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What is the travel traffic light system and how does it work?

woman wears a facemask on the beach
Summer holidays … but not as you know them (Picture: Getty)

Despite the hopes of UK holidaymakers, no new countries were added to the quarantine-free green list on Thursday.

Those planning to head to Greek islands or other dreamy destinations will have to wait a bit longer.

Brits planning on exploring Lisbon this summer have been met with a blow as Portugal was axed from the green list following a surge of coronavirus cases across the sunny country.

But how does the travel traffic light system work?

What is the travel traffic light system?

A travel traffic light system organises countries into three categories – green, amber, and red – to determine what safety measures are needed in order to travel to those places.

While half of adults in the UK have now had their second vaccination dose, rollouts vary across the world. New Covid-19 strains, like the Thai variant, are also causing concern.

Masked people walk by cafes
The traffic light system is slowly reintroducing travel abroad. (Picture: Getty)

Anyone planning to travel should also note that the rules will differ by country – some may only allow entry to those who have been fully vaccinated while others may require travellers to test negative before they arrive.

If you are planning a trip abroad, you should check the individual rules of the country you plan to visit as well as the UK government’s rules.

The traffic light system only applies to holidaymakers from England – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have not yet said when they might ease their travel rules.

How does the traffic light system work?

The traffic light system divides destinations into three groups, with different restrictions for each:


Travellers going to, and returning from, green countries do not need to quarantine or self-isolate upon returning to the UK.

portugal taken off green list ruining holidays for thousands
Holidaymakers currently in Portgual are now trying to book flights home. (Picture: Getty)

Green list countries

  • Australia
  • Brunei
  • Falkland Islands
  • Faroe Islands
  • Gibraltar
  • Iceland
  • Israel and Jerusalem
  • New Zealand
  • Portugal (until Tuesday, June 8)
  • Singapore
  • South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands
  • St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha

Many holidaymakers already in Portugal now face a scramble for flights home before the country is removed from the list on Tuesday.

The government’s decision is another huge blow for the travel industry, as Portugal was the only viable destination on the green list.

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Grant Shapps confirms Portugal is off the Green List for travel

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The vast majority of countries are on this list, although there’s been some confusion around what it actually means.

Travellers need to take a Covid-19 test before travelling, and prove that it tested negative.

On their return, people also have to take Covid-19 tests on days two and eight – and quarantine for ten days.

Holidaymakers will also have to fill out a passenger locator form.

The full list of amber countries can be found on the UK government website.


There’s no entry to countries on the red list except for British and Irish citizens and people with residency rights.

The full list of red countries can be found on the UK government website.

Super moon is seen with Camlica Mosque over Istanbul
Turkey is currently on the red list. (Picture: Getty)

With a 10-day mandatory quarantine upon arrival, trips to these locations are considerably more expensive, as it costs around £1,750 for the time in a government-approved hotel.

These countries have some of the highest coronavirus rates globally, and Boris Johnson has said that he ‘won’t hesitate’ to add more locations to the list.

Speaking to the press, he said: ‘We’re going to try … to allow people to travel, as I know that many people want to, but we’ve got to be cautious and we’ve got to continue to put countries on the red list, on the amber list, when that is necessary.’

He continued: ‘I want you to know we will have no hesitation in moving countries from the green list to the amber list to the red list, if we have to do so.

‘The priority is to continue the vaccine rollout, to protect the people of this country.’

MORE : Which countries have been added to the red and amber travel lists?

MORE : What to do if you’re on holiday in Portugal and it’s put on amber list today

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