Visiting the US during COVID – part 1, getting out of the UK

Last week we took a week’s break in Orlando, and as such had to navigate the whole process of testing and paperwork to get out of the UK and back again.

This post covers the UK regulations as of 0400 GMT on 7th December 2021, and the US regulations as of 0501 GMT on 6th December 2021. As such, they are subject to change at the whim of the UK Government, the US CDC and viral mutations, and I (as the author of the post) accept no responsibility should they be incorrect due to my error or you following them without checking whether the rules have changed since.

Please double-check the current regulations, and keep tracking them, well before you fly. If you’re going somewhere other than the US, the regulations covered in this post do not apply to you, but the second one (getting home again) will.

Also please note, this post is not for debate on the rights and wrongs of testing, lockdown, required wearing of masks, COVID passports etc, and anything that isn’t useful information or questions related to the process of getting in and out of the UK will get summarily deleted. And, once again, I am not a doctor or legal expert. This post is to give you pointers on where to look and what happens, nothing more.

With that in mind:

Getting out of the UK to the US

For this, you are pretty much going to need a smartphone, or wind up carrying boatloads of extra paperwork. Also note that this bit is a matter of complying with the current US regulations, not the UK ones.

Vaccination status

You need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. See here for details. (There are exemptions, which are covered there.)

You will need to be able to prove this on check-in, for which you are going to need either paper proof or a barcode that the airline can check. Both of these can be obtained via the NHS, either online or via the NHS App (NOT to be confused with the NHS Covid App!)

Side note: some venues in the USA require physical paper proof of vaccination, so it may be worth printing this off come what may.

VeriFLY

A number of airlines now use the VeriFLY app to consolidate your travel documents: if yours does (BA, Aer Lingus, American, etc), you can set up a profile and a trip on the app to store all your records for that trip. It will allow you to scan your vaccination pass barcode (you want the one that’s proof of your second vaccine) or upload the documentation.

Getting tested

The other main thing you will need is a lateral flow/rapid antigen/PCR test taken within ONE DAY of departure (or proof that you have recovered from COVID-19 in the last 90 days). For clarification, that means the documentation for your test must show a test time of the day of, or the day before, your departure, NOT necessarily within 24 hours. Yes, that’s pretty tight, and it’s going to cost you 30-50 quid or more per head. For US flights you are going to want to do this the day before.

A normal self-test is not enough, unless you can book a ‘tele-health’ service to monitor your test and provide you with independent documentary proof. We did this using Breathe Assured, who send you a Rapid Antigen test (or tests – they’ll do your group as one appointment) in the mail, and then provide a nurse-supervised testing process over a 30 minute Microsoft Teams call, and documentary proof via email before the end of it. (They use the FlowFlex test, which has the pleasant advantage of not requiring the nasal swab to be inserted all the way to your brain to test :D)

If you don’t use a tele-health service, you are going to have to find a testing service with a local clinic that will administer the test and deliver you a same-day result. Google for uk pre departure covid test, or check your airline’s recommendations page – British Airways in particular have discount deals with a few.

Side note: make sure your test provider’s email (in our case customerservices@breatheassured.com) is set to bypass junk mail filters 😀 You really do not want to be panicking about where your results are on the morning of your flight!

VeriFLY

Once again, you can add your test result to VeriFLY as part of your trip – you may need to learn how to manage files on your phone to do so, as they require you to upload the proof of testing, which they will process in a couple of hours. They will also ask you to answer a short list of questions that boil down to ‘no I don’t have symptoms, yes I’ve done all the paperwork’, and then you get a nice ‘Ready to Fly’ pass on your phone you can wave at the necessary people.

On the day

So, at this point you should have passport, boarding pass, proof of vaccination and proof of a negative test within the last calendar day. You should be good to go.

Check-in will be a little bit longer, as you will need to prove the COVID-related bits of your status. This is where VeriFLY really scores as you just need to wave the appropriate screen of the app at them, and since BA and American use it and are probably the main airlines likely to be taking you to the US, you should be laughing,

The responsibility for checking you’re fit to fly seems to fall with the airline on the departure side, but keep VeriFLY/your paperwork handy just in case US immigration ask you anything.

Masks

You will be required to wear a mask from the moment you set foot in the airport till you leave again at the other end, unless you have proof of a medical exemption or you’re actively eating or drinking. Take several, as you’re going to want to swap every few hours for a fresh and dry one. Also, many locations in the US will require you to mask up as well.

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