Post-Covid travel is now less testing as the rules get simpler

With the scrapping of the amber and green travel lists, the rules governing re-entry to the UK have finally been simplified.

Travel is finally becoming easier. The government has scrapped the amber and green travel lists in favour of a binary system that sees countries classed as either “red” or “rest of world”. Only seven destinations, all in Central and South America, are on the new red list. The changes mean that it is possible to get travel insurance for most countries once again. 

Foreign Office advice against “all but essential travel” to many red and amber list destinations had previously invalidated most travel-insurance policies. Before this week, a traveller voyaging to Mexico, South Africa or Thailand would have needed specialised insurance usually designed for people working in war zones. 

While the new system is simpler, you should still keep an eye on local Covid-19 numbers if your destination is at risk of being reclassified as red. Travellers returning from countries on the red list (currently Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Panama, Peru and Venezuela) still need to pay for an 11-night hotel quarantine. The price for a solo traveller is £2,285. 

Unvaccinated travellers returning from non-red list countries are still required to self-isolate for up to ten days upon return.  

Red list or non-red list?

If you are fully vaccinated and returning from a non-red list country (the case for most travellers), then life is now simpler: the requirement to take a pre-departure test has been scrapped, saving holidaymakers the headache of organising testing abroad when they would rather be relaxing on the beach. However, a test is still required on or before day two of arrival in the UK. 

Some countries (such as France) no longer require tests at all for incoming vaccinated travellers, says Rory Goulding in The Times. That means that it is possible to “get through the whole holiday process with only one test needed: the UK day two test”. 

Unfortunately, that test still needs to be a PCR test (the type that must be sent to a laboratory for analysis), which costs an average of £75 per person. Transport secretary Grant Shapps has said that come the half-term holidays it should be possible to replace that with a cheaper lateral-flow test (the ones that give a result on the spot in 30 minutes). 

As Ben Clatworthy and Matt Dathan note in The Times, such tests cost about £25 each, so the change could save a family of four roughly £200. No date has yet been announced for the rule change, but half-term begins for many schools on 22 October. Remember that the day two test must be booked before arrival in the UK and the supplier must be able to provide you with a booking reference, a code required to complete the government’s pre-arrival passenger locator form. 

It remains to be seen whether the devolved governments will follow Westminster’s lead on lateral-flow tests, says Goulding. Devolved administrations often grumble about changes but, with a few exceptions, “a ‘four nations’ approach has usually won out in the end” for Covid-19 entry rules. 

Britain is gradually re-opening its borders, but there is little coordination about travel rules internationally. So also remember to check if your destination country is as keen to let you in as you are to get away. 

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