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Everything you need to know about the traffic light system for travel

Updated October 8, 2021
(Published April 30, 2021)

By Joey Tyson and Steph Marinkovic

The Department for Transport’s travel system has seen some major changes in recent weeks. On October 4, 2021, the green and amber lists were merged to create a simpler system for travelling abroad. It now divides countries into just two categories: the ‘rest of the world’ and the ‘red list’.

From October 11, this red list will be slashed from 54 countries to just 7 (Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Panama, Peru and Venezuela).

Rules have also been further simplified for fully vaccinated travellers, who can now skip the pre-departure test when returning to the UK from non-red list countries. Travellers who are not fully vaccinated will need to follow the original amber list rules of a pre-departure test, day 2 and 8 PCR tests and 10 days of self-isolation at home.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps also confirmed that, by late October, fully vaccinated travellers arriving from non-red list countries will be able to take a cheaper lateral flow test in place of a PCR to meet the ‘on or before’ day 2 testing requirement.

If you have an upcoming holiday or are hoping to book a holiday later this year, here’s what else you need to know.

Please note: This is a fast-moving situation and things can change quickly both here in the UK and for entry requirements abroad. We are updating this guide frequently, but if you have any questions, please get in touch with us on Twitter or Facebook.


What are the new travel rules for the UK?

The UK has moved to a new travel system that consists of a ‘red list’ and simpler rules for travel from the rest of the world. There are still different restrictions and rules regarding testing, quarantine, and quarantine hotels depending on where you have travelled from, and whether you’ve been vaccinated under an approved programme.

In the table below, we’ve highlighted the rules for adults entering the UK:  


Passenger locator form
Testing requirements
Quarantine
Rest of the world – fully vaccinated
Yes, completed any time in the 48 hours before your arrival.
A PCR test on or before day 2 of your arrival. From late October (date to be confirmed), a lateral flow test can be used instead.
N/A
Rest of the world – unvaccinated
Yes, completed any time in the 48 hours before your arrival.
Pre-departure test, and a PCR test on day 2 and day 8 on your return.
10 days at home or the place you are staying. Test to release scheme available on day 5.
Red list (applicable regardless of vaccination status)
Yes, completed any time in the 48 hours before your arrival.
Pre-departure test, and a PCR test on day 2 and day 8 on your return.
Quarantine hotel. This is mandatory and should be arranged before travel. Fees start at £2,285.


What are the rules when travelling with children?

Regardless of their vaccination status, children under the age of 18 arriving from a non-red list country do not need to take a pre-departure test to return to the UK.

However, children aged 5 to 17 resident in England, Wales or Northern Ireland will need to pre-book and take the day 2 test. For children resident in Scotland, this requirement is for 11 to 17-year-olds only – under 11s are exempt.

Children returning to the UK from a red list country will need to follow the normal rules.

How do I organise my travel tests?

As things stand, all tests must be paid for by the individual; you may not use NHS testing services for travel purposes.

If you need a pre-departure test to enter the UK, check if your destination’s airport has an on-site rapid test centre - you will often be able to receive your results within an hour. Alternatively, ask if your resort is offering a testing service or look for services nearby. Your test must meet the performance standards set by the UK and it's recommended you book your test in advance.

For day 2 and day 8 PCR tests, prices can be as low as £3 on the government’s list of providers, though this often doesn’t include shipping costs for at-home tests. Most cost between £50 and £100, which you’ll need to account for in your budget.

You may be able to cut the cost of your tests by purchasing them through your holiday provider. TUI’s testing packages, for example, start at £20, while some airlines also offer cheaper options.



Which non-red list countries can I travel to?

While all countries but those one the red list follow ‘rest of the world’ rules for returning to the UK, not all are open to non-essential travel or indeed Brits in general. Below, we’ve provided a snapshot of the entry requirements for 15 popular destinations that are allowing British travellers. 

We highly recommend that you visit the FCDO website for more detail – we’ve linked to each destination’s travel advice page in the table below. Keep an eye out for requirements such as Passenger Locator Forms or similar, and the type of tests and vaccines that are accepted (some countries will allow certain antigen tests or only vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency).

Some countries will also allow travellers who can provide proof of a previous Covid-19 infection.

Be sure check the FCDO website regularly for the most up-to-date advice and information.

Destination

Self-isolation?

Rules for fully vaccinated travellers

Rules for unvaccinated travellers

Further testing?

Rules for children

Barbados
Up to eight days depending on vaccination status.
You must provide a negative PCR test result taken at an accredited lab by a healthcare provider within 3 days prior to travel.
You must provide a negative PCR test result taken at an accredited lab by a healthcare provider within 3 days prior to travel.

Vaccinated travellers will be tested on arrival and must await the result in designated accommodation.

Unvaccinated travellers will be tested on day 5, and must self-isolate until they receive a negative result.

Children under 18 travelling with vaccinated adults can follow the same rules as their guardians.

In most cases, children under 5 are exempt from testing. 

