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 Unfortunately, the list of countries in each category will not be published until nearer 17th May.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

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.

  • The Streets says:

    It’s day 5 of my return to the UK and i am still waiting for my day 2 and day 8 tests to be sent to me.. absolute joke. Government call me everyday telling me its a legal requirement but they are aware of the delays. No idea how they will cope when this scales up in the coming months

  • Sam says:

    The main argument is that international travel should never be encouraged without an effective herd immunity nor a complete coverage over effective vaccination in the countries people travel from. The purpose of the NHS test is to test people with symptoms and detect any potential domestic infection, not to test people coming from abroad. Recognising NHS test result for people from abroad clearly defects the purpose of the service and the fact that it is free of charge would encourage more people to travel abroad and come back and expose the country with higher risk of transmission from abroad. This is clearly not the intention of setting up this traffic light system.

    • Bobbie Bingo says:

      Probably one of the few sensible comments left here.

      The gov has made a lot poor decisions, but to not learn from history a third time would be the worst.

      Many of us want to travel and have lost a lot more than “River cruises” or £130 meals as some readers elude to.

      If the system was easy and allowed en masse tourism then we’d be in a serious issue of not being able to prevent a variant. The biggest fear of any epediemologist is vaccine escape or “resistance” to the lay person. If such a thing spreads where people can travel, pick it up and bring home whilst this country hasn’t even got herd immunity, the pubs would be shut again we’d be back to square one.

      The reason for multiple high quality test is pretty simple. Not all countries do genomic testing and not all testing regimes are useful. Yes there are a lot of flaws but at least a test after 3/4 days gives a bit of space to react and shut down a transmission route.

    • Harry T says:

      Let’s not pretend dear old Grant actually had an objective or plan when he made this system – why would he break the habit of a lifetime?

      There will always be variants, so I think focusing all policy making on a theoretical risk of vaccine resistance is short sighted. At some point, we have to cautiously open the economy and travel. The job of government is to find a balance between strict, paranoid caution and wanton, libertarian abandon. They haven’t managed it before and I’ll sure they will screw it up this summer.

      The reason the government doesn’t want people using free NHS testing is because that doesn’t efficiently line the pockets of their chums.

      • JDB says:

        If you do some rough sums, I don’t think many of the ‘chums’ are going to be making a lot of money out of private testing. On the other hand, the millions of people who can’t contemplate/afford to go on holiday would rightly be horrified that the government was effectively paying towards other people’s holidays. If NHS testing capacity were to be used for holiday tests, it could only fairly be on a paying basis.

        • Rhys says:

          The Government subsidised people’s meals out last year!

          • JDB says:

            Rhys, you are better than that! I think rather more people can afford a £10 meal than a holiday. It was clearly an offer open to the vast majority of the population and to support a major employment sector.

          • Rhys says:

            The UK’s hospitality industry is also a massive employer.

            You also have to look at the cost of furlough vs the cost of providing cheap or free tests to arrivals. It might be cheaper to offer arriving tourists free tests vs financially supporting airlines and hotels with staff on furlough.

          • Sandra says:

            The government may have subsidised meals out last year but it’s not actually the government that will pay for it. I imagine we will shortly be refunding the government government contribution via higher taxes.

    • Nathan says:

      Well said Sir 👏

      • Nathan says:

        👏 ^ was for Sam, not Rhys (who I suspect has eaten contaminated cornflakes this morning)

    • C says:

      Agreed with you. I guess the gov is also aware of that hence try to make travel as unpalatable as possible. Clearly a difficult balance for them to strike. If people want to go ahead then they should foot the testing bill themselves rather than using free NHS testing which is unfair to the general public. It is one thing to use NHS testing and another thing if you pay for that service. The current return from abroad testings are indeed from NHS but you pay £210 for the service and they do recognise this “paid for” NHS results – I used this few weeks ago. I cannot agree more that testing must be mandatory otherwise the virus will spread like wild fire in just short time span. If I travelled abroad in coming weeks/months, I would accept any testing requirements imposed given that’s my choice and I am aware of them when I book for the travel. I certainly won’t want my personal travel to be the cause of the next national lockdown that affects everyone!

