Travel to the Caribbean: latest Covid rules and holiday advice

Many of our favourite Caribbean islands are now open to fully vaccinated travellers and the number of flights and cruises is ramping up as the peak winter season approaches. Covid-19 protocols are in force throughout the region with pre-arrival testing and form-filling a necessity before you can finally sit on a sunny beach with a rum punch in hand. 

There is a good level of conformity to rules, such as wearing face masks and sanitising, and the most significant precaution affecting holidaymakers is that in many places nightlife is currently curtailed by curfews. While a complete relaxation of restrictions is some way off, everything is up and running and with beaches, restaurants and sights far from crowded this is an attractive time to visit.

Can I go to the Caribbean? 

Yes. Many Caribbean islands are now open to British tourists. Entry restrictions will be lighter if you arrive fully vaccinated.

The UK has scrapped its red list, meaning you can visit anywhere in the Caribbean without having to enter a quarantine hotel on your return. If you are fully vaccinated, you will not need to self-isolate after arriving back in the UK.

What’s it like on different islands?

Barbados

Barbados is taking the fight against Covid-19 seriously, but it is not incoming travellers that are the threat. Testing at entry points found only one per cent of arrivals were registering positive, and since October 24, fully vaccinated travellers have not been required to take a PCR test on arrival or observe a period of quarantine. This loosening is good news but there is still a nightly curfew from 9pm to 5am with beaches closed from 7pm.

Jamaica

Jamaica’s strategy for fighting the pandemic while keeping tourism alive is based on two areas dubbed ‘Resilient Corridors‘. These do not require quarantine and run along the north and south west coasts, coinciding with key tourism areas, and have approved accommodation and service providers who observe strict Covid-19 protocols. There is a nightly curfew from 8pm to 5am.

St Lucia

St Lucia benefits from having a good supply of high-quality resorts set in their own, isolated grounds, including a luxurious cluster around the island’s iconic peaks, the Pitons. All visitors must use certified accommodation, activity and transport providers. There is a nightly curfew from 10pm to 4am and throughout Sunday.

Antigua

Antigua’s borders have been open since June 2020 and the extent of its Covid-19 precautions is reflected in a State of Emergency that will remain in place until at least December 27. Visitors must use certified accommodation, activity and transport providers. Bars (excluding hotels) are closed and there is a nightly curfew from 11pm to 5am. Beaches are open from 5am to 7pm but picnics, music and alcohol are not permitted.

The Bahamas

The Bahamas has the appearance of being in full swing, having never closed its borders to US visitors, although travellers from other countries, including the UK, were banned for a period. Covid-19 restrictions are tightest in the most populous islands, New Providence and Grand Bahama, where beaches are under curfew from midnight to 5am. 

Are flights operating?

Yes, flights are operating between the UK and various Caribbean islands.

Will I be insured if I go? 

Yes. So long as your destination does not have a Foreign Office (FCDO) warning in place, you will be insured for travel. Haiti is the only Caribbean island where the FCDO warns against all but essential travel. It is worth contacting your insurer, to check whether your package includes Covid cover.

Do I need to take a test before travel?

Many Caribbean destinations do require a PCR test before arrival, even if you are fully vaccinated. And some request a further test on landing in the country.

Barbados

All arrivals must present a negative PCR test, taken no more than 72 hours before. There are special considerations for anybody who has recently recovered from Covid-19 if their pre-flight test returns positive. According to the FCDO: “You should bring a letter from your medical practitioner with lab test results showing the date of diagnosis and recovery. You may be obliged on arrival to complete an assessment at one of the government isolation facilities for up to 48 hours before being released from quarantine.”

Jamaica

All travellers aged 12 and over must have proof of a negative PCR or antigen test, taken within 72 hours of departure. You may face further testing on arrival, as all arrivals will be screened for symptoms at the airport.

St Lucia

Anyone arriving in St Lucia must provide proof of a negative PCR test taken within five days before travel. You will have your temperature checked on arrival.

Antigua

All arrivals aged five and over must provide evidence of a negative PCR test taken within four days of their flight. Only tests administered by healthcare professionals are accepted, home test kits are not.

The Bahamas

All travellers over the age of 12 must take a PCR test (children ages two to 11 can take a rapid antigen test instead) within five days of arrival in The Bahamas and upload it to their health visa application. According to the FCDO: “Unvaccinated travellers over 12 years old who are staying in The Bahamas more than four nights/five days will be required to take a rapid antigen test and complete daily health questionnaires.”

Do I need to fill in any forms?

Yes, all Caribbean destinations have a health declaration form, and/or some form of passenger locator form for arrivals. Check the country’s FCDO page before travel.

Barbados

All arrivals are required to submit a ‘Embarkation/Disembarkation (ED) card’ 24 hours prior to travel, including proof of their negative test result, result via Travel Form.

Jamaica

You need to gain authorisation from the Visit Jamaica website to enter the country. 

St Lucia

All travellers must complete a pre-arrival registration form prior to arrival to St Lucia, which can be found here. This must include your reservation for a Government quarantine facility of Covid-19 certified property, if applicable.

Antigua

Passengers must complete a Health Declaration Form to enter Antigua, which will be distributed on the plane.

