For most of 2021 thus far, Brits have been totally forbidden from holidaying abroad. But as the UK moves on to the next major stage of its 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.
That may well change soon, though. If you’ve received both doses of the jab, you may soon be allowed to avoid quarantine on your return from ‘amber list’ countries, according to The Daily Telegraph. The Department for Transport has suggested it may follow Europe’s lead in letting those who’ve been fully vaccinated skip self-isolation (though testing will likely remain in place). Watch this space.
Which countries are on the UK amber list?
For the moment, England’s ‘amber list’ covers the vast majority of the world’s countries, including popular destinations like France, Spain, Italy and the USA. As of June 8, Portugal will be removed from the ‘green list’ and join the ‘amber list’ too.
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.
Here are all the countries and territories currently on the ‘amber list’ in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland:
Akrotiri and Dhekelia
Antigua and Barbuda
Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba
Bosnia and Herzegovina
British Antarctic Territory
British Indian Ocean Territory
British Virgin Islands
Central African Republic
Greece (including islands)
The Occupied Palestinian Territories
Papua New Guinea
Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands
São Tomé and Príncipe
Spain (including the Balearic and Canary Islands)
St Kitts and Nevis
St Martin and St Barthélemy
St Vincent and the Grenadines
Turks and Caicos Islands
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 June 28, July 19, and so on. (No countries were added on June 7, the first review date.)
Countries in Europe that look likely to be added to the ‘green list’ soon include Malta (where 133 vaccination doses have been handed out per 100 population, while only 13 cases of coronavirus per 100,000 have been recorded over the past 14 days), Hungary (97 vaccination doses per 100, against 38 coronavirus cases per 100,000) and Finland (64 vaccination doses per 100, against 30 coronavirus cases per 100,000). Cyprus, meanwhile, has administered 80 doses of the vaccine per 100 population, but some 98 cases of the virus were recorded per 100,000 over the previous fortnight.
Popular tourist destinations including Spain and Italy have advanced vaccination programmes (71 doses having been given out per 100 in both countries), though their case rates are still relatively high (127 and 67 per 100,000 respectively). That means they may not make the ‘green list’ next time around.
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’. On June 3, the following countries were removed from the ‘amber list’ and added to the ‘red list’: Afghanistan, Bahrain, Costa Rica, Egypt, Sudan, Sri Lanka, and Trinidad and Tobago.
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.)