Travel restrictions & visas

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Last reviewed: Saturday 16 January 2021

Covid-19 | Travel restrictions and student visas

Travel restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic presently affect many countries worldwide including the UK with different rules and restrictions in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Check the latest official guidance before planning any travel.


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International and UK travel restrictions: what you need to know

The UK is currently in a national lockdown. This means all areas and nations have Covid-19 travel restrictions and people can only leave their homes for limited reasons. The rules for each nation (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) may be different.

Entry to the UK is currently banned for passengers arriving from some destinations and all UK travel corridors are temporarily suspended

All UK travel corridors are temporarily suspended from 04:00 GMT on Monday 18 January 2021. This means everyone arriving into the UK will have to quarantine (self-isolate). This will be in place until at least 15 February 2021. The quarantine time will be 10 days, unless you take part in the government's test to release system which reduces the self-isolation time for people arriving into England if you test negative.

From 04:00 GMT on Friday 15 January 2021, all flights and passengers from certain destinations are banned from entering England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have indicated that they will introduce the same travel bans. Countries affected by the new travel restrictions from 15 January are: Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Cape Verde, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Paraguay, Panama, Portugal, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, and Venezuela. British and Irish nationals, or those with residence rights in the UK who arrive after 04:00 and have travelled from or transited through these destinations in the last 10 days will be able to enter but will be required to self-isolate along with their household.

A travel ban is also in place for direct flights from South Africa and certain neighbouring African countries.

How do UK travel restrictions affect international students?

  • Self-isolation requirements affect students arriving to the UK
  • Everyone arriving to the UK needs to take a pre-departure test and have proof of negative test result
  • Everyone arriving into the UK most complete a Public Health Passenger Locator Form before travelling
  • When in the UK, restrictions are in place and non-essential travel is not permitted and you may be required to study remotely from your residence/ homestay accomodation
  • Returning home: students are able to leave the UK to travel home, providing their home country permits them to enter from the UK.
 
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Mandatory Covid-19 testing and self-isolation requirements for arrivals 

All UK travel corridors are temporarily suspended from 04:00 GMT on Monday 18 January 2021 to protect against new international variants of the coronavirus. This emergency measure is expected to be in place for at least one month. All passengers arriving into the UK (including British and Irish nationals) must:

See updated UK government guidance on how to self-isolate when you travel to the UK.
 

Mandatory Covid-19 testing for arrivals

From 04:00 GMT on Monday 18 January 2021, those travelling from overseas will need to take a pre-departure test:

  • the test must be taken within 72 hours of beginning the journey – and must be negative in order to travel
  • all passengers will additionally need to self-isolate for 10 days – or take a further test after 5 days under the test to release scheme (only available in England)
  • the test must meet certain performance standards
  • children under 11 and people with certain medical conditions are exempt
  • the test results must be in English, French or Spanish and must contain the person's name; their age or date of birth; the results themselves; the date of the test sample; name and contact details of the test provider; the name of the test device. See details.

The above details apply to England and Scotland – Wales and Northern Ireland have indicated that they will publish their own pre-departure testing guidance shortly.

See full guidance on mandatory testing:

 

Test to Release to end self-isolation early

Passengers arriving into England can pay to take a Covid-19 test from a government-approved test provider after five days of self-isolation. A negative result will release them from the need to isolate for the standard 10 day period.

Further infomation on test to release:

  • Arrivals must self-isolate for five days post-arrival before taking the test
  • Arrivals can take the test on or after day five of their isolation period 
  • The test can be taken at home or at a private provider's testing site (see the list of approved test providers)
  • A negative test result will enable the person to stop self-isolating immediately
  • Passengers are advised to book the test before arrival and provide details of their test date on their passenger locator form
  • Arrivals who book their test after arrival will need to resubmit their passenger locator form
  • Passengers arriving into Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales do not have the option of reduced self-isolation: they must sel-isolate for the full 10 day period

See UK government guidance for England on ending self-isolation early through Test to Release

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International students returning home from the UK

Any students planning to return to their home country will first need to consult their own embassy's guidance.

Member centres with younger learners will need to liaise with agents, parents or guardians and determine the best course of action to ensure that the student is able to return home legally and safely. Careful advice needs to be given before the student makes the decision to return home, particularly if they wish to return to the UK in early 2021. 

Depending on the country, the student may need to self-isolate for a specific period upon arrival and/ or have a valid, negative Covid-19 test before they are allowed to fly home. Note too that many students will also need to self-isolate if and when they return to the UK. Key points to note about Covid-19 testing and travel are:

  • Some countries will specify the type or types of tests that need to be carried out
  • Anyone with a positive test or symptoms of Covid-19 must not travel
  • A Covid-19 test may need to be taken within a particular time-frame e.g. 48 hours before departure.
  • The UK laboratory used for the test may need to be UKAS or ISO 15189 accredited. Note that it may not be sufficient for the ISO reference to appear on the test report - the student may also need to carry documentary proof that the testing laboratory itself is properly accredited. If this is the case, we recommend that the student carries the relevant documentary evidence alongside their certified negative test report/s in both digital and printed formats.
  • At least one laboratory (Oncologica Ltd) has recently had its UKAS accreditation revoked, so do check on the status of the laboratory before paying for a test. Check on the UKAS website
  • Some countries or airlines will have additional airport protocols and may require the student to take an additional Covid-19 test before onward travel. In addition, a further Covid-19 test may be required on arrival or within a specified time-frame.
  • Student may also need to download a QR code or fill in a health declaration form before travel.
  • If the student needs to quarantine on arrival, this may need to be in a hotel and the student may need a confirmed hotel booking before they are allowed to travel.

The Boarding Schools Association has produced some guidance for students returning to Hong Kong, China and Spain, with links to the relevant embassy information - we strongly recommend reading this information and following the advice given to the letter; it is relevant for adults as well as juniors. They also have a list of test suppliers with indications as to the validity of the tests they offer for travel to specific countries. Note that BSA does not endorse this list of suppliers and does not accept any liability for the quality of their services. As mentioned, we recommend obtaining details of the UK laboratory carrying out the test analysis and checking the status of their UKAS accreditation before paying for a test.

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How to apply for a visa if a VAC is closed due to coronavirus restrictions

Where a VAC is closed, applicants can apply for any type of visa online using this link and then select a VAC in any country worldwide (subject to that country's entry requirements) to submit their application and biometrics.

To find out their current status, students should contact TLS contact if based in Europe, Africa and parts of the Middle East or VFS global for all other countries.

If you have immigration queries related to coronavirus, please email the Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre.

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English language testing centres

You can find information on which centres are open on the providers' websites:

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Covid concessions for sponsors and short-term students

Details of the special Covid concessions are available here:

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