The Bahamas

All travellers must submit a Bahamas Travel Health Visa Trip application, via the Bahamas travel page, including their negative test result – they must present this on arrival.

Do I need to self-isolate on arrival?

Fully vaccinated arrivals will not face mandatory isolation on arrival in any of the major destinations in the Caribbean, although some destinations do have quarantine rules in place for unvaccinated arrivals.

Barbados

Unvaccinated arrivals in Barbados must quarantine at an approved facility (such as a designated hotel) at their own expense for five days, when they must take a test. The FCDO advises: “You will need to remain in your hotel room and may be required to wear an electronic tracking bracelet until you receive the results of your second test.” Results can take up to 48 hours to be returned – if negative you’re free to leave isolation.

Anybody who has recently recovered from Covid-19 also may face isolation if their pre-flight test returns positive: “You may be obliged on arrival to complete an assessment at one of the government isolation facilities for up to 48 hours before being released from quarantine.” You should bring a letter from your medical practitioner with lab test results showing the date of diagnosis and recovery. 

Jamaica

Quarantine rules vary in Jamaica depending on where you plan to stay. Non-residents visiting Jamaica for tourism purposes and staying at approved ‘Resilient Corridor’ accommodation are required to stay at their hotel/resort for the duration of their stay. However, according to the VisitJamaica website: “They may, however, leave the hotel/resort to visit a restaurant, duty free shopping mall, craft market or tourist attraction that is certified by the Jamaica Tourist Board to be a Covid-19 Resilient licensed tourist attraction.” 

If you choose not to stay in a ‘Resilient Corridor’ property you must quarantine in your accommodation, without leaving, for 14 days.

St Lucia

Fully vaccinated arrivals can skip quarantine in St Lucia, but unvaccinated international travellers must isolate for 14 days at a Covid-19 certified property.

Antigua

Vaccinated travellers are permitted to travel to their accommodation in Antigua without quarantine, as long as any arrival tests are returned negative. All tourist and business travellers who are partially vaccinated (for example have had one dose of a two-dose vaccine) will be permitted to stay in Government-approved accommodation. Those who are not fully-vaccinated will be required to show evidence of pre-booked accommodation at an approved facility, for 14 days and pay for a test on day 12.

The Bahamas

If all your tests come back negative you are saved from any quarantine in The Bahamas.

Do I need to wear a mask? 

Yes, especially when inside a public building. Signs saying ‘no mask, no service’ are common and you should wear one both for your own safety and out of respect for the staff serving you. Outdoors, and away from urban areas, attitudes are more relaxed but the official line is that they are mandatory when in a public place. 

What are the rules on beaches? 

Social distancing is a natural occurrence on the large and plentiful beaches of the Caribbean but islands are limiting social gathering by restricting group size and imposing curfews at night (see specific island rules above). In the resorts, loungers are spaced further apart than pre-pandemic and there may be less available. Face masks should be worn when in the proximity of vendors and providers of activities such as the rental of watersports equipment.

What are the rules in bars and restaurants? 

All bar and restaurant staff wear face masks and guests should use one until seated at a table. You will not be able to sit at or order from the bar. Social distancing rules generally require persons to stay six feet apart while indoors and three feet apart outdoors. Take your phone as menus may only be accessible via a QR code.

What are the rules for shopping? 

All the staff in shops and supermarkets wear face masks and customers should use them too. On larger premises a security guard will most likely spray your hands or direct you to a sanitising station. The situation in markets and at roadside stalls may be more relaxed but it is still advisable to wear a face mask and use hand sanitiser after completing transactions.

What are the rules in hotels? 

All the staff in hotels wear face masks and guests should use one in public areas. Temperature checks are the norm, which may be carried out as you enter the property in a vehicle or when you arrive at the lobby. Lift capacity is limited, look for signs clarifying the permitted number of occupants. Spas and gyms may be closed or have reduced capacity with prior reservation required.

What are the rules on public transport? 

Face masks are mandatory in all cases and drivers should have some form of ‘Covid-19 Certified Transportation Provider’ label clearly displayed.

Shall I take cash, or pay for everything by card?

Credit and debit cards, and the US dollar, are widely accepted throughout the Caribbean. While contactless payments are encouraged for health reasons, it is a good idea to have some cash too, ideally in the local currency or low value US dollar bills. This is useful for smaller purchases such as in beach bars, on public transport, from street vendors and for tips. Card payment machines may not always be working, and there could be a supplementary charge or minimum spend applied to credit cards. 

Barbados, Jamaica and The Bahamas have their own national dollar while Antigua and St Lucia are two out of eight islands that share the Eastern Caribbean dollar. When taking a taxi, or in places such as crafts markets and souvenir stalls, always confirm if the ‘dollar’  being quoted is local or US. Some ATMs dispense both local dollars and US dollars and in general you will get a slightly better deal if you pay with local currency. 

Do I need to take a test before travelling back to England?

Only if you are not fully vaccinated. If so, you must take a (non-NHS) lateral flow test within 72 hours of flying home. You will need evidence of your result to board the flight home.

Do I need to take a test after landing in England?

Yes, a non-NHS lateral flow test before day two (if fully vaccinated) or a PCR test before day two if you are not fully vaccinated.