Should I travel abroad?

With international travel opening up again, many of us are looking forward to jetting off to foreign shores for a well-earned break, but what are the rules and risks of going abroad during the Covid-19 pandemic?

GoCompare author
Updated 05 August 2021  | 4 min read

Should I travel abroad?

With international travel opening up again, many of us are looking forward to jetting off to foreign shores for a well-earned break away.

But the landscape’s an uncertain one, with rules and advice for destinations changing on a regular basis - sometimes swiftly and without warning.

This means there's a very real possibility you’ll be forced to cancel your trip before you travel, curtail your holiday when you’re there or have to quarantine unexpectedly when you come home.

Then there’s the threat of catching Covid when you’re away to consider as well as the cost of Covid tests, which hike up the total price of your holiday.

How do I prepare for a holiday during the pandemic?

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) is advising against all but essential travel to some countries due to coronavirus risks. So be sure to check the latest FCDO travel advice for the country you intend to travel to before you book.

And keep checking. The advice could change again before you actually travel.

If the country is open to UK travellers, you’ll need to know its entry requirements.

These may include proof of vaccination, a negative coronavirus test or the need to quarantine, for example.

Check where your destination sits in the UK’s travel traffic light system that lists countries and territories worldwide as either red, amber or green. There’s also a ‘green watchlist’ category, which are the green countries at risk of changing to amber.

The colours don’t indicate where you can and cannot travel to for your holiday. Rather, the system tells you the specific entry requirements you’ll need to meet for your return to the UK depending on whether you’re travelling from a green, amber or red country.

These requirements include pre- and post-travel testing, quarantine and self-isolation.

The advice around travel may not tally between the traffic light system and FCDO advice. For example, a green-list or amber-list country may have FCDO advice against travel in place. And a country on the green list may not allow in visitors from the UK, or could have strict requirements for entry.

Currently, here’s what travellers arriving into England from countries on the red, amber and green lists need to do.

Different rules may apply for travellers arriving in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Rules for red list countries

You should not travel to countries on the red list for leisure. There are currently 60 countries on the red list including Brazil, Cuba, Egypt, Maldives, Pakistan and Zimbabwe.

Before arriving in England from a red list country you must:

  • Take a Covid-19 test
  • Book ahead and pay for a quarantine hotel package for a 10 day stay when you arrive in the UK at a cost of £1,750 per adult (from 12 August, the price will rise to £2,285 for a single adult and £1,430 for a second adult). The price includes two PCR tests for day two and eight of isolation.
  • Complete a passenger locator form to show at check-in to board your plane, train or ferry to the UK

Rules for amber list countries

There are 140 countries currently on the amber list including Belgium, Germany, Mexico, Russia, Sweden and Thailand.

Since 19 July, if you’re fully vaccinated or under 18, you don’t need to quarantine at home when you’ve been in an amber list country. Instead, you can follow rules for the green list countries. This update excludes people returning from France, who are still required to quarantine at home even if they’ve been double-jabbed.

If you’re not yet fully vaccinated (or will be returning from France) before travel you must:

  • Take a COVID-19 test
  • Book and pay for COVID-19 tests to be taken after arrival in England
  • Complete a passenger locator form

On arrival in England you must:

  • Quarantine at home for 10 days
  • Take COVID-19 tests on day two and eight

Rules for green list countries

There are 15 countries on the green list and 14 on the green watchlist meaning they are at risk of moving from green to amber.

Before arriving in England from a green list country you must:

  • Take a COVID-19 test
  • Book and pay for a COVID-19 test to be taken on or before day two after you arrive. You won’t need to quarantine unless the test result is positive.
  • Complete a passenger locator form

What’s the risk of booking a holiday abroad?

Things can change quickly during the pandemic, and the FCDO could change the status of your holiday destination and advise against travel before you leave the UK or while you’re on holiday. So there’s a real risk you may have to cancel or cut things short.

You can keep track of the latest information, entry requirements and travel warnings for the country you intend to visit on the government’s foreign travel advice page.

If a country is on the watchlist, it can move swiftly from one colour in the traffic light system to another too.

Risks are monitored by the UK government and the green, amber and red lists are reviewed every three weeks.

So, your holiday destination could hop from green to amber or from amber to red, for example, between the time of booking and your date of travel.

If there’s a sudden change in risk, a country can be moved between lists without warning.

So, you need to be prepared that this might happen when you’re on holiday. If your destination changes from amber to red, for example, you’ll be forced to fork out a small fortune to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days on your return to the UK.

You can sign up for an email alert which lets you know of changes to countries moving between red, amber and green.

Also, some airlines are now requiring proof of a negative Covid test, so you’ll need to check the rules for your specific travel provider too.

Will I be covered by my travel insurance policy?

