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What does UK’s new travel advice for Europe’s ‘amber’ countries mean?

As borders around Europe gradually open, travellers from the UK find themselves in the odd position of being allowed to travel but officially advised against it by the government. Here's what that means for people with family in different countries, second-home owners and tourists.

What does UK's new travel advice for Europe's 'amber' countries mean?
Can Britons travel to "amber" countries in Europe or not? (Photo by Niklas HALLE'N / AFP)

Who does this affect?

This covers all non-essential travel. Often couched in terms of tourists and holiday-makers, non-essential travel also includes visits by second-home owners and non-emergency visits to family and friends. People with family abroad who haven’t seen them for over a year might feel that their trip is pretty vital, but unfortunately not by the government definition.

Travel for essential reasons including work related motives, medical treatment or compassionate reasons is still allowed on the same terms as before.

The UK government’s rules concern England, so if you are travelling from or to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, check out the rules in place from the devolved governments.

What has changed?

On May 17th, the UK government lifted its ban on all non-essential travel abroad and replaced it with the traffic light system, where countries were awarded a ranking of red, amber or green based on a number of factors including their Covid rates and vaccination coverage.

For green countries travel is now allowed for any reason, but there aren’t many countries on this list and many of them are largely inaccessible (looking at you, South Sandwich islands). Portugal is currently the only European country on the green list.

EXPLAINED: The European countries on the UK’s ‘amber list’ for travel

What about amber countries?

Most of Europe including the nine countries covered by The Local is designated as amber and arrivals into the UK from amber countries (including UK nationals/residents returning from a trip to an amber country) face a host of rules.

  • A negative Covid test taken within the previous 72 hours. UK rules allow either a PCR test or an antigen test of more than 97 percent specificity and 80 percent sensitivity – the rapid-result antigen tests available at pharmacies or testing centres around Europe meet this specification but most home-testing kits do not. France has announced that tourists and visitors can access free tests this summer, but in most countries you will need to pay for a pre-travel test.
  • A contact locator form – this form must be filled in before you arrive at the border and you will need the order code from your travel testing kit (see below) – find the form HERE.
  • Quarantine – The quarantine period is 10 days long, but can be done at a location of your choosing including the home of family or friends. There is also an option to pay for an extra test on day 5 and, if it is negative, leave quarantine early.
  • Travel test package – you need to order this home-test kit in advance and take further Covid tests on day 2 and day 8 of your quarantine. These tests are compulsory (you will need the order code to complete your contact locator form) and cost on average an eye-watering £200 per person – you can find the list of approved providers HERE.

At present the rules around testing and quarantine are the same even for fully vaccinated people.

Find further information on UK travel rules HERE.

What about this new advice?

The UK government officially advises against non-essential travel to all amber list countries, with a spokesman for British PM Boris Johnson saying: “Our advice is that no one should be travelling to amber list countries, in the interests of public health.

“However there may be unavoidable, essential reasons for people to travel to amber list countries.”

However the Environment Secretary George Eustice, then said: “We don’t want to stop travel altogether”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The reason we have the amber list is there will be reasons why people feel they need to travel – either to visit family or indeed to visit friends.

“They can travel to those countries but they then have to observe quarantine when they return and have two tests after returning.”

“So people can travel to those areas, yes, but they then have to subject themselves to quarantine requirements on their return.”

Asked if this was confusing he said: “Because we want to give people that clarity we are taking things a step at a time.”

But that’s just advice?

Yes, the government is not legally preventing people from travelling abroad, as was the case before May 17th and people are free to ignore the advice, which minister or government spokesman you are listening to.

In the UK travel agencies are still selling holidays to amber list countries including France, Spain and Italy.

However, there is one important consequence of this type of official advice and that relates to insurance.

The UK government’s official travel page states that the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office position is “you should not travel to amber list countries” and this official advice will likely invalidate most travel insurance – despite what George Eustice said – so check your policy carefully.

Invalid travel insurance means you won’t be covered for things like cancellation costs but also, potentially more seriously, for health costs in case you become ill or have an accident while you are away.

The EHIC card, or its replacement GHIC, covers only some emergency medical care while travelling and there are many things that it does not cover, including repatriation costs if this is required. People who have travelled abroad against government advice could therefore be faced with a large bill for medical costs if they fall ill or have an accident while abroad.

There are some travel insurance companies that offer policies for travel against government advice (at a hefty price).

Is this likely to change?

The UK government has said it will review the designations every three weeks. If a country makes it onto the green list then travel is allowed and no quarantine is required on arrival in the UK.

Case numbers in most European countries are falling at present but the UK government has not published a definitive guide to the formula it uses to classify countries.

What about Brits living abroad?

The UK government’s advice is around travel from the UK, if you are British and live in another European country there is nothing to stop you travelling to the UK, as long as you follow the rules on testing and quarantine.

You are then free to return to your country of residence.

However, you also need to check your home country’s rules on travel from the UK. Concerns over the Indian variant of Covid currently circling within the UK could lead to countries imposing extra restrictions on arrivals from the UK and Germany has already reclassified the UK as a risk area for this reason.

