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The UK travel traffic light system sees updates to the green, amber and red lists every three weeks. Before booking a holiday you also need to check Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) warnings, find out if the country actually allows UK residents entry and what their rules are concerning vaccines, self-isolation and tests.
Madeira and Malta have remained on the green list in the latest government traffic light update. The Balearic Islands have been downgraded to the amber list.
However, under new travel rules that will take effect from 19 July, fully vaccinated residents from England, Wales and Scotland will not need to quarantine on their return from amber list countries. Northern Ireland will follow suit on 26 July. Provided the FCDO warnings marry up, holidays will become more viable for most if you can afford the Covid tests required.
It’s also important to understand that the UK traffic light system only indicates the tests and quarantine period required when you return to the UK. Some countries on the UK green list, such as Australia, bar entry to almost all UK residents. Other countries, such as Malta, only allow entry if you’ve been vaccinated. While others, like Italy, may expect you to self-isolate once you arrive.
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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. 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’s no requirement to quarantine.
Currently, everyone travelling to the UK from amber list countries must isolate for 10 days on return. They will also must take a pre-departure test as well as a test on day two and eight on return.
Holidaymakers that are fully vaccinated and a resident of England, Scotland or Wales from 19 July (26 July if from Northern Ireland), will not need to quarantine on return from amber list countries. They still must take a Covid test before departing home from their destination and a PCR test on day two, but not day eight.
Those arriving from red countries must quarantine for 10 days in government-managed quarantine hotels, adding huge costs to the holiday.
Traffic light ratings can be changed by the government at any time, so booking remains risky. It’s unlikely you will be able to get a refund for your holiday or flight if a destination is changed from green to amber.
Package holiday companies aren’t obliged to refund your holiday to an amber country, but most will allow booking amendments – although these can be costly.
With the exception of some online travel agents, most package holiday providers will refund you if your destination moves on to the red list, as this will result in the FCDO advising against all travel to that country.
When booking, you should always find a company with flexible policies, allowing you to move your holiday for free if your destination changes to amber or red after you’ve booked.
Should I book a holiday to Portugal or Madeira this summer?
Madeira is on the UK government’s green watchlist. That means green list rules apply so you won’t have to isolate but will need to take two Covid tests.
You can enter Madeira with proof of a negative test or proof of double vaccination. However, the UK government has warned that countries on the watchlist can be downgraded to amber at any time.
If it is downgraded to amber then you will need to quarantine at home on your return for 10 days and take a total of three Covid tests before and after your return to the UK.
New rules in England, Scotland and Wales from 19 July however mean that if you are fully vaccinated you do not need to quarantine on your return from amber rated countries. You will be required to pay for just two Covid tests to return to the UK. The same applies for residents of Northern Ireland from 26 July.
Portugal is letting travellers from the UK in for holidays without quarantine but only if they’ve been fully vaccinated and can provide proof of a negative PCR test. However it is on the UK government’s amber list. See above for rules on amber list countries.
If you book to go to Portugal and you don’t want to quarantine on return home, ensure you are vaccinated and you return after 19 July.
Should I book a holiday to Spain or the Balearics this summer?
Mainland Spain remains on the UK’s amber list, so you’ll be required to pay for multiple tests and quarantine at home when you land back in the UK.
From 19 July (in England, Scotland or Northern Ireland), if fully vaccinated you will not have to quarantine and you can travel to amber countries for leisure purposes. The same applies in Northern Ireland from 26 July. For full details on this, see amber list country advice.
You could book a holiday to Spain from these dates, but quarantine and testing requirements differ depending on your vaccination status. You also need to be mindful of FCDO warnings. If FCDO advises against travel you may struggle to get insurance.
Currently, there are no FCDO warnings against travelling to anywhere in Spain.
If you do choose to book, you must show a test – which must be issued within 48 hours of your arrival – or proof of vaccination to enter Spain (unless under 12). Spain will accept the NHS app or NHS letter as proof of vaccination.
Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera are on the UK government’s green watchlist, but will be downgraded to the amber list from 19 July.
From 19 July (in England, Wales and Scotland) there will be no requirement to quarantine on your return to the UK if fully vaccinated. This rule will be implemented in Northern Ireland from 26 July. However you must quarantine on return if you are not doubly vaccinated.
The Balearic islands also require you to be vaccinated or show proof of a negative test – issued within 48 hours of your arrival – to enter (unless under 12).
Should I book a holiday to Malta this year?
You could book a holiday to Malta, but only if vaccinated. Malta has said that only fully vaccinated UK travellers can enter the country. You may use the NHS Covid letter or the app to prove your vaccination status.
It’s position on the UK’s green list means you won’t have to quarantine on your return but will have to take two tests.
If you book a holiday to Malta, it’s important to book a package holiday with a flexible provider, in case Malta is moved on to the red list by the time you travel.
Should I book a holiday to Greece this summer?
Greece allows entry with a negative Covid-19 test (including an antigen test from an authorised lab) or proof you’ve had both doses of the vaccine. It accepts the NHS app or letter as proof of vaccination, but you must have had your second dose at least 14 days before travelling.
Mainland Greece and all the Greek Islands remain on the UK government’s amber list. The FCDO however says it’s safe to travel there.
From 19 July the rules change for residents of England, Wales and Scotland and 26 July for residents of Northern Ireland. You can go on holiday to Greece or any amber rated country from the applicable date. If you’re fully vaccinated, you can skip quarantine and the day eight test. Two tests are still required. If you aren’t vaccinated you must isolate and take all three tests as usual.
You should check FCDO advice before travelling anywhere.
Should I book a holiday to Cyprus this summer?
The UK was also placed on Cyprus’ red list on 8 July. If you aren’t fully vaccinated, to enter you must undergo a PCR test 72 hours prior to departure and provide proof of a negative result. You also must take another PCR test upon arrival at Larnaca or Paphos airports, and remain in self-isolation until the result is issued. Test results should be available within three hours online. You must pay for this and it costs 30-32 euros.
Testing before travel or on arrival doesn’t apply if you’ve had both doses of the coronavirus vaccine (at least seven days before travel). You can enter Cyprus regardless of your departure country’s rating without tests or quarantine. You could be subject to random testing though.
Cyprus is on the UK’s amber list, so quarantine rules and tests when you return home vary from 19 July depending on where you live in the UK and whether you’ve been vaccinated (see amber list country advice for further details).
Should I book a holiday to Turkey this summer?
Definitely not. Turkey is currently on the government’s red list. This means you must quarantine in a hotel on return from a trip there which costs £1,750 per person. The government doesn’t advise travel to red list countries, so although Turkey is admitting UK tourists who have a negative PCR test, it’s not advisable to travel or book a holiday there at the moment.
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 book a trip to Spain, Greece, Turkey, Portugal or Cyprus, 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.
This is less important now though that rules around vaccinated travellers and amber countries are changing. If you aren’t fully vaccinated yet or don’t plan to have the vaccine at all, this flexibility may be important to you if you don’t want to, or can’t quarantine when you return home to the UK.