Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

“Feel free to book holidays” (but we won’t tell you where) says Grant Shapps

Links on Head for Points may pay us an affiliate commission. A list of partners is here.

The Government published its report into the re-opening foreign travel today. You can read it here.

The good news is that holidays are still on track to be allowed from 17th May – but the lack of clarity on where or how this can happen means that there is little that you can do in practice.

The bad news is that everyone will need to take a PCR test – often priced above £100 – within two days of returning to the UK.

The reaction of low-cost airline Jet2 tells you all you need to know about this move. It immediately cancelled all flights until at least 23rd June. How many people will want to pay more for a PCR test then they did for the flights themselves?

The Government confirmed the reports which have been leaked over recent days. Destinations will be grouped into three categories – Green, Amber or Red. Unfortunately, the list of countries in each category will not be published until nearer 17th May.

Note that everything written below applies only to England. Both the Scottish and Welsh assemblies have implied that they will continue to restrict travel beyond 17th May.

How will each category be treated?

This is what each category will require from 17th May:

Green (potentially US, Caribbean, Malta, UAE, Israel)

Test required before your return flight and a PCR test within two days of returning to the UK. No quarantine required.

Amber (potentially Europe)

Test required before your return flight. 10 days of home quarantine required. A PCR test must be taken on Day 2 and Day 8 – you can be released from home quarantine early, on Day 5, if you take an additional PCR test.


Test required before your return flight. 10 days of hotel quarantine required, to include two PCR tests. No early release possible.

Can I use NHS PCR testing?

No. The Global Travel Taskforce findings specifically state that “NHS tests at no cost for those with symptoms will not be permitted for use in international travel.”

This is ironic, given that NHS PCR testing is currently running at less than 50% of capacity, according to this graph from the government data dashboard. The grey line is capacity whilst the blue is tests conducted (click to enlarge):

NHS PCR testing capacity

Other questions answered

Will a ‘declaration of travel’ form be required to leave the UK?

No. These will be scrapped on 17th May.

Will the cheaper lateral flow tests be accepted before a return flight?

It seems so. This would include the Qured test that British Airways is promoting and which we tested out.

However, you will still need to complete a PCR test within two days of arriving in the UK.

Will I still need to fill in a ‘Passenger Locator Form’ before I return to the UK?


Do I really need to pay £100+ per person for a PCR test when I return from a Green country?

At present, yes. The Government seems keen to stick to this. Including the pre-departure lateral flow tests, a family of four would still face a £500+ testing bill.

Additional costs will be required if the country you are visiting has any testing requirements of its own, which is highly likely.

Is there any firm decision on the introduction of ‘vaccine passports’?


It is certain that some countries will insist on proof of vaccination before you can enter. It not certain if the UK Government is willing to provide such proof although the signs are good.

Will countries still move between categories at short notice?

Hopefully not. There is discussion of a ‘Green watchlist’ category being introduced which would give early warning of countries which could be moved. The notice period may also be extended to 7-14 days.

Since a key factor in category assignment will be the level of vaccination, however, it is less likely than in Summer 2020 that countries will move to a more restrictive category.

How will airports cope, given that waits of 6+ hours at immigration are already happening?

The current ‘passenger locator form’ is not automatically checked on submission. This means that, when it is not complete, it has to be manually filled in by an immigration official.

The website will be changed so that incomplete forms cannot be submitted. They will also be linked to passport numbers so that those arriving from Green countries can begin to use e-gates again.

When will the rules be reviewed again?

Fresh reviews are set for 28th June, 31st July and 1st October.

These reviews would decide if the testing requirements could be changed so that, for example, home quarantine was no longer required for visits to an ‘Amber’ country.

Reviews of which countries sit on the Green, Amber and Red lists will be ongoing.


The immediate feedback from the travel industry to the report has been dismay at the lack of clarity offered. Airlines and tour operators are being expected to put schedules together with potentially less than 14 days notice from the publication of the initial Green, Amber and Red lists.

Tim Alderslade, CEO of Airlines UK which represents British Airways amongst others, said it was “a further setback for an industry on its knees”.

The requirement for PCR testing on the return is another blow. Whilst the Government is formally sticking to its 17th May re-opening date, in reality it is putting up significant hurdles for travellers, particularly for more price-sensitive travellers. The issue would be alleviated if NHS tests are accepted, although this is extremely unlikely.

