Traffic lights for travel

Everything you need to know in one handy FAQ

Green is for go!
Explaining this summer's traffic light system for travel

What is the traffic light system?

It's the UK government's system for categorising countries now travel has reopened.

  • Green for countries which you can easily and conveniently visit for a holiday because you can come and go with just a test and no isolation period.
  • Orange is the default for most countries in the world at the moment. If you visit an orange country, yo'll need a test to go; a test to come back; and you'll also need to self-isolate for 10 days when you get back to the UK (falling to as little as 5 days if you use test and release and the test is negative).
  • Red is for countries on the banned list - where there is either a significant Covid outbreak or one or more "variants of concern", that is mutations of the Covid virus that are suspected or proved to be more infectious or less susceptible to the vaccine. No-one is allowed into the UK if they've been to a red-list country except returning UK citizens (and a handful of other exceptions), and if you come back from a country on the red list it's 10 days in quarantine at a government-approved airport facility, currently costing you about £1750.

So can I visit anywhere that's on the green list?

Not necessarily. If a country is on the UK governmment green list, that doesn't guarantee they'll let us in, or that any planes are currently scheduled to fly there. So it's a good start, but to see where you can actually go on holiday you really need our Green Green Green list (below).

The Green Green Green list

Keep up to date with where you can travel this summer.

Can I visit amber and red countries?

Again, only if they'll let you in! Currently, some will and some won't, though we expect that by the summer most of the main holiday destinations will be open to visitors from the UK - everyone wants us as tourists because we've had one of the most successful vaccination programmes in the world.

So assuming they're open to visitors - yes, you can visit an orange country, and now travel has resumed many people are expected to do so. The main difference between an orange and green country is that when you come back from an orange country, you have to go into a 10-day self-isolation. You can cut that short with a second test, to as little as 5 days, but it's still more bother (and expense) than a green country. It's also sometimes the case that the FCDO advises against non-essential travel to some (but not all) countries on the orange list, which can affect the validity of standard travel insurance policies. If you're travelling to a country which the FCDO advises against, you may need specialist insurance.

That's just amber. Can I visit red countries?

Ah, you spotted that. Yes, in theory, though in most cases you may find it difficult to get direct flights. They're also red for a reason - visiting a country in the midst of a health emergency may be neither practical nor advisable. However, taking all that into consideration, yes you can go if you have some way of getting there and they let you in. But then the rule is 10 days' quarantine in a government facility when you get back, at your own expense - currently around £1,750.

Here's the red list for reference.

What's FCDO advice and why is it different to the traffic light system?

Your guess is as good as ours.

No, seriously though...yes it's a bit odd to have two different government departments offering sometimes-conflicting advice about where it's safe to go, but there is a reason.

The FCDO has always issued travel advice for every destination, long before Covid was a thing. It flags up countries that are at war, prone to terrorist attacks, hostile to British visitors, in the middle of a coup, that sort of thing, and advises against going there.

The traffic light system is a separate thing and just flags how likely it is for someone visiting a country to bring Covid back to the UK. Green for not likely at all, amber for possibly so be careful and self-isolate when you get back, red for an outbreak that means you have to stay in a quarantine hotel when you get back.

So why the anomalies? There are (at time of writing) only three anomalies. Israel is on the green list but the FCDO advises against going there, not because of Covid but because of an ongoing conflict. The Canary Islands and five Greek islands are on the orange list but the FCDO doesn't advise against going there - and that seems to be because the FCDO issues advice at the level of individual islands, wheras the first cut of the traffic light system only considered whole countries.

Ireland and the Channel Isles seem to be on the green list but not on the green list

Yes - that's because they're part of the Common Travel Area. Coming back from the Commmon Travel Area to the UK doesn't even require a PCR test, so it's slightly easier even than a green country. However you're still bound to follow the rules of the country you're visiting. Ireland is closed to visitors unless they self-isolate on arrival or have both vaccinations; Jersey reopened to visitors on May 28; Guernsey plans to reopen to visitors later this summer.

Anything else I need to know about traffic lights?

Standard travel insurance policies are generally not valid for countries where the UK government does not advise non-essential trips. I'm afraid at this point the system gets pointlessly complicated. The traffic light system is run by the Department for Transport. Insurance takes its steer from the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office, and its possible for the lists not to match up.

For example, Israel is on the green traffic light list, but travel there is still advised against (by the FCDO) because of the ongoing conflict. Sri Lanka and Crete are on the orange traffic light list, but the FCDO does not advise against travelling there.

The good news is that in either case Holiday Extras offers travel insurance that should cover your trip (with a handful of exceptions, for example for actual warzones). Our standard travel insurance covers trips to most ordinary holiday destinations. If you're going somewhere that's against FCDO advice, we're partnered with specialists battleface who offer cover for trips to places against which the FCDO advises.