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Can I Travel to The Maldives Now?

by Matt Brazier
Aerial view of overwater villas and turquoise ocean in the Maldives

This article focuses on the critical question, ‘Can I travel to the Maldives now?’. We’ll detail if and how you can travel to the Maldives and the practicalities of travel there too.

The Maldives has had very low COVID cases (average of about 100 a day) for quite a few months. The few cases that do occur tend to be concentrated on the densely populated capital island of Male which most visitors bypass (even the main airport is on a separate island to Male).

When will The Maldives open its borders to foreigners?

The Maldives is fully open to most foreign visitors and has been so since July 2020. 

View of coral under the ocean with a beach, trees and mountain in the background, all in the maldives

Is The Maldives on the UK Go list?

There was a brief and short spike in cases in May/June 2021 which saw The Maldives spend a couple of months on the UK Red List. This was sensibly reversed not a moment too soon on September 17th and The Maldives moved to the UK Amber List.

The Green and Amber lists will be merged with the Green List on 4th October and The Maldives will be on the “Go” list.

Does the FCDO advise against all but essential travel to The Maldives?

There is no COVID 19 specific FCDO (Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office) advice in place for travel to The Maldives. This means that the UK government do not believe there is any specific risk relating to COVID 19 whilst you are there. In turn, this means that most standard insurance policies will be valid for your trip.

What are vaccinations levels like in The Maldives?

The Maldives got an early head start on vaccinations and with a low population of around 500,000 they were quick to get up to high levels. At the time of writing, 63% of the population are fully vaccinated (73% have had at least one dose) – very similar levels to the UK.

Do I need to be double vaccinated to get into The Maldives?

Not at present if you intend to stay on a resort island (20/9/21).

You do have to be double vaccinated to visit certain locally inhabited islands with lower-than-average vaccination rates. There are only a handful of these islands, and most tourists would be unlikely to visit them.

Earlier in 2021 The Maldives trialled a relaxation on pre-arrival PCR testing for double vaccinated visitors, but this was quickly halted.

Sunset view from an over water villa in the Maldives

What tests do I have to take to get into The Maldives?

All visitors, including children aged 1 or over, must present a negative PCR test on arrival in the Maldives– this must have been issued within 72 hours of departure from the UK. Visitors must also fill out a Traveller Health Declaration form 24 hours before travel.

Do I have to quarantine on arrival in The Maldives?

There is no standard quarantine. The only situation in which you’d likely be placed in quarantine is if you’re screened on arrival at the airport or on arrival at your resort and test positive. Given the rigorous pre-arrival PCR testing it is of course very unlikely you would test positive.

In the unlikely event that you were to test positive, you would be expected to self-isolate in your villa or at a government quarantine facility, depending on the resort. The Government quarantine facilities are four-star hotels. Catching COVID in the Maldives is incredibly unlikely due to the nature of the scattered and tiny islands, the natural social distancing in the resort and the stringent entry protocols. A good insurance should cover you for any extra costs.

A local steering a dhoni as they enter a resort in the maldives

What will the experience be like in the Maldives?

Amazing! Unlike many other destinations, Maldivian hotels are geared entirely towards holidays. They have not had the option to pivot towards domestic tourism or business travel during Covid times, so there have been no changes or compromises to the service or experience. All resort activities and water sports will be running as normal and of course, one of the main attractions is swimming in turquoise seas and snorkelling around the coral reefs – a totally COVID safe experience. Hotel staff will ensure a very warm welcome. 

For a first-hand account of travelling in the Maldives during a pandemic, check out my colleague Matts report from back in November 2020.

Where should I stay in The Maldives? 

Maldives resorts generally have their own island and there are numerous things to consider when choosing the best one. Choosing your island is where our expertise comes in and our consultants can help you choose the one that best suits your style, budget and requirements. 

For starters though, why don’t you check out our Top 5 private islands in the Maldives.

Can I move from one resort to another? 

Even before the pandemic, most visitors tended to stay in just one resort in the Maldives. However, splitting the stay between two resorts is actually a great way to experience some of the varied styles, reefs and vistas of the archipelago. 