You can read the full Government report here (PDF).

Comments (188)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • meta says:

    The linking of passports to PLF won’t happen until the autumn according to the report! So no egates till then.

  • TGLoyalty says:

    They’ll just open the egate and let people through if it’s too much

    • Pete M says:

      I wish they were doing that every time now – often not the case and the queues are really horrendous!

      • The Streets says:

        There were two immigration officers at Heathrow for over 100 incoming travellers last Sunday.. waited more than 2 hours. madness

  • James Vickers says:

    Will they accept NHS tests do we think on return? I imagine they won’t encourage it but because of my job I often have up to 10 NHS PCR test kits at home as I complete them each week.

    • Jonathan says:

      No chance.
      Best you can hope for is the government allow spare Test & Trace capacity to be used at a lower cost than currently available privately.

      I’m in AZ vaccine trial so already send off weekly PCR’s to the NHS labs but I don’t agree I should be able to use these for travel as it’s unfair on those without access.

      • TGLoyalty says:

        they use the exact same (lighthouse) labs don’t they?

        It’s the process that gets the swab to the lab and processes the result that’s NHS vs private?

        At the end of the day there’s no reason Couldn’t sell it for travel at a more reasonable cost right now but imagine if cases did spike they’d have to revert to NHS only again so it’s not really a manageable service long term.

        • Mr. AC says:

          Actually once you pay the required £210 currently you just get 2 standard NHS kits in the mail. Nothing on the kits suggest they’re private. You also get e-mail from NHS with the result.

          The way it currently works is you have to show a receipt for the paid tests on the border, so having 10 kits at home wouldn’t help.

          • TGLoyalty says:

            Well, well, well didn’t know that

            “NHS” Track and Trace though

        • Tariq says:

          If there was another spike then they’d just retract liberties and travel again, so problem soilved.

          • TGLoyalty says:

            That time has passed (unless vaccine stops reducing severe illness)

          • Peter Johnston says:

            The only “spike” is when politicians invent figures to further their own agendas. It’s all fake.

    • Jo says:

      No. My husband went back to uk we had to buy a test kit to be delivered at his address at the cost of £200. When he got to customs they wanted proof of purchase as people have been putting NHS test kit reference which is not excepted

  • TGLoyalty says:

    Under 11’s will still be exempt from the pre departure tests ?

    The free NHS lateral flow should be able to be used pre departure so no need to spend £35 on the Qurad tests.

    • Rob says:

      How would that work exactly? The whole point of the Qured test is that you are watched via video camera whilst you take it so they can issue you with a certificate when you send a photo of the test.

      Are you meant to take the NHS test in your hotel room and then take the little tube to the airport check-in desk and wave it at the staff, whilst promising that it was honestly your saliva on it?

      • TGLoyalty says:

        Like all of these things … on honesty

        All of the school children etc doing self testing at home is asked to do the same thing

        It’ll be backed up by day 2 PCR test (which can be done by mail right now and be anyone’s saliva too)

        • will says:

          If it’s done on honesty, its a waste of time. Many people with symptoms facing uncertainty around refunds/rebooking for a positive test result will just submit a corrupt sample.

          Many non symptomatic will also be tempted to send corrupt sample.

          We either need rigorous testing or don’t bother with it at all.

          Presumably spraying a bit of pure alcohol on the swap after sampling would be enough to get a clear test?

          • TGLoyalty says:

            As I said the mail in day 2 and day 8 tests are already done on honesty it’s your saliva and not someone else’s!

          • Yuff says:

            Or you could do what they did in Mallorca last week and get a dodgy German doctor to issue negative PCR tests to get back to Germany……….no testing required by said Doctor

    • meta says:

      Document explicitly says that NHS tests won’t be accepted.

      • TGLoyalty says:

        Which document has been published?

        • meta says:

          Global Task Force one referenced in the article. Page 10 (12 in PDF) point 26.

          • TGLoyalty says:

            That sounds like PCR won’t be accepted on Day 2 “ NHS tests at no cost for those with symptoms will not be permitted for use in international travel. Travellers must source tests13 from the approved list of providers and at the appropriate times as outlined in the table above.”

