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

The government has moved the Balearic islands from green watchlist to amber in its latest update, while Hong Kong and Bulgaria go green

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

The government has announced that fully jabbed arrivals from France must still quarantine, despite being on the UK’s amber list. 

Under new rules, double vaccinated UK residents returning from amber-rated countries are able to skip quarantine, but this new rule does not apply to those travelling back from France.

The Balearic Islands (Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza, and Formentera) have also been downgraded from green watchlist to amber. The British Virgin Islands will also move to amber, while Bulgaria, and Hong Kong are added to the green list and Croatia and Taiwan to the green watchlist.

You do not need to quarantine on return from a green or amber list country (except France). However, in both instances, travellers will need to take a test before departing their destination and a PCR test on or before day two of their return.

Children returning from green and amber list countries do not need to self-isolate either but will be subject to testing if they are aged 5 and over. 

If you have not been fully vaccinated and are returning from an amber list country, you will need to quarantine for ten days in your home. You will also need to take a test before departing for the UK and a PCR test on or before day two of your return and then on day eight.

Apart from a handful of operators, you can’t get a refund for a holiday or flight on the basis of your destination moving from green status to amber.

Green and amber list status only relates to quarantine and test requirements when returning to the UK – you still need to check entry requirements at the destination.

England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland currently have the same green list, although England also operates a green watchlist.  Some green list countries though, such as Australia, don’t allow UK arrivals to enter for leisure purposes. Others, such as Malta, only allow entry for those who have been fully vaccinated. 

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How does 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. But the truth is no one knows exactly how the government makes these decisions, meaning it is impossible to guess how traffic lights may change. 

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?

The government plans to make changes to the green list every three weeks. However, it has also warned that destinations on the green or amber list could move to red, at anytime.

If you’re in a destination when its traffic light status changes, you may want to pay for a flight to get home before the change takes place (with airfares likely to be very high). If the status changes to red you will have to fork out £1,750 to quarantine in a hotel back home, so it might be cheaper to buy a new flight.

If a country’s status changes to amber and you’re not fully vaccinated you will either need to get a flight home early – which could be costly – or quarantine for 10 days at home. 

The government warns it won’t ‘hesitate to act immediately should data show countries’ risk ratings have changed’, meaning travellers could face disruption. However, with the new amber list rules now in place, disruption will be eased for those who have been fully vaccinated.

Wherever you decide to holiday, you’ll need to factor in the cost of tests, as they’re required even for travel to and from green list countries. Although pricey, costs of tests are slowly coming down.

Which countries are on the green list?

Countries including Malta, Gibraltar, Bulgaria, Barbados, Madeira and Antigua are on the green list.

Read our green list – where can I go on holiday story for the full list and advice on booking.

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

If the country is accepting UK arrivals, yes.  Some might not let in Brits (such as Australia).

For green list countries, you’ll 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. These tests can cost hundreds of pounds. For green list countries, there’s 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, may not need to take a test in future – but it’s recommendations don’t have to be followed by individual countries on the bloc.

English holidaymakers can now use the NHS app to prove their vaccination status in some countries, such as Greece. You can also access this online if you don’t have a smartphone, or request proof in letter form if you don’t have access to a computer or printer. Find out more about the NHS app, how to download and use it, plus the options for those residing in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

What is the green watchlist?

The green watchlist status indicates the government may change that destination’s colour to amber or red at any time, rather than at the set traffic light review which takes place every three weeks – the next is expected around 5 August. That means there is increased risk to booking, unless you book with a provider that commits to refunds for traffic light changes.

Which countries are on the amber list?

Countries on the amber list include: The Balearic Islands, Greece, Portugal, Cyprus, France, Spain (including the Canaries), Italy and Croatia among others.

Read our amber list Q&A for more on how amber list travel works and your rights to a refund/rebooking.

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

The government has changed its stance on leisure travel to amber list countries. You can take holidays to amber-list countries and if you are double-jabbed you do not need to quarantine on your return. You will still need to test though. One lateral flow test will be required before you depart home and one PCR test on arrival back in the UK (on day two or before).

The requirement for a pre-departure test, plus a PCR test on day two and day eight and a 10-day quarantine will remain in place for those not inoculated or singly inoculated. Alternatively, you can pay for an additional Test to Release on day five to end self-isolation early. 

An exception however has been made for France. Due to the ‘persistent presence of cases in France of the Beta variant, which was first identified in South Africa’ arrivals must quarantine at home for 10 days as well as take a pre-departure test, plus day two and eight PCR test. This applies regardless of your vaccination status in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

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 Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) advice and amber list countries won’t always align. If the FCDO advises against travel to a country, your insurance will in most cases be invalidated. 

However, Which? is aware of one type of insurance, available through Biba’s 1,800 member brokers, that will insure you even if you travel against FCDO advice. It has not been assessed by Which? though as to whether it offers complete Covid cover. Find out more about good and bad insurance policies

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, India, Cuba, Indonesia, Myanmar and Sierra Leone. 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’ll need to pay for a 10-day stay at a government-managed quarantine hotel on your return – that currently costs £1,750. You’ll also have to take a pre-departure test and PCR tests on day two and eight. 

Should I book a holiday?

With the green list in place and changes incoming for amber list holidays for those vaccinated, it’s easier to plan a trip, but there are risks still involved. Jet2, Kuoni and Trailfinders are Which? Recommended Providers and all have good flexible booking policies.

You need to protect yourself in case the green or amber list country you’ve booked is later changed to red.

There could also be issues around delayed Covid-19 test results preventing travellers boarding their flights. 

Additionally, with Covid cases on the rise in the UK, there may be a significant increase in the amount of people being told to self-isolate this summer. This could cause major issues for holidays. Despite now having the freedom to book more trips to amber list countries if vaccinated, hardly any holiday companies will refund you if you are pinged by NHS Test and Trace.

Once abroad you must also be prepared that if you test positive for Covid you will have to self-isolate at your destination.

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.

You should also try to find a good insurance provider that offers decent Covid cover. Find out the best and worst travel insurance policies

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, while the UK government has confirmed it plans to drop quarantine requirements for travellers who have been double vaccinated later this summer. 

Greece will permit entry without testing to UK travellers who can prove they’ve been fully vaccinated. It also accepts the NHS app or letter as proof of this (and Scotland’s and Wales’ equivalents).

The EU Commission has recommended 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 UK isn’t on this list. 

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

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.

If you are planning to travel to a destination where proof of vaccination is required, you also need to check rules on what evidence is required. France, Greece and Madeira, for example, will accept the NHS app – Malta, which requires UK travellers to have been vaccinated, does not. 

Will I need a vaccine passport to travel – full Q&A on what destinations are doing

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. 30 countries and territories currently accept the app or NHS letter. 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 proving 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 in Wales have been told that they will be able to access electronic vaccination certificates imminently. This won’t be available through the NHS app, instead you will have to access it through a website. 

In the meantime, you can request a vaccination certificate, through your local health board in writing or by phone. If your travel is urgent and essential, and you can’t get a test in time, or quarantine to meet a country’s entry requirements, you can call 0300 303 5667 to request a vaccination certificate. However, it can take up to 10 working days for this to arrive.

Residents of 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.

Residents of Northern Ireland can’t use the NHS app. There should be a different app ready by 25 July, but the interim proof of vaccination arrangement can be found here

If you plan to use your vaccination status to travel to amber list countries and avoid quarantining on your return, then you must show proof of this on your Passenger Locator Form which you fill out when returning to the UK.

How to use the NHS app for travel – how it works and when you need a physical certificate instead

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