Where Can UK Scuba Divers Travel Now That Restrictions Have Been Eased?
- UPDATE, 12 October: Fiji to open borders from 1 December to fully vaccinated travellers (details below)
The UK Government this week formally announced the easing of travel restrictions to many countries for 'fully-vaccinated' travellers. The 'traffic light' system has been scrapped and, from Monday 11 October, there will be just a small 'Red List' of seven countries to which travel is not advised, and which require a mandatory, and very expensive, 10-day quarantine upon return. All other destinations may be visited with fewer testing requirements for fully vaccinated travellers, with no quarantine restrictions upon return.
Just because a country has been moved off the Red List, however, does not mean that UK citizens will be able to travel there. Some countries remain closed to all visitors, others consider the UK to be a high risk country and have selectively banned UK tourists from entering. To help divers who are wanting to get away sooner rather than later, here's a list of the current entry requirements for the Top 25 scuba diving destinations from our 2020 DIVE Travel Awards, plus a few tips for travelling abroad.
Advice and Tips
- 'Fully Vaccinated' means you have had two jabs of an approved vaccine a minimum of 14 days prior to travel. Approved vaccines for travel to the UK are currently Oxford/AstraZeneca, Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna, Janssen. Fully vaccinated travellers with proof of vaccination may, in some countries, be exempted from PCR testing.
- 'Proof of Vaccination' must be an approved certification with a linked QR code, the digital version of which comes in the form of the NHS Covid Pass in England and Wales, the COVID Status app in Scotland or the NI COVID certification service in Northern Ireland. You can also request a paper version which takes 4-5 working days to arrive. With a small handful of exceptions, the card handed out when you get jabbed is not sufficient for most destinations. For more information, visit: www.gov.uk/guidance/nhs-covid-pass
- PCR tests if you're fully vaccinated: if you're fully vaccinated you don't need to book one prior to your return to the UK, but you will need to pre-book a test before you return to take on day 2 after you've landed. The government has announced that cheaper lateral flow tests will be accepted from the end of October for people returning to England and Scotland who are fully vaccinated. Wales and Northern Ireland have not yet made a decision on whether they will be accepted
- PCR tests if you're not fully vaccinated: if you're not fully vaccinated then you will need to take a PCR test three days before you return to the UK and pre-book (and pay for) two further tests to be taken on day 2 and day 8 following your return. Lateral flow tests will not be accepted as replacements from the end of October for those who are not fully vaccinated.
- 72 hours prior to departure or arrival?: Some countries require the result of the PCR test to be valid from no more than 72 hours (or a variation thereof) prior to boarding the aircraft. Others mandate that the time period is 72 hours prior to arrival. That's a big difference for long-haul flights. It's probably best to err on the side of caution and aim to get your test result as close to the time of travel as possible. At best, you might have to pay for another test at the airport, at worst, you will not be allowed to board your flight. Most airports have rapid (3 hour) testing facilities.
- Where to get a PCR test in the UK: FCDO advice is that 'you should not use the NHS testing service to get a test in order to facilitate your travel to another country. You should arrange to take a private test.' Technically, you can get one on the NHS, but you have to pay, and they are often more expensive than private tests. You can find a testing centre using the UK government locator service at: www.gov.uk/find-travel-test-provider, or check out the complete list of testers here.
- Where to get a PCR test when you're abroad: You can buy them in the UK from an approved testing provider before you leave and take them with you on holiday. You will need to take the test over a video call with a representative from the provider within 72 hours before you arrive back in the UK. You will almost certainly be able to source them through your hotel and other local providers but it would be wise to do some research first.
- Package testing: Package holidays are often the best options for pitfall avoidance, and some operators are offering a complete booked-and-paid-for testing service as part of their packages. This would be a highly recommended choice for people who want to go diving and not faff about making arrangements in-country.
- Masks: You'll need them in the airport, on the 'plane, maybe in the hotel, or the bar, or the dive boat. Take a good supply.
DIVE's 2020 Top 25 Destination Requirements
Note: the list is accurate as of 8 October 2021, but may change at short notice. To get the latest travel updates, please visit the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) – formerly the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) – for entry restrictions to your planned destinations.
Australia is closed to all but essential international travel.
The Bahamas requires that all travellers submit a Bahamas Travel Health Visa Trip application to be approved for a visit to the country.
Fully vaccinated (or children aged 2-11) travellers do not require a PCR test but must still submit the results of negative rapid antigen test taken within the 5 days prior to arrival to the visa application. The NHS Covid Pass is accepted as proof of vaccination.
Travellers who are not fully vaccinated and children aged 2-11 years old must submit a negative PCR test result with the application. Confirmation of the approval or denial of the health visa will be sent by e-mail to the applicant and must be presented to the authorities upon arrival in The Bahamas. Visa applications can take up to 72 hours to process.
There are currently no flights from the UK, and entry requirements differ based on entry via land or sea. All visitors are required to submit a PCR taken no more than 96 hours before arrival by sea or air or must take a PCR test administered at the land border at the traveller's expense.
