Stricter COVID-19 travel rules have been announced in the U.S. which will impact British cruisers about to set off in search of some much-needed sunshine this winter.
In November, cruise lines reported a surge in bookings for Caribbean itineraries when the U.S. opened its borders to international travel for the first time since March 2020. Less than a month later, as a result of the fast-spreading Omicron variant of COVID-19, stricter entry requirements have been imposed by U.S. officials.
In the light of the tightening up of rules to get into the U.S., we look at what you need to be aware of, what to do ahead of your Caribbean cruise, and what to do when you're there so you can enjoy a stress-free sailing.
This is the main change. From 5:01 a.m. on Monday, December 6, all U.K. passengers will have to show evidence of a negative COVID-19 test result (PCR or antigen) taken one calendar day before travel (not 24 hours as is sometimes erroneously reported). Previously, the time frame for testing was 72 hours. Therefore, you need to plan ahead and make sure you book and receive home-based tests in good time, or go to a local testing clinic, to comply with the one day window. Pre-flight tests are available at airports including Heathrow and Gatwick, but tend to more expensive and you need to factor in extra time to get the results.
If you have recently recovered from COVID-19, you can travel with a proof of having recovered in the past three months and a letter from a healthcare provider stating you are clear to travel.
Results must be shown at the airline check-in desk before boarding your flight.
More information on the new rules can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.
Airlines and cruise lines require proof that British passengers have received both jabs. The paper vaccination card is not accepted so you need to download the NHS app that holds details of both vaccinations. On the app you can access the NHS COVID Pass valid for travel overseas which can either be displayed on your phone or mobile device or downloaded and saved as a file.
Hint: Having witnessed nerve-wracking scenes at airports and cruise terminals where passengers haven't been able to access the NHS app due to Wi-Fi issues or low battery power we recommend you also print out a paper copy to carry with you.
### British Travellers: Don't Forget About ESTA
All British travellers entering the U.S. need to have a visa or Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) visa waiver. The latter is the simplest and quickest way of getting the necessary documentation. You can apply for an ESTA online and it is usually issued within a few hours. They are valid for two years, but if you had one before do check as it will most likely have expired during the travel shutdown.
The ESTA is available through the Department of Homeland Security website.). Make sure you use the official website as there are other sites that look similar but charge a fee for processing the application.
The CDC requires all passengers to complete a "combined passenger disclosure and attestation" form to be supplied to airlines before travel. It includes questions about being vaccinated and receiving a negative COVID-19 test before departure. The form can be found on the CDC website.
Hint: To help tick off your checklist, and keep travel documents in one place, many airlines including British Airways, Aer Lingus and American Airlines, are encouraging passengers to use the VeriFLY app to upload documentation ahead of the flight so it can be checked and verified. Virgin Atlantic and Delta Airlines use a similar tool called TrustAssure. It can be time-consuming to complete, but it's far better than arriving at the airport to find something is missing or has not been filled in correctly.
The other recent change for Brits, introduced by the U.K. government in response to the new Omicron variant, is the requirement to self-isolate at home on return until receiving a negative Day 2 PCR test result. You need to book the Day 2 test, and get the all-important reference number, in order to complete the Passenger Locator form before flying back to the U.K. (see the next point on the checklist).
Irrespective of the new need to quarantine, we strongly recommend booking the test in the U.K. before embarking on your Caribbean cruise. Again, we have heard stories of passengers trying to book tests while away and incurring hefty roaming charges or being unable to do so because of Wi-Fi glitches.
You need to fill this in before you travel home and can submit the form any time in the 48 hours before you arrive in the U.K. A key requirement is submitting the reference number for the Day 2 test as you can't complete the form without it. You can find the form, and more information, on the Gov.UK website (https://www.gov.uk/provide-journey-contact-details-before-travel-uk).
Check out the individual requirements for your cruise line, as they can differ depending on departure port. For example, nearly every major cruise line sailing from the United States requires passengers to show a negative PCR or antigen test taken no more than two days before embarkation in a U.S port. So if you're planning to spend a few nights on dry land before your cruise you will need to organise another test on arrival. On MSC Cruises the test must be taken within three days of boarding. For passengers sailing with Norwegian Cruise Line, the line is providing free tests for passengers sailing from now until January 16, and luxury line Silversea includes complimentary pierside testing prior to embarkation.
A few final tips for Brits travelling to the U.S.: You must wear a mask on public transport throughout the United States through at least March 2022. This includes planes, trains, airports, transfer buses to the cruise terminal, within the cruise terminal itself, and while in taxi cabs and Ubers, so always ensure you carry a mask -- and some spares -- with you.
Now you can sit back, relax and enjoy your well-earned Caribbean cruise.
On January 7, 2022, the English government removed the requirement to take a pre-departure test for fully vaccinated passengers. Additionally, the current PCR test on Day 2 of arrival can be replaced with a cheaper lateral flow test.