Correct on: 19th April 2021. We will update this as and when the Government unveils new information about international travel. See the UK Government’s website for further information.

On 9th April, the UK Government’s Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, revealed that foreign countries will be classified into green, amber and red destinations, as part of the UK’s roadmap to ease lockdown restrictions and resume international travel in the coming months. 

The Government hasn’t confirmed when this new traffic light system will go live, however, this is expected to be announced in early May, with May 17th being the earliest date we can expect international travel to restart. 

Breaking down the traffic light system

Countries will be categorised into three colours – green, amber, and red – based on some key variables, for example, the country’s rate of infection and vaccine programme. The UK Government has defined the following key factors for the assessment of foreign countries:

  • The percentage of their population that have been vaccinated
  • The rate of infection
  • The prevalence of variants of concern
  • The country’s access to reliable scientific data and genomic sequencing

Defining the colour coding

Green: Arrivals will need to take a pre-departure Covid-19 test before flying to England. After arriving in England, travellers are not required to quarantine, however, they must take a PCR test on or before day two of their arrival into England. If they receive a positive result from this day 2 test, they are required to quarantine for 10 days. 

Amber: Arrivals will need to take a pre-departure Covid-19 test before flying to England (as above). Travellers will need to quarantine for a period of 10 days and take a PCR test on day 2 and day 8 with the option to Test to Release on day 5 to reduce their self-isolation period. This is similar to what the current requirements are for anyone arriving into England from countries not on the UK travel ban red list. 

Red: Arrivals will be required to take a pre-departure Covid-19 test before flying to England (as above). On arrival, travellers will be required to stay for 10 days in a managed quarantine hotel, as per the current restrictions for those arriving from a country on the travel ban red list.

An overview of the traffic light system

Green CountryAmber CountryRed Country
Pre-departure test
Passenger locator form
Quarantine on arrivalNot Required10 Days10 Days
PCR test on arrivalDay 2Day 2Day 2
Test to ReleaseNot RequiredDay 5X
Additional PCR testNot RequiredDay 8Day 8

The UK Government will be continually reviewing countries, and a ‘green watchlist’ will be created, which will highlight the countries most at risk of moving from ‘green’ to ‘amber’, in order to give travellers more confidence when going on holiday or travelling for work. However, the Government did not state how much warning they will give for whether a country changes from green to amber – “the government will not hesitate to act immediately should the data show that a country’s risk ratings have changed”. In theory, this could mean when you leave England for your holiday to a green list country, for say a week, it could change to amber over the course of your holiday, meaning you would be required to quarantine on arrival back in England, and test on day 2 and 8. While this is a worry, we don’t know the full process, let’s just hope the Government can provide as much prior warning as possible.

From what we know so far, it seems all travellers returning from any country, regardless of which colour coded category they fall into, will be required to take at least two Covid-19 tests in the form of a pre-departure Fit to Fly test and a day 2 test after arriving back to England. It is unclear whether the departure test must be a PCR test or whether rapid antigen (lateral flow) Covid-19 tests will be allowed – these would reduce the price of testing for travellers, allowing more individuals to consider travelling this summer, and reduce the dependence on PCR testing, which is important for returning travellers to help identify any foreign coronavirus variants entering the UK.

Which countries will be in which category? 

The UK Government has not released this information yet, stating that it is “too early to predict which countries will be on which list over the summer” and that they are continuing to consider a range of factors to inform the restrictions placed on them. The Government will reveal in early May which countries fall into which category, as well as confirming whether international travel can resume from 17th May 2021.

It is likely that the initial green list will be small and feature no more than 10 destinations. Countries who have deployed vaccination drives quickly and successfully, for example, Gibraltar, Israel, and the US, are expected to be among the first destinations on the green list. 

Dates to keep an eye out for

Early May: The UK Government will outline whether the traffic light system will launch later in the month, on May 17th, and will reveal which countries are on each of the green, amber and red lists

17th May: The earliest date the traffic light system could come into effect and international travel in and out of the country could be permitted

28th June: Restrictions will be formally reviewed to take account of the domestic and international health picture, and to see whether current measures could be rolled back 

31st July: A further formal review on the restrictions

1st October: A further formal review on the restrictions

So there we have it, this is all we know so far about whether we can travel abroad for our summer holidays this year. While I’m sure more and more information will be available in the coming weeks, I don’t suspect we’ll be able to travel as stress-free and care-free as we did in pre-pandemic summers – those were the days!

At Project Screen, we will do our best to ensure that your testing needs are taken care of, and will help make your pre- and post-travel Covid testing experiences as convenient, flexible and fast as possible. Choose between at-home test kits or visit one of our Test Pods in England for our Fit to Fly and Test to Release services and discover our Travel Testing Package for your day 2 and 8 test kits.