Foreign travel has opened up in England under a traffic light system, with countries classified as green, amber or red and given restrictions to match based on the risk of importing coronavirus infections back into the UK.
Most of Europe is in the amber category, including holiday favourites Spain, Portugal, France and Italy.
The Department for Travel has warned Brits against visiting amber and red destinations for “leisure” purposes.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick told Sky News: “You should not be going on holiday to countries on either the amber or red list”, making the analogy that drivers “wouldn’t drive through amber at the traffic light”.
Here’s everything you need to know about whether travel to red and amber countries is allowed.
Do I need to prove I have an essential reason to visit an amber or red country?
Not necessarily. As of 17 May, the UK government no longer stipulates that you need to show evidence of an “essential” reason in order to go abroad (such as for work or buying a house), regardless of whether the destination you’re travelling to is green, amber or red. However, the destination you’re planning on travelling to might require this depending on what their current entry regulations are: check the latest rules on the Foreign Office (FCDO) destination pages.
Is it illegal to visit amber or red countries for a holiday?
No. While the government is advising against holidaying in any country not on the green list, recreational international travel is no longer illegal in England. Guidance is not the same as law. The Department for Transport has advised travellers that they “should not be travelling to ‘amber’ and ‘red’ countries for leisure”, but there are no fines or penalties issued for going against this advice.
What does the Foreign Office advice say?
Confusingly, the DfT advice is separate from the guidelines issued by the FCDO. Prior to the “green list” announcement, the FCDO updated its guidance to say it was no longer advising against non-essential travel to several tourist destinations: Portugal (excluding the Azores); Spain’s Canary Islands; the Greek islands of Rhodes, Kos, Zante, Corfu and Crete; and Malta.
Will my travel insurance count if a country is red or amber?
It’s usually the FCDO advice that determines whether your travel insurance will be invalidated or not. If it advises against all non-essential travel to your destination, your insurance won’t cover you (unless you’ve bought a specialist policy); if it doesn’t, you should still be covered.
This isn’t exactly linked to the “green list”, as explained above – Corfu is rated amber, but is exempt from the blanket travel advisory, for example. It’s worth checking the FCDO guidance and the small print of your policy to find out what exactly is covered; in any case, many insurance providers now have built-in loopholes for when coronavirus restrictions impact your holiday.
What have government ministers said?
When he first announced the lists, transport secretary Grant Shapps said that red list countries are “those which should not be visited except in the most extreme of circumstances”. He also made it clear that amber countries should not be visited for “leisure purposes”.
Robert Jenrick said on 4 June, after Portugal was downgraded from the green list: “You should not be going on holiday to countries on either the amber or red list.
“We were also clear if you chose to go on holiday to countries that are on the green list those countries are being reviewed every three weeks, so there is always a risk with a fast-moving situation with new variants that countries might either go on to that list or indeed come off.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was forced to reiterate the government stance, that Brits shouldn’t be holidaying in amber or red countries. He said during PMQs on 19 May: “It is very, very clear – you should not be going to an amber list country except for some extreme circumstance, such as the serious illness of a family member. You should not be going to an amber list country on holiday.”
Are tour operators offering holidays to amber list destinations?
In some cases, yes. Tui, the UK’s biggest tour operators, is taking holidaymakers some amber list destinations as well as green list ones. “We want to offer our customers flexibility and choice this summer, so where borders are open and FCDO advice allows travel, we will operate to those destinations,” a spokesperson tole The Independent.
“We review our holiday cancellations in line with the government updates every three weeks, with the next update due in early June. We know some customers may be unsure about travelling this summer, so we’ve offered free changes 14 days before travel for anyone due to travel before the end of August.”
Airlines are also operating daily flights to a number of amber list destinations, including Barcelona, Tenerife and Alicante in Spain, and Miami and Philadelphia in the US.
If you’re booked to visit an amber country and want to cancel, many travel companies and airlines currently offer flexible rebooking terms, such as switching dates or destination. Check with your holiday provider to see what your options are.