This article is correct as of 9th August 2021 – but is likely to go out of date as UK government rules can quickly change, so please check you have the most up-to-date information!
However, I wanted to capture the steps I took to plan and realise my trip to the Algarve (from the UK) – currently on the government’s Amber list.
Planning future trips – to the Algarve or elsewhere – I am likely to likely to follow a similar process, so please feel free to use the below as an outline for planning your next trip abroad. Just be aware that whilst the rules for Amber list countries are the same when arriving back in the UK, each individual country may have different rules about how British tourists are treated on arrival, with varying requirements for negative tests, being fully vaccinated, and in some cases, quarantine.
There is an inherent level of risk involved in deciding to go on holiday abroad. As far as you can take steps to minimise your risk of getting coronavirus, if you do contract the virus whilst abroad, you will need to quarantine in a hotel for a number of days, and show proof of having recovered, or a negative test before you can return.
Find out what your travel insurance covers, most policies don’t offer as much cover as you might like (!) so check in advance that you’re not travelling against FCDO advice (which can void a travel insurance policy) and be sure about exactly what is and isn’t covered. At the very least, make sure you have cover for medical expenses lest you contract covid and are hospitalised, and the cost of a hotel if you are forced to quarantine, which should provide some reassurance.
It is also worth being aware of your airline’s cancellation/change policy if you decide to cancel or cut short your trip. If you can book accommodation with a flexible cancellation policy where you can cancel penalty free, it can save you a headache if you need to cancel at short notice.
Having just got back from Portugal, however, I fortunately didn’t have any issues and the holiday was 100% worth it! Just make sure you’re aware of the hoops to jump through and the potential pitfalls – forewarned is forearmed.
Before you go
1. Check the inbound and outbound travel requirements.
Start with by looking up the UK Foreign Office’s travel advice by country on https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice
Sherpa (https://apply.joinsherpa.com/travel-restrictions) is a handy website that is kept up to date as restrictions change. You just input your departure and arrival airport, and travel dates and it will let you know what’s required.
Also check the Portugal official tourism website (https://www.visitportugal.com/en/content/covid-19-measures-implemented-portugal) which contains more detailed information not only about entry requirements, but also high-risk regions, local curfews and other restrictions such as when you need to show a vaccination passport or certificate, or mask wearing requirements.
2. Book your ‘Fit To Fly’ Covid test
For the Algarve, this can be a PCR test taken a maximum of 72 hours prior to departure, or an antigen test taken a maximum of 48 hours prior to departure.
New and cheaper test providers are cropping up every day. Find the most convenient option for you (at home, in a clinic, or at an airport) using this useful Covid test comparison website: https://www.covid19-testing.org/questions
British Airways also have links to Covid test providers and discount codes. Note that you can use these regardless of what airline you are flying with: https://www.britishairways.com/en-es/information/incident/coronavirus/covid19-tests
Randox (https://www.randoxhealth.com/) was recommended to me and did provide a reliable service, though many online reviews claim not to have received their test kits or results in time, so allow a minimum of 4-6 working days for delivery of the home test kits (if you choose that option) – ideally longer, but not so long that that UK government might change its mind on requirements again!
Randox also do a full Algarve testing package including ‘Fit to Fly’ test before arriving in Portugal, a pre-departure to the UK test and a day 2 test to take on arrival back in the UK (also a day 8 test for the unvaccinated).
3. Complete your Portugal Passenger Locator Form
The Portugal Passenger Locator Form (https://portugalcleanandsafe.pt/en/passenger-locator-card) can be done up to four days prior to arrival. For this you’ll need to know your pre-departure Covid test is negative and also your seat number on the plane, so it’s best done after you’re received your test results and selected your seat/checked in online for your flight (if applicable).
4. Print out your documents
Top tip: It’s worth printing out a hard copy of any documents – Passenger Locator Forms, Covid test certificates, NHS vaccination certificate (you can generate one via the NHS app) – these will be scrutinised at various stages on your trip, especially at airports, so it’s much easier to hand over a piece of paper, than trying to show it on your phone.
When you’re there
5. Show proof of vaccination
You need to show proof of vaccination, or a recent negative Covid test to eat indoors (but only on a weekend!) and when you check into your accommodation.
There’s the option of doing a lateral flow test, supervised by your accommodation provider on check in if you don’t have a vaccination certificate or a recent negative lateral flow test taken within 48 hours (PCR within 72 hours). I had no problem showing the NHS vaccination certificate (or app).
For those that have been double vaccinated, there seemed to be no fear in Portugal about catching and spreading the virus – you won’t need to do additional lateral flow tests apart from before getting your flight home. I’ll come on to that in a minute.
Mask-wearing is generally adhered to and there isn’t really any exemption – you are expected to wear a mask in public spaces indoors (such as hotels, and restaurants when not seated) and in taxis.
Refer to the Portugal tourism website above for other local restrictions.
6. Antigen test
Up to 72 hours before departure from Portugal, you’ll need to do another Covid test (PCR or antigen) before flying back to the UK. The Algarve has a number of clinics where you can get this done in person, but I opted for Qured (https://qured.com/health-travel-pass/) which is a supervised antigen (lateral flow) test done via a video call, which you do yourself from the comfort of your hotel.
I purchased these from the Qured website before departure and they arrived next day. You take them with you in your suitcase and book an appointment online. You log on and join a virtual waiting room at your designated time and will generally be seen within around 20 minutes.
The advisor will supervise you doing the test, then you take a photo of your test cartridge next to your passport and email it over to them. They will email you your result and test certificate usually within 30 minutes.
7. UK Passenger Locator Form
Fill in the UK Passenger Locator Form up to 48 hours before arrival: https://www.gov.uk/provide-journey-contact-details-before-travel-uk
It’s a somewhat lengthy, but relatively straightforward form, to be completed before setting off for the UK. Aside from passport and flight details, the key thing you need to complete this form is your booking reference for your Day 2 Covid test – so book it before you go and keep the reference number handy.
Before flying back to the U.K., I uploaded the following documents into the VeriFLY app, along with flight, passenger and passport details.
- Vaccination certificate
- Pre-departure rapid antigen test certificate with negative test result
- UK passenger locator form (PLF)
VeriFLY work in partnership with British Airways and enable document checking prior to check in, to facilitate a faster airport experience, with less manual form checking.
In reality, having the documents verified in advance meant I could check in online, but all my documents, certificates and passenger locator form were still scrutinised at the departure gate, and cross checked against my passport, before I was allowed to board the plane, so I’m not sure it saved me a huge amount of time or effort!
Still, it is at least piece of mind that you have done everything required and the documents are correct!
You can download the app here: https://go.daon.com/veriflyapp
Arrival into Heathrow was quick and easy – no forms, no checks, no long queues – I just scanned my passport into the e-gates and went on my way.
9. Day 2 test
The last thing to do after you land back in the UK is the Day 2 test – be warned that you need to book this before you fly back to the UK and you need to put your Day 2 test booking reference on the UK Passenger Locator Form.
The Day 2 test can actually be done on day 0-2, with day 0 being the day you arrive. You may find it easier to get tested at the airport on landing, but I opted for a home test as part of my Randox package.
Note that there are additional requirements for anyone who is not fully vaccinated, and the rules for children are different, so please double check what you need to do.
DISCLAIMER: Restrictions vary dependent on your nationality, where you’re travelling from and your vaccination status so please be sure to check you have the right information for your situation. I write this from the perspective of a double vaccinated British national
I have tried to make this article as accurate as possible – if you spot any mistakes please let me know and I will update the post. Please double and tripe check your travel plans using the links above to make sure you have the correct information!