For a good chunk of 2021, Brits were totally forbidden from holidaying abroad. But as the UK continues with its gradual reopening plan, the country has finally lifted its blanket ban on foreign leisure trips. This means that, for Brits, that long-awaited holiday in the sun – or family reunion – could be actually be on this summer. And for the rest of the world, travel to the UK is back on.
Under the new rules, every country in the world has been sorted into one of three ‘green’, ‘amber’ or ‘red’ categories, depending on a range of factors. These include the proportion of a country’s population that has been vaccinated, rates of infection and emerging variants.
The ‘red list’ lays out the countries from which travel is completely banned, except for returning British and Irish citizens plus official UK residents. All those who are allowed in will have to stump up £1,750 per head to self-isolate in a government-mandated hotel for ten days.
Anyone arriving from destinations on the ‘green list’, meanwhile, will only have to provide a negative test result on arrival, with no requirement to self-isolate at all.
But though those two lists have grabbed most of the headlines, the vast majority of countries have actually made an in-between category: the so-called ‘amber list’. Here’s everything you need to know about the new rules for travel from these countries – plus when exactly they could flip to ‘red’ or ‘green’.
What are the rules for the UK amber list?
Like those coming from ‘red list’ countries, travellers from countries rated ‘amber’ must also quarantine for ten days on arrival in the UK. However, there is no requirement to do this in a government-sanctioned hotel: you can self-isolate at home or in the place you’re staying.
Before you arrive, you must complete a passenger locator form, then bring a negative Covid-19 test with you to border checks (it must be from within the past 72 hours). If you don’t bring a negative test, you may not be able to continue your journey and you could be fined £500 on arrival – all of which means you should double-check you will be able to take a test in your destination before you set out.
The third (and final) requirement is that you must book and pay for tests to take on days two and eight of your home quarantine period. A full list of approved sellers available on the British government’s website, with most travel testing kits costing between £170 and £240 a go.
It’s also worth remembering that the ‘test to release’ scheme is valid for travel from ‘amber list’ countries, as long as you are in England. This means that you can leave quarantine after day five if you take another private Covid-19 test and it comes back negative. But even if you have reentered society, you’ll still have to take another test three days later – just in case.
In other words: travellers from ‘amber list’ countries could have to quarantine for as little as five days on return, in the comfort of their own homes – though, of course, they’ll also have to pay an extra few hundred pounds for the privilege.
And while you may think that’s a price worth paying to travel to a greater range of destinations, Brits shouldn’t actually be holidaying anywhere ‘amber’ at all. The official UK government line is: ‘You should not travel to amber list countries or territories for leisure purposes.’ For now, that means you’ll have to wait until your destination makes the ‘green list’ before heading on that holiday.
How much of that is changing on July 19?
Quite a lot. Last week Grant Shapps, the UK’s Transport Secretary, announced that if you’ve received both doses of the jab, you’ll be allowed to avoid quarantine on your return from ‘amber list’ countries. Vaccinated travellers will still need to pay for Covid-19 tests before and after their return, while all under-18s will be exempt from quarantine regardless of whether they have had the jab.
And in a huge boost for the travel industry, Shapps also confirmed that from July 19, the government would lift its advice not to travel to ‘amber list’ countries for leisure purposes. That means holidays could be back on in much of the world this summer – as long as you’re fully vaccinated.
Which countries are on the UK amber list?
On May 11, it was confirmed that the initial ‘green list’ for Scotland would be identical to England’s. Northern Ireland has said that it will also allow quarantine-free travel from the same countries. Wales has introduced a similar traffic light system, though first minister Mark Drakeford has advised Welsh citizens only to travel abroad for ‘essential’ reasons for the rest of the year.
As of July 19, Hong Kong and Bulgaria will be removed from the ‘amber list’ and added to the ‘green list’. Meanwhile, the British Virgin Islands and the Balearic Islands (including Ibiza, Mallorca and Menorca) have switched from ‘green’ to ‘amber’.
Here are all the countries and territories currently on the ‘amber list’ in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland:
Akrotiri and Dhekelia
Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba
Bosnia and Herzegovina
British Virgin Islands (from July 19)
Bulgaria (until July 19)
Central African Republic
Greece (including islands)
Hong Kong (until July 19)
The Occupied Palestinian Territories
Papua New Guinea
Portugal (except Madeira, which is on the ‘green list’)
São Tomé and Príncipe
Spain (including the Balearic Islands, from July 19)
St Kitts and Nevis
St Martin and St Barthélemy
St Vincent and the Grenadines
Wallis and Futuna
Which countries could be added to the UK green list next?
Grant Shapps, the UK’s Transport Secretary, said that the ‘red’, ‘amber’ and ‘green’ lists would be reviewed every three weeks from May 17. That means several popular holiday destinations could well be added to the ‘green list’ on August 9, August 30, and so on.
Countries in Europe that look likely to be added to the ‘green list’ soon include Hungary (102 vaccination doses per 100, against six coronavirus cases per 100,000) and Finland (78 vaccination doses per 100, against 38 coronavirus cases per 100,000). Germany, meanwhile, has administered 89 doses of the vaccine per 100 population, with only 11 cases of the virus recorded per 100,000 over the previous fortnight.
Popular tourist destinations including Spain and Italy have advanced vaccination programmes (90 and 86 doses having been given out per 100 respectively), though their case rates differ substantially (215 and 17 per 100,000). That means Italy may make the ‘green list’ next time around, but Spain likely won’t.
And what about additions to the ‘red list’? Well, these could be introduced at any time. If a virulent new variant emerges, like those that swept across India, South Africa and Brazil in recent months, then a country could go ‘red’ before one of the allotted ‘review dates’.
That means that you should always keep an eye on infection rates both before you plan to travel and while you’re on holiday. Because let’s be honest: nothing would suck more than finding out you have to shell out £1,750 for hotel quarantine on your way back home. (And if you need any convincing of that, just have a read of this account of what it’s actually like.)