Dr Sarah Jarvis, MBE
Author: Dr Sarah Jarvis, MBE, General Practitioner (GP)

Sarah is the Clinical Director of the Patient Platform, an active medical writer, broadcaster, and is the resident doctor for BBC Radio 2.

What should I do if I get coronavirus when I am abroad?

The steps you should take depend on the country you're in. In the UK, if you develop symptoms of possible COVID-19, the recommendation is to get a free COVID-19 test immediately and to self-isolate until you have the results. If your result is positive, you must self-isolate for at least 10 days from the date your symptoms started. If you feel well after this and your symptoms have settled, you can stop self-isolating then (but need to continue to self-isolate if you're generally unwell or have fever).

Different countries have different regulations for:

  • Testing (this is free in most countries, but how you access it will depend on local regulations)
  • Time required for self-isolation (in some countries, you need one or more negative tests before you're allowed to leave self-isolation)
  • Informing the authorities if you test positive

It's a good idea to check the details about the country you're visiting on the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) travel site before you go to familiarise yourself with the requirements just in case. You should check this page as soon as you develop symptoms.

If you do test positive, you will need to find out (and follow) local public health advice regarding self-isolation – make sure you ask about these when you're tested. You will not be allowed to travel home to self-isolate, so you may need to stay longer than planned to complete self-isolation. Never leave self-isolation or plan to travel home before consulting with the local authorities.

COVID-19 Medical Cover

We’ll only show you quotes from providers who cover emergency medical expenses (including repatriation to the UK) if you catch the virus whilst travelling abroad.

Enhanced COVID Cover

Extra cover that'll give you & your holiday even more protection against COVID-19. Compare quotes from leading providers with this additional cover today.

I have an underlying medical condition; do you have any tips for going on holiday following COVID-19?

The world is a very different place since COVID-19. You may need to factor in:

  • Longer waits at airports and customs to check vaccination status or other requirements.
  • Added stress if you haven't fulfilled all the COVID-19 entry requirements.
  • More social distancing and hygiene requirements at your venue.
  • Fewer options for eating out, local trips etc at the venue.
  • Different country requirements on wearing face-coverings (required outside as well as inside in some countries).
  • Anxiety for you if you feel COVID-19 safety isn't taken as seriously in the country you're visiting.

You also need to consider factors relevant to your individual condition. For instance, you may not be able to eat indoors in restaurants, which could be an issue if you have a breathing or heart condition made worse by cold air. Limitations in restaurant numbers may mean there are fewer accessible tables available, which could be a challenge if you have mobility problems.

This doesn't mean you should avoid going on holiday completely. It just makes it all the more important to consider your venue carefully.

What should I consider before going on holiday with long COVID?

Long COVID is defined as having symptoms that persist for at least four or 12 weeks after you caught the infection. It's thought as many as 1.1 million people in the UK are suffering from long COVID, which can lead to severe tiredness, breathing problems, mood changes, sleep issues and more.

Having long COVID doesn't mean you can't travel, but you will need to take lots of precautions. This includes choosing a holiday that won't be too exhausting; planning your travel to and from your venue carefully; building in rest days; pacing yourself and being realistic about what you can manage. You can find out much more from our article on travelling with long COVID.

How long after getting my COVID-19 vaccination can I travel abroad?

Different countries will have different requirements. Most countries which require proof of vaccination will require you to have a full course of vaccination before travelling. For all the vaccines currently available in the UK, that means two vaccinations 10-12 weeks apart. The Johnson & Johnson vaccination, which involves a single dose, may become available in the UK during 2021.

You will also need to check the individual requirements for the country you're visiting on the FCDO website. For instance, some countries may not allow you to travel until at least two weeks after your second vaccine, as it takes some time for maximum immunity to develop.

What should I do if I start feeling unwell when I’m abroad?

The guidance on what to do if you feel unwell if you're abroad depends on the country you're in and what symptoms you have. If your symptoms are ones you've experienced before because of an existing medical condition, you should take the same steps you would at home. However, do be aware that you can't just ring 999 if you become seriously unwell. If you haven't done it already, contact your travel provider or hotel as soon as you start to feel unwell to find out what steps to take if your symptoms become worse.

