England streamlined its COVID-19 border rules in early October, replacing the green, amber and red traffic light policy with a "new clearer travel system" and scrapping the two-test rule for people who are fully vaccinated. Traveling or returning to England? Here's what you need to know.

On the back of the UK's successful vaccination campaign, a new system for international travel is now in place. Under the new policy, the previous traffic light system is replaced by a single list of red countries and territories that are considered high-risk in the context of COVID-19. People coming from red-list countries are subject to stricter rules including quarantine. Anywhere not on the red list is considered low-risk and therefore approved for non-essential travel.

New testing requirements

Testing requirements are reduced for most fully vaccinated arrivals from non-red list countries, provided they were vaccinated in the UK, the US, the EU or one of these 50-plus countries and territories. These arrivals will no longer need to take a pre-departure travel test when traveling to England.

However, these passengers will need to book and pay for a day two COVID-19 test to be taken after arrival in England.

Starting on October 24, full vaccinated passengers and most people under the age of 18⁠—arriving from countries not on the red list⁠—will be able to take a cheaper lateral flow test, instead of a PCR test, on day two of their arrival. The test are available through private providers, which will be listed on gov.uk, and can be booked starting October 22. The move comes just in time for those returning from half-term breaks. 

Travelers will have to take a photo of the test and a booking reference from the private provider, and send it to the provider to verify their test results. Passengers can also book a test at some airports. If a test shows a positive result, the traveler will need to self-isolate and take a PCR test to confirm.

The new rules are now at play ©Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images

Red list rules

Only British and Irish citizens or UK residents may return to England from red list countries, but as of October 11, that list has been considerably reduced, from nearly 50 countries to just seven: Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela. "With half-term and winter sun around the corner, we’re making it easier for families and loved ones to reunite, by significantly cutting the number of destinations on the red list, thanks in part to the increased vaccination efforts around the globe," transport secretary Grant Shapps said in a statement. "Restoring people’s confidence in travel is key to rebuilding our economy and levelling up this country. With less restrictions and more people traveling, we can all continue to move safely forward together along our pathway to recovery."

Entry is denied for everyone else from a red-list location unless traveling for essential reasons. Arrivals from red-list countries, including returning citizens, must take a pre-departure test and then quarantine in a government-designated hotel for 10 days at a cost of £2285 per person, as well as taking two more PCR tests on days two and eight of their quarantine period.

Unvaccinated travelers

Under the new policy, unvaccinated passengers need to take tests before departure, on days two and eight of arriving/returning to the UK and will also need to quarantine for 10 days.

Read more: Do you need a visa to go to the United Kingdom?

Traveling with kids

As of mid-October, anyone under the age of 18 traveling from the 50-some countries with UK-approved vaccination programs is exempt from taking a pre-trip test, whether they're vaccinated or not, and all children under the age of 11 are exempt as well, no matter where they're traveling from. 

Children ages 11 to 17 traveling from red list countries have to take a COVID-19 test within three days of their arrival in England. Upon arrival, those aged 5 to 17 are required to quarantine for 10 days and take two tests, while those ages 4 and under are just required to quarantine. All passengers will need to fill in a passenger locator form ahead of travel.

The rest of the UK

Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales use the same travel system as England, keeping the red list and merging the current green and amber travel lists into one to determine entry policies. Each government's website has more details.   

For more information on the UK's entry requirements, see here.

You might also like:
How to get around in England
Canada to require vaccinations for travelers 12 years old and over
Visiting France with family? Children over the age of 12 must now have a health pass

This article was first published Aug 5, 2021 and updated Oct 15, 2021.

Explore related stories


Air Travel

The best ways to travel around in England

Jul 19, 2023 • 7 min read