London Texas

The traffic light system – part 2

We finally had our first visitor since the start of the pandemic! My sister visited from the USA and we embarked on a hectic whistle-stop tour throughout Edinburgh and London.

Note: This post is written with an educational intent mostly for double-jabbed USA holidaymakers considering traveling to/from the UK.

Here’s a list of shortcuts if you’re looking for specific information regarding traveling from the USA (an amber-list country) to England, including details of our experiences with testing providers, turnaround times, etc.

USA covid vaccination recognition

England recently started recognizing covid vaccination certificates for people vaccinated in the USA and European Union.

Note: Scotland recognizes USA covid vaccinations but I’m unsure about the rules for Wales and Northern Ireland.

This was a major step in opening travel and allowing members of expat communities in these countries to reunite with family and friends. Many of us have been separated since December 2019 which makes sense because it was the last major holiday season before the pandemic began.

England follows a travel light system which is a set of rules and requirements for travelers ENTERING the UK from abroad. I have written about the system in exhausting detail here. Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England each have their own set of rules.

The USA is currently an amber-list country.

Prior to the UK government recognizing USA vaccination certificates, travelers entering the UK from the USA were required to quarantine for 10 days upon arrival (exception: travelers who were double-jabbed by the NHS). This effectively blocked people who were vaccinated in the USA from visiting the UK.

Shortly after the USA vaccination announcement, I reached out to my sister and explained that this might be her only opportunity to visit us in the UK. She’d never been abroad and if there is one thing that I have learned about traveling during the pandemic, it’s that windows of opportunity are infrequent and small and you must take them when they present themselves.

My sister, Tessa, agreed with taking advantage of this window of opportunity and we got to work planning her visit.

Fun fact: The last time I saw Tessa in person was on August 19, 2019, so just over two years ago. We were saying goodbye in the Vancouver airport after wrapping up a long weekend exploring Vancouver and participating in Lululemon’s SeaWheeze events.

England entry requirements (amber-list, vaccinated)

Tessa was double-jabbed in the USA but this did not mean that her trip to the UK would be without risk. Catching covid and being placed into a mandatory 10-day quarantine whilst in the UK is always a risk.

Let’s run through the amber-list entry requirements for ENTERING England from the USA as a double-jabbed traveler.

  • Test A: Take a PCR or Antigen test in the 3 days before the service (e.g. flight, ferry) on which you will arrive in England departs
  • Complete a Passenger Locator Form (PLF) within 48 hours prior to arriving in the UK
  • Test B: Take a PCR test on or before day 2 after arriving in England

Note: The UK’s 3-day testing window for Test A includes the three calendar days preceding your departure day. As an example, if you arrive in England on a Sunday, your test must be taken on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday (unsure if Sunday is acceptable, I assume it is). 

USA entry requirements

Next, let’s run through the USA entry requirements as they existed on August 31st, 2021, which was the date my sister arrived in the USA. These requirements were derived from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

  • Complete an Attestation Form within 72 hours prior to arriving in the USA
  • Test C: Take a PCR or Antigen test in the 3 days before the flight on which you will arrive in the USA departs

Note: The USA’s 3-day testing window for Test C includes the three calendar days preceding your departure day. As an example, if you arrive in the USA on a Sunday, your test must be taken on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday (unsure if Sunday is acceptable, I assume it is). 

Test A: pre-departure test in the USA

The pre-departure test in the USA (“Test A”) is a UK requirement and needs to be coordinated a couple of weeks before departing to the UK, either by ordering an at-home test kit or by booking an in-person test appointment at a testing center or partner pharmacy.

Both PCR and Antigen tests are accepted by England and when Peter and I are returning to England, we always chose an Antigen test. It’s cheaper, more convenient, and results are available within an hour. On the flip side, Antigen tests are not stellar in producing positive results in asymptomatic-positive cases (~60 percent accurate in asymptomatic-positive cases).

This means that if you are asymptomatic-positive, there’s just over a 50 percent chance that an Antigen test will display a positive result.

For a person visiting England, I recommend taking a PCR test versus an Antigen test for extra assurance. What you don’t want to happen is to be asymptomatic-positive and have your Antigen pre-departure test produce a negative result and then test positive on your day 2 PCR test in England and be forced into mandatory quarantine for 10 days.

In this traveler scenario, it’s better (for many reasons) to test positive before departing for England, and the best way to catch asymptomatic-positive cases is through PCR testing.

The downside to PCR tests is their unknown turnaround times.

Initially, my sister booked an in-person PCR test and an in-person Antigen test with a large pharmacy chain. The Antigen test was a backup plan in the event the PCR test results did not come back in time.

She paid $0 for the test because covid testing in the USA is free, even for travel. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? It’s a small upside to the fact that the US healthcare system can bankrupt most families with one trip to the emergency room for a broken leg.

Her test was conducted in-person on a Saturday morning and she received her test results Sunday evening with plenty of time to spare before her Tuesday evening departure to the UK. Upon receiving her test result, she canceled her backup Antigen test appointment.

Test B: arrival test in the UK

When entering England from abroad (regardless of your originating location and your vaccination status), a PCR test on or before day 2 is required (day of arrival is day 0).

This test is officially called “Day 2” and is required to be booked prior to departing TO the UK.

Tessa’s “Day 2” testing provider, DocTap, provided a booking reference number and this number was required on the UK PLF. More on forms here.

She arrived in England at 11am on a Wednesday and I booked her day 2 test for 4pm that same day. The goal was for her to take this test when she’d had the least amount of exposure and the longer she waited, the more exposure she’d have.