The amount of strain different countries' healthcare systems are under as a result of COVID-19 varies – in some countries, all but emergency care has been cancelled; in others, services have been limited to try and ensure that people with non-COVID conditions can be kept separate from those who are infected. All countries are taking the pandemic seriously and have extra measures in place to reduce the chance of you becoming infected with COVID while you're in hospital for another reason.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also changed the guidance for some countries a lot. If you have a pre-existing medical condition, contact your health provider and/or insurance company before you go to discuss what you should do if you become unwell.

I’m nervous about travelling again following COVID-19, do you have any advice on how to help with this new anxiety?

Feeling anxious is common, but it has affected far more people since the COVID-19 pandemic. We have all lived through a time of huge uncertainty.

The first thing to do is to recognise that this is normal, and not to feel bad about it. Recognise that you've been through a lot and give yourself permission to feel the way you do. Then consider what you can do in advance to relieve your fears – holidays are supposed to be about having a good time, and the last thing you want is to come back feeling worse than when you left.

If you haven't been in the company of others much for the last year, don't take your first steps out on the day of departure. Airports have done great work to make themselves safer from infection during the pandemic, but there will still be a lot of people there.

If you're feeling anxious, try to ensure you're not travelling alone. Do make sure the people you're travelling with are aware of your anxiety and are prepared to help – it may be as simple as finding a quiet(ish) corner for you to sit in at the airport while they fetch you a glass of water.

Do leave plenty of time for any engagements, including getting to the airport and plan every step of your holiday – including transfers – carefully. You'll feel much more confident if you don't have any unpleasant surprises.

Your holiday company will be happy to help with details of steps that have been taken to reduce the risk of infection.

Dr Sarah Jarvis 1080X1080

Are there any medications I should pack before going abroad in case I get COVID-19?

There are not any specific treatments for mild cases of coronavirus. However, paracetamol and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory tablets, such as ibuprofen, can help with aches and pains as well as fever if you have coronavirus symptoms. It is also very important to keep up your intake of non-alcoholic fluids.

In the early stages of the pandemic, there were concerns that taking ibuprofen might increase your risk of developing severe complications of coronavirus. However, the Commission on Human Medicines has now confirmed that there is not enough evidence to suggest there is any link. Nor will taking ibuprofen increase your risk of catching coronavirus. Therefore, unless you have been advised you should avoid ibuprofen for another reason, it is perfectly safe to take it to relieve your symptoms.

Do not take paracetamol or ibuprofen just to bring down a fever. If your only symptom is fever, keep cool with fans, air conditioning or tepid showers instead. Also, be sure to keep up your intake of non-alcoholic fluids.

Do you have any natural pain relief remedies you can suggest if I get COVID-19?

There are not any 'natural' pain relief remedies that have been proven to help with the symptoms of coronavirus.

However, drinking enough non-alcoholic fluids is important. If you have a fever or have diarrhoea or vomiting, you are more prone to dehydration. Being dehydrated can make you prone to headaches, as well as kidney problems, poor concentration and feeling generally more unwell.

In addition, for a mild cough, a teaspoon of honey (not suitable for children under one years old), or cough mixture from a pharmacist can help soothe a mild cough. Make sure you do not leave your room to visit the pharmacist yourself, ask someone else to get it for you.

Is there anything I can prepare in advance should I get COVID-19 when I am away?

The most important precaution to take is to ensure that your medical travel insurance is valid.

It's also important to ensure you have enough of your regular medication to last the whole of your trip with at least a few days' spare, in case you aren't well enough to travel at the time you were due to return.

Take a print-out of your repeat prescriptions and, if needed, a letter from your GP outlining your past medical history. Remember that your GP may charge for this.

I have an underlying medical condition; do you have any tips for going on holiday following COVID-19?

It is extremely important to check with your travel insurance provider what impact COVID-19 could have on your coverage. This includes coverage for medical repatriation costs if you become unwell whilst you are away.

