Holiday traffic light system explained: what does it mean for your overseas trip?

Laura Hampson
·5 min read
(Getty)
The government has announced a new traffic light travel system for holidaymakers (Getty)

With lockdown finally starting to ease, we’re more than ready for a holiday.

Today, 12 April, marks the first day post-lockdown that single households can stay at self-contained accommodation overnight, and last week the government gave us our first glimpse at what international travel could look like this year too.

On Friday 9 April, the Global Travel Taskforce outlined the framework that looks to safely reopen international travel and introduced a traffic light system.

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While this system was first hinted at in February, when over 30 countries were put on the government’s “red” list, we now know that there will also be “green” and “amber” lists that countries could be placed on.

“International travel is vital – it boosts businesses and underpins the UK economy – but more than that, it brings people together, connects families who have been kept apart, and allows us to explore new horizons,” transport secretary Grant Shapps said in a statement.

“The framework announced today will help allow us to reopen travel safely and sustainably, ensure we protect our hard-won achievements on the vaccine roll out, and offer peace of mind to both passengers and industry as we begin to take trips abroad once again.”

The Caribbean could potentially be on the government's green list (Getty)
The Caribbean could potentially be on the government's green list (Getty)

What is the traffic light system?

As its name suggests, the traffic light system will categorise countries based on risk. To assess this, the government will consider key factors including the percentage of the country’s population that has been vaccinated, the rate of infection, the prevalence of variants and other scientific data. Countries will then be categorised into green, amber and red lists.

The system is currently only relevant to those living in England and Wales. Scottish and Northern Ireland residents will have separate guidelines that are yet to be announced. 

Green: Those arriving back to England and Wales from green listed countries will need to take a pre-departure test before returning, as well as a PCR test on day two of arrival back to the UK. They will not need to quarantine unless they receive a positive COVID result.

Amber: Arrivals from amber countries will need to take a pre-departure test before returning to England and Wales, then quarantine for 10 days. They will also need to take a PCR test on day two and day eight of quarantine with an option to test to release on day five.

Red: Arrivals from red-listed countries will need to stay in a government-regulated quarantine hotel for 10 days after arriving back to the UK. This stay is at a personal cost (£1,750 for a single adult) and pre-departure tests and PCR tests on day two and eight are also required.

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It’s best to keep in mind that while some countries may be on our green list, they may have different restrictions for British travellers on arrival.

Countries could also move between lists. The report stated that there will be formal reviews on 28 June, 31 July and 1 October.

What countries are on each of the lists?

At present, we only know the countries on the red list, which currently include the UAE, Qatar, Brazil and South Africa, among others.

Those expected to be on the green lists will be countries with low COVID cases and deaths, and high vaccination rates, which could be places like Malta and the Caribbean.

European hotspots like Greece, Cyprus and Spain are expected to be on the amber list.

While this is just speculation, Shapps says the full list will be available in “two to three weeks”, so we’ll know more then.

Spain is expected to be on the amber list (Getty)
Spain is expected to be on the amber list (Getty)

When will international travel resume?

While it is currently illegal to travel outside of England except in certain circumstances (travellers who attempt to could face a £5,000 fine), the report says that international travel could resume from 17 May in “an accessible and affordable” way.

“This includes the removal of the permission to travel form - meaning passengers would no longer need to prove they have a valid reason to leave the country,” the report added.

While there is no clear date for when travel will make a return as yet, we should know more in the coming weeks.

How much will testing cost?

No matter which tier country you travel to, testing will be required on return to the UK and this will be at personal cost.

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PCR tests currently cost between £150 and £250, which could price a lot of people out of going on holiday, but the framework outlined on Friday 9 April stated there could be the option for cheaper tests soon.

“Testing post-arrival remains an important tool in our wider measures to manage the risk of imported cases - allowing us to monitor positive tests and ensure people isolate, as well as identify and genomically sequence variants of concern,” the government’s statement said.

“We will also work with the travel industry and private testing providers ahead of international travel reopening, to see how we can further reduce the cost of travel for the British public, while ensuring travel is as safe as possible.

“This could include cheaper tests being used when holidaymakers return home, as well as whether the government would be able to provide pre-departure tests.”

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