The government has announced that a traffic light system of red, amber and green will be used for holidays when non-essential travel is able to resume. This new system brings hope for travel abroad this summer, but the risk of disruption and additional costs remains high.
The government hasn’t indicated which countries will be on the green list or when non-essential international travel can resume. For now, it is illegal to go on holiday abroad. The earliest that non-essential travel from England might be possible is 17 May.
What we know about the traffic light system is that it will assign countries to different categories based on levels of infection, vaccination rate and Covid-19 variants of concern. Traffic light colours will indicate which tests and quarantine periods will be required.
Crucially, the government has said countries will be moved between red, amber and green. That means that you might book to visit a green country, but it’s changed to amber or red before you go, or while you’re abroad. Find out more about the risks of the travel traffic light system.
We also know that even if you do travel to a green country, you’ll still be required to take a number of tests. This can add hundreds of pounds to the cost of your trip.
On 12 April, the Global Travel Taskforce is due to outline in more detail how to restart holidays. Until it does, and it confirms which countries are on the green list, Which? advises against booking holidays abroad. Even with the best flexible booking policy, which offers a great deal of cover, there remains a risk you could be left out of pocket. That includes the price of tests to travel abroad, the risk of a hotel quarantine and the fact you may need to be vaccinated.
Hotel quarantine for travellers to UK adds risk to holidays
Coronavirus variants that appeared in South Africa and Brazil mean that both those destinations are on a list of high-risk countries. Anybody travelling from those countries to England and Wales will need to book into a quarantine hotel approved by the government for a 10-day stay. In Scotland, travellers from all countries will need to use a hotel to quarantine.
It’s possible that hotel quarantine will also apply to red countries in the new traffic light scheme. If you book with a good travel company, you can reduce the risk of hotel quarantine. These companies will allow you to change destinations if the country you’re due to travel to is added to the red list before you fly. But they can’t help you if the country is added to the list while you are there. This would mean paying £1,750 per person for hotel quarantine in the UK.
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Compulsory Covid-19 testing for travel
Even if we’re able to travel this summer, the government has said you will still need pre-departure and post-arrival tests when you come back to the UK from green countries.
Many countries also require a negative test before you travel to them, and a follow-up on arrival. With PCR private tests costing around £100, hundreds of pounds could potentially be added to the cost of your holiday.
Vaccination passports could allow future travel
Trips abroad will depend on levels of vaccination at your destination, but also proof of your vaccination status.
Trials of ‘vaccine passports’ have begun between Greece and Israel. And Saga became the first holiday company to say that it will require proof of vaccination to book its holidays and cruises. Several airlines have also introduced policies to check the vaccination and test status of passengers.
Most recently, the EU has revealed plans to introduce a Digital Green Certificate. The plan is for everyone in Europe to use this in either a digital or paper format to make travelling within the EU easier. These certificates will provide evidence that a traveller has been vaccinated, but also if they have recovered from Covid-19 or tested negative.
As part of its traffic light system, the UK government has said it will ‘look to establish arrangements with other countries and international organisations to establish mutual recognition of certificates’.
In short, health certificates for travel are likely to make trips easier and cheaper this year but won’t usually be compulsory. If you haven’t been vaccinated, you will be able to use tests as an alternative, but this is far more expensive.
You can see more on the future of vaccination passports here.
Is it illegal to go on holiday?
Yes, currently it is. You can be fined £5,000 if you go abroad without a valid reason.
What should I do if I already have a holiday booked this summer?
If your holiday is before 17 May, you should approach your provider for a refund or rebooking. It’s crucial you don’t cancel the holiday, but wait for the provider to do so. As it’s illegal to travel, it will have to refund you.
If your holidays is on or after 17 May, the best advice is to wait and see. It’s possible your holiday might be able to go head. The holiday company won’t cancel until the government reports on the resumption (or not) of international travel in mid-April.
If you booked flights and hotels separately, then it might be more complicated. Check whether your airline is allowing fee-free changes for your travel dates. If you do need to change, make sure you do it in time. Some airlines will only allow you to change between seven and 21 days before departure.
Is it safe to book a holiday in the UK?
There are fewer risks, as no hotel quarantine or tests are required.
The government has confirmed 12 April for the reopening of self-catering accommodation in England.
The aim in Scotland is for holiday accommodation to reopen on 26 April. Self-catering accommodation will be restricted to a maximum of four people from up to two households.
On 27 March, self-catering accommodation reopened in Wales – available to only those who reside in Wales.
Dates are still subject to review. If you do book, it’s essential you do so with a company that allows flexible booking.
Travel insurance is unlikely to refund you for cancellations caused by a lockdown if you book while the current lockdown is in place.