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Six things to think about before travelling to green list countries


25 May 2021

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Do you think back fondly to the good old days before red, amber and green list countries? A time when we could jump onto a plane or train for a weekend away, with just a few clicks of a mouse?  And do you remember those all-inclusive trips to exotic destinations, with hours spent poring over glossy brochures to find our dream location, not having to worry about which destinations were on the UK travel list?  The only thing we really needed to think about was booking into our GP’s travel clinic, ordering an appropriate guide book and remembering to complete the airline’s pre-flight passenger info.  We didn’t even have to worry about visas in most cases.

Fast-forward to May 17 with the lifting of the travel ban. Many of us have been looking forward to this for more than a year: golden beaches, local food, that must-visit museum or a romantic walk beside a lake.  Sadly, there’s no longer anything spontaneous or simple about travel.  There’s a seemingly endless list of things to worry about now before we book, before we travel, when we get to our destination, before our return flight and even once we arrive back home. 

With so much going on, we’ve put together the top six things you need to think about as you plan, travel and return home from your green list country.

1. Where can you travel to?

As you’ll no doubt be aware, the government has now implemented a traffic light system that categorises countries into green, amber, and red.  With a review every three weeks, each category determines the testing, isolation, and quarantine rules when you come back from your travels. So, all we need to do is to choose one of the green list countries, right?

The problem is that not all green countries allow holidaymakers from Britain, and some countries still require long quarantine periods. Not great if you only want to go on holiday for a week or two.  

Therefore, it’s important to check the latest requirements for the country you’re travelling to. You can use the UK government’s travel advice and other travel reference sites, but be careful, as they aren’t necessarily up-to-date and don’t always include imminent changes. We recommend that you do additional research before booking and keep checking back for any changes. For the most up-to-date information, reputable travel news sites can be a good place to look (just keep an eye on the date of publication).

2. Check the testing required for entry

Wherever you decide to travel to on the UK travel list, you’ll need to check the Covid test entry requirements for that particular destination, and the rules vary for each country as to which test they will accept.   

The most widely accepted PCR test requires a throat and nose swab, with the processing done in a laboratory.  Then there are the PCR saliva tests, but they aren’t accepted everywhere. There are other types of tests available now, too, such as lateral flow tests, but again, these are not universally recognised either. Testing technology is changing as rapidly as the travel restrictions and local rules, so it’s critical to keep researching and reading ahead of your trip.

But it’s not just the requirements for the type of test; you’ll need to consider when you take the test, too.  Many countries state there needs to be a negative test taken 72 hours before arrival.  But this can range from as little as 48 hours to as many as seven days. And remember, if there’s a delay to your flight, you’re on a long-haul trip with stops or travelling overland, then you’ll need to factor this into your calculation.

Finally, as the vaccination process is rolled out, some countries will also require proof of vaccinations, and those rules aren’t consistent either.  The challenge for travellers is that if you don’t get it right, you could be refused boarding or even entry at your destination. And that’s a situation many of us will be keen to avoid.

3. Check what the restrictions are in the countries you’re thinking of travelling to

When planning your trip, don’t forget to think about what you’ll do once you’re there, such as eating out or visiting certain sites and attractions. And make sure you do your research first.

In some countries, there are still evening curfews in place and in others, restaurants are limited to a certain number of customers. Of course, that’s going to impact whether or not you can turn up without a reservation. Or you might have to book a museum or attraction in advance with a specific entry time.

In some areas, visitors are still expected to wear masks when walking around outside or even on the beach, with heavy fines for anyone not doing so. If you usually struggle to walk around a city in the heat of the day, adding a mask could make it a less than pleasant experience.

In some areas, visitors are still expected to wear masks when walking around outside or even on the beach, with heavy fines for anyone not doing so. If you usually struggle to walk around a city in the heat of the day, adding a mask could make it a less than pleasant experience.

You may want to consider changing the type of holiday you usually take, based on the green list countries and their local rules.  For example, hiring a self-catering villa with a pool might be better for you and your family than staying in a hotel this year, with less stress around the rules you need to follow.

Rules and travel restrictions differ from country to country, but also from region to region and city to city.  Even individual hotels may operate differently.  If you book through a reputable and knowledgeable travel agent, you’ll have access to advice beyond just the latest list of safe countries

If you know anyone locally, definitely check with them for the latest word on the street, but also look for the most recent travel news on forums and travel sites. The EU has a valuable site for Travel and covid: rules and restrictions, which could be a good starting point if you’re thinking of travelling within the EU. Alternatively, the Schengen Visa site has a useful timeline with summary.

4. What happens if the country moves to amber or red after you’ve booked, or you can’t travel?

Unfortunately, your travel insurance is unlikely to pay out if the destination you’re travelling to is moved into a different tier or if the UK gov travel advice changes. So, it’s really important that your booking terms give you the flexibility to change your plans, and you should check carefully what happens if you get stranded while you’re away or if your holiday or flight is cancelled. Also, check your right to refunds if something happens that means you don’t want to travel or if lockdown or travel restrictions change.

5. Requirements on your return to England

Even for green list countries, there are requirements for your return.  When you arrive, make sure you follow the rules for the highest risk country (defined by the UK travel list) you’ve been in or passed through in the previous 10 days, including any transit stops.

Here’s a quick summary of what the requirements currently look like:

Green country Amber country Red country
Is travel permitted back to England? Yes Not recommended for leisure UK or Irish nationals, or UK residents
COVID-19 test within 3 days of departure to England (must meet standards) Yes Yes Yes
Complete passenger locator form online Yes Yes Yes
Self-isolation required No, unless test positive 10 days

(or with results of day 5 test to release)

PCR COVID-19 testing on arrival in England (must have proof that booked) On or before day 2 after arrival Day 2

[Day 5 optional]
Day 8

Hotel quarantine rules UK No No 10 days at £1,750 per person (must book before travel)

6. Think about how you can lower costs

Airline choice is no longer about hand luggage allowance and whether you get a free gin and tonic or not. Shopping around for flights and holidays should now include criteria for whether the operator offers cheaper tests and the flexibility to change holiday dates if a green list country changes to amber or because you need to isolate.

You should also try to book as far in advance as you can.  Although you’ll have to balance this with the risk of things changing, it should save you money and guarantee you access to important tourist attractions. The message for travellers is clear – research thoroughly and book early to avoid disappointment.

Final thoughts

It’s clear that holiday planning and holiday travel aren’t going to be as simple as they once were.  And when you get to your destination, it won’t be all plain sailing there either.  Wherever we go on the UK travel list (even a green country), there’s going to be some level of restriction and bureaucratic process that we’ll have to deal with.  Staff will be doing the best they can within the local guidelines, possibly with reduced staffing levels. As travellers, it will be our duty to be patient, forgiving and open-minded. We’ll have to put our frustrations to one side, go with the flow and treat it all as one big adventure to remember in years to come, when red, amber and green list countries are nothing but a distant memory.