Coronavirus: Holidays and travel guide

The UK Government has relaxed rules against travelling abroad, but some restrictions remain. What if you booked a trip before the pandemic hit? Here’s what you need to know.

Man and woman looking around an empty beach wearing a facemask

As things change rapidly during the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, this guide will be updated regularly to reflect changes in rules and regulations.

In early July the UK Foreign Office said that travel to certain countries for ‘non-essential’ purposes (i.e. going on holiday) is now allowed. But what does this mean for you? If you booked a trip before the original travel restrictions were introduced in Spring, can you cancel it? 

The current holiday situation for travellers

Where can you travel?

On 4 July 2020, the government announced that certain countries would be exempt from rules that were first introduced in the spring advising against ‘all but non-essential’ travel. 

For the up-to-date list of countries and territories where UK residents can travel, read our guide Coronavirus: Travelling between the UK and other countries.

Holiday makers from the UK can now visit most European countries (except Spain and Portugal), as well as Canada, large parts of the Caribbean, East Asia and, Australia and New Zealand, among other places.

However, before you book a holiday to one of the countries on the list, check what the rules are in your destination country. Some places demand that travellers flying in from the UK quarantine for up to 2 weeks. 

Remember, given the fast-changing nature of the global pandemic, no travel is completely risk-free, and disruption to trips is still possible.

Should you cancel trips? 

The rapidly changing nature of the threat posed by COVID-19 means that while some countries considered ‘low risk’ for holiday travel at the moment, the government may change its travel advice at short notice.

In early July the government relaxed restrictions on traveling to Spain. However this decision was reversed on 25 July, as the government began once again to advise against ‘all but essential’ travel to the country.

But, you don’t necessarily need to cancel trips scheduled to take place in the future. 

If you have a trip booked for the Christmas break in a country that is currently described by the UK Foreign Office as ‘high risk’, it may still take place if government travel advice changes.

What if travel to a ‘high risk’ country is essential?

The government has not specified what counts as ‘essential’ international travel. But if you feel you absolutely have to travel, there are some things you should do.

If you absolutely need to go to a country where the UK government has advised against all but essential travel, there are some things you should do.

  • Contact your airline, travel company, and accommodation providers to make sure you can still travel 

  • Check carefully that your travel insurance will still cover you if you go

  • Make sure you can get hold of money to cover emergencies or unexpected delays while abroad

  • Be prepared to obey local rules, including those on isolation or quarantine 

What help is there if you’re abroad right now? 

The UK has said that if you’re stuck abroad you should firstly follow the advice of the local authorities where you are.

If you needed to get a visa to travel to the country you’re in, you should check it. The government has advice on what you may need to do about your visa, depending on the country you’re visiting. You can read the government’s full official coronavirus advice if you’re stuck abroad.

You may also want to think about getting in touch with your travel insurance provider to check your health cover. Most providers should be able to extend a single trip cover policy for up to 60 days. 

Find out more about how travel insurance works

Will you get your money back if your holiday is cancelled?

You may be able to get a refund directly from your airline or hotel, or travel company. A range of questions are answered below.

For further information read our guide on holiday cancellation rights.

If you would prefer to speak in-person to the travel agency you used to book any holidays, you may be able to speak to an advisor in-store. 

If the store has said it will re-open, make sure you follow safety precautions before going in to speak to a member of staff.

If your flight or hotel booking has been cancelled

If your holiday was supposed to take place soon, it’s very possible that it’s already been cancelled. Your first step should be to contact your transport and accommodation providers directly, or your travel agency if you booked a package holiday.

Some airlines are trying to get their customers to take vouchers for future flights instead of refunding cancelled flights, but you do not have to accept this. 

EU flight delay rules (which currently still apply in the UK) cover flights between the UK and an EU country booked with a UK or EU-based airline. They allow you to choose between a refund for any cancelled flights or rebooking on to a different flight.

There have been reports of people struggling to get refunds, with some companies using sneaky tactics to get passengers to accept vouchers instead.  

Can you get a refund if you cancel a future trip that is still set to go ahead?

UK Government travel advisories like the ones in place now can make it easier for you to get your money back from a trip that has not yet been cancelled.

Can you get help from your travel insurance?

If you bought a travel insurance policy, you may be able to get a refund for your trip costs. But this will depend on a few things. 

When did you buy your policy? 

If you bought your policy before the Foreign Office officially advised against travel to your planned destination, and the advisory is still in place when you’re due to travel, you may be covered for cancellations. 

Most travel insurance policies should let you claim if you want to cancel a trip if you bought the holiday and the insurance policy before the government travel warnings were issued.

But this is not a hard and fast rule. You’ll need to check your policy document and speak to your insurer if it’s not clear what your policy says about this.

Since the government issued advice on foreign travel, insurers have mostly stopped offering new policies that cover you against coronavirus-related disruption.

If your planned trip is much later in the year and has not yet been cancelled by your travel and accommodation firms, it’s a little bit trickier to get your money back now.

Even though the government’s no-travel advice is ‘indefinite’, i.e. it doesn’t yet have an end date, it’s possible that the advice could be lifted before you’re set to travel.

In practice this means that it is easier for holiday firms and insurers to refuse any refund requests. Again, check with your insurer and the firms you used to book your trip.

If you feel your travel insurer has unfairly turned down a claim

During large-scale global events like COVID-19, there is no guarantee that insurance companies will pay out against related claims. 

In fact, some insurers may even mention in their policy agreements that these types of events, sometimes referred to as ‘Force Majeure’ situations, are not covered. 

But if you feel that your policy does cover you, and your insurer has refused to pay out, there are some things you can do.

Insurers have to obey financial rules to treat customers ‘fairly’. So if you think you’ve been refused a claim unfairly you can make a formal complaint.

Contact your insurer directly and to discuss with them why you feel their decision is unfair. If you hear nothing back from your insurer or they do get back to you but still refuse your claim, you can go to the Financial Ombudsman.

The Financial Ombudsman is free, independent and can force businesses into action and to compensate anyone who has lost out.

You need to give the company you’re complaining about 8 weeks to resolve your issue before the Ombudsman will investigate it. 

Find out more about how to make a complaint about your insurance company.