What is the latest Foreign Office travel advice?

The FCO says its advice is under ‘constant review’

Helen Coffey
Wednesday 12 August 2020 12:57 BST
How is the pandemic impacting on holidays?

One of the key determinants of whether Brits can travel abroad this summer following the global coronavirus pandemic is the Foreign Office travel advice.

The FCO keeps individual country pages on its website regularly updated, with all the latest information and warnings about potential risks, such as political unrest, natural disasters and terror attacks.

If the FCO advises against “all but essential travel” to a country, it invalidates travellers’ insurance, and visiting there is at your own risk.

Here’s everything you need to know about the current advice.

What is the latest Foreign Office advice?

The FCO has been advising British nationals against all but essential international travel since 23 March. However, this advice was lifted for 67 destinations as of 4 July.

This list was updated later in July to include a further 19 destinations, but two were removed after further spikes in coronavirus cases: Spain and Serbia. There was much confusion for holidaymakers after the FCO initially left Spain’s Balearic and Canary Islands on its exempt list, before changing its advice again less than 48 hours later.

Luxembourg was also given the boot, along with Belgium and Andorra, after a spike in coronavirus cases.

The FCO list is separate from the one issued by the Department for Transport (DfT), which details “travel corridor” destinations from where travellers can now enter England, Wales and Northern Ireland without having to quarantine for two weeks (Scotland published its own list).

If the FCO advises against travelling somewhere, is it illegal to go?

No. The warning is not a “ban” as such – but going there against Foreign Office advice means nearly all travel insurance policies are invalidated (unless you buy special – and expensive – high-risk “war zone” insurance). It also might make things more complicated if you needed to be repatriated in the event of an emergency.

Why can I book a flight to a country if the FCO warns against travelling there?

Many airlines have restarted operations – for example, easyJet had its first flight post-lockdown, a hop from London to Glasgow, on 15 June after 11 weeks of being grounded.

Others continued to operate flights throughout April and May, much to the confusion of consumers, considering most countries’ borders were closed at that point and the FCO advised against all international travel.

Wizz Air, for example, restarted flights from Luton to 15 destinations in May, including Budapest, Belgrade and Tenerife. Ryanair started selling seats to numerous European destinations, including Barcelona, Athens, Bologna and Nimes, from mid-May.

Wizz said the flights were “to provide an essential service to those who need to travel”, reported Forbes – presumably referring to returning citizens and permanent residents or medical staff, the only people who would be exempt from the rules.

Which? claimed at the time that it looked like airlines were cynically still running flights so that those who had already purchased tickets but were unable to fly because of FCO advice would be unable to claim a refund.

Ryanair, for example, is continuing to run scheduled flights to Cyprus throughout July and denying passengers a refund, despite the fact the country’s borders are currently closed to those travelling from the UK.

As countries in Europe start to open their borders again, and the UK announces the relaxation of both the FCO blanket travel warning and the mandatory two-week quarantine for inbound travellers from certain countries, catching a flight abroad purely for leisure purposes finally seems feasible. But Britons should be aware that travel advice can change at the last-minute – as was the case with Spain being removed from both the DfT and FCO “safe” lists – and that when this happens, airlines are not legally obliged to refund flight-only passengers. However, those who’ve booked a package holiday will be protected from some changes; if the FCO suddenly says it advises against travelling to a destination, tour operators will generally cancel holidays there and are required by law to refund customers in full.

Can I travel within the UK?

From 4 July, up to two households have been allowed to stay overnight in “self-contained accommodation” together – including hotels, bed and breakfasts and campsites – as long as social distancing guidelines are followed.

Many English hotels reopened on 4 July, complete with stringent new cleaning measures.

However, recently reinstated lockdown rules in parts of the north of England mean people visiting family or friends in the affected areas are not allowed to stay in their homes or the same accommodation, such as a self-catering apartment, together (unless they have previously formed a support bubble).

Northern Ireland was a day ahead, with hotels, pubs, restaurants and tourist attractions all able to open with suitable social-distancing measures from 3 July, while Scotland reopened many tourist facilities on 15 July. Aberdeen is currently experiencing a local lockdown, with people told not to travel there and residents banned from travelling more than five miles from home for leisure purposes.

Travel restrictions in Wales were lifted on 6 July and self-contained accommodation has been able to re-open as of 13 July.

Up until 17 July, anyone without a car was pretty stuck when it came to domestic travel, as the government advised against all “non-essential” public transport journeys. But Boris Johnson has now said travelling by public transport is permitted throughout England, whatever the reason for your journey.

When is the advice against international travel likely to end?

The FCO travel warning has been lifted for more than 60 destinations as of 4 July. More destinations have since been added, while others have been removed – click here for the latest list.

The need to quarantine has also been removed for travellers entering the UK from countries and territories regarded as “low-risk” by the Joint Biosecurity Centre, as well as 14 British Overseas Territories and the Common Travel Area (Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man).

Popular holiday destinations that are exempt from both restrictions include France, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

The FCO says of its list: “All our advice will remain under constant review to take into account the latest situation in each country.”

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