Coronavirus travel restrictions, rights & which countries are on the green list?

16 min Read Published: 14 Jun 2021

Pandemic holiday plans? Here's what you need to knowBans on international travel were lifted on the 17th May 2021 as the UK government formally introduced its new red, amber and green "traffic light system" of rules for returning home from abroad.

While foreign holidays are back on the itinerary for many Brits, COVID-19 restrictions remain and travellers are being urged to adhere to the new instructions to minimise the risk of infection.

This article will walk through the government's guidance on overseas travel, and explain how the new rules could affect your summer holiday plans.

What are the new coronavirus travel restrictions?

After several months of nationwide lockdown, travel restrictions are gradually being lifted by the UK government, with trips abroad finally permitted just in time for the summer holiday season.

The government has released instructions on coronavirus travel restrictions, including a new red, amber, and green "traffic light system" to denote whether quarantine is required and for how long on return from international travel.

Travellers must adhere to the specific travel restriction rules for the location that they are travelling from, regardless of their vaccination status.

Below is a table including some of the most popular destinations from each list:

COVID-19 International travel summary: Green, Amber and Red listed territories

Green List Territories Amber List Territories Red List Territories
Australia Austria Argentina
Brunei Barbados Bangladesh
Falkland Islands Canada Brazil
Faroe Islands China Ethiopia
Gibraltar Egypt India
Iceland France Pakistan
Israel Germany Phillippines
New Zealand Italy South Africa
Singapore Mexico Turkey
South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands USA UAE

Last updated 14/06/2021.

The full list of red, amber and green territories is available on the GOV.UK website.

Green listed countries - Travel rules explained

The official government advice is that UK citizens are permitted to travel to green list territories.

Although travel to green list countries is allowed, the following rules apply if you have been to any of the green listed countries in the past 10 days:

Before you travel to England, you must:

On arrival in England, you must:

  • Take a COVID-19 test on or before day 2 after you arrive.

You do not need to quarantine unless your test result is positive.

You must quarantine if NHS Test & Trace informs you that you travelled to England with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

Amber listed countries - Travel rules explained

The official government advice is that UK citizens should NOT travel to amber listed territories.

Although travel to amber listed countries is discouraged, the following rules apply if you have been to any of the amber listed countries in the past 10 days:

Before you travel to England, you must:

On arrival in England, you must:

  • Quarantine at home, or in the place you are staying, for 10 days.
  • Take a COVID-19 test on or before day 2 and on or after day 8.

You may be able to end your quarantine period early if you pay for a private COVID-19 test through the government's Test to Release scheme.

Red listed countries - Travel rules explained

The official government advice is that UK citizens should NOT travel to red listed territories under any circumstances.

Although travel to red listed countries is strongly discouraged, the following rules apply if you have been to any of the red listed countries in the past 10 days:

Before you travel to England, you must:

On arrival in England, you must:

What are the rules if I stop at a red or amber listed country during transit?

There are a number of rules which apply to travellers that have stopped in a red or amber listed territory during their journey.

When you arrive in England, you must follow the rules for the highest risk country or territory that you have been in, or passed through, in the previous 10 days. This includes transit stops.

A transit stop is a stop where passengers can "get on or off the same part of the transport in which you are travelling". It applies to ships, trains or flights. Your travel ticket will usually show if a stop is a transit stop.

The rules of a country or territory that you make a transit stop in could apply if:

  • New passengers get on and are able to mix with you.
  • You or other passengers get off the transport you are on and mix with other people, before getting back on board.

Making a transit stop would not affect what you have to do on arrival in England if, during the stop:

  • No new passengers, who are able to mix with you, get on.
  • No-one on-board gets off and mixes with people outside.
  • Passengers get off but do not get back on.

The rules are slightly different for people travelling via private vehicles or coaches which pass through amber or red listed countries and territories. These restrictions apply whether you actually stop in that region or not, and you must record where you have driven through on your passenger locator form.

If you are travelling to England in a private vehicle, the rules of the countries and territories you drive through apply. For example, if you drive through an amber listed country, then you must follow the amber list rules when you arrive in England.

What are the rules if I am travelling within the UK?

Fortunately, those holidaying in the UK this year do not need to take a COVID-19 test or quarantine on arrival in England, so long as you are travelling from within the UK, Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man (together known as the Common Travel Area). These rules apply so long as you have not been outside of the Common Travel Area in the previous 10 days.