            Lateral flow tests are Tests for those with no symptoms.

    • Tom H says:

      Where does it say that? I can’t see that refd in the document?

      • Tom H says:

        Sorry that is regarding the testing of children, I see no age limit documented

        • TGLoyalty says:

          It doesn’t that’s why I asked if it was going to be exempt as per today where under 11’s are exempt from pre departure testing etc

  • Simon says:

    My father lives in the States with joint UK and US citizenship. Presumably if I can find out his NHS number, and assuming the US is on the green list, it looks like he can visit after 17 May if (i) I post him a lateral flow test to complete before departure and he logs that on the NHS website and (ii) he completes a test within 48 hours of arrival, which we might be able to request through test & trace. (I know we should’t be able to do, but they are under capacity at the moment so it’s easy to say you have a symptom and request one.) Or will they really only accept private sector tests?

    • TGLoyalty says:

      The NHS PCR test won’t be accepted in day 2, it has to be a specific day 2 test which is sequenced.

      The lateral flow might but honestly they cost £30-40 just buy one in the US and save the hassle of posting a test to the USA and the risk of it being damaged.

      • Simon says:

        True. thank you.
        Next question is how long this will go on for, for green list countries…

        • TGLoyalty says:

          I think it’ll be until Atleast end of July/early August.

          Phase 1 won’t all have their 2nd jab until July 15th or so and then it takes 2-3 weeks for full effect to kick in.

    • Kay Melville says:

      In answer to your last question…. yes they will only accept tests from a list of testers. After you pay for your day 2 and day 7 tests they send you a code which has to be inserted in your passenger locator form.
      I have no idea how people are able to come in with incomplete PLFs as you are sent a QR code which should be shown at check in before your flight.

  • ChrisW says:

    The faffing around to find expensive tests will be the reason most people don’t take a foreign vacation this summer.

    • Rhys says:

      Yep. The government is making it look like they are sticking to their 17th May reopening whilst simultaneously making travel as difficult as possible…..

      • Anna says:

        On the plus side it might mean quieter airports for those of who who decide it’s worth the cost and faff (not quite decided yet!). On the downside, your holiday is likely to be cancelled if not enough people book for the same reasons.

      • Mikeact says:

        @Rhys….so as an armchair expert what would you do in the Government’s shoes ? I’m no expert, but I see no easy options at all for travel overseas.

        • Nathan says:

          Good. I love to travel. I enjoy not only warm sunny days next to a foreign beach and chilly snowy ones on a piste, but rainy damp bushwhacking ones and the relative deprivations of ‘adventure’ expeditions. I do, however, draw the line before cruises.
          Nevertheless, these are choices with a cost. Choosing to travel this summer may be more expensive than previous halcyon days of low cost operators squeezing their margins and of their suppliers until the pips audibly squeak. Tough beans. Pay the Piper or don’t go.
          Frankly, I were the government implementing a ‘risk-based approach’ then international leisure travel would be off the cards completely until the autumn at minimum.

        • Rhys says:

          It was disappointing to see that even arrivals from green list countries would need a PCR test. I think everyone in the travel industry was hoping for lateral flow testing, especially now that anyone can request free tests from A lateral flow before departure, on day 2 and day 5, say, would get around the lower reliability of LFDs whilst offering a low costs option.

  • will says:

    It’s in the travel industry’s interest to get compliance with testing sorted.

    Surely they can all bang their heads together with gov/NHS and come up with some way of creating test centres away from airports, around the country that you attend within 48 hours of a flight, give your passport for ID verification, they take the sample required and guarantee a 48 hour result and if anyone in your party tests positive you’re automatically given the choice of a refund/rebooking.

    You could even sell standby tickets like this, get a test without a flight booked and be offered standby flights/holidays generated from people who fail the test and need to cancel.

    Surely if it’s done at scale like that then the costs could be reasonable?

    Presumably there’s VAT/profit on this for private companies, gov need to really make these a cost price no tax implementation if they want to make travel both as safe as possible and as affordable as possible.

    • TGLoyalty says:

      Between Expresstest and collinson you have centres at nearly every major U.K. airport.

      • will says:

        I don’t personally see how you could administer tests at the airport for the volume of travellers who will be needing them for leisure travel, plus you really don’t want covid positive people to be mingling with covid negative people infecting them before they depart around the world.

