What are holidays like after May 17 and what are the rules on COVID testing?

17 May 2021, 23:16

Charlotte Lynch

By Charlotte Lynch

British tourists are now able to holiday in Portugal quarantine-free, and do not need to isolate on their return.

But some travellers are still concerned about the documentation and testing that is required to get there and back, and the cost that comes with it.

We sent LBC reporter Charlotte Lynch on one of the first flights out to Faro on Monday May 17th, to find out what it’s really like.

When LBC asked me to travel to Portugal on Monday morning, to help people understand how holidays will work post-Covid, I was ecstatic - but also anxious.

The Portuguese government only announced on Friday that they would allow British tourists to enter the country for holidays, so it was a mad rush to get everything booked and sorted. At the start, it seems like a daunting task, but it was actually easy.

Before you travel, you have to work out when and where to get your ‘fit to fly’ PCR COVID-19 test, and fit it within your budget. My test cost an eye-watering £190, in order to provide the results on the same day.

Read more: 'Wear masks or you may end up at the police station': Warning as Brits head to Portugal

Read more: Lockdown easing: All you need to know about England's Covid rules from today

These can be purchased at some airports for £62. The swab must be done within 72 hours of your flight time, and it cannot be an NHS test - it must be private.

This was the most difficult, and most costly part of my trip. But even so, the results came back when promised, along with my proof of a negative result to show at the border.

You then have to ensure you’ve correctly filled out your passenger locator card via the Portuguese government website. My airline, Ryanair, were incredibly helpful with this and made clear exactly what was needed.

If you are unsure, you can contact your airline and they will help out. Once complete, you will receive confirmation via email. Again, you must display this.

I anticipated long queues at Birmingham Airport as officials dealt with making sure everybody had the correct documentation. I arrived at 7am Monday morning, convinced I must have got something wrong with so many forms to think about. I needn’t have worried.

Read more: Travel entry requirements for Portugal: The rules for UK holidaymakers explained

Read more: Portugal confirms holidays from UK can go ahead from 17 May

Airline staff were on hand to assist passengers, clearly delighted to see their return. My 09:35am flight from Birmingham to Faro was practically full, with travellers telling me they just couldn’t wait to get some sun.

The queue for check-in and security was as you’d expect - even pre-covid they can be hit-and-miss. I was blessed with fairly average wait times.

In departures, the likes of Wetherspoons and Costa were also opening their indoor seating areas to customers for the first time, as part of the easing of lockdown restrictions across England.

It wasn’t long before passengers had ordered pints of lager and a fry-up - normal service resumed.

At the gate my passport, boarding pass, COVID test result and and passenger locator card were all checked. The test result and locator form both come with a QR code which officials can scan to prove they are real - but they didn’t need to. I was waved straight through, and within a few minutes was comfortable on my seat on the plane.

There were only a handful of empty seats and the planes are not under-sold to account for social distancing. Everybody is sat together as they would usually be, but you must keep your mask on for the duration of the flight.

A few minutes before take-off, there was some commotion the other end of the plane. The flight attendant made an announcement: “This is not a kindergarten, this is a two hour flight. If you cannot respect each other and wear your mask, then you will spend the start of your holiday in Portugal in a police station.” It seems not everybody was happy with the new rules.

We landed in Faro at 12:30pm where it was 27 degrees and sunshine. At passport control, I again had to display my negative result and passenger locator form.

This was again accepted - and just like that I was free to explore the Algarve! No quarantine needed. I went to the nearest beach, Praia de Faro, where locals told me they were incredibly glad to have British tourists back and the money they bring with it.

Before you return home, you will require another negative Covid-19 test result within 72 hours of your flight. Again, you must source this yourself, and the UK Government requires certain specifications. This can be a PCR or antigen lateral flow test.

You also have to fill out a passenger locator card on the UK government website prior to your take off, and for the purposes of this, you must also have a Covid-19 test booked which you take on your second day of being on British soil.

This can be an at-home kit, and mine cost £140. The website will bring up options to book a day two and day eight test kit - but you only need to test on day two if you are coming from a green-list country like Portugal.

You must arrange this test before you leave for the UK in order to fill out your passenger locator form correctly.

Much like in Birmingham airport, my documentation was looked at and approved along with my passport and boarding card, and I was free to board the return flight.

There were no queues whatsoever at Faro airport - it was eerily quiet through duty free and in the departure lounge. Who wants to travel to rainy Britain when it’s 27 degrees and sunny in Portugal?! On my 18:40pm flight home, I was one of only 10 people. A huge contrast to my flight out.

Back in the UK, I was anticipating massive queues through border control. Maybe it was the time of day we landed, at 10pm, but I was through within five minutes.

My passport was scanned and I wasn’t asked to show the other documentation I’d been guarding with my life. You have to enter your passport number when filling in these documents and taking the test, and I believe the scan of my passport provided officials with the proof they needed.

If that’s the system then it’s very efficient, and travellers may not need to be so concerned about long queues on their return home. All in all it went by without a hitch. Just from the few hours I spent on the beach, the extra hassle really was worth it.