Travel as we know it has changed. The days of spontaneous weekend getaways are just a distant memory. Trips abroad during the pandemic require you to wade through a sea of bureaucracy before you can escape the UK and this requires sufficient advance planning to satisfy the requirements. Once you arrive, your beloved Spain may not be the Spain you recall. Wild party nights in Ibiza and Mallorca have been replaced by a more sedate island experience. To avoid disappointment, it pays to familiarise yourself with these 16 things you need to know before you travel to Spain during the pandemic.
Take note, there are lot of moving parts to consider if you wish to visit Spain during the pandemic so I have put together this handy checklist to help you.
Before you travel to Spain during a pandemic
1. Entry requirements
Before you travel to Spain during the pandemic you need to check the entry requirements. For UK travellers Gov.uk provides full details and links to the Spanish site. At the time of writing, Spain requires all incoming travellers to confirm either;
- that they have received both doses of an approved vaccination (details of approved vaccinations can be found on this page. Vaccinations must be approved by the European Medicines Agency or World Health Organisation) and Spain do accept the Indian batch numbers.
- Or show proof of a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of arrival. You can find further details of accepted tests here.
All passengers must also complete a passenger locator form within 48 hours of departure. You can find the form here. Once you complete the form, the system validates the information and you then receive a QR code which you will need for entry into Spain. Officials scan all QR codes and assuming they are satisfied with the responses, admit you to the baggage collection area.
2. Booking a pre departure test for travel to Spain during a pandemic
If you are have not received both does of an approved vaccination (which must be dated more than 14 days before arrival), the other option for entry into Spain is a negative PCR taken within 72 hours of arrival.
Organising these tests is not as straightforward as you think. With only a 72 hour window to play with, you will need to plan carefully. The test must be taken ‘within 72 hours prior to arrival’ so this does not allow much wiggle room (Note, I know of one family’s horror story when all six were denied boarding because their tests were within 72 hours of departure rather than arrival. They missed out by just 1.5 hours. In another story I heard, a family were denied boarding due to a four hour delay which also meant that the test would not be within the requisite 72 hours.)
Timing of tests
You need to take the test with enough time to ensure you receive the results, which can take up to 48 hours. In reality, this means you have a 24 hour period in which you can take the test which makes it harder to find an appointment. As such, you may need to be flexible to book your tests. The Covid Testing Network allows you to compare different options and select from a test in centre or at home. I recommend you visit an actual test centre as you will reduce your window further with a home test. You will need an extra day to post your test and this assumes it arrives at the test centre in time and undamaged.
Planning your test
It pays to book as far in advance as possible as your local test centre may have limited appointment availability. Our nearest centre in Barnsley only seems to offer afternoon slots and whilst other local centres in Sheffield offer more convenient times for tests, they come at a much higher price. You may have to travel to get the best price and time slot.
For instance, in Leeds, more time slots were available and they cost £59 for a 48 hour turnaround. In Sheffield the same tests cost £120. Give yourself plenty of time to do the research, find a deal and book your appointments. If you leave it until the last minute you may have no option but to pay the higher price.
3. To isolate or not before departure
A positive test before departure or signs of Covid will put paid to your travel plans. It therefore pays to be extremely cautious in the run up to your trip to reduce the likelihood of a positive test.
Before your return from Spain during the pandemic
4. Check entry requirements
Re-entry rules can change at any time. The absurd and illogical rules introduced by the UK government are constantly changing. Do check the rules before you book and again before you travel. You should also consider whether:
- You can afford mandatory quarantine of £2,285 per person per week with effect from 12th August for red list countries. Note, the second person pays £650, and further discounts apply for children. The total cost therefore for a family of four staying together is a whopping £3,050.
- Personally (do not hold me to this as it is only my opinion and I have been known to be wrong!!) I doubt that a European country will move to the red list. I suspect the preference will be to limit red list status to non European countries.
- If there is a suggestion that your chosen country may go red (and indeed there were rumours about Spain and amber plus) you need to consider these potential additional costs. Do you really want to be scrambling for a flight to avoid mandatory quarantine?
- Note, you can be fined up to £10,000, or imprisoned for up to 10 years, or both, if you do not provide accurate details about the countries you have visited in the 10 days before you arrived in the UK.
- You can work from home if self isolation is required. After all travellers from France were subjected to mandatory self isolation recently even though the country was amber
- Your insurance covers you for additional costs that may occur if you circumstances change. Note, most policies do not appear to cover costs incurred as a result of changes in Foreign Office travel recommendations.
5. Amber list rules
Spain is currently on the amber list however the UK government’s categorisation of countries changes frequently so you cannot assume that the status will not change either before or during your trip. To check the status of the country at your time of travel, visit the amber, red and green lists on Gov.com. At the time of writing, the rules for the amber list are as follows.
Before travel to England, ALL visitors must:
- take a COVID-19 test in the 3 days prior to travel to England. Failure to do so may result in a £500 fine or you may be denied boarding.
- The Covid testing network allows you to compare test prices. The cheapest seem to cost around £30 per person.
- We booked tests with Breathe Assured. They cost £34 each and took place on Zoom. This means we had to take the tests with us. Note, most airlines and holiday providers offer discounts on tests and this can make a huge difference.
- You will need to book tests before you leave the UK to ensure you can secure an appointment and under no circumstances should you miss your test. We booked a few weeks in advance and when I looked a few days before our return there were no appointments available.
- We found the test process efficient and once we showed a negative test result our tester immediately issued the fit to fly certificate.
- It is possible to obtain cheaper tests at local sites. For instance, my cousin Nichola paid just £20 each for tests at a local centre in Lanzarote but we opted for the convenience of an online test.