It's essential for everyone, but especially if you have an underlying medical condition, to keep a careful eye on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website. This provides a full list of all the countries you can currently travel to without needing to self-isolate when you return. If the Foreign and Commonwealth Office feels that the risk of infection from a country is high, they will recommend against all but essential travel to that country.

If you travel to a country that is already on that list, or extend your trip to a country that goes onto the high-risk list while you're away, it could invalidate your travel health insurance, including for medical conditions other than COVID-19.

What tell-tale signs should I look out for that might suggest I have COVID-19?

The 'classic' symptoms of COVID-19 are:

  • A new, continuous cough (this means coughing for longer than an hour, or three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours). If you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual.
  • A fever (temperature above 37.5 degrees Celsius or your skin feels hot to touch on your chest or upper back)
  • Loss of or a change in your normal sense of smell or taste.

However, you may also have breathlessness (which may cause anxiety), tiredness, headache, muscle aches and sore throat, among others.

Most people affected with coronavirus have mild symptoms and can expect to feel much better in about a week. However, it is very important to know the warning signs to look out for.

If I have definitely had coronavirus, does that make me immune?

No. While being infected with many conditions does reduce your risk of catching them in future, we are not sure if this is the case with COVID-19. It seems that not everyone who has had COVID-19 (with a positive swab test confirming they are infected) develops antibodies.

If you do develop antibodies, it is not certain if these are enough to provide immunity. If you do develop immunity, we do not know how long that immunity would last. The latest research suggests that for many people, antibody levels drop within a few months.

That means the only safe option is to behave as if you could catch COVID-19, whether you have been infected or not. That means always following sensible precautions, including:

  • Staying at least two metres away from other people whenever you can.
  • If you cannot stay two metres apart, always trying to stay at least one metre apart.
  • Wash your hands regularly, for at least 20 seconds, with soap and water. This is particularly important if you have been on public transport or in areas where there are other people.
  • Use hand sanitiser containing at least 60% alcohol if you cannot wash your hands.
  • Wear a face covering if you are indoors and cannot socially distance. Be aware that in some countries you may be required to wear a face-covering in other situations.
  • Self-isolate if you have any symptoms of COVID-19.
  • If possible, get tested as soon as you develop any possible symptoms of COVID-19.

Would you advise quarantining before going on holiday to make sure that I am fit to travel?

Nobody wants to be unwell while they are on holiday. There is no official recommendation that anyone should quarantine before they go on holiday but if you develop any of the symptoms above before or even at the start of your trip, it is essential that you do not travel. Instead, stay at home and arrange a test as soon as possible.

We’ll only show you quotes from providers who are able to cover emergency medical expenses (including repatriation to the UK) if you catch the virus whilst travelling abroad.

Some of our providers are able to offer additional cover, such as cancellation cover should you catch COVID-19 or have to self-isolate because of suspected symptoms before departure. We’ll make it clear who these providers are when you’re comparing quotes so you can choose the policy that is right for you.

This doesn’t apply to all insurance providers, so unless otherwise stated, for all other sections of cover, you wouldn’t be covered if making a claim as a result of COVID-19.

For more information, we recommend reading our full guide here.

If the FCDO are advising against all, or all but essential travel to your destination at the time of your trip, there will be no, or extremely limited cover provided by your policy.

You can still choose to take out a policy now for a future holiday, but it is very important to note that if the FCDO are still advising against all but essential travel to your destination at the time of your trip, your cover will not be valid.

For more information, we recommend reading our full guide here.

A pre-existing condition is a diagnosed medical condition that existed before taking out a policy. We'll ask a series of questions about the medical history for you and any travellers on your quote. If you answer yes to any of these, you will need to tell us about the traveller's conditions. This could be a condition that a traveller has now, or has had in the past. If you are not sure what conditions you need to declare, we have online support available to help you 24/7!
Yes. It’s important to declare any past or present medical conditions. Failing to do so could invalidate your travel insurance policy and you may not be covered in the event of a claim.
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