Cyprus
N/A
You can travel to Cyprus. The NHS App or letter can be used to prove vaccination status.
You must provide a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of departure.
Unvaccinated travellers will be tested on arrival and again on day seven. 
Children under 12 are exempt from testing requirements.
Dubai
If you test positive on arrival, you will need to self-isolate for 10 days at your own expense. 
You must provide a negative PCR test result taken no more than 72 hours before departure.
You must provide a negative PCR test result taken no more than 72 hours before departure.
You may be tested on arrival.
Children under 12 are exempt from testing requirements.
France
N/A
You can travel to France. The NHS App or letter can be used to prove vaccination status.
You cannot travel to France for a holiday – only essential travel is permitted.
None.
Children aged 12 or older travelling with vaccinated adults are required to present a negative test result (PCR or antigen).  
Greece
If you test positive on arrival, you will need to self-isolate for up to ten days. 
You can travel to Greece. The NHS App or letter can be used to prove vaccination status.
You must provide a negative PCR test result taken within 72 hours of arrival or a negative antigen test result taken at an authorised laboratory within 48 hours of arrival.
You may need to undergo a rapid test on arrival. 
Children 12 and under are exempt from testing and vaccination requirements.
Maldives
N/A
You must provide a negative PCR test result taken within 96 hours of departure.
You must provide a negative PCR test result taken within 96 hours of departure.
Random testing may be in force.
Infants under the age of 1 (one) are exempt from testing requirements.
Portugal (mainland)
N/A
You must provide a negative PCR test result taken within 72 hours of travel, or certain negative antigen tests taken within 48 hours of travel.
You must provide a negative PCR test result taken within 72 hours of travel, or certain negative antigen tests taken within 48 hours of travel.
If you show signs of being unwell, you may be tested on arrival.
Children under 12 are exempt from testing requirements.
Spain (including Balearic and Canary Islands)
N/A

You can travel to Spain and its islands. The NHS App or letter can be used to prove vaccination status.

If you are travelling to the Canaries, be prepared to also provide proof of vaccination to your accommodation provider. 

You must provide a negative PCR, LAMP or TMA test taken within 72 hours of your arrival.

If you are travelling to the Canaries, be prepared to also provide proof of vaccination to your accommodation provider.

None.
Children under 12 are exempt from testing and vaccination requirements.
Turkey
N/A
You can travel to Turkey. The NHS App or letter can be used to prove vaccination status.
You must provide a negative PCR test result taken within 72 hours of arrival or a negative antigen test taken within 48 hours of arrival.
None.
Children aged 11 and under are exempt from testing and vaccination requirements.


In addition to the destinations above, you can visit:

  • Germany, Iceland and Malta – only if you are fully vaccinated.
  • The Azores – if you can provide a negative PCR test result no older than 72 hours, regardless of your vaccination status.
  • Madeira – if you are fully vaccinated or can provide a negative PCR test result taken within 72 hours of departure.

What happens if my destination moves to the red list?

If your destination moves to the red list, the important thing to note is FCDO advice. If the FCDO continues to allow holidays from the UK – that is, if it does not advise “against all but essential travel” – your trip is still allowed to go ahead and your travel insurance will be valid. However, you will need to follow the quarantine and testing requirements when you return.

If you have booked a package holiday and your destination moves to the red list but travel is still allowed, your provider should get in touch to confirm whether the trip is going ahead. In many cases, package holiday providers will not take you to a destination where you will have to quarantine. And in any case, many recent holiday bookings are flexible and your provider is likely to allow date and/or destination changes.

If FCDO advice changes to essential travel only, your holiday provider should automatically cancel your package holiday. In this instance, you are legally entitled to a refund within 14 days of the cancellation.

Remember, always talk to your provider before you cancel your trip yourself – it’s almost certain you’ll lose any money that you’ve paid so far if you go down this route.

If you’ve booked your flight and accommodation separately, unfortunately, you will have less consumer protection than if you took the package holiday route. Your airline may still choose to run your flight, with the argument that it allows people to travel for essential reasons. Although many airlines are allowing you to change your flight for free, be aware that this normally has to happen within a certain time period and you will need to pay the difference.

Travel insurance is unlikely to help you out in a case like this (most policies with Covid-19 cover will only pay out if you contract the virus and are unable to travel). 


How can I protect my holiday against Covid-19?

Booking a package holiday is the safest way to travel this year. Many operators, such as TUI and easyJet, promise a full refund if your holiday must be cancelled as a result of the pandemic. Most holiday providers are also offering flexibility with bookings, so if you need to change the date of travel, you can.

Of course, your usual ATOL protection applies, should your provider go under before you travel or while you’re away.

And as always, we recommend that you purchase your travel insurance at the time that you book your holiday. Look for policies with added Covid-19 protection; some will cover you for scenarios such as contracting the virus in the two weeks before your holiday or testing positive while you’re abroad. For more information on booking a holiday this summer, check out our expert advice here.

Have a comment or question about this article? You can contact us on Twitter or Facebook.

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