It is still possible to move between resorts in the Maldives but there are some rules around this. In our experience, the rules sound a bit more complicated than they are in practice.   

Some resorts may request exit screening while others may require you to take a test if you are leaving another resort and going to stay with them. Your consultant will be able to inform you of the most up to date rules implemented by each resort. 

There are more stringent rules should you stay on a locally inhabited island – a mandatory PCR test must be taken 72 hours prior to departure from the country.  

overhead view of male with densely pack buildings surrounded by blue ocean

Do I have to wear a mask in The Maldives? 

Masks are mandatory on sea-plane and domestic flights, boats and on locally inhabited islands. Most resort islands are not classed as “inhabited islands” and mask-wearing will not be expected. It’s likely that you’ll see staff wearing resorts although some  

Do I have to quarantine in the UK on return from The Maldives?

The Maldives is currently on the Amber List moving to the combined Green/Amber “GO” list from 4th October.  This means that (as of 4th October 2021) double vaccinated travellers only need to fill in a passenger locator form before returning to the UK and take a test on Day 2 back in the UK. At present, the Day 2 test needs to be a PCR test although the UK government have indicated that by the end of October this will change to a cheaper lateral flow test. 

If you’re not double vaccinated, then the old “Amber List” rules will apply. You’ll still need to take a test before you return and pay for Day 2 and Day 8 tests on return. You will also be expected to isolate at home for 10 days on return, but you can test to release on Day 5. 

  • Rapid Antigen/Lateral Flow test – These can be purchased in advance of travel and taken on holiday with you. You then take them yourself in the same way as an NHS lateral flow test and submit a photo to the provider who will then issue you with an official verification certificate.  
  • Day 2 PCR test – This must be ordered from an approved provider before returning to the UK, delivery of the test can be made on your return.  
  • Passenger Locator Form – Before returning to the UK you will need to fill in a “Passenger Locator Form” on this you will be required to enter a Barcode from the Day 2 PCR test to prove you’ve purchased it. 

Why should I book a trip to The Maldives now?

It goes without saying that the Maldives is a paradise destination but it’s a great place to travel right now. Not only does the Maldives have fantastic weather in the (northern hemisphere) winter months, made up of 1200 tiny islands dotted around 26 atolls, its’ arguably one of the world’s most naturally socially distant and COVID-safe locations.  

We should also note that any trip to The Maldives booked with ETG can be done so with confidence since it will be backed by our Covid Promise which ensures that you’ll be covered if any restrictions are re-instated.  

KEEN TO TRAVEL TO THE MALDIVES OR ELSEWHERE IN ASIA?

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WANT A FIRST-HAND ACCOUNT OF TRAVELLING TO THE MALDIVES?

Check out the processes and tests my colleague Matt went through on his journey to the Maldives back in November 2020.

Dining view of the beach and sea at a Maldives resort
A lazy breakfast is the best time to soak it all in.

I’m still not entirely sure how I’ve managed to get away with this. But somehow, with less than 24 hours until the UK went into Lockdown 2.0, I made a mad dash to The Maldives. I booked my flight the week prior – when The Maldives was added to the UK’s travel corridor – and received the results of my PCR test just a few hours before I was due at the airport. I’m writing this now, from my resort – not quite with a piña colada in hand, but you get the picture… And I still can’t quite believe I’ve made ‘pandemic travel’ a reality.

Before you roll your eyes and tell me to go away until I’m suitably cold and miserable again (all my friends have already) – let me give you the full picture. Like most people, I found the first lockdown challenging at times, living on my own in a small flat in east London with a space that wasn’t really fit for purpose. I gritted my teeth like most and just got on with it, but I think not having proper outside space, missing going back and forth to the office and not having my regular gym sessions took its toll. 

Aeriel view of Intercontinental Maldives
A sense of scale in the Maldives

Pandemic Travel in Action

So with the prospect of another lockdown looming, I did what I think anyone in my situation would do, and decided to make a sharp exit. I’m in a fortunate position: having arranged holidays to The Maldives as part of ETG for over 9 years, I knew I could make things happen very fast. Not being able to travel has hardly been the worst outcome of the pandemic, but being homebound has been so hard for so many people. And I know that for so many of our clients, travel is a huge part of their lives. We all need something to look forward to. 

