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Can I holiday abroad if I'm in the top tier of coronavirus restrictions (eg, Tier 3 in England)? What you need to know

Update: 19 December, 7pm. While the information in this article was correct at time of writing (and still is for tier 3 areas), even tougher restrictions have since been put in place for much of the UK. Our Coronavirus Travel Rights guide will include the latest info as it is released by the Government (though as we wrote this update, some of those rules were still to be confirmed). Here's the original story...

Millions of people across the UK have been left uncertain as to whether they're allowed to go on a foreign holiday, after more areas were plunged into England's top level of coronavirus restrictions today.

Around 34m people in England are now under Tier 3 restrictions, after those who live in London and parts of Hertfordshire and Essex were moved into the top tier this morning, leaving many confused about whether they can go on planned foreign holidays over the Christmas period.

Guidance on the Government website is unclear and we've struggled to get a straight answer on what you can and can't do. We've full info below - see our Coronavirus Travel Rights guide for detailed help on cancellations, refunds and more.

Can I holiday abroad if I'm in Tier 3 in England?

The rules on the website for Tier 3 areas are ambiguous, stating: "In a Tier 3 area, you should avoid travelling outside of your area. If you do need to travel abroad see the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office Travel Advice for your destination and the travel corridors list."

And confusion over this was sparked last month when Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said of people in Tier 3 areas: "If you're going straight to an airport and you're going abroad, where you're going of course will have restrictions in place, but all that aside, that is something you can do." As a result many publications reported that you ARE allowed to go on holiday if living in Tier 3 - for example, The Independent stated that "international travel is allowed from Tier 3 locations".

We asked two Government departments whether those in Tier 3 are allowed to go on foreign holidays. The Department for Transport referred us to the Department for Health and Social Care. The Department for Health and Social Care didn't give us an official statement, but eventually told us two things - it said that Government guidance is that people should not be going on foreign holidays if they live in Tier 3, yet it also told us that the Government says legally you ARE allowed to holiday abroad as long as you stick to the following additional rules:

  • If travelling through other tiers as part of a longer journey you continue to follow Tier 3 rules. You must not stay with anyone you do not live with elsewhere in the UK or visit their home (unless you share a support bubble).

  • If you travel abroad you must check Foreign, Commonwealth and Deveopment Office travel advice for your destination, and the travel corridors list.

  • You can travel to other airports outside of your tier but specific airports may impose their own restrictions.

If I choose to cancel my overseas holiday from Tier 3 in England, will I get a refund?

The problem with this being a grey area and the Government saying that you are legally still allowed to travel is that if you choose not to travel you often WON'T be entitled to a refund. Therefore, it almost looks as if the Government is shrugging its shoulders and saying while it doesn't want people to go, it accepts that many people will likely go if they've got a holiday already booked and they make the personal decision that it's safe to travel.

Many insurers use Government travel advisories as the trigger for refunds and if there isn't one of these in place for the country you're travelling to, you may not get a payout if you decide not to travel, even though there is Government guidance in place.

If you've a holiday booked and are trying to work out if you should go, it's worth contacting your travel provider and insurer and see whether you have the option to rebook or get a refund if you don't go. If not, and you're faced with otherwise losing what you've paid, then it's worth considering whether you should go anyway - but if you do, be aware of the risks and make sure you follow any relevant Government rules.

If you're in Tier 3 and haven't yet booked a holiday but are considering doing so, it's worth seriously weighing up the risks - it may be unadvisable to book travel over the winter period.

Can I holiday abroad if I'm in Tier 1 or Tier 2 in England?

With England's other tiers, it's more straightforward - the Department for Health and Social Care says:

  • If you live in Tier 2, you can on holiday abroad with your support bubble or household.

  • If you live in Tier 1, you can go on holiday abroad in a group of up to six from any household.

Can I holiday abroad if I'm in Scotland?

In Scotland, it depends on what area you're in. The Scottish Government operates a different system of levels:

  • Those who live in a Level 3 or 4 local authority area CAN'T go on foreign holidays currently. In those areas you're now required to stay in that area unless you have a reasonable excuse to travel, and the Government says going on holiday, including abroad, is not a reasonable excuse.

  • Those who live in a Level 0, 1 or 2 local authority area ARE allowed to travel overseas, but are advised against. The Government says you are strongly advised against any non-essential overseas travel but you are still allowed to travel abroad, including by travelling through a Level 3 or 4 area by road or public transport, or to reach an airport, railway station or ferry or coach terminal.

Can I holiday abroad if I'm in Wales?

In Wales, it's more of a grey area. We asked the Welsh Government what the rules are and were given an unclear response - when pressed, a spokesperson told us you are allowed to go on an overseas holiday but only if "absolutely necessary". It's not clear in what circumstances a holiday would count as absolutely necessary.

Can I holiday abroad if I'm in Northern Ireland?

In Northern Ireland, you are allowed to travel overseas. The Northern Ireland Executive told us it has not set any legal restrictions on travel. But a spokesperson added: "Everyone is asked to be mindful of the risks of spreading the virus by travel and should use their judgement when deciding whether or not to undertake a journey based on the individual circumstances."

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