Since the third lockdown began four months ago, international travel for non-essential purposes has been illegal.
The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, has confirmed the ban on overseas travel will end on Monday 17 May. It will no longer be necessary to complete a Declaration to Travel before departure abroad, and the £5,000 penalty for attempting to make an international leisure journey will end.
But many restrictions will remain, including quarantine obligations for arrivals to England from the vast majority of countries – which must be completed in a hotel for “red list” travellers.
Only travellers coming in from “green list” nations will avoid the need to self-isolate – though they must pay for pre-departure and post-arrival tests.
What are the countries on the green list?
The green list comes into effect at 4am on Monday 17 May.
The short-haul destinations are Portugal (including the Azores and Madeira), Gibraltar, Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Israel.
The remaining destinations are long-haul and largely inaccessible: Australia; New Zealand; Singapore; Brunei; the Falkland Islands; Ascension Island; Tristan da Cunha; St Helena; South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands.
Ireland has retained its “supergreen” status, with no significant checks for incoming travellers to the UK thanks to its membership of the Common Travel Area.
Does it mean I can travel to any green list nation without a problem?
No. Many of the countries on the list are irrelevant at present: either they are not letting in British tourists any time soon, or they are impossible to reach without going through amber or red nations.
Among the accessible nations, travel restrictions are generally imposed – typically with requirements to take a test in advance of travel and/or on arrival, though a fully vaccinated traveller may avoid these requirements.
What happens if I go to an amber/red country via a green country?
The most stringent rules apply – so if you go to Spain after landing in Gibraltar, you will be subject to amber rules.
And a two-centre Israel and UAE trip, which is now politically possible, would trigger hotel quarantine due to the latter’s red list status.
Can I transit through other countries between a green list nation and the UK without penalty?
No. So if you were to travel from the Faroe Islands via Copenhagen to the UK – the only routing possible at present – you would become subject to red list rules.
One possible exception is driving from Portugal through Spain and France without interacting with anyone and then taking a Eurotunnel shuttle from Calais to Folkestone. But that would be a very risky and nigh-impossible strategy.
Does it make any difference coming back to the UK if I have been jabbed?
No, though this may change during the next few weeks and months. The government says it does not yet have absolute clarity on the transmission risk.
“We’ve come so far, we don’t want to mess it up,” said Mr Shapps.
Am I allowed to go to amber or red list countries?
Yes, though Grant Shapps would rather you didn’t. The transport secretary tweeted: “To protect public health we DO NOT recommend travel for leisure to countries outside of the Green List.”
Despite this advice, Britain’s biggest holiday company is offering holidays to a wide range of amber zone islands from 17 May. Tui is selling the Canary Islands, some Greek islands and Malta, as well as the Caribbean islands of Antigua, Barbados, Cuba, Grenada and St Lucia in the Caribbean.
The firm has concluded that these locations appear to meet the government’s criteria for the lowest-risk category: infection rates, test positivity, variants of concern and connecting passengers low, vaccination rates and data reliability high.
Were the Foreign Office to warn against visiting these places, Tui would not operate and offer full refunds. But it hopes to operate these trips and believes they will sell well, even with 10 days’ self-isolation and multiple tests awaiting returning holidaymakers.
If I book a trip to a green destination but it turns amber or red, can I claim my money back?
Should the trip – whether a flight or holiday – go ahead, there is no automatic entitlement to a refund. The travel company can carry out its contractual obligation to take you to the destination – the fact you face quarantine on your return is not its problem.
In practice, though, most firms will cancel departures to red list locations, and many will also axe trips to amber list countries as well. When this happens, you are entitled to a full refund.
If the trip does go ahead, though, a good company will offer a voucher.
If you stop in a green country for a week after a red country need you only do three nights’ hotel quarantine?
No. You cannot partially launder your quarantine obligation. So you could fly Johannesburg-Lisbon and stay 10 days, after which you could travel on to the UK without quarantine. Many people have done something similar via Cairo or Istanbul when they were both on amber and South Africa was red.
But stay any less and it's the full 11 nights in hotel quarantine.
How often will the lists be reviewed?
Every three weeks from “early June,” believed to be between 1 and 4 June.
Thursday 3 June looks the most likely candidate due to data flows. Subsequent reviews would therefore take place on 24 June, 15 July and 5 August, etc.
The changes will take effect a week later. Urgent alterations, which are likely to involve placing a country in a stricter category, may be made at any time.
Can I get travel insurance against my destination being placed on the red or amber list?
No. “Traffic light colour change cover” does not exist – and it is difficult to see that any travel insurer will be prepared to offer such a policy. Existing travel insurance policies do not cover the cost of hotel quarantine.
When does the green list take effect?
For arrivals from 4am 17 May, the same day as the ban on international leisure travel is lifted.
What is the rating based on?
A low score on coronavirus infection rates, prevalence of “variants of concern” and passengers connecting through key hubs; and a high score for vaccine rollout, genomic sequencing capability and reliability of data.
The Joint Biosecurity Centre has analysed the variables and presented recommendations to the government.
If I am subject to quarantine, can I leave the UK again before the self-isolation ends?
Yes, so long as you go direct to the airport/international rail station/ferry port. On trips of less than eight days, you do not have to book the second post-arrival PCR test. But on a very short trip to the UK, you must still book a day-two test, even if you do not take it.
Green list in full
St Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha
South Georgia and the South Shetland Islands