Amber list quarantine in the UK

10 September 2021

Undergraduate student, Sher Wen Kang arrived from her home country Malaysia in April 2021 and completed quarantine in UCL accommodation. Read about her thoughts on choosing the Day 2/Day 8 tests and quarantine.

Student at London Eye

After booking your tickets to London (be it by flight or train), what's next? You may find yourself asking questions like "how do I choose a test provider for the Day 2 and/or Day 8 COVID-19 tests? Or ''what is the 10 days travel quarantine like?"

Hopefully, you will find answers to your questions in this article where I will share some tips about choosing a travel test package, important documents to bring with you when you travel as well as my very own 10 days travel quarantine experience.

Tips on choosing your Day 2 and/or Day 8 COVID-19 test provider

Here are some useful tips about choosing a test provider for the travel test package:

  • Contact the test providers using the details provided on gov.uk website to see if they are responsive to your questions. I contacted more than 10 and narrowed down to about 2 to 3 providers with this as the rest didn't pick up phone calls and reply to emails which might be a problem if you do not receive your test kits or test results on time. 
  • Read some online reviews about the provider, specifically about the Day 2 and/or Day 8 Test service. Some test providers offer other services which are not related to the Day 2 and/or Day 8 tests, but those reviews are probably less important in the context of booking a travel test package. 
  • Important: Double and triple check that the provider is on the list of the UK government approved providers so you will not get stopped at the airport and go through the hassle of booking another test package on the spot as immigration officers might check the booking reference number in their system. If possible, take screenshots of your test provider being on the list when you book just to be on the safer side. 

Some questions you might want to ask in helping you decide which provider to book the package from :

  1. Type of test : Nose and/or throat swab 
  2. Testing method : Home self-swab/supervised home self-swab with video call/on site test at test centres
  3. The maximum turnaround time for you to receive your test result (you wouldn't want to delay coming out of quarantine due to a delayed Day 8 test result)
  4. How will you receive your test results, is it through email or text message etc.? 
  5. In a very rare occasion of an inconclusive test (I'm not too sure how common or rare it is, but based on the test provider I contacted at that time, it is rare for their customers), do they deliver another test kit for free or with additional charges?
  6. Taking Day 0 (arrival day) as the point of reference, on which day will you receive the Day 2 and Day 8 test kits respectively? 

Important documents to bring with you

In this section, you can find a list of documents to bring with you when you travel to the UK from overseas. The ones highlighted are specific for COVID-19 travel rules. It will be really useful for you to have the original copy, a few photocopies as well as a digital/scanned copy of the documents listed below just in case. 

  • Passport with valid visa vignette;
  • Identity card/document from your home country; 
  • BRP collection letter;
  • UCL Statement of Student Status; 
  • UCL offer letters; 
  • Accommodation offer letter/tenancy agreement/any document which shows the address of the place you will live in while you quarantine;   
  • IELTS Result (if applicable); 
  • Results slip/certificate to show that you have met the conditions of your offer to study at UCL; 
  • TB Test Certificate (if applicable); 
  • Passenger Locator Form (to complete in the 48 hours before arriving in the UK); 
  • Pre-Departure COVID-19 Test report;
  • Proof of booking of COVID-19 travel test package; 
  • Proof of COVID-19 vaccination history.

My own 10 day quarantine experience

Day 0 - Arrival. It took about an hour queuing for an immigration check at the UK Border. There were lots of people in the queue, at least more than what I had expected with the travel restrictions in place. The process was quite simple, the officer checked my identity against my passport and biometric enrolment information, looked at my passenger locator form, pre-departure test report and booking for a travel test package then proceeded with the most important step: putting an entry stamp on my visa vignette. Afterwards, I went for baggage reclaim, booked a ride from airport to accommodation and finally I checked in to my accommodation. This marked the beginning of 10 days of not stepping out of a room, hmmm well let's get started.

