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Traffic light system: red, amber and green list countries – where can I go on holiday abroad?

The government has confirmed 17 May for the travel restart date

Traffic light system: red, amber and green list countries – where can I go on holiday abroad?

Overseas travel can take place from 17 May, the government has confirmed, as well as revealing which 12 destinations are on the green list under the travel traffic light system.

Holiday favourite Portugal is on the green list as well as Gibraltar, Iceland and Israel. But popular sunshine destinations Spain, Greece and France did not make the list.

The green rating means travellers do not have to quarantine when they return to the UK, making planning a trip easier this summer.

Holidaymakers returning from green list destinations will however need to take a pre-departure Covid-19 test and a PCR test on or before day two of their return. Previous Which? research has found private test requirements can add hundreds of pounds to the cost of a trip.

Arrivals from countries on the amber list will need to quarantine at home for 10 days, in addition to forking out for tests before and after their trip. You shuold not travel there for leisure purposes.

Arrivals from countries on the red list must quarantine for 10 days in government managed hotels which cost £1,750 per person. Countries on this list include the Maldives and Turkey. You should not travel to red list countries or territories for leisure purposes.

travel traffic light system

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How will the government decide which countries go on the green, amber or red lists?

Destinations have been assigned to each list based on a range of Covid-19 health metrics, including vaccination numbers, infection rates and prevalence of variants. 

The different traffic light colours indicate the risk in each destination and which tests and quarantine periods are required.


How frequently will countries change traffic light colours?

Similar to last year’s travel corridors, the government has confirmed countries will move in and out of different colours in the traffic light system. Corridor changes caused significant disruption last year with travellers forced to cut holidays short and rush home to try and beat the introduction of quarantine.

To reduce the risk of disruption, this summer,  the government plans to move countries between the red, amber and green lists every three weeks, instead of weekly. It is introducing a ‘green watchlist’ to identify the countries at risk of moving from green to amber, although there are no details on how it will work. The government warns it will not ‘hesitate to act immediately should data show countries’ risk ratings have changed’ meaning travellers could also face disruption this year.

If you’re in a destination when it is added to the red list, you may need to pay for a flight to get home before the change takes place (with airfares likely to be very high) or if you return as normal will have to pay for hotel quarantine.

Wherever you decide to holiday, you’ll need to factor in the cost of tests, as they are required even for travel to and from green list countries. Although pricey, costs of tests are slowly coming down. One government-approved provider has reduced its test costs to £58, while another is in the process of bringing it down to £45. Tui’s PCR test (for Tui customers only) is £60. See more on costs of Covid tests for travel. 

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Which countries are on the green list?

The current green list includes: Portugal (including the Azores and Madeira), Israel, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Brunei, Iceland, Gibraltar, Falkland Islands, Faroe Islands, South Georgia and Sandwich Islands and Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha. But holidaymakers are not welcome in all of these destinations, such as Australia and New Zealand which are closed to international travel.

Can I take a holiday to countries on the green list? What tests are needed?

If they are accepting UK arrivals, yes. You will need to take a pre-departure test as well as a PCR test on or before day two of your arrival back into the UK. That could cost as much as £200, depending on which country you take the pre-departure test in and which UK provider you use. For green list countries, there is no quarantine required on your return to the UK unless you test positive.

The country you are travelling to may also require a test, further adding to the cost.  The EU has suggested those who have been vaccinated, and can provide evidence of this, won’t need to take a test. The EU is currently working on its own digital green certificate.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said UK holidaymakers will be able to use the NHS app to prove their vaccination status. You can also request proof in letter form if you do not have access to a smartphone by calling the NHS 119 line from 17 May. This will contain a QR code to ensure legitimacy. GPs cannot provide you with one however.

Which countries are on the amber list?

Countries on the amber list include Cyprus, France, Spain (including the Balearics and Canaries), Italy and Croatia among others. Check the government website for the full list. 