Plus, I genuinely wanted to practice what we preach at work. We are asking all our clients to book holidays and travel during these strange new times, so I wanted to show people what it’s like to travel, having to face all these new hurdles – and what better way to live and breathe it myself?

Matt working on a beach in the Maldives
Living the dream on the sandbank at Finolhu

So here is what to expect when booking and taking a holiday to The Maldives – with all the ‘new normal’ restrictions in place.  By the way, when I arrived here The Maldives was on the UK’s travel corridor list (i.e. no quarantine required when you came home) as long as you flew direct with British Airways or Sri Lankan Airlines. But since then, Qatar and U.A.E have been added to the travel corridor list, so now you can also fly with Qatar, Etihad, and Emirates as well.  This has opened up many more regional and daily (quarantine-free) flights.

Before we get stuck into the details, please feel free to get in touch with me directly on email [email protected]  I’ve enjoyed the delights of five resorts out here since I arrived and I have a couple more to go before I clean the sand out from between my toes, so there’s not much point trying to catch me on the office number right now…!  Wherever I am though I do absolutely love talking travel, especially to The Maldives, and I’d be delighted to answer any questions you might have.

The Maldives: pandemic travel pre-departure necessities 

The PCR test

To get to The Maldives, you need to have had a negative PCR test 96 hours before departure. There are hundreds of companies now popping up with lots of different options available. I decided to have mine done in a clinic and paid for an express service with guaranteed results the next morning. It was very strange knowing that my trip was resting on a test and, I’m not going to lie, I had a pretty sleepless night! I was pleased that at 7am, my ‘Fit to Fly’ certificate came through and a big ‘NEGATIVE’ result was shown. Phew. One of the main hurdles out the way. 

Top Tip: To keep things simple, Experience Travel Group now include your test as part of the holiday package, so you can rest assured all is in hand in the days running up to your trip.

 

Health declaration form

24 hours before your departure flight time, you head to this website and fill out a health declaration form, and crucially you have to attach your PCR results. It’s quite a straightforward form, to be honest; you’ll need to attach a photo, which I just took with my smartphone. You’ll also need to list where you are staying while on holiday, and other normal form bits and bobs!

Departing with Qatar Airways from Heathrow during the pandemic
Pre boarding checks with Qatar Airways at Heathrow

My journey to The Maldives

Departure and flying with Qatar Airways

I treated myself and took the Heathrow Express from Paddington. A really quick journey and a refreshing change from the long old slog on the Piccadilly line. 

At the airport: My top tip is to print everything. You’ll have a QR code from your Maldives Health Declaration form which you’ll probably be asked to show a few times before you board the flight. Have your Fit to Fly certificate, a copy of your passport page, your flight tickets, your hotel voucher and itinerary all to hand – the airlines are super strict and won’t let you fly without seeing the declaration and big fat negative test result. 

Check-in was busy, partly because of the huge pandemic travel document-checking process for everyone, but also because of the mass exodus to escape lockdown, so I’d allow extra time. Going through passport check and security felt relatively normal, to be honest, and everyone was wearing their masks. All the shops were open and I grabbed a bit of food and headed to the departure gate.

Flying with Qatar Airways to the Maldives during the COVID pandemic
It's not as bad as it looks to be honest. When you know the end goal, it's worth it...

I decided to fly with Qatar for various personal reasons (one of the main ones being the option to go from London but back into Manchester), but obviously British Airways is your direct choice from London Heathrow (now along with Sri Lankan Airlines). They’ll probably have different protocols, so please bear in mind that this is just my experience and it won’t be the same for all airlines. 

The biggest thing with Qatar is that you have to wear both a face shield and a face mask. The shields are provided by the airline and are mandatory on both flights. Since not everyone is going on to The Maldives on the London – Doha leg, you can’t guarantee everyone has a negative test, but many destinations do require it now, so chances are a lot of people on the flight were negative. The plane was completely full – the check-in lady even said that they had to change the plane last minute to a bigger one as there were so many extra bookings. I really don’t think this would be everyone’s experience, but just a warning if you think you’ll be going on an empty flight. 