(p.s. Try to make sure the entry stamp is given on the correct page of your passport with the valid visa vignette as you might need to upload it for BRP collection)

Day 1 - Jet lag. I don't even remember how many times I woke up in the middle of the night after I started sleeping at about 10pm UK time, probably the normal process of getting used to the time difference. I am very grateful to be assigned to a catered accommodation where quarantine meals were delivered to my room in the morning and evening each day for brunch and dinner. After having brunch, I did the Day 2 test and dropped it in the nearest Royal Mail post-box and came back to my room immediately. On the same day, I completed the BRP collection task on Portico to get my BRP delivered to my address (please note that you will now have to wait until you've completed your full quarantine before picking your BRP up in person).

Day 2 - Buy essentials. Might be due to the radiator in my room, it felt quite stuffy and hot and again it wasn't a good night's sleep. When I woke up, the first thing I did was to buy a fan as well as other essentials on Amazon. After dinner time, I watched some online course videos and fell asleep pretty early, still getting used to the time difference. (P.S. Everywhere in my home country has a fan and/or air conditioning, to my surprise it is uncommon to have them here? I wondered how hot it gets without a fan during summer.

Day 3 - Relax and chill. It's a Sunday so I decided to relax a little bit and spent some time watching some of my favourite shows. In the evening, I received the parcels I ordered from Amazon (fast isn't it? Remember to register for Amazon prime with your student email!). The Day 2 test result came back negative too. Now with 1 out of 2 tests done, there were 7 more days in quarantine.

Day 4 - Digital bank. I realised it would be much more convenient to have a UK bank account, so I decided to register for a digital bank account. The process was really quick and simple: take pictures of my passport, then take a selfie of myself, wait for the verification and done! Next, it was just transferring money into the account and ordering a physical card. I also did some research on the differences between opening an account with the various high street banks available in the UK and the process involved, which is pretty similar to that of opening a digital bank account except for having to visit a branch to verify identity. 

Day 5 - Study. I haven't mentioned this, right? I arrived 10 days right before the first paper of my Term 3 exams. With that said, I better get back to studying in order to prepare for exams! Studying is probably one of the best ways one can spend time in quarantine anyways.

Day 6 - Revision. Revision went on while I was halfway through quarantine. Without me realising, I became quite used to UK time and started to have a regular daily routine. The schedule was quite boring, that's why I needed to take a rest in between, listening to music or watching videos/shows.

Day 7 - Keep going. Yet another day of revision on day 7 of quarantine. This was the day when I started to get slightly tired about quarantine (like everyone does), but I kept myself busy with exam preparations which made me feel slightly better. In the meantime, I talked to my family to relieve some of the stress and some of my friends and seniors who are in the UK to know more about their experiences of living in the UK. It got me excited while thinking about things to explore after quarantine and exams.

Day 8 - Around the corner. Exam is around the corner and that means counting down to complete the 10 days quarantine too! Did the Day 8 COVID-19 test and dropped it in the Royal Mail post-box. I started to miss home food but all I had was instant noodles, which is better than nothing at all. Had a bowl of instant noodles near midnight, what a special way to end day 8 of quarantine.
Day 9 - Almost there!

Day 9 - Almost there. Looking out of the window, I noticed how good the weather was. Before coming to London, I heard many people mention that it rains a lot here, but hmmm, doesn't really seem to be the case at least based on my 9 days of observation? Good news is, one more day to freedom and I can start exploring the outside world while the weather is still good.

Day 10 - Freedom...and an exam. Time flies?! Day 10, the last day of quarantine, the day 8 test result came back negative which means I can be out of quarantine on time. Freedom starts after the clock strikes 12am and not to forget, my exam officially begins the next morning.   

For many of you coming before Term 1 starts this year, your experience will be quite different from mine without exams around the corner, but you could take some time to do some research on your course content and to prepare for university student life. There are also some resources on the UCL website such as the online orientation course which you may want to have a look at while in quarantine. Regardless, it's normal to feel anxious and lonely when being in quarantine, keeping yourself busy with activities you enjoy and perhaps talking to family and friends over the phone will certainly make you feel much better.

Stay safe and healthy, be happy, welcome to UCL and London!

By Sherwen Kang, MSci Mathematics and Statistical Science