How to return home safely as an International student

Lauryn Berry·6 July 2021·8 min read
How to return home safely as an International student

With the Covid-19 pandemic, travel has become a nightmare for many UK students.

Between the government’s complicated traffic light systems, the expense of PCR tests, and the uncertainty of whether or not you can return, making a decision about going home can be overwhelming.

Here’s a brief guide of the steps you need to follow to safely return home during the summer holidays.

Covid-19 Tests

While Covid tests aren’t fun or comfortable, they are usually necessary if you’re travelling out of the UK.

Most airlines require a negative result from a PCR test obtained no more than 72 hours prior. However, some airlines require a 48 hour period instead - so make sure to check with your airline!

Aside from checking your airline’s specifications, you should also take a look at the national restrictions of the country you’re entering. For example, Spain is one of the few countries that allows Rapid Flow tests as well as PCR tests . So if you check ahead, you may find that you need to pay a lot less for a test than you thought you did!

You can get PCR tests at many different locations, but some are definitely cheaper than others. Unfortunately, you cannot get an NHS test to travel as these are reserved for people with Covid-19 symptoms.

Assured Screening offer at home PCR testing for £89 or in-clinic testing for £99 . The benefit of getting it done at a clinic is that the results are less likely to be inconclusive because they will be administered properly. If you do it at home, make sure to follow the instructions exactly to avoid disappointment!

Biogroup also provides at-home or in-clinic tests, each for £75 . (Note, the in-clinic testing is for London only, all other locations must purchase the home test).

One of the easiest options is getting tested with Boots as they have so many locations up and down the UK. Their PCR tests cost £85 and you will get your results within 48 hours - but make sure to ask if the results will be ready before you fly when you go and get the test done.

Note: If you’re flying with Ryanair, they offer a PCR home-testing kit for only £43!

The three most important things to remember when booking your test are:

● What type of test is this and is it the type the country I’m travelling to requires

● When will my test results be ready

● Will this test provide me with a certificate that I am fit to fly (negative result)

Passenger Locator Forms

When you get to the airport, aside from the proof of a negative test and some sort of ID, most countries will also require a passenger locator form (or a form of another name that has all your contact details on it).

These are used so that people can be contacted in case someone on their flight has Covid-19 and it is essential that you fill it out before your flight. Most airlines have links to these forms on their websites and most can be completed online and saved as a QR code to be used later. However, some countries require printed versions so make sure to check each government’s exact requirements before you leave the house!

In some cases, airlines may allow you to board the flight without one of these forms, but you will be asked to complete it during the flight before you land at your destination. So it is better to have it with you prior to arriving at the airport, in case the airline does not allow you to board the plane.


Many countries are issuing Vaccine Passports for citizens who have had both their jabs. This can mean many different things and it all depends on where you are flying from and to.

Some countries may waive the requirement for tests and quarantine for incoming passengers who are fully vaccinated while others may require all the same measures.

Either way, it is still important to check airline and government pages regularly and to follow the rules even if you are fully vaccinated as there is still a chance that you could carry and transmit the virus.

Travel Traffic Light System

The government’s system can seem very confusing with its different lists, measures, and restrictions - so here’s the breakdown.

Firstly it is important to note that these rules only apply to those who will be travelling back to the UK - if you’re wondering what you need to do to return to your home country, you will need to consult the country’s health guidelines.

So, if you’re going to visit your family for the summer holidays, you will only have to worry about this when you return for your next year of study. However, it is important to plan ahead and to regularly check the lists.

If you are travelling from a green list country back to the UK you must:

● Provide evidence of a negative Covid-19 test

● Provide evidence that you have purchased a Covid-19 test to take on the second day after arrival

● Provide a completed passenger locator form

You do not need to quarantine on arrival if you’re coming from a green list country.

If you’re travelling from an amber list country back to the UK you must:

● Provide evidence of a negative Covid-19 test

● Provide evidence that you have purchased a Covid-19 test to take on the second day and eighth day after arrival

● Provide a completed passenger locator form

● Complete a 10-day quarantine after arrival

If you’re travelling from a red list country back to the UK you must:

● Provide evidence of a negative Covid-19 test

● Provide evidence that you have booked a quarantine hotel package, including two Covid-19 tests

● Provide a completed passenger locator form

● Complete a 10-day quarantine in a managed quarantine hotel

Note that you cannot currently travel back to the UK from a red list country unless you are a British or Irish national, or UK resident.

While these are the current measures, the government is constantly reviewing these restrictions so it is important to keep up to date!

To Travel or Not To Travel?

The pandemic has caused a lot of suffering around the world, and students aren’t immune to it. It is natural that we all want to return to see our families during the summer, especially during these hard times. But sometimes it is just too dangerous or too expensive to do so.

If you’re wondering whether or not you should return home for the summer, these are some of the steps you can take.

Talk to your university - This is important as they can give you advice on the best course of action to take. They can inform you of whether or not you risk missing out on the beginning of next term, what you can do about summer accommodation, and where you can get tested, etc.

Assess the costs - At the moment it is best to plan for the worst and hope for the best, so make sure to include the cost of pricy PCR tests and even possible quarantines to make sure you can afford the travel.

Consider the timeline - You don’t want to risk getting stuck abroad and not being able to return to university in the autumn, so consider how long you will be away for, whether or not you will need to complete quarantine, and how much time you will spend travelling from one place to another.

Look at other options - Even if you decide it is too complicated to return home, there are many other options out there. Talk to your friends, consider visiting them, look into summer accommodation options on our website. Wherever you end up you should not feel alone - make sure to reach out to your university’s students’ union for help!