Can I take a holiday to countries on the amber list? What tests are needed?

The government says you shouldn’t travel to amber-rated destinations for holidays.  If you do travel there, you will need to quarantine for a period of 10 days at home on your return to the UK and take a pre-departure test, plus a PCR test on day two and day eight. Alternately, you can pay for an additional Test to Release on day five to end self-isolation early.

The FCDO currently advises against travel to amber list countries. That means that if you do go, your travel insurance will be invalid.

Which countries are on the red list?

Several places are on the list including the Maldives, South Africa, Turkey and India. See the full list on the government website.

Can I take a holiday to countries on the red list? What tests are needed?

You should not travel to red list countries for holidays. If you have to travel there, you will need to pay for a 10-day stay at a government managed quarantine hotel on your return – that currently costs £1,750. You will also have to pay for pre-departure testing and PCR testing on day two and eight. 

Should I book a holiday?

Now that the green list has finally been announced it’s safer to plan a trip but make sure you are allowed entry to your chosen destination. And save yourself the worry by choosing a company with a flexible booking policy. Jet2, Trailfinders and Kuoni all have holidays to Portugal, are all Which? Recommended Providers and all have good flexible booking policies. 

You need to protect yourself in case the green list country you’ve booked is later changed to amber or red. There could also be issues  around delayed Covid-19 test results preventing travellers boarding their flights. 

But these risks can be reduced depending on how you book your break and who you book it with. Choose your holiday company carefully and prepare to be flexible. It’s often possible to move to different dates and even swap destinations if disruption does affect your travel, but not claim a refund. Find out more information on whether it’s safe to book a holiday and what to look out for when booking in our Q&A.

Additionally, the government has said queues at the border will be inevitable because of increased health checks – be prepared to wait longer than usual.

If you’ve already booked a holiday for this summer, find out more on whether it will go ahead or if you should cancel

Vaccination passports and entry restrictions

Several countries have indicated that they will allow vaccinated travellers entry for holidays without the need to take a Covid-19 test. But tests offer an alternative for gaining entry if you’ve not been fully inoculated.

In the EU there are restrictions on non-essential travel – which applies to all non-EU countries including the UK, based on their epidemiological situation. 

But the EU Commission has proposed countries should lift the ban from June and permit entry to all vaccinated individuals (who have had both doses), as well as those travelling from countries with a low incidence of coronavirus.

The Commission suggests that by increasing the threshold of Covid cases from 25 infections per 100,000 to 100 more countries could welcome holidaymakers who would not need to be vaccinated.

If a country decides to waive PCR test or quarantine requirements for vaccinated EU travellers, then the Commission suggests this should be extended to travellers from vaccinated non-EU countries, including the UK.

Once Digital Green Certificates become available in the EU, people will be able to prove their vaccination or test status through this system. However until then, the Commission says member states should consider accepting vaccine certificates from non-EU countries. This is provided that countries can guarantee the certificate contains all of the information required and can validate its authenticity.

The EU Commission recommends each country within the EU sets up an online portal. This will enable travellers to either gain a Digital Green Certificate (when available) or ask for proof of recognition of their vaccine certificate. 

In addition, children who are excluded from vaccination should be able to travel with their vaccinated parents if they have a negative PCR Covid-19 test taken no earlier than 72 hours before arrival. However, this could prove confusing. Each country has different rules on the age they expect children to be tested.

These proposals are subject to the approval from the EU’s 27 member states.

Vaccination certificates on the NHS app

vaccine passport

In England, the NHS app will be used as proof of vaccination status. The government has confirmed the app will be ready by 17 May. However, some countries may still require proof of a negative test, check before booking.

English residents can also request proof in letter form by calling 119 line from 17 May.

Travellers will be responsible for making sure they have evidence of vaccination before travel. If for any reason you don’t, you’ll be liable for any additional test costs that are required.

Your holiday checklist: Everything you need to consider before booking a trip

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