partner’s 30th birthday. Do you think the Foreign Office will change its warning against non-essential travel by then?
We want to do a long haul holiday as it’s a special occasion. Where else could be an option?
A: Tui will be making a decision in the next couple of weeks about cancelling the trip, if it looks as though the Foreign Office advice against non-essential travel will continue. Plenty of other Caribbean islands are available though, but personally I would aim for somewhere nearer. The Canaries will be mainly full (and extremely expensive) over half-term, but Cyprus, Crete or southern Turkey should be a little less in demand.
Q: Booked for Egypt in November. Is Sharm el Sheikh considered safe?
A: Although Egypt was taken off the red list on Wednesday, the Foreign Office still warns against travel there “based on the current assessment of Covid-19 risks”. I expect that will change by the time you go.
When that happens, Sharm will certainly open up.
Red list manoeuvres
Q: I am due to travel to Jamaica on 8 November 2021 for my honeymoon. Jamaica is not on the red list. But it is on the Foreign Office no-go list. Is the only impact for me (apart from the entry PCR and UK re-entry lateral flow) ensuring I have appropriate insurance? Also, is there another adjustment to the red list expected that could mean Jamaica is added?
A: The main practical effect of Foreign Office advice is to render normal travel insurances invalid. The department points out: “The FCDO does not enforce its travel advice. No foreign travel can be guaranteed as safe, and you take personal responsibility for your own travel.”
In terms of red listing: such a move cannot be ruled out, but looks very unlikely to me. If it were going to happen, it would have done so by now.
Q: I am booked to go to the Dominican Republic at the end of November. I have seen today that holidays there are cancelled now up to 21 October. In a previous Q&A, you told someone to hold their nerve as you were confident the DR should be put on the “safe to go to” list. Do you still stand by this as it is getting to the point where it’s cutting it fine and I’m looking at Dubai as an alternative.
A: The Dominican Republic is one of many countries for which the justification for keeping it on the red list is elusive. The habit of the government seems to be: wait until the evidence is overwhelming that a nation should be moved off the highest risk list, and then wait another three weeks anyway. I am confident it will be on amber by late November. So don’t do anything yet.
Q: What are your thoughts on South American countries coming off the red list in the next couple of reviews? I am particularly interested in your thoughts on Paraguay.
A: I love Paraguay, but I haven’t yet started the infection rates, the positivity rate, vaccination status or presence (or not) of variants of concern. Certainly, though, the blanket ban on all South American countries will start to be lifted soon.
Q: Any chance Colombia will come off the red list soon? I am due in Medellin early in 2021.
A: I hope so, but I think you mean 2022. See you there. Medellin is a great city in a fascinating area of Colombia, and easily combined with the Caribbean coast.
Q: Do you think the government will stop treating South America as one and instead start removing countries like Uruguay who have extremely low cases and a very high vaccination rate on Oct 7? Uruguay is in better shape than most of the countries on the green list! Thank you!
A: As mentioned, the general rule seems to be: wait until there is such a mountain of evidence and pressure to take a country of the red list, and then make everyone wait three more weeks.
So on or around 7 October I expect to see South Africa plus some South American nations taken off the bloated and largely pointless red list.
Q: Both my wife and I have been double jabbed with the Astra Zeneca vaccine. Unfortunately our first jab was with one of the batches (4120Z001) that is currently not accepted in some EU countries.
We have a holiday booked to Orlando in December 2021 and are naturally now optimistic we will be able to go following the announcement on Monday but we are concerned that the US may not accept us due to this.
Any advice you can give on who we should speak to going forward would be greatly appreciated.
A: As the proud owner of an Indian-made AstraZeneca jab I’m really interested to know in which EU countries it “is currently not accepted”? I am unaware of any. The World Health Organisation approves AstraZeneca made anywhere, and the US follows what the WHO recognises.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC, the health regulator in the US) says explicitly that its guidance on what constitutes being fully vaccinated applies to Oxford AstraZeneca, wherever it was manufactured. Of course that may change, but I really don’t expect it to do so.
Q: So, the US is opening the border “from November”. Is it safe to book flights from 1st November? If not – any idea when we’ll get sufficient clarification to do so?
A: Please don’t book anything until dates and conditions are known.
Q: When will Bulgaria allow fully vaccinated UK tourists to travel? They are on our green list, we are on their red list. Ski holiday booked for Christmas.
A: Bulgaria is a great place for skiing. Prices are low (rather like the mountains, it must be said), there’s good food and drink and reasonable light and weather even in midwinter.
As with many parts of the world, Bulgaria has put up barriers to British visitors based on the extremely high Covid infection rates in the UK. However that will probably change between now and December, and I hereby award you an 80 per cent chance of being able to go.
Post-Brexit long stays in Europe
Q: I was stranded in the Algarve from 12 October 2020 to 22 May 2021. This, as I understand it, would have no impact on the new 90/180 day rule which started on 1 January 2021. I am now planning my winter trip to the Algarve and wish to ensure that I am not refused entry at the border. Is this correct?
In addition as I wish to spend the majority of winter in Portugal. Is there any way I can overcome the 90/180 day rule for example by means of a visa?
A: What a wonderful place in which to be stranded – although I don’t recall Portugal being completely disconnected from the UK for seven months.
As you observe, since Brexit our previous freedom to stay as long as we wished in any of the 27 other EU countries has ended. Instead there is a rolling measure, known as the 90/180 day rule, that has two particular impacts: the maximum time you can spend in the Schengen Area (most of the EU plus some hangers-on) in a calendar year is six months; and you cannot spend more than three months in a row in the zone.
Because you were there before the Brexit transition phase ended, I think you had probably got away with a stay of around 145 days in the EU. I wouldn’t fret about being refused entry at the border.
For a longer stay, most of our favourite southern destinations have reasonably accessible visa schemes, though getting through all the red tape and paying for something that used to come free with EU membership is annoying.
Q: I had flights with Air Arabia last year to travel to Marrakesh – originally in June and rearranged for September 2020.
However due to the pandemic both these flights were cancelled by the airline. The airline are refusing to refund as the cancellations were classed as a “force majeure”.
However the credit we were given instead is only valid till December 21 and the airline are no longer operating a Gatwick-Marrakesh flight. So even if we felt ready to travel we couldn’t rebook. Do we have any option to force a refund?
A: How infuriating. Under European air passengers’ rights rules, which apply also to UK-Morocco flights, you were fully entitled to a refund.
You can try your card provider, but given the time elapsed since the original flights any rights will have evaporated.
So your only other option: legal action, though this will be trickier if Air Arabia has left the UK.
Q: Any hope that England will eventually recognise natural immunity from having recovered from Covid plus one jab as being fully vaccinated, like European countries do?
A: Eventually, of course – just as the UK will accept, one day, that vaccines administered in Brazil or South Africa or Hong Kong give the same protection as British jabs. But I just don’t know when sanity will prevail.
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