As France goes 'amber plus' and the Balearics amber, 18 UPDATED summer holiday need-to-knows
Numerous big changes to overseas travel restrictions came into force this week. As expected, rules for 'amber' destinations were overhauled, so fully vaccinated adults or any under-18s no longer need to quarantine on return. But as announced last week, the exception is that returners from amber-listed France must still quarantine, and the Balearic Islands moved from green to amber.
Below we explain all the foreign holiday need-to-knows, including the latest restrictions, how to find cheap deals, the best way to cut the cost of Covid travel tests and much more.
This article was originally written for our weekly email on Wednesday 14 July. We updated it with all the latest info – including the latest announcements on travel to France and the Balearics – on Tuesday 20 July.
Step One: Where can you go and what tests will you need?
This week's big change to the amber list rules applies across the UK. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all say that those returning from amber destinations no longer have to quarantine if they are UK residents who were fully vaccinated in the UK at least 14 days before their return, or are under 18.
However, France – which is officially on the amber list – essentially sits in a separate 'amber plus' category, as everyone returning from there to England, Scotland or Northern Ireland must quarantine, even if they are fully vaccinated or under 18 (Wales is expected to follow suit). Remember the rules are changing fast, so for the latest see our Coronavirus Travel guide.
1. The traffic light system in a nutshell
It dictates whether you need to quarantine when you get back and what tests you need on your return. Here's a summary of the rules, with more help on testing further below – again, remember these are fast-changing, with the Balearic Islands moved back on to the amber list in last week's review.
• Must take pre-departure test before returning
• Must also take PCR test within two days of returning to the UK
• DON'T need to quarantine on return, unless you get a positive result
|140+, incl much of Europe (eg, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain incl Balearics) and the USA
See full Eng list / Scot list / Wal list (no separate NI list)
UK residents who were fully vaccinated in the UK and those under 18 essentially follow green rules outlined above – except arrivals in Eng, Scot or NI from France, who must follow amber rules below in full:
• Must also take PCR test on day two AND day eight after arriving back in the UK
|60, incl Brazil, Cuba, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Maldives, South Africa, UAE, Tunisia and Uganda
See full Eng list / NI list / Scot list / Wal list
|• Must take pre-departure test before returning
• Must also take PCR test on day two AND day eight after arriving back in the UK
• Must undergo 10 days of managed quarantine in hotel, which could be pricey (currently single adult travellers are charged £1,750)
2. Yet the other big question is, will the country let you in?
This is the other half – and where it gets tricky. For example, green list Malta will let under-12s and those double-vaccinated in, but that means if you've 12 to 17-year-olds, who the UK doesn't vaccinate, they can't go.
See our list of the big holiday destinations' entry requirements, including Spain, the USA, Italy, France, Portugal and far more, plus their test requirements too.
It's also worth thinking about what your holiday will be like. Are there curfews in place, as there are in some parts of Spain? There's a lot to check, sadly.
3. You'll need a private PCR test when returning from ALL trips abroad – we've researched how you can cut the cost
You can't use the Government/NHS 'Test and Trace' system for the tests, you'll need a private firm.
Test prices can vary hugely, from £40-ish to £200+. Our cheap Covid PCR and lateral flow tests guide takes you through the options. So factor those costs into your holiday budget. This only applies to England and NI, though – elsewhere in the UK tests must be via official providers, which can mean they're costlier. Here are the rules of what you'll need (UK-wide):
|Before departing UK||No test needed to leave, but the country you visit may require a test – some also test on arrival|
|Up to three days pre-return to UK||Test needed (lateral flow or PCR)|
|Two days after return to UK||PCR test needed (even for those double-vaccinated)|
|Eight days after return to UK||No test
PCR test needed (except if fully vaccinated or under 18 and NOT returning from France)
|PCR test needed|
Also note if you arrive in England from an amber country and need to self-isolate, you can end it early by taking an extra test on day five (though you still need the day eight test).
