While there were just a handful of changes to the UK’s green, amber and red country lists at the last travel review on Thursday 26 August, the UK Government announced an overhaul of its travel system on Friday 17 September.
Rules surrounding international travel have fluctuated since the four nations’ traffic light system was first introduced, due to the ever-changing nature of the pandemic.
But in an effort to “simplify” its traffic light travel system and ease coronavirus testing requirements for some UK travellers, the government has outlined new travel rules altering the current state-of-play for visiting and returning from red, amber and green list countries.
It was also announced that holiday hotspot Turkey would be coming off the red list of countries posing the highest risk of catching coronavirus, along with several other global destinations.
In the wake of the changes, here’s what you need to know about the new travel rules announced today – and whether the UK Government changes will apply in Scotland.
What are the new UK travel rules?
Announced by UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps on Friday afternoon, the current traffic light travel system will come to an end on 4 October.
While the red list of high Covid risk destinations is set to be maintained by the UK Government, the green and amber lists will be scrapped in favour of a more relaxed worldwide system.
This will see fully vaccinated travellers be able to avoid taking a pre-departure test before returning to England if returning from a non-red list country.
Unvaccinated travellers or those returning from one of the new UK red list destinations will still have to take a pre-departure test and PCR tests on day two and eight of their return – mirroring the current rules for amber list countries.
However, travellers who have a valid vaccination certificate from 17 additional countries and territories - including Japan and Singapore - will be treated as if they had been jabbed in the UK thanks to the introduction of an eligible vaccinated traveller policy.
The 17 countries added to the new eligible vaccinated traveller policy are:
- Antigua & Barbuda
- New Zealand
- Saudi Arabia
- South Korea
As before, future amendments to this system will be informed by public health advice, including the Joint Biosecurity Centre’s assessment of the latest Covid-19 data.
But the largest review of the UK Government’s new international travel system won’t come for several months, though, with the government suggesting it will take place early in the new year “to provide further certainty for the spring and summer 2022 seasons”.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “Today’s changes mean a simpler, more straightforward system.
"One with less testing and lower costs, allowing more people to travel, see loved ones or conduct business around the world while providing a boost for the travel industry.
"Public health has always been at the heart of our international travel policy and with more than 8 in 10 adults vaccinated in the UK, we are now able to introduce a proportionate updated structure that reflects the new landscape.”
When will the new UK travel rules take effect?
Changes to testing requirements and the removal of the need for pre-departure tests when leaving the UK will take effect in England from 4 October.
This is also when the amber and green lists of countries, the remnants of the traffic light travel system, will be officially scrapped.
And the eligible vaccinated traveller scheme, treating vaccinated travellers from Taiwan, Australia, Canada and more as though they have been jabbed in the UK, will come into effect on 4 October also.
From the end of October, fully vaccinated travellers will be able to use a lateral flow test instead of a costlier PCR test as their Day 2 test, with the government hoping this will take effect in time for travellers returning to England during October half-term breaks.
Will the new UK Government travel rules apply in Scotland?
While the Scottish Government is set to follow in the footsteps of the UK Government and ditch the traffic light travel system soon, not all of Downing Street’s new travel rules will take effect in Scotland.
The Scottish Government confirmed on Friday (17 September) that it will not be adopting the UK Government’s decision to remove requirements for pre-departure tests in England and allow for cheaper lateral flow tests to be used as Day 2 tests.
This means that pre- and post-travel coronavirus testing will remain part of Scotland’s international travel requirements.
The Scottish Government said that this is due to concerns over how the easing of testing requirements as proposed by the UK Government could impact on public health in the country.
Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport, Michael Matheson, welcomed the new changes to the international travel system, but voiced the Scottish Government’s concerns over proposals to ease testing requirements.
Mr Matheson said: “This is a major step but one with sensible safeguards built in recognising the success of the Scottish Government’s vaccination programme.
“The expansion of the eligible vaccinated traveller policy combined with the changes to the traffic light system will provide a welcome boost to Scotland’s tourism industry.
“However, we have concerns that the UK Government’s proposals to remove the requirement for a pre-departure test for some travellers will weaken our ability to protect the public health of Scotland’s communities.
He added: "While we want to maintain a four nations approach to these matters, we need to consider urgently their implications.”
Which countries will move off the UK red list?
Until recently, Turkey had been kept on the UK Government’s red list due to the rise in cases over recent weeks.
It was joined by countries like Pakistan, Thailand, the Dominican Republic and the Maldives.
But some of these destinations will now no longer be deemed high risk to UK visitors – or require the whopping costs of mandatory quarantine in a hotel on return to the UK.
The UK Government announced on Friday that from Wednesday 22 September at 4am, eight countries will be removed from the red list.
- The Maldives
- Sri Lanka
Additional reporting by PA Whitehall Editor, Gavin Cordon