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With the UK traffic light system in place, updates to the green, amber and red lists are made by the government every few weeks and it’s causing uncertainty over whether to book holidays for this summer.
Popular tourist destinations such as Portugal, Greece, Turkey, Spain and Cyprus are keen for British holidaymakers to return, but it’s impossible to predict whether these countries will be added to the green list later in the year. Plus, the UK government discourages travel to amber and red rated countries.
There is a financial risk if you book holidays to amber or red countries for later in the summer, in the hope they will later be made green, so it’s best to be wary.
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What is the traffic light system?
Countries have been assigned different colours based on a range of Covid-19 health metrics and these colours indicate not only the risk in each country, but also the tests and quarantine periods required. Find out which countries are on the green list.
Travellers returning from green list countries 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 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.
Package holiday companies are not obliged to refund your holiday to an amber rated country, but some will refund or allow free changes. However, under the Package Travel Regulations if the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) also advises against travel there most will refund you. The exception is some online travel agents.
When booking, you should always find a company with flexible policies and who agree upfront in their terms to move your holiday for free if the holiday destination changes to amber or red.
Should I book a holiday to Portugal this summer?
Although Portugal has agreed to permit people from the UK in for holidays (with proof of a negative Covid test), it is set to be moved from the UK’s green to amber list from 4am on 8 June. It means you shouldn’t travel there for leisure trips. If you do, you will be required to quarantine at home on your return for 10 days. This applies to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
If you do decide to book for later this year, choose a package holiday, not a flight and hotel booked separately and choose a flexible, well-rated travel company. This is because it may not be a ‘green’ country at the time of travel.
Additionally, consider the costs of tests before booking. You still need a pre-departure test and a test on day two after arriving home to visit green list countries. Plus, some countries will require one to fly out there.
Covid-19 tests for travel cost around anything from around £20 to £220 per person, depending on which test is required. The price of PCR tests are slowly coming down through some companies, such as Tui. See more on where you can get a covid test for travel and how much they cost.
Should I book a holiday to Spain this summer?
We wouldn’t recommend it. While Spain is open to UK tourists (and you don’t need to provide a negative test or vaccine certificate when you land), it is on the amber list. The UK government advises people not to travel to amber destinations for holidays.
Amber rated means you must quarantine at home for 10 days on return from Spain, plus take several tests. See our travel traffic light Q&A to see full requirements.
If you book a holiday now to Spain for later in the summer and it’s still on the amber list when you travel, a package holiday provider will only have to refund you if the FCDO advises against travel to Spain. Even then, some online travel agents may refuse to refund parts of the trip.
Some flexible companies will offer free date changes or refunds for amber rated countries, so check in the terms before booking and choose wisely.
Remember, if you’ve booked a flight separately, and the FCDO advises against travel to the country you’re travelling to, the flight will likely still run and you will not be entitled to a refund. The same applies if the country is red or amber at the time of the flight.
Some airlines may let you move your flight for free, but it’s not a given. This could leave you 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.
Similarly, you do not have rights with a hotel-only booking. So if you book a separate hotel, choose one with a free cancellation policy.
Should I book a holiday to Greece this summer?
No. Greece has 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. It also accepts the NHS app as proof of vaccination. However, Greece is also on the amber list. Read more on travel traffic lights.
Should I book a holiday to Cyprus this summer?
Not yet. The Cypriot government will permit those from the UK who aren’t vaccinated, but there will be added entry requirements, depending on the UK’s colour categorisation at the time of travel.
The colour coded system rates countries according to Covid-risk and requests entry requirements accordingly. For example, if the UK is on Cyprus’ green list at the time of travel, you only need to fill out a passenger locator form to enter. If the UK is on their orange list, you must provide a negative Covid-19 test. See the list here.
This system does not apply to you if you’ve had both doses of the coronavirus vaccine (at least seven days before travel), as you can enter Cyprus regardless of your departing country’s rating without tests or quarantines.
However, it is currently on the UK government’s amber list, meaning you shouldn’t travel there for leisue purposes. It’s best to wait and see whether Cyprus is changed to a green list country.
Should I book a holiday to Turkey this summer?
Not yet. Turkey is on the government’s red list. This means you must quarantine in a hotel on return from a trip there which costs £1750 for a single person. The government does not advise travel to red list countries.
If you do travel to Turkey, a negative PCR test is required to gain entry.
The UK requires you to get tests on return, even if Turkey is later added to the green list. Read our piece on travel traffic lights for more details.
Vaccines and vaccine passports
England and Wales will use the NHS app to prove your vaccination status, but not test results yet. You can also ring the NHS to request paper proof.
This new feature on the NHS app is ready to use in England, but Wales will be several weeks behind. Regardless, Wales still advises Welsh residents not to go on holiday abroad.
People in Scotland can request a vaccine certificate from the NHS inform website. Alternatively, call 0808 196 8565 if you’re due to travel in the next three weeks. Find out more about the NHS app and how to use it.
Before trying to use the app to gain entry to a country based on your double vaccination status, check the country accepts the NHS app as proof. Additionally, check the entry requirements. Countries may also require you to provide proof of a negative Covid test.
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?
A good package holiday company will 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.
You should also look at a company’s policies to see if they will allow you to move your destination or date in the instance your holiday destination is changed to an amber rated country. You aren’t legally entitled to a refund, but some companies such as Trailfinders will honour this.