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What does a change in the travel traffic light system mean for your holiday?

Posted on September 1, 2021 by Jason Davis
Passenger in airport waiting for flight

As countries are moved between the red, amber and green lists, you may be wondering what this means if you’ve booked a holiday or are currently away in one of these countries?

Below, we explain what impact changes to the traffic light system will have on your trip.

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

Information correct at the time of publishing, 1 September 2021.

What is the travel traffic light system?

The red, amber and green list traffic light system tells us the risk level of coming back from a country with COVID-19. It sets out the rules for what tests and quarantine measures you may need to take when arriving back to the UK.

It doesn’t tell you whether you can go there on holiday, or whether your travel insurance will be valid for your trip.

To find out if it’s safe to travel to your planned destination, check the country page on the Foreign Office’s website.

What does a change from green to amber mean?

A change from green to amber for any country on the traffic light system means additional measures are to be taken on arrival back to the UK.

But, for fully vaccinated travellers the rules are slightly different. From 19 July, if you’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19, then you can return from amber list countries without needing to quarantine – essentially having the same return requirements as a green list country.

Using mainland Portugal as an example, which moved from green to amber on Tuesday 8 June, we can see from the graphic above that returning travellers now have to:

  • Take a pre-departure PCR before returning to the UK
  • Arrange day 2 and day 8 PCR tests to take after returning to the UK
  • Self-isolate for 10 days on arrival

Unless you are fully vaccinated which then you’d only have to:

  • Take a pre-departure PCR before returning to the UK
  • Arrange day 2 PCR test after returning to the UK

In any case, some countries may need you to be fully vaccinated before travelling into their country in the first place. So unless you want to spend your time abroad in quarantine, check FCDO advice to find out the latest information on your destination before you go.

Can I shorten my quarantine when returning from an amber country?

Yes, under the Test to Release scheme set out by the government, you can choose to pay for a private COVID-19 test to take on the fifth day after arriving back in England.

If the results are negative, your 10 day quarantine can end as soon as you receive the test results.

Bear in mind, even if your quarantine ends early, you still have to take the compulsory day 8 COVID-19 test.

If you’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the government announced from 19 July you can travel to amber list countries without needing to quarantine on return.

Can I travel to an amber list country?

As of 19 July 2021, the government removed any advice against travel to amber list countries.

And, if you’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19, you can travel to amber list countries without needing to quarantine on your return. You’ll still have to take a pre-departure and day two PCR test.

What if the country I’m visiting moves from one list to another during my trip?

If the country you are visiting is moved from one list to another during your trip, the new traffic light colour rules will take effect immediately.

As an example, if you were in a country that moves from the amber list to red, you would need to book and pay for a government approved hotel quarantine package for your return to the UK.

Can I travel to a red list country?

You can travel to a red list country, but the government doesn’t recommend taking a holiday there. You would need to take the same measures required for amber country arrivals, as well as quarantining in a managed hotel for 10 days after arriving in England. 

Quarantine packages cost £1,750 for one adult, with lower rates for additional adults and children aged 5 to 11.

Will my travel insurance be valid?

If there is no FCDO travel advice against travel, your travel insurance is valid as long as you’re not travelling against any national lockdowns or travel bans.

If the FCDO advises against “all but essential travel”, you can still travel to Europe with valid cover as long as you add our optional European FCDO Travel Advice Extension to your travel insurance policy.

We are unable to offer any cover if you travel to a country when the FCDO advises against ‘all travel’.

It’s important to understand that FCDO travel advice and the traffic light system (red, amber and green list) are separate pieces of advice. Even if a country is on the ‘green list’ you need to check FCDO advice to be sure it’s safe to travel.

Where can I buy PCR tests for travel?

We’ve teamed up with Randox Health to offer you 10% off PCR test kits for your next trip. Find out more about our partnership with Randox Health.

*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.

Jason Davis

by Jason Davis

Jason Davis is Staysure's Senior Content Executive. As a specialist travel insurance provider, we aim to keep up-to-date with travel trends, all while offering tips on how to make the most of your holiday.