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With the news of the new traffic light system coming into effect this summer coupled with the fact that Greece, Portugal, Turkey and Cyprus are all hoping to welcome British holidaymakers back to their shores, you might be considering booking a trip. But financial risks still remains.
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 announced it is eager for Brits to return this summer, although it has yet to give a specific date. Turkey won’t require UK travellers to be vaccinated and is considering removing the requirement to provide a negative test.
Greece, Cyprus and Portugal have indicated that they plan to accept UK holidaymakers from spring, although with some restrictions.
From 14 May, Greece plans to open its doors to vaccinated holidaymakers and those with Covid-19 antibodies, or alternately, those who can provide a negative Covid-19 test. It hasn’t detailed what evidence will be required to prove that you have had the vaccine, or have antibodies. Covid-19 tests for travel costs around £100 per person, depending on which test is required.
The Cypriot government says British nationals who can prove they’ve had two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine can enter Cyprus from 1 May without the need for tests or quarantines. For those who haven’t had the vaccine, a negative Covid-19 test will be required.
Additionally, Portugal has said Brits who can show a negative test or are vaccinated will be allowed entry from 17 May.
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 or Cyprus before 17 May?
No, don’t book a holiday to Spain, Greece or Cyprus to travel before 17 May as it is still not legal to take a recreation trip abroad.
Similarly, Spain will allow Brits to fly there from March 30, but only for health, education or work reasons. You need to wait for Spain to permit holiday tourists as well as the UK government to lift the travel ban. Currently, anyone from England trying to go on holiday before the government has said it’s okay to do so could be fined £5,000.
Should I book a holiday to Greece, Portugal or Cyprus from 17 May?
We wouldn’t recommend it. This is the earliest the government has said that holidays can take place, but it’s dependent on a review of health data.
In the roadmap out of lockdown, the government 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.
If the planned date of 17 May for international holidays does go ahead, it’s important to remember that countries are always at risk of being added to the red list. This means arrivals into the UK from a red country must pay £1,750 to quarantine in a hotel, making a holiday much more expensive.
Colour categories could be changed at any time. Portugal for example was on the government red list up until 19 March, but has now been removed. This means you no longer need to pay to quarantine in a hotel on return. However, there’s still no guarantee it’ll remain off the list.
For all three countries, tests may be required before departure if you haven’t been vaccinated, as well as before departing home for the UK and on arrival back in the UK, whether you have been vaccinated or not. This could add hundreds of pounds to the cost of your holiday. Even if these countries are listed as green, you need to factor in the costs of tests. Read more on the traffic light system and what each colour rating means for tests and quarantines.
And finally, while foreign countries may let you in without tests or quarantine, the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) may not be keen for you to travel there. If the FCDO advises not to travel to a country at the time of your trip, most package holidays are 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.
It’s best to wait until the government announces which countries will be listed as green this summer and possibly booking later so that you can be more certain if a country will remain green at the time of travel.
Should I book a holiday to Turkey this summer?
Not yet. While Turkey won’t require holidaymakers to be vaccinated, the UK government hasn’t indicated what data it will use to decide which countries holidays can take place in. If cases in Turkey remain high and vaccination rates much 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 plans to lift its requirement for UK travellers to provide a negative Covid-19 test, the UK will require you to get tests even if Turkey is on the green list. You would still need a pre-departure home test and test when you come back to the UK.
If on the amber or red list, even more costs and quarantine restrictions are involved.
Should I book a holiday to Spain this summer?
Not yet. Although Spain plans to allow Brits to travel there as long as they can provide a negative Covid-19 test result, we still need to wait until the UK government gives the go ahead for holidays and indicates whether Spain is green. Even then, you need to be willing to pay for tests.
Vaccines and vaccine passports for Cyprus, Portugal and Greece
To be permitted into Cyprus without the need for quarantine or testing, you’ll need to have had your second dose of the vaccine at least seven days before you travel. 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 added to Cyprus’ green list, you could instead provide a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of arrival.
Portugal and Greece plan to welcome vaccinated tourists, as well as those who are immune or test negative.
Additionally, the EU has recently announced a proposal for Digital Green Certificates. Although it’s not yet been clear on whether these are available to those outside the EU hoping to travel there. Read our Q&A on Digital Green Certificates.
If you’re hoping to book based on the fact that you’ve already been vaccinated, there are other issues to consider – such as how you’ll prove you’ve had the jab.
The UK government is looking into how digital health certificates could faciliate travel to and from countries which have similar systems in place, but whether this will definitely be introduced is undecided. Read more about whether Covid passports will restart travel again.
Find out more about quarantine hotels and whether summer holidays will go ahead
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, choose a package holiday with a reputable company, such as Jet2holidays, Trailfinders or any other Which? Recommended Provider. If we are banned from travelling at the time of your holiday, they will refund you.
A good package holiday company will also refund 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 refund or allow free changes if a country is placed on the amber or red list.