Travel confusion: What have politicians said and where can I actually go on holiday?

We explain what ‘green’ and ‘amber’ travel lists actually mean for your chance of a summer holiday this year.

PA Reporters
Wednesday 19 May 2021 15:54 BST
Travel Stock – Nice – France
Travel Stock – Nice – France (PA Archive)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Confused over ‘amber’ and ‘green’ list countries? You’re not alone. People in England, Scotland and Wales are able to travel overseas on holiday to a limited number of destinations after restrictions were eased, but there’s been conflicting information.

Boris Johnson has sought to clarify confusion over the “amber list” of countries, including most European destinations, to which travel is allowed but not encouraged. He insisted the position was “very clear” and people should only travel to an amber list country “for some extreme circumstance, such as the serious illness of a family member”. He told MPs: “You should not be going to an amber list country on holiday.”

So as a holidaymaker, what do you actually need to know?

A small number of locations are on the green list for leisure travel (Rui Vieira/PA)
A small number of locations are on the green list for leisure travel (Rui Vieira/PA) (PA Archive)

What are the lists and why are they important?

The Government has brought in a risk-based “traffic light” system with red, amber and green ratings for countries around the world. The ratings determine the quarantine and coronavirus testing requirements people face when returning home from Monday May 17, when the ban on overseas leisure travel was lifted.

What is special about about the green list?

Travellers returning from a country or territory on that list will not need to quarantine, and will only be required to take one post-arrival coronavirus test.

Sounds good. What locations are on it?

It consists of Portugal Gibraltar, Israel, Australia New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei, Iceland and the Faroe Islands, plus several small remote islands which are British Overseas Territories.

So I can go on holiday to anywhere on that list?

Entry to Australia, which is on the green list, is severely restricted (Bob Martin for SailGP/PA)
Entry to Australia, which is on the green list, is severely restricted (Bob Martin for SailGP/PA) (PA Media)

Not quite. Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei and the Faroe Islands have severely restricted entry criteria.

Then where can I go?

Portugal is welcoming UK tourists who have had a recent negative test, have recovered from the virus and therefore have antibodies, or had both doses of a vaccine.

Gibraltar will not require UK visitors to be tested or vaccinated, whereas Israel will initially reopen its border on May 23 only to groups of foreign tourists who have had both jabs. None of these destinations will require arrivals to quarantine.

What about the amber list?

That covers many popular holiday destinations such as Spain, France, Italy and Greece. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said “you should not be travelling to these places right now”.

On Sunday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Times Radio people should not travel to places on the amber or red lists “unless it’s absolutely necessary, and certainly not for holiday purposes”.

The PM has also stressed countries on the amber list were “not somewhere where you should be going on holiday”.

What if I go against that guidance?

People returning from amber countries must take two post-arrival tests. They are also required to self-isolate at home for 10 days, although they can reduce that time if they take an additional negative test on day five.

How about the red list?

Those returning from a red list country must stay in a quarantine hotel for 11 nights at a cost of £1,750.

Will the lists change?

The lists will be amended every three weeks, but Boris Johnson said on Friday he did not expect new countries to be added to the green tier “very rapidly”.

What about vaccine passports?

Mr Shapps confirmed that people in England will be able to demonstrate they have had both doses of a vaccine through the NHS app.

The Welsh Government said vaccination status certificates will be available from Monday May 24 for people in Wales who have had both doses and need to urgently travel to a country that requires proof of having been vaccinated.

Can people living across the UK go on a foreign holiday?

Scotland’s travel rules are aligned with those in England, and the same traffic light system came into place on Monday, but officials have urged people to be cautious.

Non-essential travel from Northern Ireland to the Common Travel Area, which consists of the UK, Republic of Ireland, Channel Islands and Isle of Man, is now also allowed.

While Wales allowed international travel from Monday in alignment with England’s traffic light system, the Welsh Government’s concerns about reimporting the virus mean it is advising people not to travel abroad during 2021.

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