Portugal travel: What new rules are in place for British travellers?

·6-min read
Lisbon, Portugal (istock)
Lisbon, Portugal (istock)

With excellent surfing, outstanding city break destinations and the world’s favourite custard tarts (pasteis de nata), Portugal has long been a favourite holiday destination for Brits.

But with quarantine measures across Europe changing quicker than the British weather, are we still allowed to go? And, what will happen when we return?

Here’s everything you need to know.

Am I allowed to travel to Portugal from the UK?

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) issued a blanket warning against all non-essential international travel in March, but this has now been lifted for more than 80 destinations.

Mainland Portugal initially didn’t make the cut – the warning was only eased for the Azores and Madeira – but as of 20 August the whole country was added to the “safe” list after infection rates dropped, prompting renewed interest from British holidaymakers keen to get a fix of summer sunshine.

However, this move was short-lived following a subsequent increase in infection rates in the country.

There were 22.5 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people in the seven days to 1 September, up from 14.6 in the seven days to August 25. This crosses the UK government's threshold of 20, prompting the Scottish and Welsh governments to implement quarantine rules on 5 September.

England and Northern Ireland’s decision not to follow suit caused frustration and confusion for tourists and the travel industry alike.

But yesterday, transport secretary Grant Shapps announced that travellers returning to England and Northern Ireland from Portugal would need to self-isolate for 14 days from 4am on 12 September. This excludes Madeira and the Azores.

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How could I get there?

Flights are operating between the UK and Portugal.

Tap Air Portugal, Ryanair, British Airways, easyJet and Wizz Air are all flying to multiple destinations throughout the country.

Will they let me in when I arrive?

Yes – border restrictions have been lifted on mainland Portugal and its territories of the Azores and Madeira archipelagos (though the latter two have their own rules on testing and quarantine) for certain countries, including the UK.

The country’s tourist board is doing its utmost to convince tourists it’s safe to return, saying: “The situation is evolving very positively and the majority of the country will be open with minimum restrictions imposed on the population.”

Will I have to quarantine when I arrive?

In continental Portugal, there’s no quarantine or self-isolation period required – although there are temperature checks in place at the airport. If yours is 38 degrees or over, or you show signs of being unwell, you will be referred to the health authorities at the airport and may be required to take a Covid-19 test and self-isolate at your accommodation until the test results are known.

If you’re heading for the Azores, you’ll need to complete a traveller questionnaire 72 hours before you travel. On arrival, you will need to either show proof of a negative Covid-19 test, carried out 72 hours before you arrived, or take a test on arrival and await the results at your accommodation. Those staying longer than seven days will have to repeat the test locally, six days after the original test was done.

Those entering Madeira and Porto Santo are asked to upload proof of a negative Covid-19 test carried out 72 hours before departure and to complete a traveller questionnaire 12-48 hours beforehand. If you do not have proof of a Covid-19 test, you will have to take a test at the airport and self-isolate at your accommodation until the results are known (around 12 hours).

Will I have to quarantine when I come home?

Scottish holidaymakers are now required to quarantine for 14 days upon returning from Portugal. The new ruling was introduced for passengers arriving in Scotland from 5 September from mainland Portugal, Madeira and the Azores.

Travellers returning to Wales from mainland Portugal only (Madeira and the Azores are exempt from this ruling) are also required to self-isolate for a fortnight upon their return.

On Thursday, transport secretary Grant Shapps announced that England and Northern Irish travellers in Portugal returning to those respective nations from 4am on 12 September would be subject to quarantine measures.

For Northern Irish holidaymakers, self-isolation measures were also introduced for those returning from Madeira and the Azores from 4am on 12 September, but not for English travellers.

Can I travel within Portugal?

Yes, there are no specific restrictions on moving around within Portugal. Public transport remains in operation, but capacity has been reduced to two thirds to enable social distancing, and masks are required at all times. It is currently prohibited for cruise passengers to disembark in Portugal.

Are hotels open?

Campsites and motorhome parks are allowed to reopen to visitors provided capacity and hygiene measures are met, and hotels have been able to open for tourists throughout June.

A “Clean and Safe” stamp created by Turismo de Portugal (the tourist board) certifies which hotels have implemented enhanced hygiene and safety measures.

Airbnb properties are also up and running.

Are restaurants, shops and attractions open?

Since 4 May, bookshops, hairdressers, beauty salons, libraries, sailing clubs and golf courses have been open in Portugal, with social distancing measures in place.

This was followed on 18 May with the reopening of museums and other tourist attractions such as monuments, art galleries, palaces and churches, plus restaurants, bars, cafés, patisseries, terraces, promenades and shops of up to 400 square metres.

Zoos and aquariums are open, and beaches reopened on 6 June with “supervision” in place and access denied if there’s a risk of overcrowding.

Cinemas, theatres and concert halls have been permitted to open since 1 June.

The Portuguese tourist board has developed a “Clean and Safe” stamp to identify travel companies and services, such as hotels, tour operators, restaurants and other activity providers, that are complying with certain hygiene and cleaning standards.

What rules are in place?

Throughout Portugal, the use of non-surgical masks is mandatory in enclosed spaces, such as supermarkets, shops, beauty salons, schools, public services, at the airport, in taxis and on public transport, for anyone over the age of 10.

You’re also required to remain two metres apart from other people when in public, respect the rules on maximum capacity on public transport, in shops and other establishments, and practise good hand hygiene.

Contactless payment is also being encouraged wherever possible. Fines of up to €500 are being issued to those who break the rules.

Drinking alcohol in public places, except for pavement cafés and restaurants, is banned, and gatherings are limited to 20 people, except for religious ceremonies and family events, such as weddings and christenings.

Rules are stricter in the Greater Lisbon Metropolitan area right now, after a spike in coronavirus cases: private and public gatherings are limited to 10 people; the sale of alcohol at service stations and after 8pm in shops and supermarkets is banned; restaurants must close at 1am with last orders at midnight; and shops and services close at 8pm, with the exception of restaurants, supermarkets, chemists, sports facilities, petrol stations, health and veterinary clinics.

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