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The UK travel traffic light system sees updates to the green, amber and red lists every three weeks. But before booking a holiday you also need to check what Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) warnings are for your chosen destination and if the country actually allows UK residents to visit for leisure.
Additionally, rules around vaccines, quarantine and testing must also be taken into account. Going on holiday abroad is no easy task.
Thankfully, green list countries are no longer the only option for quarantine-free holidays. Fully vaccinated UK residents do not need to quarantine on their return from amber list countries either. Provided there are no FCDO warnings against travel to your chosen green or amber list country and you can afford the cost of Covid test required, holidays are viable.
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.
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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.
Unvaccinated travellers arriving into the UK from amber list countries must isolate for 10 days on their return. They must take a pre-departure test as well as a test on day two and eight on return.
Holidaymakers that are fully vaccinated will not need to quarantine on their return from amber list countries. They must still 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 list countries must quarantine for 10 days in government-managed hotels, adding huge costs to the holiday. This now costs £2,285 for a single person. This fee includes the two PCR tests required.
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 – even if you are unvaccinated. Package holiday companies aren’t obliged to refund or rebook your holiday to an amber country, but most will allow booking amendments – although these may 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 planning a trip, you should always find a company with flexible booking 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 Italy?
Yes, you could book. Those travelling from the UK can enter Italy without having to quarantine if you have proof of vaccination, as well as proof of a negative test result. This test must be taken within 48 hours before entering Italy and can be an antigen or PCR test. If you aren’t vaccinated, you must show a negative test and quarantine for five days when you land in Italy.
Italy is on the UK’s amber list. If you are vaccinated, on return you must take a pre-departure test and one PCR test on or before day two. Quarantine is not necessary. If you aren’t fully vaccinated you will need to take a day eight test in addition, plus quarantine for 10 days.
Should I book a holiday to France?
Yes, you could book. France is currently in the UK’s amber category. It means vaccinated travellers will not need to quarantine when returning and only need to take a pre-departure test and a day two test.
However, France has its own traffic light list and the UK is rated amber. This means if you aren’t fully vaccinated, you will only be permitted to travel there for essential reasons. If you are fully vaccinated, you do not need a reason to travel there, nor will you need to quarantine on arrival nor show a negative Covid test.
Should I book a holiday to Portugal or Madeira?
Portugal is now permitting all travellers from the UK in for holidays without quarantine regardless of vaccination status. However every visitor to Portugal will need to show proof of full vaccination or provide a negative Covid test result (PCR or antigen). PCR tests must be taken within 72 hours of departure, while antigen tests must be taken within 48 hours of departure. Make sure your antigen test meets the correct standards. You will also need to show one or the other at your tourist accommodation.
However, Portugal (except the Azores and Madeira) is on the UK government’s amber list. If fully vaccinated you must take a pre-departure antigen test before travelling home to the UK, plus a day two PCR test.If you are not fully vaccinated you will also need to take a day eight test and quarantine for 10 days.
You can enter Madeira with proof of a negative test or proof of full vaccination. You don’t need to quarantine on arrival to Madeira regardless of your vaccination status.
Madeira is on the UK government’s green watchlist. That means green list rules apply so you won’t have to isolate when you return but will need to take two Covid tests – one pre-departure lateral flow test and a PCR test when you’re back in the UK.
The UK government has warned that countries on the watchlist can be downgraded to amber at any time. If it is downgraded to amber and you’re fully vaccinated, there will be no change to your test or quarantine requirements. If you aren’t fully vaccinated, 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.
Should I book a holiday to Spain, the Balearics or Canary Islands?
Mainland Spain, the Balearics and the Canary Islands remain on the UK’s amber list, so you can travel to any for leisure. As above, you need to follow amber list rules which vary depending on whether you are or are not fully vaccinated. For full details, read all about amber list rules in our Q&A.
You must show proof of a negative PCR or LAMP test – which must have been issued within 72 hours prior to arrival, or proof of vaccination to enter Spain, the Balearics or Canary Islands (unless under 12). Spain will accept the NHS app or NHS letter as proof of vaccination.
In the Canary Islands, to access regulated tourist accommodation, you will also need to show proof of vaccination, or a negative test. Those fully vaccinated must have received both doses within the past eight months, or received one dose within the past four months and at least 15 days prior to the trip.
Currently, there are no FCDO warnings against travelling to anywhere in Spain, but keep an eye on this.
Should I book a holiday to Malta?
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 if you live in England. If you live in Wales, Malta will accept your NHS letter only if you are a resident of Wales. If you live in Scotland, Malta will accept your letter (but not digital versions).
Due to its green list status, you won’t have to quarantine on your return from Malta, but you will have to take two tests. One is a pre-departure test and the other should be taken on or before day two when you’re back in the UK.
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?
Greece allows entry if you’re fully vaccinated, or with proof of a negative PCR test (if issued within 72 hours prior to arrival) or an antigen test from an authorised lab (issued within 48 hours before arriving). It accepts the NHS app or letter, or equivalent 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. This means you must quarantine when you return home if you aren’t fully jabbed. You can skip this if you’ve had both doses of a Covid vaccine. Either way you will need tests. Find out everything you need to know about amber list countries and your rights to a refund.
The FCDO says it’s safe to travel to Greece currently but check before travelling.
Should I book a holiday to Cyprus?
Cyprus operates its own traffic light system and the UK is on the red list. 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 (£26 – £27 approx).
You don’t need to take any Covid tests to enter Cyprus if you’re double vaccinated. With the Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna jabs, you count as fully jabbed immediately after the second dose under Cyprus’s rules. However, with the Johnson & Johnson single-dose jab you must wait 14 days to travel. You can then enter Cyprus regardless of your departure country’s rating without tests or quarantine. You may be subject to random testing though.
Cyprus is on the UK’s amber list, so quarantine rules and tests when you return home vary depending on whether you’ve been vaccinated (see amber list country advice for further details).
Should I book a holiday to Turkey?
Definitely not. Turkey is currently on the government’s red list and you should not travel there. This means you must quarantine in a hotel on return from a trip there which costs £2,285 for a single person.
Read our piece on travel traffic lights for more details.
Vaccines and vaccine passports
In England you can use the NHS app to prove your vaccination status, but not negative test results. You can also ring the NHS on 119 to request paper proof. Find out more about the NHS app and how to use it.
Residents in Wales can access an 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.
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.
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.
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, Covid Pass, certificate or QR code as proof. Additionally, check the entry requirements. Countries may also require you to provide proof of a negative Covid test.
Read more about whether you will need Covid-19 passports or vaccines to travel.
If I book a trip abroad 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 if you aren’t vaccinated. Other good policies will include being allowed to rebook for free if you test positive for Covid or are told to self-isolate by the NHS before travelling.
Information correct as of 31 August 2021.