Can I go on holiday to an amber list country right now?

May 20, 2021

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The U.K. government’s long-awaited unveiling of its traffic light system was great news for travel-starved Brits as the government also ended its worldwide ban on non-essential travel. But with the traffic light system, only 12 countries fell on the green list, while 43 are on the red list. In other words, the majority of foreign destinations are on the amber list.

If you travel to an amber list, on your return to the U.K., you must undergo a 10-day quarantine at home or at a place of your choosing such as your own hotel/Airbnb. You will also be required to pre-book and undergo two tests during your quarantine: one on day two and one on day eight.

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So, provided you are willing to undertake these measures on your return to the U.K., does this mean you are free to travel to an amber country right now for a holiday?

Related: Italy reopens to British tourists with a negative COVID-19 test result

Depending on which Member of Parliament you listen to, the messaging on travel to amber countries varies and is confusing.

“There will be reasons why people feel they need to travel either to visit family or indeed to visit friends but they then have to observe quarantine when they return,” Environment Secretary George Eustice said earlier this week.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has since said it was “Very important people grasp what the amber list is – not somewhere to go on holiday,” clarifying that travel to amber countries should be limited to “pressing family or business reasons.”

If you need to travel to France, for example, to visit your parents who you haven’t seen for more than a year, this would satisfy the Environment Secretary’s test, though would this be considered the “pressing” family reason the Prime Minister has suggested?

Rather than relying on these quotes from MPs to arrive at a decision, let’s look specifically at the official, written Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) advice.

From January 2021 to 16 May 2021, the U.K. government’s FCDO advice on travel was as follows:

“You must not travel, including abroad, unless you have a legally permitted reason to do so. It is illegal to travel abroad for holidays and other leisure purposes.”

This wording was crystal clear — it was illegal to travel for a holiday. This wording changed from 17 May 2021, and the advice on travelling to an amber country now is as follows:

“You should not travel to amber list countries or territories.”

The same advice applies to red list countries.

Playa de Las Teresitas, Spain. (Photo by Westend61/Getty Images)

If you compare the advice above before 17 May and after 17 May, you’ll notice the wording is quite different. The word “illegal” has now been removed, meaning it is no longer illegal to travel to an amber (or red) list country for a holiday, whereas it was illegal prior to 17 May.

Another subtle yet important difference is that previously the advice was that you “must not” travel, whereas now the advice is you “should not” travel. “Must not” is a non-negotiable order, while “should not” is a recommendation. This is a noticeable change.

The U.K. government gives advice on all sorts of day-to-day activities for people living in the United Kingdom. For example, the current advice on exercise is: “For good physical and mental health, adults should aim to be physically active every day.”

This is a good example of how the “should” advice works in practice. You are encouraged to exercise every day, though if you choose not to, you will not be fined or face any consequences from the U.K. government.

Like exercise, the decision on travelling to an amber country is yours to make. It is not illegal, you will not be stopped from doing so, but the government would prefer that you did not.

Where you will face consequence from not following U.K. government advice on travelling to an amber or red list country is with your travel insurance, and this is very important to understand before booking travel right now.

Related: Will my travel insurance cover a holiday to an amber country this summer?

Most regular travel insurance policies will be invalid where you choose to travel to a destination against FCDO advice, such as “you should not travel to an amber country.” Insurance giant AXA, for example, states the following: “A number of our policies no longer cover cancellation or curtailment if the FCDO or another regulatory body advises against travel due to a pandemic.”

This means for France or Greece, as an example, an AXA travel insurance policy is unlikely to cover travel while this amber-related travel advice exists.

If you do want to travel to an amber destination where there is FCDO advice against doing so and still want to be covered with travel insurance, some specialist providers have launched COVID-19 travel insurance for these situations, where traditional travel insurance policies may be invalid. These COVID-19 policies may be more expensive and have different exclusions to traditional policies, so you should carefully read the fine print before selecting a policy to understand what is covered and what is not.

Some airlines, such as Virgin Atlantic, are offering free travel insurance for any destination you book with it regardless of government advice. However, for Spain, airlines like EasyJet offer normal travel insurance for an additional fee but state the policy will not cover you if you travel against government advice, even if the flight still operates.

Bottom line

The current government advice is that you should not travel to an amber list country right now. Note that this is just a recommendation, not an order or law. It is no longer illegal to travel to an amber list country right now — it is up to each individual to decide whether they wish to travel, where to and how and they will not be stopped from travelling provided they follow entry requirements such as negative COVID-19 tests.

What is crystal clear is that you should check your travel insurance wording very carefully if you wish to travel to an amber country to ensure you are covered for travel during this very uncertain time.

Photo by Alexander Spatari / Gettys Images

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