What do the UK Covid-19 rule changes mean for international students?

Covid-19 rules ease in the UK
Covid-19 rules easing, collage

This article was published by the Great British Mag content team on 21 July 2021.

As the vaccination programme continues to work its magic, the four UK nations are starting to slowly ease restrictions. Here we will tell you everything you need to know about the Covid-19 rule changes and how they affect you as an international student.

UK Survival Service for international students

What is the new travel guidance?

The travel guidance for the UK is the same for all four nations: the UK has implemented a ‘traffic light’ system in which countries are placed in a colour bracket depending on their risk. Red countries are high risk, amber are moderate risk and green are low risk. Depending on which country you are coming from, you will need to do different things. However, everyone coming into the UK must do the following:

  • Fill in a passenger locator form.
  • Take a pre-departure test three days before arriving to the UK. You must have a negative result before you board on your transport of choice. The test can be any nucleic acid test—such as a PCR—or a lateral flow test.

What do I need to do if I am travelling from a red list country?

You can only enter the UK from a red list country if you are a UK national, or have the right to reside in the UK. When coming to the UK from a red listed country you must:

  • Do hotel quarantine in a specialised quarantine hotel for ten days. The day that you arrive in the UK is treated as day zero. You have to book this 14 days prior to your arrival and it will include your stay at the hotel, quarantine transport and Covid-19 tests on day two and day eight of quarantine. You will have to pay £1,750 for one adult in one room.
  • Check with your university before making any travel plans. They will be able to support you upon arrival. Furthermore, if you are having financial trouble ask your university whether they provide extra funding. Some universities are offering to reimburse the cost of the hotel quarantine as well as offering hardship funds for students.

What do I need to do if I am travelling from an amber list country?

The rules on travelling from an amber list country will vary depending on whether you are vaccinated or not.


If you are fully vaccinated (14 days after your second dose) and are not coming from France:

  • Book and pay for a day two test.
  • You have to take this on the second day after your arrival to the UK. Show proof of your vaccination status.
  • You do not have to quarantine unless your day two test comes out positive.

If you are not fully vaccinated or are coming from France:

  • Book and pay for a day two and a day eight test. These must be taken on or before day two and day eight.
  • You must quarantine at home for ten days. You can also opt to pay for a ‘test to release’ test which you will be able to take on day five. You must book this before your arrival to the UK and it will cost between £80 and £120 depending on what company you book it with. You are allowed to stop quarantining as soon as you receive a negative result from this test.

What do I need to do if I am travelling from a green list country?

  • Book and pay for a day two test. You have to take this on the second day after your arrival to the UK.
  • Unless you give a positive test result you do not have to quarantine.

What is happening with student visas?

With the new restrictions the government has implemented some concessions for Tier 4 visa holders. The goal of this is to provide you with time and flexibility in regards to your return to the UK. All international students, whether returning or starting their first academic year in 2021-2022, will be allowed to do online learning from home. However, you must have returned to the UK by 6 April 2022.

To be able to keep your visa, though, you must meet two conditions. If you are studying from home you cannot miss more than 30 days of class, otherwise your visa will be withdrawn.

For international students who are in the UK, from 27 September onwards you must undertake face-to-face learning at least two times per month.

What do the new restrictions mean if I am in England?

From 19 July 2021 the English government has eased most of the restrictions that were in place. These are some of the most important changes:

Face masks are no longer mandatory by law although the government recommends that they are worn in crowded and enclosed spaces, especially on public transport.

Two metre distancing is no longer required and there are no restrictions on the number of people who can meet or how many households are mixing. The government does recommend, however, that you limit the contact with people you do not live with and gradually increase it. You should meet outdoors where possible.

It is no longer mandatory to work from home and people will start returning to work gradually during the summer.

Moreover, there are no limits on the number of people that can attend events such as weddings and funerals as well as communal worship.

In regards to higher education, face-to-face teaching can commence again with no requirements to wear face coverings or to abide by social distancing. It is likely that universities will opt for a blended learning approach as international students gradually return to the UK.

Moreover, it is now up to the universities and other higher education providers to conduct risk assessments and act accordingly to them. They must maintain the risk at the lowest possible level and they should have contingency plans in case of any outbreaks.

What do the new restrictions mean if I am in Scotland?

Scotland has taken a more cautious approach than England and some restrictions remain in place.

Social distancing measures (at least one metre distance) and face masks are still mandatory.

You can now meet with your friends in bigger groups. Eight people of up to four households can meet indoors in a house and can stay overnight. One metre distance should be maintained.

In indoor public places such bars, pubs, restaurants and coffee shops, up to ten people from four households are able to socialise. 15 people from 15 households can meet outdoors. 

All sports and activities can also resume, including outdoor contact sports.

You can also travel anywhere in Scotland and in the UK, as long as you follow travel guidance given by the place you are travelling to.

You can expect to go back to university with a blended learning approach. If you are in the country, you might have some face to face classes but that will be up to your university. Social distancing and face masks will still be used on campus.

What do the new restrictions mean if I am in Wales?

In Wales it is still mandatory to observe social distancing measures and wear face coverings.

The restrictions around meeting with people have eased. Now up to six people from six households can meet indoors in private houses and accommodation as well as regulated premises. There are no longer any restrictions on the amount of people that can meet outdoors, and up to 200 people standing and 1000 people seated can take part in events and activities, as long as it is a regulated gathering. The Welsh government is urging people to always use their own judgement and avoid large gatherings where possible.

Regarding universities, social distancing and face masks will still be used on campus. Welsh universities will continue to provide blended learning to make learning accessible to those who cannot attend campus.

What do the new restrictions mean if I am in Northern Ireland?

In Northern Ireland it is also still mandatory to observe social distancing measures and wear face coverings.

As for gatherings, up to six people from two households can meet indoors in a private house and stay the night. Six people can meet in a bar restaurant or café (up to ten if everyone is from the same household). For big gatherings of people, a risk assessment is taken which will determine the number of people allowed. Outdoors, 15 people from five households can meet.

Social distancing and face coverings will still be worn on campus. Universities are expected to take risk assessments to make sure their students and staff are safe. The guidance is that universities should only seek to hold indoor events when it is unavoidable to do so. It is probable that you will return to class with a blended learning approach.

You may also want to read

Moving to the UK: your ultimate checklist

Will international students get the Covid-19 vaccination for free?

New UK student visa explained – 2021