        • Ottavio Nuccio says:

          But it’s fine then that they are all mixed for hours and hours at the immigration at LHR T2and T5? Red list countries and the rest. “Negative” ones with photoshopped tests, honest negative ones. All togehter with arrivals from red list countries in the same area. 1/3 of them with either the mask under their chins or at least not nose covered. And police standing next to the queues and laughing.

          • Sideshow Bob says:

            @Ottavio And you know that how? Personal experience?

          • Ottavio Nuccio says:

            No in my case for photoshopped tests but all the rest yes, I’m afraid. Last time on March 28th and next times May 16th, June 17th.

    • Rhys says:

      The NHS has the capacity for 750,000 PCR tests daily, but is currently using less than half that capacity.

      • will says:

        Wow, an opportunity there do actually bill travellers something reasonable. Surely there’s a cost in having the capacity there not being used?

      • Ryan Gill says:

        Do you think the Uae has a good chance of being on the green list by the 17th May? It’s currently red, maybe as has hub airports.

      • Callum says:

        Perhaps the NHS would prefer to take advantage of that extra capacity and redeploy resources to help with the huge backlog of medical appointments instead of making your foreign holiday a bit cheaper?

        • Rhys says:

          I imagine the vast majority of people and resources involved with PCR testing are not the same as those involved in day-to-day operations. A lab technician is unlikely to help with someone’s hip replacement.

          • Callum says:

            A lab technician is actually very likely to help with someone’s hip replacement.

            I don’t expect you to be a medical expert, but you cannot seriously believe that a patient would go through a procedure of that magnitude without undergoing any lab testing!

          • Rhys says:

            I doubt the bottleneck with hip replacements is the lab capacity!

          • Callum says:

            Interesting that you’re doubling down on your ridiculous point…

            There are a huge variety of procedures that require lab testing, and for many people, the quicker the results can come back the better. I’m not claiming that every member of staff is capable of doing every test, but a good number of them would be more useful to the NHS elsewhere instead of helping you get abroad cheaper.

            I also cannot speak for all locations, but the actual testing is being done by medical staff in my area. Putting them back in hospital wards is also an obvious benefit.

          • Rhys says:

            If the NHS really is using front line staff to stick cotton buds up people’s noses then I think we have a bigger problem 🙂

            However, it’s not a terrible idea. The government has the infrastructure and capacity in place to offer PCR testing and I imagine it has also achieved greater economies of scale than the many, smaller testing providers.

            It wouldn’t be the stupidest idea in the world to use some of that capacity for commercial purposes – and you could charge a fee, for example, to travellers. If the government can turn around a PCR test for £50 vs £100+ for private companies then frankly I think it should.

          • Jonathan says:

            I’ve disagreed with Rhys on a few things related to Covid but I think he’s right here. As someone directly involved in these operations & clearing the huge backlog, lab capacity is not causing us any delays. It’s availability of nursing/medical staff & their willingness to work every weekend in addition to usual commitments when we’ve been doing that already for a year & it’s only worth a 1% pay rise.

            Frontline staff are burnt out & it’s a lot harder to get yourself motivated for 10 hours of elective operating than it was to deal with the acute Covid crisis which genuinely felt like a war zone at times.

            Unfortunately there’s no quick solution when it takes 3 years to train a nurse & a minimum 14 years to train a surgeon/anaesthetist to consultant level.

          • bazza says:

            No, the NHS is understaffed all areas. There will be much more important things for them to be doing. I know many Lab techs who could do with an extra pair or hands.

  • Stu N says:

    I think you’d have to be off your head to want to travel for leisure for foreseeable future. Too much cost, hassle and uncertainty. We’ve given up all prospect of going away this year, even a trip in Sept/ Oct looks more like wishful thinking at the moment.

    At least this opens things up for people who don’t “need” to travel for work or family reasons but have a very strong desire to do so. So that’s something, I suppose.

    • Pete M says:

      I mean, frankly, you’ve always been able to do that. The testing cost has been the practical deterrent and that’s basically not changing!

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

The UK's biggest frequent flyer website uses cookies, which you can block via your browser settings. Continuing implies your consent to this policy. Our privacy policy is here.