Though most travel insurance companies have responded to demands to provide covid-cover add-ons to their policies, all of them will almost certainly place certain restrictions to claims. So be sure to read policies carefully.

Am I covered if I have to cancel for a positive test?

If you’ve been unable to obtain a refund from your travel, accommodation or payment provider, then 88% of single-trip travel insurance policies listed on Defaqto will cover the cost of your trip if you test positive before you travel. But check your policy or you could end up footing the bill for a holiday you can’t take.

What if I have to cancel if I’m pinged?

Here’s where you could really get stung. According to our research only a little over half (55%) of single-trip policies cover people forced to cancel a holiday if they are contacted by the NHS Covid Test and Trace service and told to self-isolate.

On 16 August 2021, the rules are set to change – people who are double-vaccinated in England will no longer have to self-isolate when they’re contacted.

Adding to the confusion is the uncertainty as to whether or not you are legally obligated to isolate if you’re contacted or ‘pinged’.

The lowdown is this: if you’re contacted by NHS Test and Trace you’re legally required to self-isolate for 10 full days and so wouldn’t be able to go on holiday if your departure date falls during that time.

But when you’re ‘pinged’ by the NHS Covid app, these isolation recommendations are not currently legally enforceable, though the NHS and government say people should self-isolate if pinged to prevent the spread of the virus.

What if the status of my holiday destination changes?

If the FCDO advises against travel to your holiday destination before you go (and you’ve been unable to claim cancellation costs from your travel and accommodation or payment provider) your insurer should cover the cost of your holiday if you want to cancel. This will be the case as long as the changes were announced after you booked your trip and before you leave on your holiday.

When you’re already on holiday and the advice changes, your policy should be valid for the duration of your trip under the same terms as when you took out the policy.

If your holiday destination changes from the green list to the amber or red list and if FCDO advice comes into place while you are on your trip and you have travel disruption cover, you will be covered to come home early.

But if there’s no FCDO advice against travel in place, and you want to return home early, you’ll need to contact your provider to consider your claim.

Just a handful of comprehensive travel policies will cover the costs for hotel quarantine in the UK if the country you’re in goes onto the red list unexpectedly during your stay.

Read the terms and conditions of your policy carefully before you travel to make sure you’re covered for eventualities that are important to you.

Is there anywhere that’s OK to travel to at the moment?

Countries on the green list of the UK’s traffic light system don’t require you to isolate on your return to the UK. But you still need to take a Covid test before you return and to book and pay for a test to be taken on or before day two after you arrive home.

You also need to check that a country is open to UK leisure visitors and what its particular entry requirements are.

What do I need to consider before travelling?

Isolation on arrival or return

Isolation requirements can add weeks to the length - and hike up the expense - of your holiday, so might not be a feasible option.

For example, some countries require that you isolate for up to 14 days on arrival if you haven’t been fully vaccinated.

Countries on the UK’s green list don’t require that you isolate on your return. But if you travel to a country on the amber list, you’ll need to isolate for 10 days when you get home.

If you’re returning from a country on the red list you’ll need to quarantine for 10 days in a hotel at a cost of £1,750 per adult (or £2,285 from 12 August).

The traffic light status of a country can change quickly. So you need to be prepared for the possibility that this might happen before you go away or even while you’re on holiday. A change in traffic light status could mean that you have to isolate on your return, though this hadn’t been in your plans

You should weigh up the risks and decide if this might be a deal-breaker before you book.

Your destination country’s rules

Countries around the world that are open to UK visitors have different entry requirements.

Some will allow you in when you show proof of a negative coronavirus test or have been vaccinated. Others will require that you isolate on arrival.

For example, to enter Malta you currently need to show proof that you have received both doses of the vaccination at least two weeks before your arrival. This applies to children aged 12- 18 too.

Children between the ages of five and 11 are exempt from this rule but they will need to show evidence of a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours before arrival in Malta. You also need to fill in the Passenger Locator Form and Public Health Declaration Form before travel.


Check the government’s foreign travel advice page for your destination to see if you require a visa to visit.

Check your passport has enough time left on it for the country you’re visiting. In many cases, your passport needs to be valid for a further three or six months from the date of departure from the country you are visiting.

GHIC card

If you’re travelling to the EU you can apply for a free Global Health Insurance Card. This card replaces the older European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). But if you already have an EHIC, it will still be valid as long as it remains in date. The GHIC (and EHIC) cards give you access to emergency state healthcare at a reduced cost or sometimes for free. It’s not an alternative to travel insurance and won’t cover you for eventualities such as being flown back to the UK due to ill health.

Cost of tests on top of travel

Factor in the cost of Covid tests you’ll need to take. It could end up adding a few hundred pounds to the price of your holiday, and make it unaffordable.

You can find travel test providers on the government website

It's also worth looking online, or speaking to your travel provider as some airlines may offer a slightly cheaper Covid test.

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