The travel traffic light system explained

  • Published: 12 Apr 2021
  • Author: David Ward

As we move closer to a return to international travel, the UK government has set out a new traffic light system based on Covid-19 risk levels, with each destination given a status of green, amber or red. Read on for our simplified guide to the new system and what it will mean for your holiday plans.

Traffic lights for travel

This new system of green-, amber- and red-list countries is designed to provide clearly defined categorisation for each destination, so you can know with certainty what will be required, from a UK perspective, when you set out on your travels. Here’s how countries will be categorised:

  • Each country’s status will be determined by its vaccination rates, infection rates, the prevalence of variants and other detailed scientific information
  • Each country’s status will be kept under review and their category potentially changed based on the data above

Green countries

  • If you're arriving in the UK from a green list country, you will need to take a pre-departure test in that country, before boarding your return flight, ferry or train to the UK
  • On or before the second day after arriving in the UK, you will need to take a PCR test, which costs around £120
  • You will not need to quarantine on your return, unless you receive a positive test
  • Test packages must be booked and paid for before travelling from a list of government-approved testing providers

Amber countries

  • From 19th July 2021, if you're arriving in the UK from an amber list country, and you've been fully vaccinated, there will be no need to quarantine. Adults and children aged between 11 and 18 will have to take a pre-departure test (before leaving destination country to return to the UK) AND a PCR test on or before the second day after returning home
  • Children aged 5–10 years will be required to PCR test on or before the second day after returning home only
  • Children aged under five are exempt from all testing and isolation requirements
  • If you're not fully vaccinated and arriving from an amber list country, you will have to quarantine for 10 days at home. You will have to take a pre-departure test (before leaving destination country to return to the UK) AND a PCR test on days two and eight after arriving back in the UK
  • If you are not fully vaccinated, you can end quarantine/self-isolation early by taking a test to release test on day five, by purchasing an extra PCR test (this is in addition to the days 2 and 8 tests above). If you test negative, you can end quarantine when this day five test is returned negative
  • Test packages must be booked and paid for before travelling from a list of government-approved testing providers

Red countries

  • If you're arriving from a red list country, you will have to quarantine for 10 days in a specific quarantine hotel at a cost of £1,750
  • You will have to take a pre-departure test (in destination) AND PCR tests on days two and eight on their return and while in hotel quarantine
  • You must book and agree to pay for hotel quarantine and the testing package before they depart for the UK

Green watchlist

  • The green watchlist will identify countries most at risk of moving from green to amber so travellers have some warning
  • However, the government will not hesitate to act immediately should the data show that countries risk ratings have changed

Destination testing & quarantine requirements

As well as the above, it’s important to remember that each country will have its own list of entry requirements, which you’ll need to check at the time of booking and again before departure. These might include the need for PCR testing prior to your outbound journey or on arrival as well as the possible need to quarantine.

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