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The rules for international travel are constantly changing, and it’s not just our own traffic light system you have to stay on top of before booking a holiday.
The UK’s traffic light system details which tests you need to take before and after returning to the UK, and how long (if at all) you will need to quarantine for. Reviews to the traffic lights happen every three weeks, although there have been occasional changes between those set reviews.
But before you book you also need to check if the country is allowing UK residents to enter, several green rated countries, such as Australia and Canada don’t. Others, such as Malta require you to show an NHS Covid Pass as proof of being fully vaccinated.
Confusingly, you also need to check the government’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) advice. This also advises on whether holiday travel to a country is safe based on the risk of Covid, but includes the risk of a wider range of factors in its analysis – such as civil unrest and terrorism.
The two lists don’t always marry up with some countries rated green or amber in the traffic light system also having an FCDO warning against travel there. If you travel to a country against government advice, this could invalidate your insurance.
Wherever you travel, even to green list countries when vaccinated, the UK government will require you to take tests to return. Even with cheaper test providers this is likely to cost around £50.
Latest changes to the traffic lights
Now that fully vaccinated UK residents returning from amber-rated countries are able to skip quarantine, it makes holidays easier.
From 4am on Monday 30 August, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Switzerland, and the Azores will be added to the green list.
The green list only indicates travel rules for returning to the UK. You still need to check the entry requirements of the country you are travelling to. UK residents, with limited exceptions, are barred from Canada, and you can only travel to Switzerland if fully vaccinated.
Thailand and Montenegro have been moved from the amber to red list
Countries still on the amber list include the Balearic Islands (Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza, and Formentera), Spain, Italy and Portugal.
While you do not need to quarantine on return from a green list country or an amber list country if you have been vaccinated, you will need to take a test before your flight, ferry or train back to the UK and a PCR test on or before day two of your return. Children returning from green and amber list countries do not need to quarantine 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 10 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.
England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland currently have the same green list.
The next update to the traffic light ratings is 15 or 16 of September, although government has occasionally made changes between the set review dates
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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 any time.
The next planned update to the traffic light ratings is September 15th or 16th
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 currently have to fork out £2,285 for a single adult and £1,430 for a second adult for hotel quarantine.
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. From 4am on Monday 30 August, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Switzerland, and the Azores will be added to 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.
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.
Thinking of heading on holiday to a green list country? Use our holiday company checker tool to help find the companies with the best refund and rebooking policies
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 fixed traffic light review which takes place every three weeks. That means there is increased risk to booking and travelling, 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) and Italy 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). That usually adds up to somewhere between £60-£100 for both tests. Read our review of private test providers, which looks at who has the best refund policies, customer reviews and cheapest prices.
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.
Which countries are on the red list?
Several places are on the list including Pakistan, the Maldives, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago, South Africa, Turkey and Cuba. 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 £2,285 for a single adult and £1,430 for a second adult.
You’ll also have to take a pre-departure test and PCR tests on day two and eight.
What happens if I’m abroad and the country I’m visiting turns red in the traffic light update?
If it is announced while you are away that your holiday destination’s status is changing to red, this won’t take effect for a few days. For example, at the last update, the changes were announced on a Wednesday and weren’t put into effect until 4am on the Sunday.
Red list status means you will have to pay to quarantine in a hotel on your return home, if you don’t land back in the UK before the deadline set. This costs £2,285 for a single adult and £1,430 for a second adult.
To avoid hotel quarantine, a package holiday company may try to bring you home early, before the country’s status changes to red. This isn’t guaranteed though, so it’s best you ask your travel company before booking what happens in this scenario.
In the instance your holiday provider won’t fly you home early, or you booked your flights and hotel separately, you will need to pay for new flights home. The airfares are likely to be high due to demand. Alternatively, if you don’t choose to come home early, you will have to shell out for a quarantine hotel for all family members.
Travel insurance almost certainly won’t pay for costs incurred due to returning home early as a result of a country going from amber to red.
Should I book a holiday?
It’s easier to plan a trip with the new amber rules meaning that double-jabbed travellers won’t need to quarantine back in the UK. The green list is your safest bet though, but there are risks still involved. Jet2, Kuoni and Trailfinders are Which? Recommended Providers and all have good flexible booking policies. Which? has reviewed the policies of more than 70 holiday companies.
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 up in the UK, there may be a significant increase in the amount of people being told to self-isolate this summer. Unless you take out travel insurance, you may lose the cost of your holiday
Once abroad you must also be prepared that if you test positive for Covid you will have to self-isolate at your destination.
Advice on whether you should book to holiday destinations including France, Spain, Turkey, Malta and more.
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. Proof of a negative test is an alternative to vaccination. Greece accepts the NHS app or letter as proof of this (and equivalents).
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 will also accept both the NHS letter and app if you live in England, but if you are from Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, it will not accept digital proof of vaccination.
Will I need a vaccine passport to travel – full Q&A on what destinations are doing
Vaccination certificates on the NHS app
In England, the NHS app can be used as proof of vaccination status. However, check the country will accept this as valid proof before travelling. 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 can access their NHS Covid Pass for international travel online and download or print the Pass as a PDF document. They cannot get this on the NHS app. Find out how you can access the Covid pass on the Welsh Government website.
You can also 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. Instead you can download a QR code online. However, not everybody can do this. If you are due to travel imminently then find out how to get proof of your vaccination 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