4. Brace yourself for up-to four-hour airport queues on your return
With border staff now needing to check Covid documents as well as passports – and staff shortages due to Test and Trace pings – the Government's warned of "lengthy" waits. Be prepared.
Step Two: Not booked? How to find cheap, protected holidays
Travel firms have reported resurgent interest since the change in amber list rules was first announced, with Skyscanner saying it had an immediate 53% traffic spike and Easyjet a fourfold bookings increase to amber list destinations.
Usually that'd create price hikes, but firms are also putting on extra capacity to meet demand – for example, Virgin Atlantic is increasing flight capacity to some destinations by 300%. So there should still be bargains.
5. Package holidays give extra protection and can be cheap
For example, when we checked last week, we found Majorca flights plus four nights in a four-star hotel in August from £141 per person. If you're heading to a big resort, then package holidays – flights, hotels etc in one booking – can often be cheapest, and they also offer some handy extra protection right now.
Under the Package Travel Regulations, you're legally due a refund if the travel agent / firm or an airline / hotel / car firm etc goes bust or because your destination has closed its borders to Brits. For more info plus how to find the top deals, see Cheap Package Holidays.
6. Many airlines now offer free date changes, and deals abound
For example, last week we found London to Majorca return flights for £30 in early August. Our full How to bag cheap flights guide takes you through ways to get cheap deals, and right now there are bargains as airlines compete to fill planes.
You've a legal right to a full refund if the flight's cancelled – yet don't assume they will be cancelled even if people are effectively banned from travel (eg, if a destination turns red). Instead focus on the flexibility you're offered if YOU choose to change too.
Easyjet and British Airways let you make changes for free, nearly up to the last minute (though you'll pay the difference if it's to a more expensive flight). See airline-by-airline cancellation policies.
7. Don't just book a hotel on the first site you see. The same room is often sold at vastly different costs
Do look for bookings where you only pay on arrival, and can cancel for free (often you can do so 24 to 48 hours before your stay starts).
8. Always pay by plastic
Even if you've some flexible booking protection, remember that'll be worthless if the firm goes bust, and travel companies are sadly under threat.
- Paying via credit card gives strongest protection: Section 75 refund rules mean the card provider is jointly liable for items costing £100+. So using a credit card (repaid IN FULL of course, so there's no interest) is best practice, usually protecting you if the firm goes bust – though often not for bookings via travel agents.
- All debit and credit cards also get lesser chargeback protection. The chargeback refund rules mean if you don't get what you pay for you can usually get a refund, so they are useful for debit cards and where Section 75 doesn't work.
Step Three: Once booked... tricks to slash holiday costs
And breathe. Now we're back to our familiar summer MoneySaving territory, with the key info to cut costs once you've booked. In normal years, this is where we'd start our travel tips – but hey, who knows what 'normal' is any more...
9. Travel insurance is still vital – get it ASAB, it can be as little as £9 a week
While travel insurance doesn't cover all Covid eventualities, all the normal reasons to get it still apply, especially if you're ill while away. Always get it ASAB – As Soon As you Book – as half its point is to protect you from unexpected eventualities before you go.
Of course, everyone is asking: "Are you covered for Covid cancellations?" The usual answer, in a nutshell... yes if it's personal, no if it's due to lockdown. Here's a little more detail:
- You/family can't travel as you've got Covid? Usually covered.
- You/family can't travel after Test and Trace ping? Some policies cover this.
- You/family catches Covid abroad? Some policies cover treatment and costs if you can't return.
- You won't go as you'd need to quarantine on return? NO policies cover this.
- Can't travel due to lockdown or change of rules? Hardly any policies cover this.
- Can't travel as you don't feel safe going – even with no advisory against going? NO policies cover this.
Yet DON'T LET THIS STOP YOU GETTING COVER given the multitude of risks that insurance covers you for.
We explain full options in our Cheap Travel Insurance guide, but as a quick reference, here are our top no-frills picks (ie, those that meet our minimum cover levels – though we can't vouch for their service). We give a few as the winner depends on your age and destination:
- Annual policies: These cover virtually all trips in a year (incl booked UK accommodation), and are best if you go away 2+ times a year. Try Coverwise (Bronze)*, Leisure Guard* and Axa (Silver). Prices range from £13 for young singles to about £70 for a family worldwide.