Your travel insurance situation will depend on which country you bought the policy in, its policy on government travel advice, and the official position of the country that you live in on travel.

Member comments

  1. I don’t quite agree with the analysis. If you own a ‘holiday home’ in Switzerland and do not have full residency rights, you still pay Swiss taxes and have legal and maintenance responsibilities. If a visit to Switzerland is necessary to meet these obligations, it is surely legitimate to make the journey, providing you can meet Swiss border entry requirements.

  2. This whole covid malarky is a money making farse! How is it that the UK charges an “eye watering” £200 for a covid test and France does it for free?

  3. Typical of a government in the UK that can’t wean itself off the control teat. 75% of adults with at least one vaccine isn’t enough for this lot to allow me to see my kids even though I’ll be fully vaccinated long before I want to travel.
    Yesterday’s report that Pfizer and AZ both produce very strong antibody responses after two doses in almost 100% of cases in all age groups has also been loudly ignored.

  4. Irrespective of what the UK recommends, it is my understanding that Germany’s not currently open to UK tourists? Or have I missed something?

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EXPLAINED: The rules and options for camping in France

From luxury campsites with a pool and a spa to pitching your tent at the side of the road - here's what you need to know about camping in France.

EXPLAINED: The rules and options for camping in France

Camping is hugely popular in France, both for French people and tourists – there are more than 7,000 registered campsites with facilities with space for 872,647 individuals or groups at any one time.

But there are many different ways to take a camping holiday.

Campsites

The most common form of camping, these welcome every form of holidaymaker.

Despite the name, many of them aren’t really ‘camping’ at all – instead offering chalets, cottages or static caravans for families to stay in, with facilities including a swimming pool, spa, bar, restaurant or entertainment centre.

There are plenty of more basic sites when you can simply arrive and pitch your tent however – campsites have a star rating (1 to 5) which lets you know what facilities they have, and of course the price reflects this.  

They can get very busy, especially in the summer, so it’s wise to book ahead.

But if you want to get back to nature, or are simply looking for a cheaper holiday, there are alternatives to campsites.

Wild camping

The notion of wild camping – le camping sauvage – in which you make camp, or park your caravan or motorhome for a night or two somewhere that isn’t a campsite does exist in France but, well, it’s complicated.

‘Wild camping’ is not allowed, for example, in the following places:

  • sea shores or beaches;
  • on or within 500m of sites registered for historic, artistic, scientific, legendary or picturesque character – such as such as woods, forests or nature reserves – or close to classified historic monuments (be aware: this includes sites in the process of being registered);
  • on public roads or paths;
  • within 200m of water points for consumption.

Meanwhile local authorities or those in charge of designated natural sites, such as national or regional parks, have specific rules for their land.

There are 11 national parks and well over 50 regional ones, so it’s a good idea to check the rules before you camp. A local tourist information office or mairie is the best place to start.

Elsewhere, wild camping is allowed, as long as you have permission from the landowner or tenant, and other general limitations – including a blanket ban on fires, especially in the summer. The rules are here, in Article R111-33 of France’s town and country planning law.

Penalties for ignoring the rules include a fine of up to €1,500 – but the amount may be adjusted upwards in cases that also involve excessive noise, campfires, littering and / or environmental damage.

Motorhomes

Many French towns and large villages have dedicated areas for motorhomes to stay for a short period away from campsites, and some provide electricity or water points. 

Access to these areas is often limited to a few days per vehicle. Meanwhile, you can park at the side of a quiet road outside towns, as long as you don’t block the carriageway, but you may get a visit from a police officer wondering what’s going on.

Beyond these minor differences, the same general rules apply for motorhomes as for wild camping, if you decide to spend a night in your motorhome outside a campsite. And don’t empty your chemical toilet at the roadside. Obviously. 

Does France have a ‘right to roam’?

Like wild camping, the notion of a right to roam in France is very much open to interpretation – usually by the landowner.

Unlike some Nordic countries, there is no specific law guaranteeing public right of way over private land in France. There are paths the public can use that cross private land – but these can be closed at whim by the landowner. 

There are, however, many tracks weaving their way through forests, which make up 30 percent of France’s land area, and country lanes that are publicly accessible. Maps for local and regional walks can be found in tourist information offices or at town and village mairies.

Publicly accessible footpaths in France are usually marked. Here are the three most common forms:

  • National routes – Grandes Randonnées (GR) – are marked with two parallel horizontal flashes, one white and one red;
  • Regionally monitored paths – Grandes Randonnées du Pays (GRP) – are marked with two parallel horizontal flashes, one yellow and one red;
  • PR local footpaths are marked with a single yellow flash.

These markers are painted on fixtures such as trees so they can be followed easily. The Fédération Française de la Randonnée Pédestre (FFRP) also publishes nearly 200 guidebooks to walking in different parts of France. Also check out the numerous greenways (Voies vertes) that criss-cross the country.

While walking on these, you should of course be respectful of the countryside – don’t leave litter, close gates behind you and keep dogs on a lead if there is livestock in the fields that you are passing through.

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