As of May 17th 2021, international travel from the UK is finally back on the cards — but not without some regulations. 

In this guide, we’ll break down the UK’s new traffic light system and what it means for your travel plans.

So let’s start with the basics…

What is the UK’s traffic light system and how does it work?


As you’ve probably seen by now, the UK’s traffic light system divides countries up into three lists: green, amber and red

Each list has its own set of rules for travelling into the UK. But that’s not to say that these rules and regulations are all that easy to follow.

The higher COVID risk a country poses, the more restrictions apply — with the green list having the least restrictions, and the red list having the most. Here’s a complete run through of each list and its requirements. 

The red list 

Red list countries are places you shouldn’t travel to, except in extreme circumstances or due to work-related exemptions. You can click here for a full list of red list countries, which include the UAE, India and South Africa. 

If you have been in a red list country in the 10 days before you arrive in the UK — even for a flight connection — you will not be allowed to enter unless you are:

  • A British or Irish National
  • Or have residence rights in the UK

Even then, all travellers arriving in the UK from a red list country must:

  1. Take a COVID-19 test and get a negative result no more than 3 days before your departure to the UK 

Before boarding your flight, train or boat back to the UK, you will be asked to show proof of a negative test result taken in the country you have visited. If you can’t do that, you may not be able to board.

Click here for full guidance on pre-departure testing for returning to the UK. 


  1. Book a managed quarantine hotel and two COVID-19 tests


If you are returning from a red list country, and aren’t exempt because of your job or compassionate grounds, you must quarantine in a government-approved managed quarantine hotel for 10 full days. 

You must also pay for two private coronavirus tests — one to take on or before day 2 of your quarantine, and one to take on or after day 8. These tests must be taken within your quarantine hotel.

If you test positive, your quarantine will be extended. If you test negative, you must continue with your quarantine regardless (the ‘Test to Release’ scheme is not available for passengers arriving from red list countries).

Please note: you must book your quarantine hotel within 14 days before returning to the UK using the government’s online booking portal


  1. Complete a Passenger Locator Form with details of where you will quarantine when you arrive

Passenger Locator Forms must be filled in at least 48 hours before you arrive in the UK. 

On the form, you’ll be asked to provide a quarantine package invoice number, as well as booking references of the two COVID tests you’ll be taking during quarantine. You must book these with a private test provider, like Corona Test Centre. 

You’ll need to show your Passenger Locator Form when you board your flight to the UK — bookmark this page for when you need it later.

The amber list

Much like red list countries, you should only travel to a country on the amber list for essential and/or exempt reasons. These countries still pose significant COVID risks. 

Amber list countries include the USA, Canada, and most of Europe. You can click here for a full list of amber countries.   

Okay, so what’s the difference between red and amber countries when travelling?

If returning from an amber list country, you are not required to book a stay at a managed quarantine hotel. Instead, you must quarantine at home. 

Here’s what you’ll need to do when travelling to the UK from an amber list country: 

  • Take a private COVID test during the 3 days before you travel 
  • Book and pay for two private COVID tests to take during your quarantine
  • Complete your Passenger Locator Form with details of where you’ll be quarantining 
  • Begin your 10-day home quarantine as soon as you arrive in the UK
  • Take a COVID-19 test on or before day 2 and on or after day 8 of your quarantine
  • You can leave the house to perform your tests and then end your quarantine when you have confirmed your test results with NHS Test & Trace.

Amber travellers can also make use of a scheme called ‘Test to Release’ — for the opportunity to leave quarantine on day 5, instead of 10. A ‘Test to Release certificate’ is granted by a private healthcare provider, confirming that you have tested negative for coronavirus and can therefore end your home quarantine early.

Click here for full guidance on traveling to the UK from an amber list country. 


The green list

Ready for some good news? 

If a country is on the green list, it means you can travel to it for a non-essential reason without needing to quarantine when you return to the UK. In other words: if you want to take a holiday, you can do so in a green list country — so long as their national regulations let you. 

You can click here for a full list of green list countries, which includes Portugal and Singapore. 

What do you need to do when travelling from a green list country back to the UK?

There are still some restrictions in place when travelling to the UK from a green list country. 

You must: 

  • Take a private COVID-19 test during the 3 days before you travel back to the UK
  • Book and pay for an additional test to be taken when you’re home — and be prepared to self-isolate if you test positive
  • Complete a Passenger Locator Form.

You must take your private COVID test no later than 2 days after your arrival in the UK. 

If you test negative then happy days. If you test positive, you must still self-isolate for 10 full days and follow all national guidelines. 


What happens if I also visited a red or amber list country on my travels? 

If you have also been in a red or amber list country during the 10 days before you arrive in the UK from a green list country, you must follow the rules of the highest risk list — even if you were just connecting or transiting through the red or amber list location.

What else do you need to consider when travelling to the UK from abroad?


The traffic light system isn’t just about testing and quarantining. You’ll also need to bear in mind other considerations, too, such as… 

The unpredictability of international travel 

COVID is always changing — and that means the UK’s traffic light system will, too. Every three weeks the government will review the lists and potentially change countries from one list to another. 

