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UK holidaymakers will be able to use the NHS app to prove their coronavirus health status when travelling abroad– whether fully inoculated or as evidence of a recent negative test.
With the new traffic light system coming into effect this summer and Mediterranean countries including Greece, Cyprus, Spain and Portugal clamouring to welcome British holidaymakers back to their shores, you may be considering booking a trip. But financial risks remain.
Although Spain has lifted its ban on UK arrivals, it is currently only for those with valid reasons to travel there and you must be armed with negative PCR tests.
Turkey recently lifted the UK flight ban and it won’t require UK travellers to be vaccinated to holiday there. It is also considering removing the negative test requirements.
Meanwhile Greece, Cyprus and Portugal have also indicated that they plan to accept UK holidaymakers this summer with varying requirements.
However, despite countries being keen to welcome Brits back, the government has said that holidays abroad won’t be possible until at least 17 May. It is also introducing a traffic light system when the ban on non-essential travel is removed.
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What is the traffic light system?
Countries will be assigned to different colours based on a range of Covid-19 health metrics and these colours will indicate not only the risk in each country, but also the tests and quarantine periods required.
Travellers returning from green list countries will need to take a pre-departure test and a PCR test on or before day two of their return, but there is no requirement to quarantine. Arrivals from amber countries will need to quarantine at home for ten days, in addition to tests, while arrivals from red countries must quarantine for ten days in government managed hotel quarantine which will add huge costs to the holiday.
These colour ratings could be changed by the government at any time, so a risk remains when booking to go anywhere. It’s unlikely for example that flights will stop running just because a country is rated red or amber, so you’d either have to travel or lose the cost of your flight. It might be different with package holidays, but we don’t know enough yet about this system to know if you will be refunded by travel agents for packages.
Should I book a holiday to Spain, Greece, Turkey, Portugal or Cyprus for travel before 17 May?
It’s advisable not to book a holiday before the UK government officially lifts the travel ban, so that you know holidays are definitely going ahead.
You cannot go on holiday before 17 May. Anyone from England trying to go on holiday before the government permits it could be fined £5,000.
Should I book a holiday to Spain this summer?
We wouldn’t recommend it just yet. While Grant Shapps recently said that the UK’s Covid figures ‘look good’ for the return of holidays on 17 May, this restart date is still dependent on a review of health data.
In the roadmap out of lockdown, the government has said that it will assess the ‘global and domestic epidemiological picture, the prevalence and location of any variants of concern, the progress of vaccine roll-outs here and abroad, and what more it has learned about the efficacy of vaccines on variants, as well as the impact on transmission, hospitalisation and deaths.’
If Covid-19 variants or the efficacy of vaccine transmission are a concern at the time of the review, the date permitting international travel could be changed.
However, even if travel does restart, Spain is still not due to reopen to holidaymakers until June. Currently Brits can only fly there for health, education or work reasons.
It’s important to remember that even if Spain permits Brits to travel there, it could be on the UK’s red or amber list – see more on the travel traffic light system.
If you book a holiday now to Spain and it’s on the red list when you travel, a package holiday provider will likely allow you to move your trip or may refund you. However, it’s best to look at the contract before booking to check this is possible. You don’t want to be left in a position where you either lose your holiday or have to pay £1750 per person to quarantine in a hotel on return from Spain.
If you’re already abroad and Spain changes to a red country, a package holiday provider may bring you home early, or you’ll face paying for a quarantine hotel on your return to the UK.
Should I book a holiday to Greece this summer?
Not yet. Greece has already dropped quarantine requirements for UK citizens provided you can present a negative Covid-19 test or prove you’ve had both doses of a coronavirus vaccine. However, Brits cannot travel until 17 May at the earliest.
If you’ve not been inoculated, you will need to be willing to pay for tests before departure, plus the required ones to return home. The cost of these tests could be increased further if Greece is placed on the amber or red list. Wait for the traffic light announcement before booking.
Covid-19 tests for travel cost around £100 per person, depending on which test is required, although prices are slowly coming down through some companies.
Plus, it is quite likely the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) will advise against travelling to a red country.
However, if the FCDO advises not to travel to a country at the time of your trip, most package holidays will be cancelled – but not all, and not flights. You could be put in a position where you are forced to either travel without travel insurance, as this is invalid with an FCDO warning, and have to quarantine on your return, or cancel and lose your money.
Should I book a holiday to Portugal?
Portugal has said Brits who can show a negative test or are vaccinated will be allowed entry from mid-May, but it’s best to wait until the date is confirmed before booking. If you do book though, choose a package holiday, not a flight and hotel booked separately and choose a flexible, well-rated travel company.
You also need to find out what colour list Portugal will be placed on, so you can make an informed decision about whether you want to go if it involves extra costs and quarantine. Even then, remember categories could be changed at any time.
Should I book a holiday to Cyprus for this summer?
The Cypriot government says British nationals who can prove they’ve had two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine (at least seven days before travel) can enter Cyprus from 10 May without the need for tests or quarantines. You can still travel there without being inoculated though, but there are added entry requirements.
As above, it’s best to wait and see whether Cyprus is a green list country. You can still travel to amber and red list countries but with further restrictions.
Cyprus also has its own traffic light system. It rates countries according to its Covid-risk. This system does not apply to you if you’ve had both doses of the coronavirus vaccine. If you don’t end up having it in time for any reason, no airline and very few holiday companies will refund you.
However, if the UK is on Cyprus’ green list at the time of travel, you only need to fill out a passenger locator form anyway. If the UK is on their orange list, you could provide a negative Covid-19 test instead of being vaccinated.
Should I book a holiday to Turkey for this summer?
Not yet. If cases in Turkey are high when travel reopens and vaccination rates are lower than in the UK, the government is likely to restrict holidays from taking place by placing it on the red or amber list. It’s best to wait to find out.
Even if holidays can take place, you’ll have to pay for tests. While Turkey says it may lift the requirement for UK travellers to provide a negative Covid-19 test on the way out, the UK requires you to get tests on return, even if Turkey is on the green list.Read our piece on travel traffic lights.
Vaccines and vaccine passports
The UK plans to use the NHS app to hold your digital health certificates. It will be used to prove whether you’ve had a full vaccination or a recent negative test result.
It is unclear when this change to the app will be ready though. The government is also still working on making the app internationally recognised. Until then, be prepared to pay for tests in case countries won’t accept paper proof of vaccination.
The EU has announced a proposal for Digital Green Certificates. It’s not yet clear if these are available to those outside of the EU hoping to travel there. Read our Q&A on Digital Green Certificates.
Read more about whether you will need Covid-19 passports or vaccines to travel.
If I want to book a trip to Spain, Greece, Turkey, Portugal or Cyprus for 17 May or beyond, how can I protect myself financially?
If you do decide to risk it and book a trip, choose a package holiday with a reputable company, such as Jet2holidays, Trailfinders or any other Which? Recommended Provider. If Brits are banned from travelling at the time of your holiday, they will refund you.
A good package holiday company will also refund you if the FCDO advises against travel at the time of your holiday. Avoid online travel agents as some won’t refund in this instance and check before booking.
Still, it might be wise to wait until we know more about whether companies will allow free changes if a country is placed on the amber or red list.