Here’s how her day 2 test went.

DayTimeAction
Wednesday16:00Test conducted at the DocTap testing centre
Wednesday17:10Received confirmation that the sample was on its way to the laboratory
Thursday04:10Received notification that the sample was being tested
Thursday21:00Received notification that it was taking longer than normal to test the sample and that this is normally because the test is having to be re-run
Thursday21:30Received the test result, 17.5 hours after taking the test

Test C: pre-departure test in the UK

The pre-departure test in the UK (“Test C”) is a USA requirement and needs to be coordinated a couple of weeks before departing the USA, either by ordering an at-home test kit or by booking an in-person test appointment at a testing centre or partner pharmacy.

I initially ordered an at-home pre-departure Antigen test kit through Qured but after receiving the test kit and reviewing Qured’s telehealth appointment availability, I realized that their available appointment times would not work for our schedule.

Protip: Review Qured’s telehealth appointment availability prior to buying your test kit here. The booking system is so insecure that you can book your appointment before ordering your test which is useful if appointment availability is limited.

Protip: Use code BATRAVEL15 for 15% off when ordering tests from Qured. This code can be used regardless of the airline you are flying.

With no way to return the unused test (another big downside to at-home test kits), I contacted Qured and requested that they update the details (name, date of birth, passport number) on the unused test kit to be my details so that I can use the test kit for future travel.

Although Qured customer service was quick to respond, it was still a pain in the butt that I had to contact customer service instead of being able to edit the details through my online account. Qured has some growing pains and I hope they sort them out quickly, mainly their insecure and clunky calendar booking system.

Once the Qured situation was sorted, I booked an in-person pre-departure Antigen test with DocTap.

I paid £39 for the DocTap test and Tessa had her results within an hour.

Test Costs

Below is a breakdown of Tessa’s covid test costs for the visiting UK.

Testing providerTestResultGBPUSD
CVS (Test A)Pre-departure (to UK)Next day00
DocTap (Test B)Day 2Next day79110
DocTap (Test C)Pre-departure (to USA) 1 hour3954
Grand total£118$164

Forms

The process for filling out and submitting the UK PLF is the same, regardless of your originating location and your vaccination status. The UK PLF takes about 20 minutes to fill out and every adult is required to submit their own PLF (under-18s should be included on an adult’s UK PLF).

Note: Day 2 tests are required to be booked prior to departing TO the UK. The test is assigned a booking reference number and it is required on the UK PLF.

The USA Attestation Form is required for air passengers entering the USA and it is to confirm that the information the passenger presents is true; either that they have received a negative pre-departure test result or that they have recovered from covid in the last 3 months.

Every passenger over the age of two is required to submit their own form. Passengers can fill out the form on behalf of other passengers, like a parent filling out a form for their toddler (seriously, what in the world?).

I don’t understand the point of the attestation form with the exception of it possibly having to do with a future lawsuit because this is the USA we are talking about but, whatever. The form requires a tick of a box, a signature, and a date and takes 30 seconds to fill out.

Form submission timelines differ slightly but when flying between the UK and USA, you’ll be good to go if you submit the forms in the morning on the days before your departures.

VeriFLY

Tessa downloaded the VeriFLY app and uploaded the necessary documents on both legs of her roundtrip journey. This app is to help travelers speed through documentation checks at airports by verifying the uploaded documents before travelers arrive at the airport.

She did not see a VeriFLY queue or representative or anything pertaining to VeriFLY at DFW or LHR.

In short, it was a waste of her time to upload the documents to the VeriFLY app, however, she was able to fill out her USA Attestation Form from within the VeriFLY app but, again, this saved her no time at the end of the day.

NHS Test and Trace

As of August 16th, 2021, people in England who have been double-jabbed by the NHS do not need to self-isolate for 10 days if they’ve been contacted by NHS Test and Trace and told that they’ve come into close contact with a covid-positive person.

I assume that this applies to double-jabbed travelers who were vaccinated in the USA and EU but I have not been able to find supporting documentation on this topic. Thankfully, my sister was not contacted by NHS Test and Trace.

UPDATE | September 19, 2021: I was contacted by NHS Test and Trace and told that I had come into close contact with a person who had later tested positive. When this happens, the contactee (me in this case) is required to fill out an online form with some personal details, including covid vaccination history.

When entering covid vaccination history, the contactee can indicate that they were vaccinated in the UK or outside of the UK. Due to this, I’ve concluded that travelers vaccinated in the USA and EU would follow the same rules as travelers vaccinated in the UK and would not need to self-isolate for 10 days, however, I still have not found supporting documentation on this topic.

Resources and testing providers

Below is a list of resources I used to prep for my sister’s vacation in the UK.

ResourceLink
USA arrival information + requirements (CDC)Link
USA Attestation Form (CDC)Link
UK PLFLink
UK pre-arrival testing requirementsLink
UK rules for amber-list countriesLink
UK rules for amber-list countries (double-jabbed travelers quick link)Link
UK approved testing providersLink
British Airways: General rules for leaving and entering England Link
British Airways: Discounted testing providersLink
Qured testingLink
DocTap testingLink

Related traffic light system posts

Below are the related posts in this unpleasant traffic light system mini-series.

  • Part 1 – Amber country, single-jabbed (June 2021)
  • Part 2 (this post) – Amber country, double-jabbed (August 2021)
  • Part 3 – Green country, double-jabbed (September 2021)

1 comment on “The traffic light system – part 2

  1. O-M-G…

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