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Travel traffic light system and FCDO advice: What’s the difference?

Posted on July 19, 2021 by Vicky Smith
an image of a traffic light on amber with a blue sky in the background

Confused about the traffic light system and FCDO travel advice? You’re not alone. Conflicting advice has left many holidaymakers scratching their heads over which destinations they can or can’t travel to.

Not knowing the differences between travel advice could leave you without a holiday, or out of pocket if you need to quarantine unexpectedly. It could even invalidate your travel insurance.

Here’s exactly what you need to know about the traffic light system and FCDO travel advice.

What is the travel traffic light system?

The travel traffic light system puts each country into one of three lists: red, amber and green.

Its purpose is to inform travellers what steps they need to take when they return to the UK from these destinations. The traffic light system doesn’t tell you where you can go on holiday.

The Department for Transport (DfT) decides which countries go on which list based on their coronavirus infection rates, prevalence of variants and whether they are a transport hub for international travellers, such as the UAE.

Green list countries do not require any isolation on return. This also includes amber list countries for travellers who are fully vaccinated from 19 July 2021. Visitors who are not fully vaccinated to amber destinations and any travellers to red list countries will need to either self-isolate or stay in a quarantine hotel for 10 days. Find out more about the rules and regulations in our blogHolidays abroad and the new traffic light list’.

The official advice is people should not visit red nations for holidays – but it is not illegal for you to do so.

Traffic light system infographic

What is the FCDO or Foreign Office advice for travel?

FCDO advice states whether or not it is advisable for British citizens to travel to a particular destination. It essentially tells you what countries you can travel to right now.

Their advice is based on the risk of harm to British travellers. It looks at the perceived danger from coronavirus in the location as well as other unrelated factors such as terrorism.

FCDO advice influences travel companies, such as airlines and travel insurance providers. So should the FCDO advise against ‘all but essential travel’ or ‘all travel’ for the country you’re travelling to, it’s likely that your holiday will be cancelled and your travel insurance policy will be invalid.

Read our article to find out how FCDO advice affects your holiday in more detail.

If a country is green, does it mean I can go on holiday?

Unfortunately, the traffic light system and FCDO advice do not always align. This has led to much confusion among the travel industry and holidaymakers.

A common assumption is that a country on the traffic light system’s green list is safe to travel to, but this is not always the case.

Just because a country is on the green list, does not always mean there’s a green light to travel there. The green list status simply means that no self-isolation or quarantine is required when you return from your trip.

Although the FCDO do advise against ‘all but essential travel’ for most countries on the amber and red lists, they don’t always line up.

For example, Israel originally earned green traffic light status due to its successful vaccine rollout, but due to outbreaks of violence the FCDO advises against ‘all travel’ to Gaza and selected areas of Israel.

On the other hand, the Canary Islands appear on the amber list, but there is no FCDO advisory against travel. In this case you’d be able to travel there but you’d have to self-isolate on your return, unless you were fully vaccinated as of 19 July.

So can I travel abroad against FCDO advice for holidays?

Many holiday companies won’t operate trips if the FCDO advises against all but essential travel or advises against all travel. But in some cases you will still be able to take the trip. It really depends on the decision taken by your holiday company or airline to facilitate the trip as planned.

Staysure can offer you cover in the event FCDO advice for your European destination is against ‘all but essential travel’. Find out more about our European FCDO Travel Advice Extension add-on.

How do I decide where to go on holiday?

When booking your trip, you will need to look at the entry restrictions for your destination, the traffic light system rules for your return to the UK and the FCDO advice for travelling to your destination.

The travel traffic light system will be in constant review, with the most recent review announcing fully vaccinated travellers won’t have to self-isolate on return from amber list countries.

The traffic light system is a good place to start thinking about your summer holidays abroad. It might still take a bit of research to find a country that aligns on the traffic light system, the FCDO advice, and the local travel restrictions.

So, for more help on choosing a holiday destination, take a look at our guide to ‘Where you can go on holiday now‘.

For more information about what restrictions you have to follow based on the traffic light system, take a look at this helpful graphic.

an image of the different requirements for each list on the travel traffic light system

Information is correct at the time of publishing.

*Amber list rules may differ or change for certain countries at short notice, even if you are fully vaccinated. Fully vaccinated travellers are required to have their final vaccination dose at least 14 whole days before arriving back in the UK. Keep up to date with the latest FCDO travel advice before and during your trip.

Vicky Smith

by Vicky Smith

Vicky Smith is a journalist and freelance content creator. She loves to travel with her family. Her favourite place in the world is a sandy beach in Cornwall.