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How to get travel insurance amid UK rulings on red, green, and amber countries

·5-min read
A jet of Air Malta is seen behind a traffic sign during its approach for a landing at Zurich Airport, Switzerland. Photo: Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters
A jet of Air Malta is seen behind a traffic sign during its approach for a landing at Zurich Airport, Switzerland. Photo: Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters

The introduction of the red, green and amber traffic light system in the UK has caused confusion over which countries it is possible to travel to this summer.

A key concern is how to get travel insurance and what a policy will cover.

Traffic light system

The red, amber and green traffic light system introduced by the government outlines what you must do when you arrive in England from abroad. This procedure is not about which countries you are permitted or advised to travel to but what happens if you are coming into England from another country. There are separate rules for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

What you must do before you travel and on your arrival depends on where you have been during the previous 10 days. There are different levels of quarantine and costly COVID-19 tests that you are legally required to take.

The government website lists countries and territories as red, amber or green and has different entry requirements depending on where you have been.

This system does not take into account whether these countries are permitting foreigners to enter them. For example Australia is on the green list, so on arrival to England from Australia you are not required to quarantine, but this does not recognise that Australian borders are closed to non-citizens. Currently it is not possible to travel to Australia on holiday.

The full list of countries and territories and the traffic light zones they sit in are regularly updated online and you can also sign up for watch list alerts.

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The most relevant advice for foreign holidays actually comes from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).

There is no travel insurance product that will cover against the traffic light system, only a change in the FCDO advice.

Hannah Isitt, travel insurance expert at GoCompare, said: “The traffic light system does not impact a travel insurance policy – the cover is dependent on the FCDO advice. For example, Israel is currently on the green list, but there will be no insurance cover available as the FCDO advise against all travel, whereas Rhodes – which is currently amber – will be covered as FCDO isn’t advising against travel there."

The FCDO can advise against all travel to a country or a territory (for example Afghanistan and parts of India) or all but essential travel (for example France).

A further complication is the FCDO advice may differ from the traffic light system. For example Greece and all its islands are on the amber list but the FCDO advises against all but essential travel to Greece except islands of Rhodes, Kos, Zakynthos, Corfu and Crete. This means it may be possible to get travel insurance for these specific islands but there will be stricter entry requirements when returning to the UK, such as a 10-day quarantine and two COVID-19 tests.

You may be able to end quarantine early if you pay for a private COVID-19 test through the Test to Release scheme.

Tourists carry their meals as they walk towards the Balos beach and its lagoon on the north-eastern part of the island of Crete, Greece. Photo: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP via Getty Images
Tourists carry their meals as they walk towards the Balos beach and its lagoon on the north-eastern part of the island of Crete, Greece. Photo: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP via Getty Images

Insurance coverage

The most essential thing is to find out exactly what a travel insurance policy will and will not cover and what happens if the FCDO advice changes before your travel or whilst you are on holiday.

You are highly unlikely to find travel insurance for an area where the FCDO advises against all but essential travel. Polices are also unlikely to cover the costs of unexpected testing or quarantine.

It can be tempting to go for the cheapest, standard travel insurance via a price comparison website but for COVID-19 cover you are likely to need more bespoke insurance and it is worth calling the provider.

A lot of travel insurance policies now exclude pandemic coverage so you risk losing money if your holiday or flights are cancelled. Many insurance companies also expect you to try to recover cancellation costs directly from a tour operator or credit card company via chargeback, first.

Inez Cooper, managing director of insurance provider William Russell, said: "No matter what destination you are visiting, all basic travel insurance should cover personal liability cover, any medical expenses, repatriation services, any cancellations, any missed departures, delays, any travel abandonment and any misplaced baggage. If the policy doesn’t have these features, you shouldn’t go for it."

Check the terms and conditions with your insurance provider directly before you travel in case of any last minute changes.

Fuengirola beach in Spain. Photo: Carlos Gil/Getty Images
Fuengirola beach in Spain. Photo: Carlos Gil/Getty Images

Health cover

If you are a UK citizen with a valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) you can continue to get free or discounted healthcare for some treatment in European countries.

This year, a new UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) also became available offering similar benefits to EHIC. You can apply for one once your EHIC has expired.

However EHICs no longer work in Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland (also known as the EFTA countries). GHICs also do not cover the EFTA countries.

Some individuals such as those that have rights under the Withdrawal Agreement (EU citizens) can still apply for an EHIC which does cover the EU and EFTA countries.

"Neither an EHIC nor a GHIC provides equivalent protection to travel insurance, for example repatriation costs, which you would need to secure separately," advised Sara-Jane Eaton, partner international claims and travel at DWF Law.

Her biggest piece of advice is to do as much preparation in advance as possible because "being forewarned is forearmed".

Watch: Should I book holiday this summer?

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