Who is exempt from the coronavirus travel restrictions?

Some people are exempt from some or all of the government's requirements, but the eligibility criteria is unclear, so make sure to check the details before assuming that you qualify:

The "traffic light system" applies to England, Scotland and Wales as of Monday 17th May 2021, but people in Wales are advised to only travel abroad for "essential reasons" until at least the beginning of June.

Northern Ireland has yet to announce any relaxation of international travel restrictions, but non-essential travel within the Common Travel Area will be permitted from Monday 24th May 2021.

How do I demonstrate that I have been vaccinated when travelling abroad?

People in England who have had a full vaccine course (2 complete doses) can demonstrate their COVID-19 vaccination status for international travel.

Other countries or territories currently have their own border rules to control who can and cannot enter the country, which may include COVID-19 vaccination status.

The government advises travellers to check the entry requirements for their destination before travelling, as rules are subject to change at short notice.

Find out more from the GOV.UK website on:

Does my travel insurance policy cover me if my holiday plans are disrupted?

There is currently a great deal of misinformation circulating about the degree of cover which travel insurance can offer in the event that COVID-19 related issues disrupt holidaymakers' plans.

False impressions about the level of cover from blanket statements such as "Covid Cover" have led many travellers to believe that they may be able to claim for any coronavirus-related disruption, but insurers are increasingly removing cancellation cover for newly-booked trips, so be sure to check the small print of your policy.

The new traffic light system may provide travellers with some nasty surprises too, as if your destination switches lists while you are away, you could find yourself having to pay for a costly 10-day stay in a "managed" quarantine hotel with little chance of your insurer paying out.

Even countries firmly on the green list will require multiple COVID-19 tests - which could cost you up to £200 - and must be paid for out of your own pocket.

Make sure to check the details of your travel insurance policy and do not assume that your insurer will cover all COVID-19 related eventualities.

For more information on travel insurance, check out our article "12 top tips for taking out travel insurance".

What are my refund rights if my flight or holiday is cancelled?

Refunds for flights

With most cancelled flights, you are due a full refund within seven days. Most cancelled flights will fall under flight-delay rules (which cover all flights leaving the UK or EU, as well as flights to the UK/EU on a UK/EU airline, and are written into UK law).

These state that customers are entitled to choose between:

  • Either a refund for the flight that was cancelled.
  • Or an alternative flight (airlines call this "re-routing") to your destination.

You may find that some airlines try to entice you with a voucher instead, but the law clearly states that travellers are entitled to a refund in this situation.

In theory, any refunds should be paid within seven days, but the Civil Aviation Authority has acknowledged that it is currently "very challenging" for airlines to sort refunds at this speed during the pandemic, so you could end up waiting significantly longer for your payment to come through.

Refunds on package holidays

With package holidays, travellers are entitled to a full refund within 14 days of cancellation under Package Travel Regulations.

Although this refund is meant to be received within two weeks, in practice it could take longer – the Chartered Trading Standards Institute has warned that a 14-day turnaround on refunds could still be difficult given the sheer volume of refunds that travel firms are tackling.

While most of the lockdown backlog should have been cleared by now, you may still have to be patient and simply wait for your firm to get back to you. Nevertheless, under UK law, you would be entitled to a full refund.

Other refunds

The rules are less clear on other travel bookings, such as hotels and car hire, but you should still be eligible for a refund for most COVID-19 related circumstances. You may encounter some difficulties when dealing with foreign firms where local laws may be different to those in the UK, so there is no guarantee, and you should keep this in mind when booking your getaway.

Some countries may require you to show a negative COVID-19 test result on arrival. If you have already taken a test and verified that you have received a negative coronavirus test, but the trip is then subsequently cancelled, you would need to contact the provider that you ordered the test from to see if it will refund you. Again, there is no guarantee that this process would grant you a refund.

The verdict on travelling abroad for a holiday this year

Essentially, make sure you know exactly which list the country you are travelling to is on, and follow the rules which apply to that territory. Check the small print on your travel insurance policy too, understand that your insurer may not cover all COVID-19 related disruption, and be prepared for any refunds to take a while to come through.

As the travel industry increasingly opens up throughout the year, the likelihood of being covered for pandemic disruption will probably decrease, so bear that in mind for overseas trips planned later on in 2021.

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