The UK is considered a 'Very High Risk' country and there is consequently a ban on direct flights from the UK. Entry via alternative routes is acceptable under the following conditions:
Fully vaccinated: Must sign a health declaration between 72-48 hrs prior to arrival, take a PCR test no earlier than 48 hours prior to departure and a second PCR test on day 5 in the country.
Not vaccinated: Must sign a health declaration between 72-48 hrs prior to arrival, take a PCR test 24 hours before departure OR 48 hours before departure and take an antigen test on arrival, and a second PCR test on day 5.
The FCDO states that Bonaire has not yet recognised the NHS Covid App as proof of vaccination and therefore potential visitors should follow the guidelines for unvaccinated travellers.
Costa Rica / Cocos Island
No PCR tests are required for entry, regardless of vaccine status.
Fully vaccinated: can enter with proof of vaccination with Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson vaccines and by completing the Costa Rica Digital Health Pass. Proof of vaccination include certificates and cards that contain the name of the person vaccinated, the date of each dose, and from which 'pharmaceutical house' the vaccine originates.
Not fully vaccinated: can enter Costa Rica, but must purchase mandatory travel insurance that covers lodging in case of quarantine and medical expenses due to COVID-19 disease as detailed on the Entry Requirements page of the Visit Costa Rica website
The UK is considered a 'Very High-Risk Country' for travel, and there is so much detail to Curaçao's entry requirements that FCDO has simply referred all enquiries to the Curaçao Tourist Board website, which states that all passengers must follow these four mandatory steps as noted on dicardcuracao.com
Complete the digital immigration card online before departure.
Digitally fill out the Passenger Locator Card (PLC) 48 hours prior to your departure and carry a printed or digital document of proof with you.
Each visitor entering Curaçao will need to show a negative result from a certified COVID-19 PCR-test taken at most 48 hours before your flight to Curaçao. You need to be in possession of printed or digital proof. You will be required to upload the negative test results of the COVID-19 PCR-test on dicardcuracao.com before departure.
All passengers departing from these countries are required to undergo an Antigen test at a local laboratory on the 3rd day in Curaçao. The reservation and payment of the 3rd day antigen test is part of the PLC process.
You must also carry proof of medical insurance and may be requested to present it when asked; there are no exemptions for vaccinated passengers.
NOTE: As of 11 October 2021, Dominican Republic remains on the UK Red List
Fully vaccinated: Exempt from PCR testing. Must present 'a vaccination card demonstrating a final dose administered no fewer than three weeks before their arrival' as proof.
Not fully vaccinated: PCR test no more than 72 hours before arrival.
Fully vaccinated: Exempt from PCR testing. NHS Covid pass accepted.
Not fully vaccinated: Proof of negative PCR test required no more than 72 hours before departure (96 hours if flying from Heathrow). Passengers without negative PCR test proof can take a test on arrival which costs $30, and are required to isolate for 12-24 hours while awaiting results. A positive result will lead to a mandatory 14-day quarantine at visitors' expense.
Tourists will also be asked to complete a Passenger Tracking Card and carry proof of their health insurance details at all times.
UPDATE 12 October: Fiji announces borders to reopen on 1 December 2021
At the time of writing of the original version of this article, Fiji remained closed to international visitors. However, Fiji's Travel Authority has released a statement saying that its borders will re-open to fully vaccinated travellers from a limited number of partner countries, including: Australia, New Zealand, United States of America, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Canada, Germany, Spain, France, Republic of Korea, Japan, Singapore, Switzerland and most Pacific Island Countries and Territories.
All visitors over the age of 12 will need to be fully vaccinated and present a negative PCR test result received no more than 3 days prior to boarding their flight to Fiji. Fiji currently only recognises the Astra-Zenaca, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna vaccines.
For more information, visit: www.fiji.travel/covid-19/travelling-to-fiji
NOTE: As of 11 October 2021, Ecuador remains on the UK Red List
Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands have different entry requirements.
Ecuador will accept fully vaccinated passengers (NHS Covid Pass accepted as proof) or non-vaccinated passengers with a valid PCR test result no more than 72 hours prior to arrival in the country, and all passengers will be required to complete a Health Declaration Form, together with their planned itinerary and local contact details.
All visitors to the Galápagos Islands, however, require proof of a negative PCR test no more than 72 hours prior to visiting the islands, regardless of vaccination status. Passengers who provided proof of a PCR test for entry to Ecuador can use the same test result for the Galápagos Islands, as long as it is still with the 72-hour limit. Aggressor Adventures has a useful up-to-date travel card for potential visitors.
All travellers who have been in the UK or South Africa within 21 days before arrival in the country are currently banned from entry.
Otherwise, proof of vaccination is required, or a 72-hour PCR test for people who are not fully vaccinated.
Indonesia remains closed to foreigners for both visiting and transiting, with exceptions made only for those with residency and work permits (KITAS), and certain classes of visitor visas that must be arranged in advance and are subject to heavy restrictions.
A 'visit visa' is currently available for which travellers must have proof of full Covid-19 vaccination, a letter stating they are willing to follow Indonesia's health protocol, proof of health insurance, proof of at least $2000 (or equivalent) in funds via bank statements. PCR testing prior to arrival is mandatory and visitors are required to quarantine (with more PCR tests) for 8 days on arrival.
