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Understand the traffic light system and check FCDO updates before you travel

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

Updated July 16, 2021
(Published April 30, 2021)

By Joey Tyson and Steph Marinkovic

The amber list rules for the Department for Transport’s traffic light system will change on July 19, 2021. From this date, fully vaccinated travellers and under-18s returning to England, Scotland and Wales will not need to self-isolate or take the day eight test. Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) advice will also change for many amber countries to allow travel there again.

To be considered ‘fully vaccinated’, two weeks must have passed since your second dose (or first jab for the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine) – you can generally use the NHS App, letter or digital Covid Pass to prove you’ve been vaccinated.

Remember, the traffic light system splits destinations into three lists, either green, amber or red, and allows Brits to travel abroad with varying testing and quarantine restrictions. It’s important to note that the system is different to FCDO advice, which may still advise against travel to a country.

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 is the traffic light travel scheme?

The traffic light system categorises countries as green, amber or red, and essentially grades the safety of a destination based on a number of criteria, such as infection and vaccination rates. Countries on the green list are deemed the lowest risk, with fewer travel stipulations. Red countries, on the other hand, are considered high risk.

The traffic light system means people arriving into the UK will be subject to different restrictions and rules regarding testing, quarantine and quarantine hotels depending on where they travelled from.

In the table below, we’ve highlighted the rules for each list.


Tests requiredQuarantineType of quarantine
GreenPre-departure test within 72 hours before your return to the UK and a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) on or before day 2 of your arrival back in the UK
No (unless you test positive)
N/A
AmberPre-departure test, and a PCR test on day 2 and day 8 on your return. Fully vaccinated travellers and under-18s do not need to take the day 8 test
10 days, unless you have been fully vaccinated. Test to release scheme available on day 5
At home
RedPre-departure test, and a PCR test on day 2 and day 8 on your return
10 daysQuarantine hotel. This is mandatory and should be arranged before travel. Fees start at £1750


Essentially, all foreign travel will require travellers to take a test both before departure and after their arrival back in the UK.

As things stand, all tests must be paid for by the individual; you may not use NHS testing services for travel purposes. Although the cost of tests has reduced, the requirements may still add significant costs to your holidays, which you’ll need to account for in your budget. On the government’s list of providers, prices can be as low as £2.49, but most cost between £50 and £100. 

Some holiday providers are also helping to bring the cost down. TUI’s testing packages, for example, start at £20, and some airlines also offer cheaper options.


Which destinations on the green list can I travel to?

There are some 29 countries and territories on the green list or green watchlist. In the table below, we’ve provided a snapshot of the entry requirements for seven 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). 

A few countries define 'fully vaccinated' slightly differently to the UK, so it's important to also understand any differences. Some countries will also allow travellers who can provide proof of a previous Covid-19 infection.

Remember that many of the other green list countries still do not allow tourists. Be sure check the Foreign Office website regularly for the most up-to-date advice and information.

*Please note that Ireland is exempt from the testing and quarantine requirements for returning to the UK. Croatia will be added to the green watchlist from 4am on Monday, July 19.

Destination

Self-isolation?

Rules for fully vaccinated travellers

Rules for unvaccinated travellers

Further testing?

Rules for children

BarbadosUp to eight days depending on vaccination status.
You must provide a negative PCR, LAMP, TMA or NEAR test, taken within the 72 hours before your arrival.
You must provide a negative PCR, LAMP, TMA or NEAR test, taken within the 72 hours before your arrival.

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. 

CroatiaNone.You can travel to Croatia. The NHS App or letter can be used to prove vaccination status.You must provide a negative antigen test result not older than 48 hours, or a negative PCR test result not older than 72 hours.None.Children under 12 are exempt from testing, vaccination and self-isolation requirements if travelling with a guardian with the correct Covid documents.
GibraltarNone.You can travel to Gibraltar. The NHS App or letter can be used to prove vaccination status.
You must provide a negative PCR, LAMP, TMA or NEAR test, taken within the 48 hours before your arrival.
All travellers required to take a free Lateral Flow Test within 24 hours of arrival. Test must be booked prior to arrival advance.Children under 12 are exempt from testing and vaccination requirements.
Ireland (from July 19)None.
You can travel to Ireland. 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.
None.Children under 12 are exempt from testing and vaccination requirements. 

