Travel in times of Covid… preparing for the journey home

The time has come. I am now less than forty eight hours from my flight from Venice back to Gatwick. Preparations must be made otherwise I won’t be able to return to England and will just have to knuckle down and stay in Italy.


No. I have to get back. Preparing for your return from Italy is a three-part process. You’ll find them set out in full on the UK government website here. But in brief this is what it means for me as a UK citizen who has two vaccinations coming back from Italy under the present rules (which as we know may change at any time).

  1. I need the reference number for the PCR test I’ve ordered and will take by day two of my return to England.
  2. I need to fill in the UK passenger locator form. And include that reference number there.
  3. I have to take a simple rapid antigen test with a negative result here in Venice in order to get on the plane. This can happen any time in the three days before you travel.

As I wrote earlier, I have not one but two PCR tests booked. The first was ordered from a company run by chums of the Conservatives, Randox, without me checking it out properly first. The moment the order was confirmed, I knew it wasn’t going to work since they don’t offer a drop box close to me. I emailed them within minutes asking them to cancel the order and contacted them on Twitter.

As expected they ignored all that completely, sent off the kit anyway days later and trousered my £48 for something I can’t use. So I do not advise you use Randox who have already nabbed £500m of taxpayers’ money through other contracts, and do take a look at their Trustpilot reviews.

This is interesting too…

I have a test kit from a company called Zava which has arrived back home and can be posted back locally. They have also provided the magic reference number I need for the locator form and seem rather more professional when it comes to explaining how things work.

The locator form has to be filled in within the 48 hours slot before you arrive in the UK (not before departure). It’s the usual business of providing passport and travel details, along with addresses and that all-important reference number for your day two PCR test. There seems to be a system which allows you to set up a locator form account to make the process easier on future trips. This does save a partly-completed form which is useful. Once you’ve filled in the form you can print it out if that’s practical. But you’ll also receive an email with a barcode which can be shown at the airport as proof you’ve done it. More instructions here.

Now to the local rapid test. One way you can do this is by buying a test set to take out with you, doing it yourself, and having the results verified online. I bought one of these from a company called Cerulean for £29, a bargain compared to the £58 I paid to have the outgoing rapid test done at Boots. But when I was here I discovered there’s a local fit to fly service available too. You have to book it through pharmacies preferably a couple of days in advance at a cost that seems to vary between €22 and €25.

The idea of having someone else sort out all the paperwork was pretty attractive so I took my passport along and made an appointment through the pharmacy near Campo Santa Margherita, paid €25 and asked for the results in English. The UK say they will only accept results in English, French and Spanish so this seems important. I’m not sure but that may be why I paid €25 not €22, not that I was going to argue about it.

Being Venice, the place you go for the test is nowhere ordinary. It is the Scoletta Dei Calegheri, a handsome fifteenth century building in the Campo San Tomà. Once a meeting place for the city’s guild of shoemakers, it’s now the neighbourhood library and in times of pandemic a paid-for Covid testing point too.

I have to admit that, while I felt perfectly well, it was a bit nerve-wracking walking off to be swabbed. Had I been asymptomatic positive I would have had to quarantine for ten days. And where I’d quarantine — a specialist hotel, an extension to my apartment if it was available? — I’d no idea.

Reminding myself I felt fine, really, really fine, I walked up to the little campo and wandered in. There were two people at a desk, one to swab you, one to deal with the paperwork. It was quick, and in short order I was out with the news my test was negative. But you don’t get your certificate there. I had to walk back to the pharmacy where I booked it and they would print it out.

That was the only hiccup in the procedure. The chap behind the counter didn’t seem terribly au fait with the system or good on the computer. The first certificate he printed out didn’t just get the date and month of my birth wrong, but the year too. I know I look young for my years but I still don’t think I’d pass for four years old.

He apologised and corrected this with a new printout. But I do suggest you check the details, especially name, passport number and birthday, rather than assume they’re correct. I’ve no idea if that would have caused a problem at the airport but I wasn’t inclined to take the risk.

Even with the reprinted certificate the whole process took no more than thirty minutes and there I was with a fit to fly certificate. It’s a very good service but make sure you book a few days beforehand and check the details of the printout. You can read how the rapid Cerulean test works here — it promises a certificate within twelve hours. From what I’ve read you will be in for a fair bit of form filling online and frankly I’ve had enough of that right now.

That, as far as I can see, covers all the necessary preparations for flying back to England. The journey normally takes under two hours. In Covid times you can expect a fair bit more than that dealing with the bureaucracy, testing and form filling

When I get back I’ll update you on how the return went. And let me emphasise this again — I’m only passing on my understanding and experience of the system in my personal circumstances. Yours may differ so I suggest you make sure you understand what is required before you travel. None of this is particularly easy to master as you go along.