England’s traffic-light system for foreign travel: all you need to know

What do the green, amber and red lists mean for travellers, and which countries are designated green?

What’s been announced?

Foreign trips were almost completely banned at the start of 2021 as the UK went into another national lockdown in the face of the biggest wave yet of coronavirus cases and deaths. But ministers say that soon people in England will be allowed to take trips overseas again, to go on holiday or visit family and friends they may have not seen since the pandemic began.

The “air corridor” system introduced last summer that allowed people to skip quarantine if returning from relatively safe countries has been replaced with a new traffic-light system. Green, amber and red lists have been created, with all countries graded depending on factors including their vaccination rate. There will also be a green “watchlist”, designed to help give people early warning that a country is at risk of being moved off the green list.

Given travel is a devolved matter, the administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will decide whether to follow suit or adopt a different approach.

When do the new rules come into force?

From 12.01am on 17 May. Until then people have to carry a declaration form bearing one of a small number of reasonable excuses, including essential work, education, to provide care or attend a funeral or participate in elite sport.

What do the green, amber and red lists mean for travellers?

The colour list each country is on will dictate whether and where passengers arriving from them need to quarantine.

People coming from green list countries need a negative pre-departure Covid test, and they will not have to isolate at all upon their return. They will have to take PCR test on day two after their arrival. PCR tests are specified because they are more accurate than lateral flow tests.

Those entering England from amber countries will need a negative pre-departure Covid test, have to isolate at home for 10 days and get a PCR test on days two and eight. They can still use the test-to-release system on day five, a negative test result meaning they can end their quarantine immediately.

Travellers arriving from red list countries will need a negative pre-departure Covid test, undergo managed quarantine at a hotel for 10 days that cannot be cut short, and get a PCR test on days two and eight.

The government has said people should not travel to amber and red countries for leisure.

Which countries are on the green list?


New Zealand




Faroe Islands


Falkland Islands

Israel and Jerusalem

South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands

Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha

Portugal, including the Azores and Madeira

What about red and amber list countries?

Turkey, the Maldives and Nepal are being added to the red list. People returning from those countries after 4am on Wednesday will be required to quarantine in a hotel for 11 nights.

Popular holiday destinations including Spain, Italy, France and Greece remain on the amber list and the government has said they will be reviewed in three weeks’ time.

Are there exceptions?

The government has not confirmed whether the current exceptions will be changed. Some specialist workers such as air crew do not currently have to quarantine.

When will the lists change?

The lists will be formally reviewed every three weeks, with the chance of countries being bumped up or down the traffic light system. Government figures have suggested they wanted the initial green list to be very limited, but hinted that more European countries could be added before too long.

How do I get my vaccine passport?

The government says people in England can use the NHS app to prove they have been vaccinated. For those whose jabs do not show up in the app, cannot download it or do not have a smartphone, they will be able to call the NHS on 119 from Monday 17 May and request a letter confirming they have been inoculated.

Why is this happening given the warnings about the importation of variants?

Ministers and scientists have repeatedly said one of their biggest concerns is the threat of new variants being imported that current vaccines may be less effective against.

Allowing people to leave the country again is indicative of how low Covid fatality rates are in the UK, at a level last seen in August 2020, and the traffic light system is designed only to let travellers skip quarantine who come from low-risk countries.

Government figures have stressed they would act quickly and intervene faster than the three-week review period if needed to move a country from one list to another in light of emerging evidence.


Aubrey Allegretti

The GuardianTramp

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