Children aged 12-17 who are not fully vaccinated will have to show a negative PCR test on arrival, even if travelling with fully vaccinated adults.
IcelandNone.You can travel to Iceland. The NHS App or letter can be used to prove vaccination status.
You cannot travel to Iceland for a holiday – only essential travel is permitted. 
None.Children born in 2005 or later and travelling with those who are fully vaccinated are exempt from testing and vaccination requirements.
MadeiraNone.You can travel to Madeira. The NHS App or letter can be used to prove vaccination status.
You must provide a negative PCR, LAMP, TMA or NEAR test, taken 72 hours before your arrival.
None.Children up to, and including, the age of 11 are exempt from testing and vaccination requirements.
MaltaNone.You can travel to Malta. The NHS App or letter can be used to prove vaccination status.
You cannot travel to Malta without pre-authorisation from the Maltese Public Health Authorities.
None.

Children aged 5-11 travelling with vaccinated adults must show evidence of a PCR test, taken within the 72 hours before your arrival.

Children under 5 are exempt. 


Which destinations on the amber list can I travel to?

There are over 100 countries and territories on the amber list. In the table below, we’ve provided a snapshot of the entry requirements for five 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).

A few countries define 'fully vaccinated' slightly differently to the UK, so it's important to also understand any differences. Some countries will also allow travellers who can provide proof of a previous Covid-19 infection.

Remember that many of the other amber destinations do not allow tourists. Be sure check the Foreign Office 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

AzoresNone.
You must provide a negative PCR test, taken within the 72 hours before your arrival.
You must provide a negative PCR test, taken within the 72 hours before your arrival.
None.
Children under 12 are exempt from testing requirements.
FranceNone.

You must provide a negative PCR test result taken within 72 hours of departure, or a negative antigen test result taken within 48 hours of departure.

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 11 or older travelling with vaccinated adults can follow the same testing rules as their guardians.  
GreeceIf you test positive on arrival, you will need to self-isolate for 10 days in government accommodation at no extra cost to you. 
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 your arrival or a negative antigen test result taken at an authorised laboratory within the 48 hours before your flight.
You may need to undergo a rapid test on arrival. 
Children 12 and under are exempt from testing and vaccination requirements.
Portugal (mainland)

You must provide a PCR test result, taken within 72 hours of travel, or certain negative antigen tests, taken within 48 hours of travel.

The NHS App can be used to prove vaccination status.

You must provide a PCR test result, taken within 72 hours of travel, or certain negative antigen tests, taken within 48 hours of travel.

You will also need to self-isolate for 14 days.

None.
Children under 12 are exempt from testing requirements and children under 18 travelling with a fully vaccinated adult are exempt from quarantine.
Spain (including Balearic and Canary Islands)None.

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, TMA or NEAR test, taken within the 72 hours before your arrival to mainland Spain or the Canaries. For the Balearics, it must be taken no more than 48 hours before 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.


What happens if my destination moves from green to amber or amber to red?

The important thing to note is the Foreign Office advice. If it 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 traffic light self-isolation and testing requirements when you return.

If you have booked a package holiday and the status of your destination changes status, your provider should get in touch to confirm whether the trip is going ahead. If it is, but you don’t want to, or can’t, quarantine, your options will depend on your terms and conditions. In many cases, recent holiday bookings will be flexible and your provider is likely to allow date and/or destination changes.

If the Foreign Office 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. You may also be offered a refund credit note, which will protected by ATOL up until September 30, but you are not required to accept this.

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 summer. 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. 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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Staying safe abroad

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) provides valuable up-to-date travel advice for British citizens abroad. It is the best resource for reliable safety and security information. You can also find other important details, such as local laws, passport information and visa requirements. Stay safe abroad – check the FCDO before you travel.

For the latest FCDO advice, follow @FCDOtravelGovUK and Facebook.com/FCDOTravel.