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

Holidaymakers can only travel for leisure to green list countries

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

The government’s traffic light system is now in place for overseas travel, and is set to be reviewed every few weeks. 

In the latest update, popular holiday destination Portugal was removed from the green list  and downgraded to the amber list from Tuesday 8 June.

Holidaymakers visiting destinations on the green list do not have to quarantine when they return to England, making planning a trip easier this summer. However, before booking, you still need to consider the country’s entry requirements. Many of the green list countries or territories currently do now allow leisure travel from the UK. 

 Those returning from green list destinations such as Gibraltar and Iceland will 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. The government has said you  should not travel to amber list destinations 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, Egypt and Turkey. You should not travel to red list countries or territories for leisure purposes.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland’s traffic light lists can differ to England’s, so it’s best to keep an eye on individual government website advice.

travel traffic light system

The 12 holiday companies that you can trust – as rated by customers and our independent researchers

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: 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?

When countries start 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: Portugal, 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 government may spot check you to see if you’re isolating when you return home. You could face up to a £10,000 fine if you don’t quarantine.

The FCDO advice and amber list countries will not always align. For example, the FCDO currently says it’s safe to travel to the Canary Islands, but the Canaries are on the amber list.

If the FCDO advises against travel to a country, your insurance will be invalidated.

Which countries are on the red list?

Several places are on the list including the Maldives, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago, 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?

With the green list in place it’s safer to plan a trip.Just make sure you are allowed entry to your chosen destination. Save yourself some worry by choosing a company with a flexible booking policy. Jet2, Trailfinders and Kuoni  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 now agreed that countries should permit entry to all vaccinated individuals (who have had both doses) from non-EU countries, as well as those travelling from countries with a low incidence of coronavirus. Countries on the low risk list will be defined as those with 75 or less new Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people in the previous 14 days. The new list is expected shortly.

Despite this recommendation, countries in the EU can set their own entry requirements and could ask to see negative tests if preferred.

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 can be used as proof of vaccination status and is ready to use now. However, check the country will accept this as valid proof before travelling. Additionally, some countries may still require proof of a negative test, check before booking.

English residents can also request proof online or in letter form by calling 119. Read everything you need to know about using the NHS app for travel from downloading it, to creating a QR code to prove your vaccination status.

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.

Residents of Wales will be able to use the NHS app, but it has not yet been rolled out.

Residents of Scotland can request a vaccine certificate from the NHS inform website. 

Residents of Northern Ireland cannot currently use the app, nor is there a paper alternative yet.

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

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