Tourist visas-on-arrival remain suspended indefinitely, however, Indonesia's policies can change at short notice. The latest updates can be found on the Indonesian Government Immigration website.
Entry to British nationals is currently prohibited.
Must be fully vaccinated to visit. NHS Covid Pass accepted.
PCR tests at least 96 hours before arrival were previously required for all travellers, however, restrictions have been eased on islands with high rates of vaccination. Check with your tour operator or resort.
All tourists must have hotel/guest house reservations for the entire duration of their stay and must complete a Traveller Health Declaration form 24 hours before departure to, and return from, the Maldives.
Malta / Gozo
All travellers must be fully vaccinated if over 12. The NHS Covid Pass is accepted. Note that Malta initially refused to accept the digital version of the pass when it first opened its borders but retracted that decision with 24 hours. Both the digital and the paper versions are now accepted by Maltese authorities.
Children under 11 can enter with a negative PCR test 72 hours prior to arrival. Note that this does not apply to children over 12, who must be fully vaccinated to travel
Mexico is open for tourists without any need to present proof of vaccination or PCR test requirement. All visitors must register on the Mexico Vuela Seguro Platform before departure, and show the QR code that will be issued to Mexican immigration upon arrival.
Micronesia (Chuuk / Yap)
Micronesia is currently prohibiting travel to its islands unless permission is expressly granted by the National Government.
From the FCDO website: 'The Federated States of Micronesia has declared a 'state of public health emergency'. No passengers are allowed to disembark any air or sea vessel originating outside of Federated States of Micronesia, with the exception of individuals granted an exception from the National Government or those working on commercial sea vessels abiding precautionary measures and protocols.'
As of the time of writing, direct flights to Mozambique from the UK are suspended, but tourists with a valid tourist visa may enter without the need to quarantine upon providing proof of a negative PCR test result no more than 72 hours prior to arrival, regardless of vaccine status.
The PCR test is valid for 7 days for those travelling into Mozambique from South Africa by land.
All visitors must be fully vaccinated or have been certified as having recovered from Covid-19, plus proof of a negative PCR test 72 hours prior to arrival.
However, according to the FCDO, Palau has not yet recognised the NHS Covid App as proof of vaccination and therefore UK visitors are being advised to follow the rules for unvaccinated travellers, which means a mandatory 14-day quarantine on arrival.
Papua New Guinea
Visitors must have written approval from the 'Pandemic Controller' to visit, regardless of vaccination status. All visitors must self-isolate for 14 days on arrival and will be required to take at least three PCR tests before being released.
As of the time of writing, the Philippines remains closed to tourists.
Visitors require prior authorisation from governing authorities to enter the islands and must be fully vaccinated at least four weeks prior to travel.
The UK is currently considered to be a 'Restricted' country and, as such, potential visitors must take three tests over a three week period before departure, and will be quarantined in Honiara for 21 days upon arrival.
All visitors must have proof of a negative PCR test taken at most 72 hours before departing from their point of origin and must complete the Traveler’s Surveillance Form at most 24 hours before arrival.
Currently, people who have visited, or transited through the UK will be subject to an antigen test upon arrival, at their own expense. The tests currently cost $25 and can be paid for prior to departure at zanzibarcovidtesting.co.tz/app/home.
The PCR test on arrival also applies to travellers from (or who have transited through) Afghanistan, Brazil, Congo (Dem. Rep.), Egypt, France, India, Indonesia, Malawi, Peru, Philippines, Rwanda, South Africa, USA and Uganda.
All non-Thai travellers to Thailand, with the exception of the 'Phuket Sandbox' (see below), must have a visa arranged in advance, health insurance covering Covid-19 and no less than $100,000, and must have proof of a negative PCR test result issued no earlier than 72 hours before departure. Fully vaccinated visitors will be subjected to a mandatory seven-day quarantine at a government-approved facility; those who are not fully vaccinated will require a 10-day quarantine; all quarantined persons will be subjected to two further PCR tests
Fully-vaccinated travellers can visit the 'Phuket Sandbox', which covers Phuket, Surat Thani, Phang-Nga, and Krabi, without having to quarantine. They must arrange the visa and health insurance as stipulated above, must stay in a government-approved hotel, have pre-booked flight tickets, must depart from Phuket, and are required to pre-book two PCR tests to be taken within the area they will be visiting.
Those wishing to travel to other parts of Thailand must remain in Phuket for 14 days, subject to the same requirements. The requirements are complex, and a complete guide to travel can be found at the Thai Embassy in London
FCDO Travel Advice: None
The UK came 22nd in our 2020 Travel Awards, and if you live in the UK, you can travel about (most of it) fairly freely these days. You don't need a PCR test to visit Cornwall, Stoney Cove or the beautiful Pembrokeshire Coast, nor the Farne Island's seals nor the wrecks of Scapa Flow. You might find it easier to grab your drysuits and your bacon butties and stay local – although with Autumn well underway, at least now we have some options...