It’s no real surprise that travel at the moment is a little different to what we’re used to. It takes more planning, more money and more preparation than previous travel experiences, but it can be done, as long as you research what needs to be done and safely follow the (hopefully short lived) rules.
Take an Antigen Test in Benidorm
Before leaving Spain, whether you’re a British citizen on holiday or an EU citizen, you need to take an antigen test to enter the U.K. This has to be taken within 3 days of entering British territory. It doesn’t matter if you’re vaccinated or not, you still need to have this antigen to travel, whether by boat, plane or land. As we opted to travel through France, an Amber Plus country, it meant that we also needed to enter France within 24 hours of receiving the results, as I’m not vaccinated. Alex was able to enter with his EU Digital Pass. The good news is, as long as you still enter the UK within the time frame, there’s no need to take multiple antigens.
We had our antigen at the IMED Levante, where the results are returned to you within 20 minutes and all available online with a quick option to have it translated into English, Spanish, German or French. Although appointments are recommended, they do have a walk-in service. We opted to walk-in and within 10 minutes of walking in the hospital, we were walking back out again.
You’ll find the COVID-19 tests at -2 of the hospital and it is clearly signposted. There’s no need to go to the main reception. You can pop straight down and sign up at the COVID-19 reception desk. There are other places that offer Antigen tests to return to the U.K. like Clinica Europa for 19€, however they get booked up very quickly and are already booked for over a month in advance. Another known clinic is DAM Health. They are located near the Hotel Marina and offer next day results.
Travelling by Car to Irun
Irún is located on the Spain/France border in the province of Gipuzkoa in the Basque Autonomous Community. The journey is around seven hours by car, so we chose to leave the same day as our COVID test results came in. This allowed for maximum time to cross the France border. There are very few restrictions now in place across the country, but each autonomous community might have their own restrictions in place. In the Valencian Region, there is currently a 1:00am until 6:00am curfew, however, if you have proof of an onward journey, you are still permitted to travel within these times.
We stopped at the Ibis Irún, which offered free secure parking and a cheap option for a motorway stop with two dogs. The room is as you’d expect in an Ibis chain, but for the location and value, it was excellent. You can opt to have a good breakfast in the morning, which we chose to eat in the room. On nice days, you can sit outside and have meals or drinks in the restaurant, but the rain in the North continued to pour. Signs of weather to come!
Travelling through France
Like Spain, France has now lifted most of its restrictions. We didn’t have any difficulties crossing the border and masks are only compulsory indoors. There isn’t a curfew and we didn’t need to provide a reason to travel or provide any documentation.
The day travelling through France was long and tiring, I imagine even more so for Alex who had to do the 10 hour drive. Making regular stops for me, 7 months pregnant and two dogs meant that the journey through ended up being around 14 hours in total.
We spent the night at the Ibis Coquelles right next to the Eurotunnel. The hotel again had parking which was free and a cheap option with the dogs, charging only 7€ per dog. The hotel meant that our 9am crossing on the Eurotunnel was easy and stress-free, with us being a mere 5 minutes drive away. We found the room to be basic, as you’d expect an Ibis to be, but comfortable. The only complaint is there is only one plug in the hotel room, so be prepared to only have one device charged overnight.
Entering the U.K. Preparation
Within 48 hours of entering the U.K, you need to have your locator form and coronavirus test package booked. All this documentation also needs uploading to the Eurotunnel account, so we needed to do it either the night before or the morning of the crossing. Conscious of time and documents being checked, we opted to do it at night, even though we were tired!
First things first is you need to book your coronavirus test package. Currently, France is on the Amber Plus list, so even if you are fully vaccinated, you need to book the day 2 and day 8 test package and undertake 10 days quarantine. You do have the option of paying for a test to release on day 5 to shorten the quarantine time. We used the Regenerative Clinic who had an offer for the day 2 and day 8 package for £119 each. If you are an expat booking these tests, be aware that it asks for your “home address”, which in a tired state of mind, we obviously put the Spain address. It took some phone calls and emails to get this changed to our quarantine address! Once you have paid for the tests, you’ll receive a reference number which you can add to your passenger locator form as proof you’ve booked your tests.
The passenger locator form is done online and is a relatively painless task. It will ask simple questions about where you have been prior to entering the U.K, if you have any symptoms and your vaccination status. It will also ask for your reference number for the coronavirus tests and where you’ll be quarantining. If you are fully vaccinated by the NHS and only travel. to an amber country (not France!), you only need a day 2 test and no need to quarantine. This also includes children under 18 travelling with you. If you were vaccinated by the EU, you currently need a day 2 and day 8 test plus 10 days quarantine. However, after 2nd August at 4am, EU citizens will be able to travel to the UK without quarantine if they are fully vaccinated, again, this currently doesn’t include France. You need to be out of France 10 days prior to entering the U.K to avoid quarantine.
Crossing the Tunnel
If there was ever an experience of what the tunnel would look like during a zombie apocalypse, this was it. The crossing was a solemn stark contrast to the busy, but socially distanced, service stations, hotels and life in Benidorm that we had got back used to. Instead, we drove in to a completely deserted car park with everything closed, except Starbucks. We arrived at 8am, so I’m not too sure if things were opening later on, or if this was the reality of travelling from an Amber plus at the moment and the spanner in the works this government u-turn made so last minute. On our crossing, there was a handful of other cars, no more than 5.
We couldn’t fault the Eurotunnel. The experience was stress-free and the staff were friendly and helpful. We were given the option to get on an earlier train which we opted for. We had checked both dogs in at the pet reception which had also been a positive experience. Both dogs were required to have a worming tablet 1-5 days before entering the U.K, which they had taken in Benidorm. Rio travelled with his EU passport and Marley travelled with his EU medical certificate, which is now required for each trip to Europe following Brexit changes.
Which leads us to now. Over half way through our ten day quarantine, considering whether to invest in a test to release for around £200, or to just wait it out. We have received multiple negative tests so it does feel very frustrating to still be quarantining, especially with Alex being fully vaccinated. We have the excitement every day of the track and trace staff calling us to check we are still quarantine and understand the rules and implications for breaking them and the takeaway Starbucks, Costa Coffee and McDonald’s breakfasts that arrive once a day.
Rio is having a blast playing with Marley and you’d really think they were brothers, or at least related in some way. Two, not castrated, male dogs who just love each other so much. They’re constantly playing together, or cuddling in the same dog bed or kissing one another. You’d really believe they’d grown up together.
We’re really looking forward to the baby shower and visiting some friends and family that we haven’t seen in a long time, as well as hopefully doing some travelling in the U.K. We’d love to take Rio up to Scotland, to Liverpool and also down to London, but we’ll see what happens!
We’re home. Our last trip before our little one arrives. Wish us luck!