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

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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 Unfortunately, the list of countries in each category will not be published until nearer 17th May.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.”

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.

  • TimM says:

    I see this as a last grasp to give private sector facilities, owned by those well-connected to the Conservative Party, the last few billion in their troughs on the day that UCL have declared herd immunity for the UK population.

    Requiring a private PCR test for a double-vaccinated traveller from a low-risk country is nothing short of daylight robbery. If the Government would like the data, they should ask politely and pay compensation to the volunteers.

    How many more billionaires, with no prior relevant experience, will Covid make in the UK?

    • Travel Strong says:

      Whilst I agree, I suspect this will be far from the last hurrah. A good crisis like this only comes along once in a lifetime, so it will be squeezed for every last drop!

    • ChrisW says:

      Agreed. If PCR tests will be required for double vaccinated travellers from low risk countries this summer then they will be required forever (or at least until a cure for covid is found) so much better, cheaper and easier testing options should be established now.

      I fear the days of £9 Ryanair flights to Europe are long gone when you add in the testing costs.

    • Lady London says:

      You missed out “Requiring a private PCR test *obligatory to pre-pay to a named “approved” supplier at more than 2x the price for same test in other countries*….is daylight robbery on LSD.

  • Mart says:

    We’ve had both doses of Pfizer vaccine prepared to travel ,just let us know what we need to do clearly thanks boris

    • Boris says:

      Mart, you need to make sure you keep me and my chums in power.
      That is all. Hope that was clear enough for you.

    • kitten says:

      Not so fast mart. First, hand over your wallet….

  • Zoe says:

    Hi all,
    Finger in the air time… anybody watching Dominican Republic currently? I have a holiday booked and trying to figure out if it is likely to be green. Vaccination programme appears to be going well.

    • David says:

      I’ve switched from the Dominican Republic to Mexico with 10 days in the states before returning just in case.

      • Zoe says:

        Thanks. Part of me is waiting for the green list and if that means paying a bit more to go to a different Caribbean island then I am all for it.

  • Mr E says:

    For all the talk of traffic lights, the only really new thing here is the intorduction of green countries. They are trying to discourage travel to amber countries so I can;t see much changing.

    Let’s assume Greece falls into the amber list.

    To go in summer as an unvaccinated person I will need

    £100 PCR before I go
    £35 Qured Lateral Flow while I am out there
    £150 PCR package for days two and eight after I get back
    £100 PCR on day 5 for test to release

    That’s £385 pp in testing on a fairly conservative estimate if I want the shorter quarantine or £285 otherwise.

    Let’s assume you go to a green list country. They are still likely to want £100 PCR test before you arrive. The UK wants a PCR on your return plus the lateral flow pre-departure. So £235 per person.

    In other words, there’s only about £50 difference in testing cost between a green or amber country if you are happy to quarantine for 10 days, or £150 if you are not.

    I was kind of hoping they would simplify things for amber passengers. It would be more sensible to just say you have to do 5 days of quarantine with a test on day 5. Given how sensitive they are I dare say a tiny % of passengers will have a +ve PCR on day 8 if they were -ve on days 2 and 5!

    • Chrisasaurus says:

      I would think the number of unvaccinated people wanting to travel in the summer would be pretty small

      And the number of them allowed in to the countries they wish to travel to smaller still

      • peter says:

        Yeah, every British city needs to prepare now for stags/hens who would normally fly to Magaluf etc. Great for economy though.

      • TGLoyalty says:

        Really? You think all of the 18-35 year old aren’t dying to leave for sun. Sea and … this summer vaccinated or not!

        • CH says:

          I guess the +£235 to +£385 (as per above) would be the rate-limiting step to that

          • TGLoyalty says:

            Clearly having the vaccine or not makes no difference to that.

            I feel like a lot of people are fallen for this vaccine passport narrative the media have been peddling.

