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What you need to know if you are travelling between Austria and the UK

Landed passengers with face masks at Vienna Airport in Schwechat. (ALEX HALADA/ AFP)
Landed passengers with face masks at Vienna Airport in Schwechat. (ALEX HALADA/ AFP)
What hoops must you jump through to travel to the UK and back into Austria? Local journalist Emma Midgely, who recently returned to the UK for a visit, found out.

After Austria banned flights and travellers from the UK for most of  2021, the country has finally relented and allowed UK residents to visit.

Austria’s decision to allow fully-vaccinated UK residents to visit came after the UK government put Austria on its ‘Green List’, meaning people coming from Austria do not have to quarantine in the UK even if they have not been fully immunised against Covid-19. 

So what is it like flying between Austria and the UK now the borders are finally open? 

Flying to the UK

Although Austria is currently on the UK’s Green list, people travelling to the UK have to fill in a passenger locator form which should show evidence that they have booked a Day Two PCR test with a private company.

NHS tests cannot be used for travel. 

If you are travelling with children, if they are aged over four, they also need to take a Day Two test. 

Travel to England: Day Two test

If you are travelling to England and choose to do a test provider in a clinic or choose a test company which requires you to travel to a specific drop box, you can use this government website to search Day Two tests by location and price.

However, many people using this site have complained that tests are advertised at prices no longer available when you click on them, or that companies featured on the list provide bad service. 

You can also use the government’s Covid Testing Network website to find Day 2 tests which include customer satisfaction ratings. 

READ MORE: How to book that ‘Day Two’ Covid-19 test if you’re travelling from Austria to the UK

Local journalist Emma Midgely, who traveled back to England for a visit in August, booked with Dante Labs, which cost £49 per test. This cost almost £200 for a family of four.

Although the provider did not have a particularly good customer service rating, Emma said she chose it because the tests would be posted to her address and could be sent back using any Royal Mail priority letterbox. There were no labs or drop boxes for other providers near where she was staying. 

The tests arrived without any problems and the results came back three days after they were posted. 

Emma says “One thing I didn’t realise before booking our flights was that airlines such as BA and Ryan air offer cheap testing packages, which I couldn’t use as we flew with Austrian Airlines. I also hadn’t realised it was possible to take a Day Two test immediately after arriving in the UK, for example at the airport.”

One thing worth noting is that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have different rules for Day Two tests.

Test before flying

You must take a Covid-19 test in the three days before travelling to the UK, even if you are fully vaccinated. Antigen, LAMP and PCR tests are all accepted, as long as they meet  performance standards of ≥97% specificity, ≥80% sensitivity at viral loads above 100,000 copies/ml. The test result must be in English, Spanish or French. 

Children aged 10 and under do not need to take a pre-departure test to travel to the UK, according to the government website.

Emma’s family used the Alles Gurgelt scheme in Vienna, which provides free of charge PCR test results in English, but there are many test centres and pharmacies which carry out free or low price tests in Vienna, even for tourists.

In other parts of Austria it is possible to be tested in pharmacies or testing centres, and results are also available in English.

A UK border sign welcomes passengers on arrival at Heathrow airport in west London (Photo by Ben FATHERS / AFP)

At the airport

Emma says “Our forms were checked both at the baggage drop, as we were unable to print off our boarding passes at Vienna airport, and at another desk before boarding at the gate.

“I asked the passport control officer not to stamp our passports, and he agreed it was not necessary as our family is resident in Austria.

“The flight to the UK was very busy, which I found surprising, and one woman on board kept taking off her mask on the plane, despite being told it was a legal requirement to wear one. 

“On landing at Heathrow it was not particularly crowded in the terminal. Almost everyone was wearing a mask except for the woman on my flight, who whipped hers off the moment she landed. 

“The officer who checked our family’s passports at Heathrow was spectacularly grumpy. There was no question of being greeted with a “welcome home” after being unable to visit for so long.”

Getting pinged

“I travelled to England in early August, when it was still possible to be ‘pinged’ and made to isolate by contact tracing if I had sat close to someone on my flight who later tested positive for Covid-19.

“However, on August 16th, the rules changed.

“At the moment in England, as long as you are fully vaccinated, if you are ‘pinged’ by contact tracing, you no longer have to isolate or take a test following contact with someone who tests positive.

“This announcement led to a joyful discarding of masks by many while we were on holiday.”

Mask wearing

“One culture shock on arriving in England is that mask wearing is far less common than in Austria. In Vienna everyone wears a mask on public transport.

“In London, even on crowded Tube services, probably fewer than half of people wore masks. In museums and on a river boat service I took, probably only about 10 percent of people wore masks.

“Children under 11 don’t have to wear masks in England, whereas in Austria only children aged under six are exempt. However, there is antibacterial gel everywhere, and much more focus on washing hands in England.”

Vaccine passports

“Having spent the last few months being constantly asked to show proof of a negative test, vaccination or recovery from Covid-19 in Austria, it felt a little unnerving to be in England with no checks being made at all in any venues I visited. I did notice at most places people were encouraged to download the NHS contact tracing app and scan themselves in voluntarily.

“I reassured myself with the UK’s vaccination statistics. In the UK, 71 percent of the population has received one dose and 62 percent have full immunity, compared to 61 percent and 58 percent respectively in Austria.

“Surely that had to help? My sister also informed me all those people I saw posting pictures of themselves on social media in the theatre or at music festivals in England with no masks had probably been asked to show negative lateral flow tests before attending the performances.”

READ MORE: How is Austria using Covid health passes compared to elsewhere in Europe?

Return to Austria

“While we were on holiday, on August 15th, the Austrian government dropped the requirement for fully vaccinated people to take a PCR test before returning to Austria from the UK, and opened up Austria to fully vaccinated UK residents to visit without quarantine.

“I was relieved, as booking reliable PCR tests for travel would have cost myself and my partner at least £150. 

“Children aged under 12 are exempt from testing as well.”

Return flight

“Heathrow was quite empty before my return flight to Austria.

“However, our flight was almost full, and we were surrounded by British people either not wearing their masks or wearing them on their chins, despite being asked to put them on by the flight attendant. 

“The British Embassy wrote on Twitter that I would have to fill in a pre-travel clearance form in the 72-hour period before my return to Austria. However, once we entered our status as “fully-vaccinated”, this form was impossible to complete. At the airport, at passport control, our vaccine certificates were checked and no form was asked for.

“Some other travellers from the UK saved a screen shot onto their phones to show it had not been possible to fill out the form. Once again on return, our British passports were not stamped as we are resident in Austria. However, the new Brexit rules meant a slightly longer queue at the airport to get through passport control.”


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