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SECOND HOMES

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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For members

VISAS

‘Be ready to wait’: Your tips for getting a French visa post-Brexit

Now that Britain is out of the EU, just how much harder is the process of moving to France from the UK after Brexit? British readers share their experiences of applying for visas as 'third country nationals’.

'Be ready to wait': Your tips for getting a French visa post-Brexit

Whether you’re moving to France to live, or you’re a second-home owner wanting to spend more than 90 days out of every 180 in France, if you’re British you will now need a visa.

You can find more on how to apply for a visa, and how to understand what type of visa you need, in our visa section HERE.

But how these systems work in practice is not always the same as the theory.

To learn more about the process of getting a visa as a UK national, The Local asked British readers for their experiences of going through the system.

The consensus among respondents was that the whole thing was bureaucratic, though there were notable differences in experiences that ranged from the “easy” to the “complicated” and “time-consuming”, while the advice for future applicants was, routinely, have all your paperwork ready – and be prepared for a lengthy wait at one of the UK’s TLS centres

Appointments

Like most visas, French visas for UK nationals must be applied for before you leave home. You can find a full explanation of the process here, but the basic outline is that you apply for the visa online, and then have an in-person appointment in the UK in order to present your paperwork. 

Sue Clarke told us: “As long as you get all your paperwork together correctly and in the right order, the time it takes to receive your passport back with the visa in it once TLS has sent it off is only a few days.

“TLS – the centre which works on behalf of the French Embassy to collate your application – is so very busy,” she added. “That part of the process took hours even when you have an appointment.”

READ ALSO EXPLAINED: What type of French visa do you need?

“The visa process itself was fairly well run, and a decision for the initial visa was quick,” wrote Ian Sheppard, who successfully applied for a visa in July 2022. 

“Although getting the follow up residence permit was a pain, [and] took longer than expected, and there was little to no communication with severely limited ways to get in touch about the application.”

Sheppard thought that, biometrics apart, the process could have taken place online, and wondered whether the follow-up residence permit application could be more closely linked to the initial visa application, “rather than effectively submitting the same application twice”.

Georgina Ann Jolliffe described the process as “stressful”. 

“A lot of the initial stage was unclear and I needed a lot of reassurance about the visa trumping the Schengen 90 days. (The Local helped on that one),” she wrote. 

“[The] lack of ready communication was very stressful. It could be slicker, however staff at Manchester TLS were excellent.”

Jacqueline Maudslay, meanwhile, described the process as “complicated”, saying: “The waiting times for the appointment with the handling agent (TLS in the UK) are long and difficult to book online. We applied for a long-stay visa and were given a short-stay visa, with no reasoning and no option of talking to anyone.  

“We had met every criteria for the long-stay visa. There needs to be a contact link with the French Consular website directly for discussing visa applications.”

Handling agent TLS’s website – the first port of call for applicants from the UK – was a target for criticism.

“The TLS system is probably the most user unfriendly system I have ever used,” wrote Susan Kirby. “It throws up errors for no legitimate reason and even changes data you have keyed in. Dates are in American format so you have to be very careful and it can be very difficult to edit.”

Bea Addison, who applied for a visa in September 2021 with a view to retiring in France, agreed that it was complicated and believes the French system is chaotic and badly organised compared to other countries. “Even staff in the French Embassy in London were not knowledgeable of the process and documentation,” she wrote.

“The renewal in France was applied for in July 2022 … we have received an attestation that we will be granted renewal visas, which expired in October 2022, but we have not yet received a date to attend the préfecture due to a backlog.

Second-home owners

Many of our survey respondents were not moving to France, but were instead second-home owners who did not want to be constrained by the 90-day rule.

They have the option of remaining residents of the UK and applying for a short-stay French visitor visa – which must be renewed every year.

Second-home owner Peter Green told us: “Our appointment with TLS was delayed by two and a half hours and the whole experience was chaotic.

“We now have to go through exactly the same process again to get a visa for 2023. With second-home owners there should be a fast track that just involves proving financial viability, nothing else has changed. The system needs to be fully computerised.”

Second-home owner Alan Cranston told us his application met with no problems, but came with “unwanted cost and effort”. 

“Our six-month visa was for our first stint at our house in France in the spring, and that then overlapped our second visit in the autumn which was under Schengen. How that is handled seems to be a muddle (we did not leave the country for a day at the end of the six months, as some advise),” he said. 

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