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When can UK travellers go on holiday again?

Here are all the current UK travel restrictions, plus when we might be able to travel again – overseas or here in the UK

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Written by
Huw Oliver
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After the nightmare of the past year, we could all do with a lift to see us through this particularly grim start to 2021. As the UK lockdown lifts gradually over the coming months, wouldn’t it be nice to have a splashy holiday later in the year to look forward to?

What are the current UK travel restrictions?

Travel within the UK or overseas is currently banned, with non-essential travel discouraged and overnight stays still illegal. But the UK’s rollout of the vaccines is now well under way – and taking place much faster than many expected. This should definitely have us all feeling optimistic about things opening up sometime soon. So what can we expect?

When will we be allowed to travel abroad?

There are a lot of hurdles to be overcome before holidays beyond the UK become possible again. To start with, all non-essential overseas travel is currently banned, and these restrictions will not be lifted until at least May 17.

Even if we were able to travel right now, most destinations are currently requiring British travellers to quarantine. For any given country, it’s hard to say when such restrictions will be lifted – especially given the British origin of several new variants. (And that’s not even mentioning the possibility of infections rising and new restrictions being introduced in your chosen destination just as you’re packing your bags.)

Many countries are also weighing up the benefits of requiring travellers to present a ‘vaccine passport’ on entry – meaning you might not actually be able to travel if you haven’t got the jab yet. And Brexit has also made travel to Europe that little bit more complicated, with new roaming charges, car insurance forms and visas required for longer stays.

There’s an extra barrier too now, with the UK itself introducing increasingly harsh border restrictions to curb the spread of new variants. You could even end up having to pay £1,750 per head to spend ten days in a ‘quarantine hotel’ on your return, if you’re travelling from a country identified as having new variants. The list of such ‘red list’ countries is being updated on a weekly basis – meaning any destination could be added with very short notice.

But there is some more positive news. Yesterday the British government confirmed that the list would be expanded into a broader ‘traffic light system’ that could allow international leisure travel to resume as early as next month.

Countries are set to be sorted into ‘green’, ‘amber’ and ‘red’ categories depending on a range of factors, including the proportion of a country’s population that has been vaccinated, rates of infection and emerging variants. Those travelling from countries rated ‘green’ won’t have to quarantine, while those coming from ‘amber’ countries will likely have to self-isolate for ten days at home. The rules for ‘red’ countries will remain the same.

So should I book a summer holiday abroad?

Unless you’d happily spend thousands to self-isolate in a hotel room after your week in the sun, however, that could mean that most foreign holidays are just not worth the risk this year. A government report looking at rebooting international travel will be published on April 12, and may provide some more clarity on specific destinations British travellers can visit this summer. But for now it’s probably safer to look within the UK for your summer holiday.

When will hotels and self-catering holidays reopen in the UK?

Domestic holidays are a much safer bet. Though government messaging around planning summer breaks in the UK has been confusing – health secretary Matt Hancock saying he’d booked his own trip to Cornwall one minute; transport secretary Grant Shapps saying no one should be booking trips the next – we will be able to travel more widely within the country from April 12.

In February Boris Johnson set out his latest lockdown exit strategy, and confirmed that it will be possible to stay in self-catered accommodation including Airbnbs and campsites from that date. And even though non-essential travel is still discouraged, day trips in England are already allowed – as of March 29, when the nationwide ‘stay-at-home’ order was lifted.

As long as cases and infection rates continue to fall over the coming months, Johnson added that that hotels, hostels and B&Bs would also be allowed to open again from May 17. That means holidays in the UK should be on again just after spring and throughout the summer.

So should I book a summer holiday in the UK?

It’s worth noting that the most popular locations are already getting booked up for July and August – no doubt because, like last year, many people who’d normally go abroad will be taking a ‘staycation’ this year. So if you want to go on holiday this summer, it could be wise to start thinking about your plans sooner rather than later.

To help boost confidence, most accommodation providers are now offering flexible booking policies, to allow for risk-free trips. The Competition and Markets Authority also says you should be able to get a full refund if new restrictions foil your holiday plans. That makes it seem reasonable enough right now to go ahead and book, as long as you make sure you aren’t paying any non-refundable money upfront.

While our hopes could still be dashed – especially if the vaccine rollout falters or virulent new variants emerge in the UK – it appears we should all be pretty optimistic about a holiday at some point in 2021. And once you are finally able to go away, it’d be a real bummer to find that everywhere is booked up.

More news on the UK’s reopening:

When will shops reopen?

When will pubs and bars reopen?

When will restaurants reopen?

When will gyms reopen?

When will hairdressers reopen?

When can I take a day trip?

When will cinemas reopen?

When will hotels reopen?

When will campsites reopen?

More on reopening

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