- book and pay for any COVID-19 tests to be taken after arrival in England. The tests you will need depend on your vaccination status and you should ensure you book these before you travel. You need the booking reference for your tests to complete the passenger locator form.
- complete a passenger locator form within 48 hours of departure.
Amber list rules if fully vaccinated
Fully vaccinated travellers will need to:
- Declare that they you have full vaccination status on the passenger locator form, or are under 18 and resident in the UK.
- Note the form only offers the option to declare an exemption or to state that you have full vaccination status/plan to self isolate.
- This means that even if you have had both vaccinations and do not plan to self isolate, you will still need to provide details of where you will self isolate as the form does not separate the options.
- You will need to show proof of vaccination status to your carrier (ferry, airline or train) when travelling. Indeed, Ryanair require that you upload a copy to their check in portal. They also checked our paperwork on two separate occasions.
- Carry out a day two test on or before day two after arrival. However, fully vaccinated travellers will not need to self-isolate or carry out a day eight test.
Amber list rules if not double vaccinated
On arrival in England you must:
- Quarantine at home or in the place you are staying for 10 days
- And take a COVID-19 test on or before day 2 and on or after day 8
6. Day two testing
Day two tests can be booked through the Covid Testing Network however it pays to check whether your airline or holiday company have deals in place to further reduce the cost. The cheapest home test on the site shows as £48. However, we opted for tests from Randox which we bought with a Ryanair discount and as a result the test cost just £43 per person. You can also purchase day 2 and day 8 combined bundles which will save money.
7. Passenger Locator Form
Within 48 hours of your return to the UK you will need to complete a passenger locator form which confirms your vaccination or test status. We found this system quite cumbersome as it repeatedly crashed during data entry and some of the questions were not relevant based on our prior answers. You also need to verify your identity with a text message which means you need a phone and to data roam to obtain your code.
No one checked our paperwork on entry to the UK but the airline did check our paperwork.
During your trip to Spain during a pandemic
It is essential that you check foreign travel advice while you are away to ensure you are aware of local Covid-19 requirements. Here are some things to be aware of for your stay in Spain during a pandemic.
Unlike the UK, it is still mandatory to wear masks indoors and to social distance in Spain. Indeed, until the 26th June, it was also mandatory to wear masks outdoors. The norm is still for most Spaniards to wear masks whilst moving around towns and villages, and even at the swimming pool.
Sanitiser is widely available in shops, cafes and restaurants, accommodation and even at the beach. There is no excuse for you not to sanitise given the abundance of options in the area.
The Spanish are religious about adhering to restrictions on numbers indoors. Venues must restrict numbers which can mean longer queues than normal in shops and even at the tourist information office. It makes sense therefore to download any maps and information you may need before you travel. This can save you time and discomfort as standing around in the stifling Spanish heat is not pleasant.
If you think you will be able to party until dawn, think again. Curfews are commonplace in many regions of Spain to help contain the spread of Covid. In the resorts along the Costa Del Sol and inland, a midnight curfew exists. Nightclubs remain open only until 2am but this is positively early by Spanish standards. Some areas also require proof of a negative test or double vaccination to gain access to nightclubs and other entertainment facilities so do not assume that you will be living the high life.
In a bid to stop the spread of Covid, many restaurants no longer offer physical menus. Diners instead access the menu by scanning a QR code on the table. Clearly, this is a great way to avoid contamination and allows tourists to quickly view a menu. So, what is the downside?
If you adopt flight mode to minimise overseas phone costs on your travels, you will first need WiFi access. Not all establishments offer WiFi and sometimes when they do it is not functional. On more than one occasion we had to abandon a restaurant due to these issues.
Furthermore, reading a menu on your phone can be a challenge (particularly for older eyes – yes, I am talking about me!).
Given all this red tape and the potential for things to change rapidly, it is essential that you have an appropriate travel insurance policy. If you cannot travel you do not want to lose tons of money on lost hotel rooms and flights. It is essential therefore to look for policies with comprehensive Covid cover.
We used Holiday Extras to find insurance and opted for Coverwise because it has a very comprehensive Covid policy. Things to check are whether your policy covers:
- cancellation because you cannot travel because you contract COVID-19 or must undergo compulsory quarantine before departure
- the cost of additional accommodation and/or return transportation costs if you cannot return home because you contract COVID-19.
- if you choose to travel against Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) advice (hint, this is doubtful!)
- if the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) change status of your country whilst overseas (again unlikely)
- emergency medical treatment due to COVID-19
Even with a comprehensive insurance policy, I still recommend that you opt for hotels, car hire and any other extras with flexible cancellation options. Many companies will levy a cancellation fee if you cancel with less than 24 hours’ notice. However you should know if you are fit to fly by then.
Here are a few other final things to consider.
Ebookers allows you to filter by hotels that allow free cancellation. This does not rule out rooms that impose a cancellation fee but does remove any non-refundable rooms. Check the cancellation window closely as some hotels may allow cancellations up to 24 hours before departure whilst others will require 3 – 7 days. Alternatively, make your hotel bookings at the last minute when you are certain you can travel.
15. Airport parking
Many airport parking facilities offer the ability to pay slightly more to obtain greater flexibility. Check your options on Holiday Extras. It still may be best however to book last minute as cancellation within the last 24 hours is not possible.
Some scheduled airlines have a flexible Covid policy but if not, you can usually pay slightly more for a flexible ticket. If you cannot fly due to a positive test, although your insurance may pay out, you will still lose money as all policies impose an excess on claims.
You tell me, what else do you want to know? Let me know if you have any questions or additional thoughts in the comments below. I hope this post provides details of everything you may need to know should you decide to travel to Spain this summer but if I have missed anything, just shout.