Slightly jealous that Rhys had got to spend a week in Portugal trying out five star resorts recently, I decided to see what the one remaining realistic Green List destination – Gibraltar – had to offer.
A series of reviews from this trip will launch this week.
Perhaps the most relevant article, however, is this one. It is a detailed story of the testing you need to enter Gibraltar and to return to the UK.
British Airways has just launched a new BA CityFlyer route from London City Airport to Gibraltar to add to the existing Heathrow service.
Because the City flights only operate on Monday and Friday, I chose to fly down from Heathrow on Wednesday – a sensible 11.15 departure time – and return on the 17.55 flight to City on Friday.
I booked the City flight to avoid any immigration delays at Heathrow. Post booking, the increased restrictions on Portugal flights and the move of Red List flights to Terminal 3 meant that I needn’t have bothered – Heathrow would have been empty too. A Heathrow flight leaves two hours before the City flight on Friday.
(EDIT: A reader who flew into Heathrow on Sunday said that she had a 2.5 hour wait to clear passport control, so it seems I was mistaken. Choosing the London City flights may well be a sensible idea.)
What covid testing is required to visit Gibraltar?
As we covered here, Gibraltar has recently stepped up its testing regime for anyone travelling from the UK. This change caught a lot of people on the hop, and my ‘sold out’ hotel had lots of availability within 48 hours of the announcement.
If you are not double vaccinated, you now need to arrive with a negative test. This requirement applies to anyone 12+, so if you have children aged 12-18 they will have no choice but to get a test done. See the website link above to see what tests are currently accepted.
The only upside is that there is no time gap required after your second vaccination. You are free to travel to Gibraltar as soon as the 2nd vaccination is showing in the NHS app, which is usually within 24-48 hours.
I am double vaccinated, so this latest restriction did not impact me. This meant I ‘only’:
- had to complete the Gibraltar Passenger Locator Form (you cannot complete this until you have a seat number for your flight)
- book a lateral flow test at Gibraltar airport for my arrival (free, but see below)
- complete a UK Goverment Passenger Locator Form
- book a ‘Day 0-2’ test for my return
Step 1 – complete the Gibraltar Passenger Locator Form
There is a link to the Passenger Locator Form on this page of the Visit Gibraltar website.
You need to upload proof of your two vaccinations. You can do this using the data in the NHS app if you live in England.
It wasn’t clear exactly what was needed. I contemplated taking a screenshot from the app, but it seemed more ‘official’ to download the PDF certificate and upload that, even though it contains identical information.
The rest of form was quick and easy to complete with my personal details. Note that you cannot complete the form until you have a seat number for your flight.
Step 2 – take the free Lateral Flow Test on arrival
You need to pre-book a Lateral Flow Test for your arrival in Gibraltar. Pre-booking is essential, since you need to show the booking information to immigration in Gibraltar on arrival.
The test itself is free. You walk out of the airport and there are a number of testing huts next to the terminal to your right.
If you are returning to the UK within 72 hours, as I was, you can use this arrival test as your ‘fit to fly’ departure test to show at check-in.
However …. it is more complex than it needs to be.
My understanding was that I could book my free test and, on the spot, pay £30 to ‘upgrade’ to the ‘fit to fly’ test and receive the necessary paperwork.
I was wrong.
If you are returning within 72 hours you need to pre-book TWO tests, assuming you want to get it over and done with in one go.
You need to book the free arrival test AND a departure test, which costs £30, payable online. This meant I had to stand outside the testing hut and book a second test via my mobile phone for £30 before the test sample could be taken. This was, luckily, a quick process.
For clarity, you only take one test even though you have booked two.
It is a slightly odd set-up – you don’t go into the testing hut. You put your face near the glass and the nurse reaches out through the counter and sticks the swab up your nose!
The testing centre puts two bar codes on the sample and I received two text messages with my results approximately 45 minutes after taking the test. I also received one email containing the ‘fit to fly’ paperwork which BA would require to fly me home.
If you are returning to the UK more than 72 hours after arrival in Gibraltar, you will need to book a 2nd test nearer your return date.
However, you are given a 24 hour window to take your arrival test. If you were staying for three nights, you could delay your initial test by a day so that it is within 72 hours of your departure and so valid as your ‘fit to fly’ test. You will still need to pay the £30 but it reduces the number of tests you need to take to one.
Step 3 – book your ‘Day 0 to Day 2’ arrivals test in the UK
This is Step 3, and not Step 4, because you cannot complete your UK Government Passenger Locator Form without a test booking reference number.
There is a big misconception about the ‘Day 2’ test for arrivals from Green List countries. It is NOT a ‘Day 2’ test. It is a ‘Day 0, Day 1 or Day 2’ test. Nothing stops you taking it as soon as you step off your inbound flight.
I was returning to City Airport on the British Airways flight, which landed at 7.50pm.
Luckily for me, the Collinson on-site testing centre at London City is open until late on Fridays. Times vary on other days. Using code LCYTEST, I booked myself a PCR test for £66.
I could have done this slightly cheaper by ordering a test to take at home and then submitting it to a lab, but I wanted the process over and done with.
By using the Collinson facility at City Airport, I could clear immigration, be tested and be on my way home within 20 minutes of getting off my aircraft.
Step 4 – complete the UK Government Passenger Locator Form
Once you have your ‘Day 2’ test booking reference, you can go here and complete the UK Passenger Locator Form.
You can complete this from 48 hours before you are due to arrive back in the UK.
You will need your seat number and your ‘Day 2’ test booking reference.
Step 5 – take your ‘Day 2’ test (in my case, immediately after landing)
This could not have been more straightforward – as simple as the process in Gibraltar.
I walked off the aircraft, cleared passport control and walked down to the newly expanded Collinson test centre, which is just outside the terminal building.
Having done this, I strongly recommend it. Pay for an airport test which you can do as soon as you get off the aircraft and get the whole process out of the way. You can then arrive home and get on with your life. My result was emailed to me on Saturday, but it doesn’t matter how long it takes because you are not restricted.
This is, of course, a totally crazy process. Despite being double vaccinated and travelling to a destination where every adult was vaccinated by April, I was still required to take two tests for a total cost of £96.
The only upside was that the process was quick. It took me longer to complete the online forms than it took to actually take the two tests, and the disruption to my trip was minimal.
For me, travelling on my own and writing the cost off as a business expense, it was manageable. For a family of four planning a holiday, it mounts up.
If a family of four had two unvaccinated children aged 12+, you would need to add in the cost of two tests for your kids before you fly, even if the adults are exempt. You have reached around £500 of testing costs by that point, to visit probably the safest place in the world ….
These articles are also part of our Gibraltar series …. a review of the 5-star Sunborn Yacht Hotel (click here), and an overview of the other three acceptable Gibraltar hotel options – The Rock, Elliott and Holiday Inn Express.