The staff wore a sort of snazzy version of PPE (if that’s possible) and honestly, the flights felt completely ‘normal’. I love Qatar, I have flown them so many times and they really do a good job of maintaining a really high-quality experience.

Changing at Doha was super straightforward: it was the middle of the night, everything was open, and you just have to wear a face mask, not the face shield, in the airport.

Uniform with Qatar Airways when travelling during the pandemic
Picture courtesy of Qatar Airways

Arriving in The Maldives

I really didn’t know what to expect, but because Male airport’s been open since July, everything is so well set-up. We got off the plane and we were taken by bus to the terminal. The passengers on the buses were kept socially-distanced and at around half capacity (though this does mean that some people have to wait a while before boarding). Passengers are thermal-scanned as they enter the terminal and then it’s off to the passport immigration queue. The health declaration was attached to my passport – the attendant wanted to see my PCR test, Fit to Fly document and that was it. I got my 30-day visa on arrival stamp and I was off to baggage collection. 

Once I was through to arrivals, I was met by our rep and taken to the check-in counter for the Seaplane. My first island stop was to be Intercontinental, which is a 35-40 min flight away. Judging from my previous visits, I’d say the domestic airport was about 50% full. I was given a little flying kit, which included hand sanitizer, gloves and a fresh mask. I was then driven to the seaplane departure terminal, about 10 minutes away, and taken to the Intercontinental lounge. It was just me and one other guest and I chilled there for about an hour. This is pretty normal as the seaplane operation is an incredible feat of organisation.

Tourist wearing a mask on a seaplane to The Maldives

The Seaplane flight was relatively similar to my previous experiences, the only change was having to wear a mask. They are small prop planes, so there isn’t much social distancing, to be honest. You know that everyone has had a negative test but, obviously, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to catch the virus. If you are feeling nervous then it’s best to go to a speedboat resort only, which means you you’ll be travelling in the open-air and you really can keep a 1m-plus social distance.

 

Holidaying in the Maldives

An important thing to note here is that on this visit I have only visited resorts in The Maldives. These are all one-island-one resort.  Private islands, essentially. The staff will live on the island as well so there aren’t lots of staff coming and going from local islands – they aren’t allowed. I wrote a blog about why The Maldives is an ideal destination to holiday for right now, so check it out here as it will give you more of an overview of The Maldives as a holiday destination. 

Staff Pandemic Travel Measures

All the staff will be wearing masks as it’s a requirement by law. It feels a little funny at first, especially as so much of The Maldives is outside and naturally socially distanced, but you get used to it quite quickly. You’ll see them sanitizing their hands all the time, too.

Some resorts will be testing their staff every 5-7 days, and if they are even a little bit ill they’ll be kept in quarantine in the staff accommodation which is always in a separate area of the resort. 

Admittedly, I’m staying at the higher-end hotels, but all of them have offered guests a WhatsApp service, so you can message whenever you like, e.g. to request something for your room, book a dinner, etc. I’m pretty sure all resorts are rolling out something like this.

Lunch at the Crab Shack at Finolhu
Typical restaurant set up with Abdulla wearing his mask

The rooms

Your room will be devoid of the usual paper-based info about the resort and instead you scan QR codes to access all you need to know. This takes a little getting used to. If you’ve got a tablet, I’d highly recommend bringing it as you’ll have a much bigger view of the menus, schedules, room directory etc. 

All of my stays have had twice-daily housekeeping. Some of the staff wear more full-on PPE, whereas others just wear a mask – it’s really up to the resort. You can request what you like.

Everything else seems to be ‘as before’. Depending on the type of resort – you might see a few ‘sanitized’ stickers kicking around (think big international chains), but that’s it. It’s really refreshing to have a sense of normality.

Welcome goodies at Intercontinental Maldives
A lovely "normal" welcome at Intercontinental Maldives

Common areas

The Maldives is all about being outdoors, with space and plenty of it as standard. I’m guessing that resorts haven’t really had to change things at all. You aren’t going to see plastic screens or blocked off areas. 