- Foreign Office warning against travel to your destination? See specialist cover.
Do note, if you get insurance and your claim is unfairly rejected, you can take the provider to the free Financial Ombudsman.
10. Slash the cost of euros, dollars or dong – the cheapest way to spend abroad is on the right plastic. Sort it now
The easiest and cheapest way to spend abroad is on the top specialist travel cards.
Normally, spend on plastic abroad and the banks give near-perfect rates but then add a 'non-sterling exchange rate fee' of roughly 3% – so £100 worth of euros costs you £103. But there are some credit and debit cards that don't charge this so you get the same near-perfect rates the banks do, smashing bureaux de change. Of course, with a credit card, only get one if you'll repay IN FULL each month to avoid interest.
It's top pick for three added features: i) It doesn't charge a cash withdrawal fee abroad. ii) Even if you repay in full, most cards charge interest on cash withdrawals – this one doesn't on non-sterling withdrawals. iii) It gives 0.25% cashback on all spending worldwide. Fail to repay in full though and it is 22.9% rep APR interest.
- Top-pick debit card: Starling Bank* has no overseas fees on spending and withdrawals (max £300/day cash) on its debit card. And while here you are opening a new bank account, there's no hard credit check if you don't apply for an overdraft, so it's a decent option if you're not sure you'll be accepted and don't want to risk damaging your credit score. You don't have to switch to its account to get it – it can be used as a secondary account.
- Best travel cash: If you can't get a top credit or debit card, or prefer cash, our travel money comparison tool compares 14+ bureaux to show the best rates. This is fewer providers than usual, as many travel money services are paused – we'll add them back when they resume.
11. There are still no roaming charges for most in Europe but beware elsewhere
In most cases you can still roam like at home within Europe this summer, though if you're going outside the EU, it's a different story. For full help on how to avoid eye-watering charges of up to £7/MB – which can add up to £100s – see Cheap Mobile and Data Roaming.
However, EE has broken ranks and will start charging some to roam in Europe from January.
12. Pay less for airport parking by booking early – but look for flexibility
However, while it's usually cheapest to book ahead, right now it's also crucial you can cancel or move your booking if needed. For full help, see our Cheap Airport Parking guide.
13. Hiring a car? Booking early saves you – plus know your car hire insurance rights for when they try to force you to upgrade
Even though it's getting late for this summer, it's still cheaper to book now than leave it until you're there. Our Cheap Car Hire guide takes you through it, and shows how to get cheap standalone excess insurance at nearly a tenth of what the firms charge. Many firms now offer free cancellation too, making it easier.
14. Check if you've a valid GHIC or EHIC – more than 6m cards expire this year
If you plan to travel to the EU, these cards give you access to state-run hospitals or GPs at the same price as a local. So if it's free for them, it's free for you. That's important right now.
If you have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), check it is still valid. If not, or if you don't have one, since Brexit it's been replaced for new applicants by the Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) and you can get a GHIC for FREE. If any site tries to charge for one, it's a scam.
15. The passport rules may have changed since you last went overseas – does yours have at least six months left?
Since Brexit, many EU countries have joined those requiring you to have at least six months of passport validity left (in some cases more) to be allowed in. So check yours now, as the Passport Office has warned of possible application backlogs. See Passport Rules and Renewals.
17. Learn to talk like a local for free
Don't be a classic 'Brit abroad' – we've clever apps to help you learn the lingo before you go, and to translate 59 languages offline when you're there. Free language apps
18. Driving your vehicle to Europe this summer? You still need an insurance 'green card' for now
This is an international certificate of insurance issued by your insurer in the UK, confirming that you have the necessary minimum cover. The European Commission has announced it'll scrap the green card requirement from Monday 2 August, but for the next few days you'll need one. More details are in our Driving in Europe guide.
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