  • peter says:

    I wish it could work as well as in theory.. but I expect a lot of troubles with it, fake tests, fake documents – let’s be honest if the traffic picks up to anywhere near where it was 2 years ago and security struggled just to check passports/visas.. now all the tests, previous stays, countries visited.. Or everyone flying with Etihad/Emirates and pretending they’ve holidayed in UAE.. – especially when airlines sometimes offer free stop-over 🙂

    • Anna says:

      Security at MAN are going to be giddy with excitement at all these new reasons to cause stress and delay for pax.

    • meta says:

      No one is going to holiday in the Middle East this summer at 50+ degrees.

  • Char Char says:

    I expect Europe to be green by June once their numbers drop in countries that had a late 1st/2nd wave

    • Rob says:

      Europe is going to overtake the UK in vaccination by the end of July looking at current volumes, according to the papers today. It appears we may even need to beg Europe for vaccines to do the 2nd jabs which must be done on set dates. This is due to the Dutch AZ production now all going to the EU and the Indian flow not restarting as expected.

    • Chris Heyes says:

      Char Char I’m sure green peace will be glad of your news WOW Europe will be Green by June
      Most people thought it would take years if not centuries to become “Green”

  • Freddy says:

    Am I right in thinking under 12’s don’t need to be tested?

  • Ottavio Nuccio says:

    So many scam companies on the GOV approved list. Hav to travel monthly for work to Austria. This was (is) my 8th quarantine, but my forst one with these compulsory PCR tests. Booked from Nowtest (now removed from list), completely scam.
    Received test kit, did day 2 test on March 30th an day 8 test on April 5th, and still no results, not even from day 2. This is supposed to be Day 12 now. Reported to Action Fraud and Trade Standards and opened a chargeback procedure via BA AMEX. Was called every single day from the quanartine checkers telling me that I have to stay at home even after day 10 if no results can be provided. I wonder how many people stay in quarantine after those 10 days. I’m sonner in Vienna again at the end of April than the arrival of the results.
    This extra testing is of no use compared to only self isolation like it was before Feb 15th, as I was unable to provide any infection with COVID or not.
    In Austria all kind of tests, even PCR, are free. Of, course the taxpayer pays for that, but what a difference to the only money orientated UK. Exemptions for regular work abroad to come back to the UK at least without extra testing (I don’t mind staying always 10 days at home) are only on a weekly basis by showing a seasonal card. Has anyone ever seen a seasonal flight card, beside some carnet offers of 10 tickets? Not everyone takes just the Eurostar to work in Paris or Brussels to perhaps show a weekly evidence. It should be extended to work abroad on a monthly basis. Anyway congrats for your vaccine rollout and for the constantly decreasing numbers now. It shows how it works. Well done.

    • John says:

      I hope your job is worth it

      • Ottavio Nuccio says:

        Radio presenter in a nationwide network since 1998. If I end up in a quarantine hotel I can either resign in order to remain happy with my wife and little daughter but unemployed in the UK or divorce in order to stay in Austria and not having to deal with it anymore. I’m just going to work and my 77 yo mother is alone there. I find the UK rules absoultely right and I really welcome self isolation at home or enforcing quarantine by regular checks. But it is simply too costly now with the mandatory tests. A real dilemma in my case. But I completely understand that every country needs to protect its citizens and residents and so I can only pray every day not to end up in a quarantine hotel.

    • Chris Jones says:

      I’m planning on returning to UK from Austria for a few days to attend a funeral. I hope I can avoid the 2+8 day test as will not stay long enough.

      • Ottavio Nuccio says:

        I read some comments on Trustpilot regarding various GOV approved private test providers and there were some of them coming back from funerals (not Austria now) but they as well complained of not having received their results back from day 2 or day 8, so I suppose that you really might as well end up with self isolation and day 2 , day 8 mandatory testing. But read the reviews on Trustpilot before paying. It really helps identifying the scammers.
        If it is a funeral of a family member then you can enter Austria without any testing or pre travel declaration form. And no quarantine of 10 days of course. But you need to show at the border an evidence of the death of the person in question. Just checked out of curiosity.

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