If you like fitness, you’ll find some of the gyms have a max capacity and you need to book before you go.

With destination dining, outdoor cinemas, long stretches of beach and landscaped gardens galore, The Maldives is already well ahead of the game.

Mura Beach club at Joali in the Maldives
The Mura Beach Bar at Joali

Pandemic Travel Dining

The biggest change when it comes to pandemic travel is that some resorts will make you use digital menus and the cutlery will arrive wrapped up in a napkin, or in a little packet.

There is definitely less buffet action, which has pros and cons (especially at breakfast – I do love a good breakfast buffet!) The higher-end resorts have always been a la carte, with ‘semi buffets’, but some of the bigger resorts will be getting to grips with having to cook everything fresh, so I’m sure they are having to adapt there.

The restaurants are so set up for open-air dining that, if it’s raining, they have vast verandas or clever rain protection systems, so it still feels like you’re outside. It’s very rare you’ll find an air-conditioned box in The Maldives, unless it’s a special one-off dining experience, e.g. Japanese teppanyaki style.

Dining set up during Covid times at Finolhu
Pre-sanitised cutlery and QR codes for the menus

Pandemic Travel Experiences

The majority of activities in The Maldives involve the sea; I went on a dolphin cruise and they simply reduced the maximum capacity on the boat. Snorkelling and diving are naturally socially distanced. I really haven’t seen any significant changes, and you really can have all these incredible experiences as part of your holiday – pretty much unchanged.

Incredible sunset at Milaidhoo Island in the Maldives
A stunning sunset I experienced at Milaidhoo Private Island Resort

Different resorts, different experience

I think it’s important here to add that although the Maldivian government has enforced tourism protocols, each of the hotels might also have their own policies and measures in place. As I’ve moved around on this trip, I think it’s clear that the larger, international resorts have more measures in place than some of the more boutique, independent resorts. That’s not to say either is right or wrong, but it’s something to be aware of.

During my stay at Amilla, which is a 5* plus resort, I had to have a PCR test on arrival and wasn’t allowed to leave my room until they come back with the result. In my case, I had the test at 11am and got the results the next day at 9am (thankfully it was negative). This is an interesting move, especially as many people will have had a test only a few days before, but it does mean the island feels normal, with the staff not wearing masks. It was quite strange not being allowed to leave my room, but I had a private pool and the ocean in front of me, plus all my meals delivered and a bottle of wine. In fact, who am I kidding, I loved it.

Tourist getting a PCR test at Amilla resort, The Maldives for Covid 19
Not your usual welcome drink....!

In Summary

Ultimately, you are going to be hard-pressed to find a destination that is more suited to dealing with the situation we are facing right now. Firstly, it’s clear that The Maldivian government isn’t taking the COVID-19 pandemic lightly: they have introduced important hygiene measures and regular testing strategies. But secondly, with natural social distance, excellent weather and the vast majority of activities taking place outside, your Maldives holiday will not be fundamentally altered as a result of the pandemic. That’s not to say there aren’t lots of things happening behind the scenes, but if you really want an escapist holiday right now, The Maldives is going to be hard to beat. It’s a trip-of-a-lifetime destination anyway, so I say (well, I would!) bite the bullet. If you are ready to get away after the lockdown, this kind of pandemic travel is possible. A magical holiday is there for the taking. 

Paradise views at Joali in the Maldives
Yes, I did actually take this photo...view from my room at Joali

If this has tempted you into thinking that perhaps you can get away and do something special this year, let me know, and we can talk about these magical islands.

Get me here: [email protected] or 020 924 7133

I’ve been to an incredible range of resorts in my time, so why not pick my brains and use all that knowledge?

Four Seasons Kuda Huraa , Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru, Taj exotica, Soneva Fushi, Soneva Jani, Gili Lankanfushi, Baros, Milaidhoo, Filitheyo, Bandos, Kuredu,  Komandoo, Dusit Thani,  Huvafen Fushi,  Park Hyatt Hadahaa, Joali, Lux North Male, Vakkaru, Cocoa Island by Como, Niyama, Amilla, Intercontinental and Finolhu. 

Overwater villa at Joali
Your overwater villa entrance at Joali

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