COVID Border Regulations: Understanding the UK’s “Traffic Light System”

The EU vaccine passport is in its rollout phases and vaccinations across the UK are moving along swiftly. With these two events coinciding, it was expected that travel restrictions would be eased in time for the summer but the UK’s “Traffic Light System” is still giving the red light to many countries.

The system has used a three-tier model of red, amber, and green listed countries suggesting various levels of isolation and freedom of movement. The system is fluid and countries could move up or down on the lists, depending on their current COVID transmission rate.

Travel from the UK has not been restricted to the EU but recent comments from German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, suggest that the EU is looking to impose quarantine measures on the UK. This after the Delta variant has swept across the nation.

Here is everything you need to know about the current state of affairs of the Traffic Light System and who can travel into the UK for leisure purposes.

Green List Countries

The Green list started with only a handful of countries but many more were added on 30 June. The following countries can enjoy travel without quarantine to the UK:

  • Anguilla          
  • Antarctica/British Antarctic Territory
  • Antigua and Barbuda 
  • Australia         
  • Balearic islands (Formentera, Ibiza, Mallorca, Menorca)     
  • Barbados        
  • Bermuda        
  • British Indian Ocean Territory
  • British Virgin Islands  
  • Brunei
  • Cayman Islands          
  • Dominica        
  • Falkland Islands          
  • Faroe Islands  
  • Gibraltar        
  • Grenada         
  • Iceland
  • Israel and Jerusalem  
  • Malta 
  • Montserrat     
  • New Zealand  
  • Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie, and Oeno Islands          
  • Singapore       
  • South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands  
  • St Helena, Ascension, and Tristan da Cunha 
  • Turks and Caicos Islands

Citizens travelling from these destinations need not quarantine as the risk posed by these countries is minimal. A passenger locator form is to be filled in upon arrival and a negative PCR test result must be submitted. For extra precaution, passengers must also take another PCR test 2 days after arrival.

This list is expected to expand in the near future.

Amber List Countries

All countries not listed as green or red will fall in the amber category. This includes most of the territories in the EU as well as America.

 These countries are seen as medium risk and passengers must therefore undergo self-quarantine for 10-days upon arrival. On days 2 and 8 after arrival, passengers must take PCR tests to monitor their health condition. They must also provide a negative PCR test taken just before departure and can opt to test on day 5 for early release.


Red List Countries

These countries pose the biggest threat as their daily infection rate is much higher than the world average. This list also includes countries where COVID variants have been detected.

  • Afghanistan    
  • Angola
  • Argentina       
  • Bahrain          
  • Bangladesh    
  • Bolivia
  • Botswana       
  • Brazil  
  • Burundi          
  • Cape Verde    
  • Chile   
  • Colombia        
  • Congo (Democratic Republic)
  • Costa Rica      
  • Dominican Republic   
  • Ecuador          
  • Egypt  
  • Eritrea
  • Eswatini          
  • Ethiopia          
  • French Guiana
  • Guyana           
  • Haiti   
  • Kenya 
  • Lesotho           
  • Malawi
  • Maldives        
  • Mongolia        
  • Mozambique  
  • Namibia         
  • Nepal  
  • Oman 
  • Pakistan          
  • Panama          
  • Paraguay        
  • Peru    
  • Philippines      
  • Qatar  
  • Rwanda          
  • Seychelles      
  • Somalia          
  • South Africa   
  • Sri Lanka         
  • Sudan 
  • Suriname        
  • Tanzania         
  • Trinidad and Tobago  
  • Tunisia
  • Turkey
  • Uganda           
  • United Arab Emirates (UAE)  
  • Uruguay         
  • Venezuela      
  • Zambia
  • Zimbabwe

Travel from the above nations is strictly prohibited except for British and Irish citizens or if the individual has residency rights in the UK. In these cases, passengers will have to quarantine in a government-approved facility for 10-days and complete 2 COVID tests during that time.

What Does This Mean for Immigration?

The sudden border closures of 2020 caused widespread chaos for many who had to put their immigration plans on hold. Horror stories were abundant of people whose whole lives have been packed into shipping containers, only for them to be stranded with no home to lock down in. Others were unable to finalize their visa applications as embassies shut down when the world came to a standstill.

This limbo continued for months and even as restrictions are being lifted, there is still mass confusion as red tape becomes increasingly difficult to manoeuvre. The question remains, should I stay or should I go?

The good news is, visa applications have re-started, and once granted, you can enter the UK with only a few restrictions.

Even though South Africa is on the Red List, you may enter the country with the correct paperwork if you have arranged for isolation through the quarantine hotel scheme.

This is currently only applicable to those who will travel for essential purposes such as family reunification and work.

The program runs at a cost of £1,750 which covers the cost of 10-days in the pre-approved hotel as well as PCR tests on day 2 and 8 of your stay. It is also important to note that these hotels are only located near the following airports:

  • Aberdeen
  • Birmingham
  • Edinburgh
  • Farnborough
  • Glasgow
  • London City Airport
  • London Gatwick
  • London Heathrow

Move Up’s Ryan Rennison explains that travel for leisure is not on the cards at the moment but applications are open.

“If you are looking to travel for non-essential purposes, you can apply for the visa but the processing authority will keep your passport until such time when South Africa is removed from the red list. The British government has previously said they will review these lists every three weeks and assess which country can be moved to a more favourable list.”

Rennison is hopeful that the application process will come out of this more efficient and those hopeful immigrants can continue their journeys in the near future.

“It is reassuring to see progress is being made and as vaccine rollouts continue this process will become even more streamlined.”

Keep an eye out for the latest news on vaccine passports though as this is set to become the next pre-requisite for entering the UK in the near future.