UK’s Travel Traffic Light System: What is it and How it Works?

Read Time 03:27 Minutes

The UK government recently conducted a second review of the ‘traffic light travel system’ and issued an updated list of foreign travel destinations that are safe to visit in a bid to please holidaymakers. Here, we explain the newly introduced system, how it works, and its implications for you.

The Traffic Light System announcement was issued last month as the UK government lifted the ‘Stay in the UK’ regulation on 17 May. This new system now governs all forms of international non-essential travel from the UK.

The government introduced this system in hopes of slowly easing travel restrictions and allowing for a resumption of leisure travel, amidst pressure from vacationers and travel companies.

According to a government spokesman, “the system will help ensure the UK’s vaccine progress isn’t jeopardised and provide clear guidance for travelers.”

Even though it has been a month since this system came into effect, there is still some ambiguity about what exactly it means for a UK-based traveler who has plans of applying for a tourist visa for a getaway during the pandemic.

What is the traffic light system?

The new travel traffic light system ranks countries based on their Covid-19 levels. Under it, travelers may face nominal restrictions, self-isolation upon their return to the UK, or they may altogether be banned from travelling to certain countries.

The travel traffic light system divides all countries into three colour-coded groups: green, amber, and red, with each group having its own set of safety protocols and requirements that tourists must follow to avoid any inconvenience or penalties.

The government has cited the emergence of new variants and the high rate of infection in some parts of the world as a reason for such strict measures.

It is worth mentioning that despite this categorisation, the rules will differ by country. While some countries allow tourists to enter freely, others may require a negative test or even proof of full vaccination (2 rounds) before their arrival.

If you are planning to go abroad for a vacation, you must check the specific Covid-19 related rules of the country you are going to visit in addition to the regulations the UK government introduced under the traffic light system.

Initially introduced by England, the traffic light system was also adopted by Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. So, if you are travelling abroad from any of these areas, it is vital that you are aware of the new travel rules.

How does the travel traffic light system work?

The rules you must follow depend on the traffic light colour your desired destination has been assigned. Below, we have listed each colour along with its corresponding protocols.


Countries that have been able to control the pandemic successfully have been allotted the green group. These travel destinations are characterised by a low infection rate, low death rate, and low numbers of ‘variants of concern.’

UK tourists visiting these countries face minimal restrictions. These travelers have a go-ahead from the government – they do not need to stay in a quarantine facility or self-isolate upon their return to the UK if they are not positive.

Testing Requirements:

  • One pre-departure test
  • One PCR test on or before Day 2

View the full list of green countries here.


Most countries (over 100) have been placed in the amber group. The amber group also contains some of the most popular tourist destinations for UK travelers including European destinations like Spain, Greece, Portugal, and France.

For now, the UK government has advised travelers not to venture to these countries for holidays. According to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, “people should not be travelling to these places right now” but this might be updated “late this summer”

Holidaymakers who visit amber countries need to observe self-isolation at home for a total of 10 days upon their return to the UK. The government might spot check to ascertain whether they are observing quarantine and failure to comply may result in a fine of £10,000.

UK tourists who visit amber countries will also be required to fill out a passenger locator form. In addition to that, they will have to pay for several rounds of private testing.

Testing Requirements:

  • One pre-departure test
  • One PCR test on Day 2 of quarantine
  • One PCR test on Day 8 of quarantine
  • Optional: One PCR test on Day 5 should you wish to shorten your self-isolation. If this test is negative, you can skip quarantine for the remaining days (not available in Northern Ireland)

The full list of amber countries is available on the UK Government website.


The UK government has termed countries in the red group as ‘high risk’. There is a total of 56 countries in this group as of now. This group reportedly includes countries with the highest rates of Covid-19.

Only travelers who are British or Irish citizens or residents can enter these countries. Others are banned from going there.

Those who visit countries on the red list have to observe mandatory isolation for 11 days in a government-approved quarantine hotel, for £1750 once they return to the UK. They also need to go through multiple rounds of testing (cost included in the quarantine hotel package).

Testing Requirements:

  • One pre-departure test
  • One PCR test on Day 2 of quarantine
  • One PCR test on Day 8 of quarantine

You can view the list of red countries here.

How often is the traffic light system reviewed?

The UK Government reviews the traffic light system every 3 weeks.


Need Help with UK Tourist Visa?

Email for help from Jes for your personal situation. Follow 4A Law for more information on UK visas and immigration and updates on UK tourist visa.

Spread the love

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.