This means your travel plans might have to change at the last minute. 

You could also test positive for COVID at any stage during your journey, which could potentially prevent you from returning to the UK as planned. 

The restrictions in other countries 

Just because a country is on the UK’s green list doesn’t mean you can necessarily travel there. Take Australia and New Zealand, for example. Both are on the green list here in the UK but their borders aren’t open to Brits — not unless they have an exemption visa. 

That’s why you should check the entry requirements of any country before you travel — regardless of what UK list it’s on. The Corona Test Centre team has created a one-stop information base, covering all the essential details. Check it out here.

Likely delays to travel 

Do you enjoy queuing? Then you’ll love travelling during the pandemic! The amount of regulations to follow and paperwork to check means waits and delays are likely. 

Be prepared for this when you travel — pack a book to read as you stand in line! — and make sure you arrive at the airport in good time to get ahead of any delays. 

Your health and personal risk level

If you’re shielding or vulnerable then you may want to wait a little longer before flying off to a green list country. They’re on the green list for a reason, sure. But no country can be 100% risk-free right now when it comes to COVID. 

Your vaccination status

Being vaccinated doesn’t change anything when travelling to the UK. But depending on what country you’re travelling to, you might need proof of your vaccination status. You can get this through the NHS website, app or by calling 119

Don’t be tempted by a fake COVID passport. These could land you in some serious trouble and put you, your personal data and others at significant risk.

The traffic light system in action — examples of what you’ll need to do when travelling in and out of the UK


Here’s an example of how the green, amber and red lists work in action. 

Travelling to and back from a red list country 

Let’s say you need to travel to South Africa. Based on South Africa’s entry requirements, you’ll need to: 

When returning to the UK, you’ll need to: 

  • Take a COVID test and get a negative result 3 days before you leave South Africa
  • Book a quarantine hotel and two private COVID tests within 14 days before returning to the UK (on or before day 2 and on or after day 8)
  • Complete a Passenger Locator Form in the 48 hours before you arrive in the UK
  • Upon arrival, quarantine for 10 full days in a government-approved hotel 
  • Only leave quarantine once you have confirmed your negative results with NHS Test & Trace.

Remember to check back with our ‘Destinations’ hub for all the latest travel requirements.

 

Travelling to and back from an amber list country 

France is one of the most popular amber list countries.  

If you choose to travel to France, you’ll need to:

As always, these details are subject to frequent change. Rather than spending hours searching the web for the latest developments, bookmark our France travel guide instead.

When returning to the UK from France, you’ll need to: 

  • Take a COVID test and get a negative result 3 days before you leave France
  • Book two private COVID tests to take during your quarantine
  • Complete your Passenger Locator Form with details of where you’ll be quarantining 
  • Begin your 10-day home quarantine as soon as you arrive in the UK
  • Take a COVID-19 test on or before day 2 and on or after day 8 of your quarantine
  • Only leave quarantine once you have confirmed your results with NHS Test & Trace.

‘Test to Release’ is also available for travellers returning from an amber list country like France. This is an additional test you can take no earlier than 5 days after arriving back to the UK — if you test negative, you can end your quarantine early.



Travelling to and back from a green list country 

If you want to take a holiday in the Balearic islands, for example, you’ll need to follow their COVID restrictions. These include: 

  • Completing an online passenger locator card before your arrival 
  • Presenting a negative RT-PCR COVID test result taken within 72 hours of departure
  • Undergo a health screening at the airport
  • Self isolate for 14 days if you have arrived from a ‘high risk’ area (at the time of writing, this includes any EU member state where the COVID-19 incidence rate exceeds 500 per 100,000 inhabitants, and India, South Africa or Brazil).

When returning to the UK, you’ll need to: 

  • Take a private COVID-19 test during the three days before you leave for the Balearic islands
  • Book and pay for an additional private test to be taken no later than two days after your arrival in the UK (you must self-isolate at home for 10 full days if your test is positive) 
  • Complete a Passenger Locator Form.

You can browse a full — and totally up to date — list of all the UK’s green countries right here via the Corona Test Centre website.


Common Q&As about the UK’s traffic light system 


Got a question about the traffic light system? We might just have the answer…

Can I book free NHS COVID tests to travel?


No. NHS tests are not available for travel purposes. You’ll need a ‘Fit to Fly’ certificate, which only private testing services can provide.

Where can I get COVID tests for international travel?

You’ll need to book your tests with a reputable private test provider for each phase of your trip. 

Here at Corona Test Centre, we can provide you with: 

Each of our tests are quick, accurate, fully-approved and professionally-administered. 

Does the traffic light system apply to all of the UK?

Yes. As it stands, the green, amber and red list applies to each of the UK nations: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Ready for departure?

The reopening of international travel is good news for everyone. But it’ll be a while before COVID regulations are dropped entirely. Travel responsibly, follow the rules, and COVID-free travel will come around sooner rather than later.

Book your private COVID tests with us to start your journey.