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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What are the rules on taking your pets on holiday in Spain?

Deciding whether to take your furry friends with you or what to do with them while you're away on holiday can be difficult. Here's everything you need to know about the rules on travelling with pets in Spain, as well as some alternative options.

What are the rules on taking your pets on holiday in Spain?

The Spanish love to have pets. There are in fact 13 million of them registered in the country and around one-quarter of all Spanish households have one or more.

Ninety-three percent of these are dogs while six percent are cats. The other one percent includes smaller animals in cages.

In fact, there are even more pets in Spain than children under 15. 

But what happens when you go on holiday in Spain, what do you do with your fuzzy companion?

What are the rules on taking them on public transport, to beaches and campsites and what are your options if you can’t take them with you?


Dogs are usually not allowed on most beaches in Spain during the summer months, except for specific beaches designated for them.

The rules on the exact dates that dogs can and can’t access certain beaches changes depending on the region of Spain and even the specific beaches. Make sure to research ahead of time, depending on where you’re going. The information can usually be found on the website of the local town council.

For example, in Barcelona dogs are not allowed on the city beaches between May 1st and September 26th. On Puerto de Santa María beach in Cádiz, dogs are not allowed between June 1st and September 30th, while in the Granada province, many beaches don’t allow dogs between July 1st and September 30th.

The website Viajar con Perros is a good resource to find designated dog beaches across the country.

If you are planning a beach holiday, you will need to decide what to do with your dog while you’re sunning yourself on the sand or make sure that your accommodation is not too far from a dog-friendly beach. Perhaps you and your family will need to take it in turns, while someone goes into the countryside with the dog instead.

Leaving them in a swelteringly hot car, tent is of course not an option while you’re out enjoying the beach. If you leave them in a hotel room, you should make sure the air conditioning is on and that you don’t leave them alone for more than a few hours.

READ ALSO: Renting in Spain when you have a pet: What are my rights?

Travelling in Spain with your pet

Of course, the easiest option when travelling around Spain with your pet is to have your own car or rent one. Just make sure that the rental company is aware you will be taking your pets in the car and if they allow it.

Remember, if you are hiring a car, you’ll need to make sure you bring an appropriate pet carrier or crate so that the animal is secure and cannot disturb the driver.

Travelling by car also means that you can stop along the way if your pet feels sick, needs to relieve itself or needs to stop for a drink.

Those who don’t have the option of travelling by car have the option of going by train instead.

Renfe states that on AVE and long-distance (Larga Distancia) trains, you can travel with your pet as long as:

  • It’s a dog, cat, ferret, but not poultry
  • It does not weigh more than 10kg
  • It always travels inside a cage or carrier, with a maximum size of 60x35x35 cm
  • Only one pet per person allowed
  • Your ticket allows travel with a pet

The pet ticket is free if you travel with a Premium ticket, in a Preferential or Grand Class bed or a Grand Comfort Seat. For basic tickets, you can travel with your pet for an additional €20.

Dogs larger than 10kg are not allowed on the AVE long-distance trains, the media distancia (medium distance) or Avant trains. If you have a larger dog, you will most likely need to take the much slower local Cercanías trains or Rodalies in Catalonia instead.

If you’re travelling by long-distance bus, you will need to check the rules of the bus company ahead of time. There’s usually not much space on buses, so this may only be possible with very small pets.

READ ALSO: How can I travel with my pet from Spain to the UK without it going in the hold?


Going on a camping holiday is a good option for pet owners, typically offering lots of outdoor space.

Many campsites are pet friendly, even offering facilities such as dog parks for your furry friends too.

Looking on the campsite’s website or phoning them to find out if pets are allowed should be your first point of action.

Be aware, not all campsites will allow all types of pets. For example, some may not permit certain dog breeds or dogs over a particular size.

Pet-friendly hotels

If you’re not planning on camping, finding the right type of accommodation for you and your pooch is essential for a successful holiday with your pet. While not all hotels in Spain are pet-friendly, there are many that are.

Hoteles Mascotas is a good resource, as is Red Canina. You can also check pet-friendly hotels as a search function on popular accommodation such as

What to do with your pet if you can’t take the on holiday with you?

If the location you’re planning on going to won’t allow pets or it would simply be unfair to take them with you because they wouldn’t enjoy it, you’ll have to find pet care options.

Those who have cats may have it a little easier. You can ask a friend or a neighbour to look in on your cat every day to feed them, clean out the litter tray and give them some love.

Dogs on the other hand need a lot more attention and need to be taken on walks at least twice a day. If possible, you can find a friend who is willing to take your dog to their house to look after them while you’re away.

If this isn’t possible, your best bet is to find nearby pet hotels, dog kennels or catteries that will look after your pet. These can cost between €12 and €25, depending on what type of kennel you opt for.

A third option is to get a house/pet sitter who will essentially live in your house for free while you’re away, but in exchange will have to carry out particular tasks for you such as looking after pets and watering your plants.

A few options include Trusted House Sitters, Mind My House and Luxury House Sitting. Sometimes you will have to pay a small membership fee to advertise.