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Travel update: red list reduced to 7 countries after traffic lights scrapped – where can I go on holiday?

We explain the new rules for travel, including what tests you need and quarantine for green and red countries

Travel update: red list reduced to 7 countries after traffic lights scrapped – where can I go on holiday?

The government has removed 47 countries and territories from the red list including Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, Thailand and Montenegro, adding them to the ‘rest of world’ list which comprised previously of amber and green countries.

Additionally, the Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) has lifted its advice against all but essential travel to a number of destinations. But it’s not just our own travel rules you have to stay on top of before booking a holiday. For example, while Thailand will soon be a ‘green’ country, it asks British nationals to quarantine in a hotel on arrival.

The original traffic light system detailed which tests you needed to take before and after returning to the UK, and how long (if at all) you needed to quarantine for. The government has now dropped the amber classification for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, meaning countries fall into either a red ‘no-go’ list or a green ‘rest of world’ list.

In today’s announcement on 7 October, the government reduced the red list again by 47 countries for travellers returning to England. The changes will come into effect on 11 October at 4am.

Which countries are currently on the red list?

There are 54 places on the red list. These are: Afghanistan, Angola, Argentina, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Burundi, Cape Verde, Chile, Colombia, Congo (Democratic Republic), Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Eritrea, Eswatini, Ethiopia, French Guiana, Georgia, Guyana, Haiti, Indonesia, Lesotho, Malawi, Mayotte, Mexico, Mongolia, Montenegro, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Réunion, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Suriname, Tanzania, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Uganda, Uruguay, Venezuela, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

From 11 October at 4am the red list will reduce to the below seven destinations:

  • Colombia
  • Dominican Republic
  • Ecuador
  • Haiti
  • Panama
  • Peru
  • Venezuela

It is not yet known when the next ‘red list’ and green ‘rest of world’ list will be announced, though updates tend to take place every three weeks.

Before you book a trip do find out if the country is allowing UK residents to enter, several green rated countries, such as Canada and the USA currently don’t (though it is due to open up to UK travellers in November, date to be confirmed). Other countries, such as Malta, require you to show an NHS Covid Pass as proof of being fully vaccinated.

It’s also essential that you check FCDO advice before travel. This advises on whether holidays 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. If you travel to a country against government advice, this could invalidate your insurance.

However, the FCDO has removed its warnings against travel to 32 countries and will no longer advise against travel to non-red list countries based on Covid-19 grounds, except in exceptional circumstances such as if the local healthcare system is overwhelmed.

Currently, even if you’re fully vaccinated the UK government will require you to take a test on your return from a trip. Even with cheaper test providers this is likely to cost around £50.

The government has already announced plans to allow travellers to use lateral flow tests instead of PCR tests on day 2 after returning to England and Scotland, though it still has not confirmed a date for these changes to come into effect. In the most recent government update on 7 October, it confirmed an ‘ambition’ to have these changes in place in time for holidaymakers returning from half-term holidays.

Anyone testing positive with a LFT will still have to take a PCR test, but these can be done for free via the NHS. Northern Ireland and Wales have not announced plans to replace day 2 PCRs with antigen tests.

Which? Holiday Checker
Which? Holiday Checker

Latest changes to the traffic lights

The traffic lights system was scrapped on 4th October, meaning that amber and green lists were essentially combined to create one ‘rest of world’ list, containing all the countries not on the red list. The current rest of world list for travellers entering England includes countries such as Malta, Madeira and Gibraltar, along with the newly added Brazil, Mexico, Thailand, Montenegro and more.

Latest FCDO advice

In a positive step for travellers, the FCDO has lifted its advice against all but essential travel for 32 countries and territories. This means that holidaymakers will now be able to find travel insurance for more destinations.

FCDO assessment of non-red list countries will no longer be based on Covid metrics, except for in exceptional circumstances should a country have a spike in cases and their healthcare system become overwhelmed. There are destinations such as Jamaica and the Bahamas which are not on the red list but still have an FCDO warning against travel there.

The FCDO will continue to advise against all but essential travel to destinations on the red list. If you choose to travel against government advice, it’s likely you’ll invalidate your travel insurance.

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What tests and quarantine periods will be required when returning from a green list ‘rest of world’ country?

Fully vaccinated passengers
Fully vaccinated travellers no longer need a pre-departure test before arrival into into the UK from a ROW list (i.e. non-red) country.

From later in October, the requirement for a day 2 PCR test is set to be dropped in England and Scotland only. Travellers will be able to use private lateral flow tests instead (provided they meet the specifications requested by your destination). Neither Northern Ireland nor Wales have announced plans to drop the day 2 PCR requirement.

English holidaymakers can now use the NHS app to prove their vaccination status in many countries. 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.

Unvaccinated passengers
Unvaccinated travellers coming from a ROW country to anywhere in the UK must take a pre-departure test, followed by day 2, and 8 test, and quarantine at home. Test to release on day 5 remains an option to reduce the self-isolation period. Read our review of private test providers, which looks at who has the best refund policies, customer reviews and cheapest prices. 

What tests and quarantine periods are required when returning from a red list country?

For both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals returning from a red list country, there will be a requirement to take a pre-departure test and undergo a hotel quarantine for 10 days, with day 2 or 8 tests, and no tests to release.

How does the government decide which countries are on the red or green lists?

Destinations have been assigned their status 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 rules may change. 

The varying statuses indicate the risk in each destination and which tests and quarantine periods are required. 


How frequently will countries change status?

Previously the government made changes to the green list every three weeks, but warned it could change a colour-rating if necessary between the three weekly updates. The new system however has now replaced traffic lights. It is not known how frequently this list will change.

If you’re in a destination when its status changes from ROW to red, 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 – though some countries will pay for this on your behalf

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 check which tests will be needed on your chosen travel dates and factor in the cost, as they’re required even for travel to and from green list countries, and will continue to play a part in travel from the next rule update – albeit a more minimal part for vaccinated individuals. Although pricey, costs of tests are slowly coming down.

Which countries are on the green list (‘rest of world’ list)?

Most of the world’s countries, apart from the red ‘no-go’ countries are on the UK’s ‘go-ahead’ rest of world list. Countries including France, Spain, Italy and Greece are on the green list. 

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

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

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 regardless of your vaccination status.

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. 

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 new the new rules in effect (if you’re fully vaccinated), which have simplified testing restrictions and done away with the green and amber lists. 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 country you’ve booked is later moved onto the government’s no-go red list.

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 autumn. 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 that fully vaccinated travellers returning to England and Northern Ireland from a non-red country or territory will be able to replace costly PCR tests with cheaper lateral flow tests from later in October.

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

vaccine passport

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

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