International Travel During COVID-19’s Fourth Wave
This is a travel story, not travel advice. I purposely left out links because to put it simply; It’s complicated. It is unfortunate, but there is no such thing as a short stay at the time of this writing. It took ten days and an extra $300 CAD on top of food, hotel and transportation. In addition, you must have a smartphone, should have a laptop and should have access to a printer, at some point. Above all, you must be patient and courteous.
My daughter was accepted to the University of Glasgow in Scotland, United Kingdom (UK) and I wanted to help her settle in.
While we had our final destination address we did not book any flights until we had her Student Visa in hand and the appropriate test results. But that’s not really necessary, since the airlines we dealt with have free cancellation policies and you only have to pay the difference in price. Check their websites for cancellation policies.
By the way, if you’re concerned about privacy and consensual use of your data then stay home. Every website greets you with an oversized "I Agree" button. You can read all the privacy and terms and conditions pages you want. You are not moving forward until you click "I Agree".
Here is a log of our events and some of the steps required to get to the UK and back home to Canada. This the "Happy Path", with great thanks to my daughter’s diligence in pre-flight preparations and the many wonderful people we dealt with along the way.
Pre-flight Exiting Canada to Enter UK
UK Entry Requirements
- Proof of an approved Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) Test negative result taken within 72 hours of arrival
- Proof of payment for an at-home PCR Test Package, to be delivered to a UK address and self-administered two days after arrival (136.00 GBP per person)
- Completion of the Passenger Locator Form which includes:
- Your country status. In our case, it changed from Amber to Green the previous week, avoiding a mandatory 10-day self-isolation period.
- Passport number
- Flight information
- PCR Test Package reference number
- Traveler information
- UK destination address
- Sep 10: Get Canada & UK approved PCR test ($155 CAD per person)
- Provide passport
- Sep 11: Results received 36 hours
Sep 12: Flight Exiting Canada
- We self-checked ourselves & our baggage to avoid huge lines at the agent desks but as a result, almost walked past the screening kiosk on our way to the gate
- Screening kiosk with two airline agents:
- We were not required to provide any proof of vaccination
- We presented our passports, boarding passes and the three UK Entry Requirements
- The agent wrote a code on our boarding passes
- At the gate, the agents only asked for the usual passport & boarding pass
Sep 13: Day 0 Arriving at London Heathrow in the UK
- We passed through the self-serve border entry kiosk and scanned our faces and passports
- We were not asked to present any other documentation
Traveling within the UK
- For the next leg of our journey, we checked in with an agent and scanned our faces & passports
- We were not asked to present any other documentation
Sep 15: Day 2 in the UK
Self-administering the PCR Tests
- Since it was not a banking holiday, we able to self-administer the PCR Test
- This is not a pleasurable experience
- You can’t help but feel you’re not qualified to do this
- We placed the results in a self-addressed Priority Post pre-paid package, that included a tracking number
- The instruction booklet provided a URL to locate the nearest Priority Mail Box and mailed the packages immediately
Sep 16: Day 3 in the UK
- I tried the tracking the package but the site said the tracking number was either invalid or not processed yet.
- I called the provided Customer Contact phone number
- After "We are currently experiencing a greater than expected volume of calls…" I did speak to a very friendly agent
- The instruction booklet we received was missing one step: You must register you test online or, you will not receive your results
- The agent registered the test kits and within seconds, we received email & text confirmations with our results. Negative.
Sep 17: Day 4 in the UK
Pre-flight Exiting the UK to Enter Canada
- Register with an approved, private PCR fit-for-fly test provider
- The UK NHS website provides a list of providers
- To see all the providers, I downloaded a comma-separated values (CSV) text file
- I imported the list into a spreadsheet
- There is no easy way to find a provider in your area
- To find a provider you have to look throw 1097 rows containing:
- Name of provider
- Email address
- Contact telephone
- One pharmacy who told me they could do the test, was not listed
- I found the only local pharmacy I knew – Boots,
- Boots uses a third-party provider – recova-19 to register a test order and accept payment – which is only transacted after you complete the test
- You cannot schedule same day appointments
- You must upload your passport
- You must provide a UK phone number. The scheduling site indicates the field is optional but it’s not. Fortunately, we subscribed to a UK mobile provider so I was able to use my daughter’s number
Sep 18: Day 5 in the UK
Fit-to-Fly PCR Test
- PCR Test administered by a very nice Boots technician
- According to Boots’ website, results are guaranteed by 10 PM the next day
Sep 19: Day 6 in the UK
Fit-to-Travel PCR Test Results
- Results received. Negative
- Printed the certificate at the hotel
- Download & complete ArriveCan app. You can enter whatever information you have, save it and complete the process as you gather more information.
- Scan or, manually enter passport details
- Flight info
- Vaccination details
- PCR positive or, negative test results within appropriate dates
Canada’s ArriveCan app
- You can download the ArriveCan app and in advance, enter and save information as you go along
- Scan/ enter passport details
- Enter flight info
- Enter/scan Canadian vaccination details
- Certify you have approved PCR positive or, negative test results performed within the appropriate dates
- Your final information must be submitted with 72 hours of arriving in Canada
- Once submitted, the app provides you with a reference number
Flight Exiting the UK
- When passing through border control, agents remind everyone to check in with their respective airline service agents to verify their documentation
- Service agents checked, passport, boarding pass, PCR test results
Arriving in Canada
- After landing, on route to border control, an agent asks you to present the ArriveCan app with the reference number displayed
- When entering border control, as agent separates arrivals into two queues depending on whether you double vaccinated or, not
- Pass through the self-service kiosk to scan your face and passport
- After presenting my passport, kiosk receipt, ArriveCan app with reference number displayed, PCR test results, I was directed to another line because I was away out of the country for more than 10 days.
- I presented the same documentation to the next agent who then placed a sticker on my passport
- Prior to exiting the baggage claim area, I was asked to provide my kiosk receipt and present my passport with the sticker
What Worked for Us
- Print every document you can before departure. Smartphones are great but facial recognition, PINs, patterns, scanning boarding passes only delay matters. Plus, agents like to scribble on paper.
- Be prepared to multi-task on your smartphone
- Browsing, maps, tickets, transportation, downloading apps takes a toll on your phone’s battery. I had a portable charger that charged both our smartphones in an hour, with plenty of juice left over
- Arrive early: Three hours ahead of international flights & two hours ahead of domestic flights
- Be prepared to wait
- It seems like most people in the process operate on a need-to-know basis. It’s not their fault. Maybe it’s because the more they know the more mistakes can be made.
- Be patient & be courteous
- It’s complicated, for everyone.
Three days later
Three days after returning to Canada, I received the following email:
Subject: COVID-19 Testing and Public Health Measure Following Travel.
You are receiving this email from the Government of Canada because you recently entered Canada.
An Emergency Order under the Quarantine Act that applies to all travellers arriving in Canada is currently in force. You were informed of this Order when you entered Canada.
This is a reminder that IF you were randomly selected to complete COVID-19 molecular testing, you are required by law to follow the directions you were provided at the port of entry and complete the test. We may follow up with you in the next few days to confirm your compliance with this requirement. Further details can be found here: yada yada yada
Good thing they capitalized the IF, otherwise I’d be getting a little nervous. I wonder why they send this out to everyone, instead of only those they randomly tested.