  • BrianTGP says:

    Just to correct the wording on here, the Snp cannot restrict foreign travel. I’d travel within Scotland and or rest of UK is allowed then people in Scotland can go on hol. What they can do is make any quarantine requirements more punitive.

    • BrianTGP says:

      If* not I’d

    • Bobbie Bingo says:

      The SNP is a party. The Scottish Gov makes the decisions. They need support from other parties to prop up their abysmal agenda.

  • Rebecca says:

    Are countries on the “green” list also ones that will let Brits in? At the moment there’s very restricted entry for third country nationals in much of EU, for example. UK passport holders are unlikely to be allowed into many Schengen countries for non-essential reasons by May, given a number of places including France, Spain and Italy are implementing or extending lockdowns just now.

  • Mark says:

    Got flights to Vegas booked for the end of may. Fingers crossed!!

    • Bobbie Bingo says:

      On behalf of hospitality sector in the UK I will be crossing my fingers that the flights won’t go ahead.

  • Dave says:

    Clearly the Govt is pretending it wants to let us travel while making it as difficult and expensive as possible. I guess al their rich donor mates will be fine though!

    • JDB says:

      Since most of the things discussed on this site are fairly plutocratic, the occasional “rich donor mates” type jibes seem rather misplaced. I don’t think the person on a median salary is worrying too much about credit card retention bonuses, whether club seats to the Maldives will be released or the best hotel in Dubai. There is probably a more modern version of ‘champagne socialism’ / hypocrisy but at least it is alive and well.

      • Harry T says:

        There’s a wide chasm between shrewd middle class points accumulation and further enriching wealthy Tory donors and chums. For example, I probably earn well over the UK median salary, but I’m not about to make a few more million selling PPE to the NHS due to knowing Matt Hancock from the pub.

        • JDB says:

          I refer you to the concept sometimes attributed to George Bernard Shaw or Churchill – “Now we’re just haggling over the price”. Calling to pretend you want to cancel your credit card to get a bung, MS, friendly PPE contracts. Where is the line?

          • Nathan says:

            @JDB a much used phrase employed most appropriately 👏

            I think you might find that original attribution is to Lord Beaverbrook. Nevertheless, my mind settled immediately upon Churchill when thinking of it and I recall it being Shaw for my American friends.

    • Yuff says:

      It’s a fine act to balance as whatever the Government do there will always be people looking to find a loophole, some try a lot harder than others.
      At palma airport last week I was sitting next to British family in a cafe, who weren’t travelling to the UK as they didn’t board my flight, but I could here them discussing a way to help their friends go abroad and use the Stanley Johnson clause. I have no idea if that was what they were doing. All this does is just make it harder for people with genuine reasons to travel.
      It is similar to what people do when the government change tax laws and some people try very hard to find a way round it.

      • Lady London says:

        absolutely @Yuff.
        I personally got badly hit by all of this when I had to do some energency essential travel in February.

        The fact that the Government finally got its act together to try to stop travel – which was a good thing but far, far too late – and chose to make it not just conplicated but expensive beyond any reasonable value just made an already difficult, almost impossible genuinely exempt situation much, much worse

  • Michael C says:

    Has anyone a comparison between BA and AA in WTP/Premium for flights to Boston/NYC? BA a little cheaper.

    • Nick says:

      AA is generally considered a better W product, but not by a massive amount so it really depends how much more expensive it is. The AA product is newer.

      Of course the smart move would be to book the cheaper one on BA on a flight that’s likely to be cancelled, and when it is move free of charge to the AA flight under JB reprotection rules.

  • Mikeact says:

    Could be worse…look at what the Irish government have just announced.
    A total of 59 countries on their Red list, each one requiring hotel stay on return, including France, Austria, Belgium, US, Canada, Israel and the list goes..

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