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Two Fundamental Questions for British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps about Central America Travel to the UK

As most Central America travel to the UK opens up again from October 11, we have two fundamental questions for British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

Good Lord, we’re sick of the words “Red List”. It would be wonderful to park them up and never mention them again once this whole hellhole pandemic thing is over.

Yesterday, we came closer to doing that when the British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced a near obliteration of the Red List system. In a series of announcements on Twitter, he cut 47 countries from the Red List, leaving only seven remaining.

And at the risk of sounding like slaves grateful for scraps from the master’s table, we appreciate this. It’s a step further towards normality for many thousands of British expats around the world, or people with family in the UK who’ve been stranded from their loved ones for way too long.

But here’s the thing.

At the risk of sounding like a party pooper urinating into the punch bowl here, it’s not as clear cut as it seems when it comes to Central America.

There are still two fundamental questions that need answering:

  1. Why is Panama still on the UK Red List?
  2. When will the UK recognize Costa Rica’s Covid vaccine certificate?

Until we have answers to these questions, we’re afraid we’ll keep banging on with the whole hated Red List thing. Which sucks, we know. So let’s take the first question first.

1. Why is Panama still on the UK Red List?

When Grant Shapps announced the British decision to scrap 47 countries from the Red List, opening up the prospect of normalized travel again, it was wonderful to see Costa Rica as one of those countries. It joins the rest of Central America.

Not so much Panama, though.

This, as we alluded to yesterday, seems inexplicable. Especially when you look at Panama’s Covid case numbers.

They’re dramatically lower than those of the UK. Heck, they’re dramatically lower than Costa Rica’s Covid numbers. Yet Costa Rica makes it off the Red List but Panama doesn’t. Why?

Is there some political tit-for-tat going on here, some crappy who’ll-blink-first thing?

Panama counts the UK as a “high risk country”, which, when you look at the UK’s Covid numbers compared to its own, it is. The UK is one of 20 countries around the world where, if you’re unvaccinated, entering Panama means quarantining in a hotel upon entry.

Is this the reason why the UK takes most of the planet off the Red List, but leaves Panama on it, even if Panama has one of the lowest Covid case rates in Central America?

The whole thing makes no sense at all. Belize, for example, has the highest Covid rates in Central America, only a little lower than the UK’s own numbers. Yet Belize was never on the Red List. Something stinks here.

There has to be a reason why Panama stays on the Red List and Costa Rica comes off it. We deserve to know that reason, Mr. Shapps.

2. When will the UK accept Costa Rica’s Covid vaccine certificate?

Amid the fanfare of Costa Rica coming off the UK’s Red List, there seems to be one teeny tiny little oversight.

The small matter of the UK not approving Covid vaccine certificates from Costa Rica.

This means, that although you can travel from Costa Rica to the UK from October 11 without having to quarantine in a hotel, you still need to self-isolate (a nicer way of saying “quarantine”) for ten days upon arrival. You need to take a Covid test within 72 hours before arrival. Then, you must take another one two days after arrival, during your self isolation. Plus another one on Day 8 after arrival, to determine if you can stop the self isolation on Day 11 or not. Both the Day 2 and Day 8 tests need booking in advance of travel to the UK.

These rules are standard for entering the UK unvaccinated. But, even if you’re vaccinated in Costa Rica, they stand for you too, because the UK does not recognize Costa Rica’s vaccination program.

You can see for yourself right here, straight from the horse’s mouth. Costa Rica is not on the list of countries with recognized vaccination programs. We thought it was a typo at first, because even Colombia is recognized, another country remaining on the Red List.

Is this an oversight, Mr. Shapps? Are you recognizing Costa Rica’s vaccine program or not? And if not, why not? Can we expect to see Costa Rica added to the list of countries the UK recognizes? If so, when?

Also, it’s not only Costa Rica. No country in Central America has a recognized vaccination program, not even the ones who were never on the Red List at all. Not one. And every country uses the British AstraZeneca vaccine, too.

It boggles the mind that Belize can receive a donation of AstraZeneca direct from the British government, only for the British government to not recognize certificates of its own vaccine from Belize. Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama have all received AstraZeneca vaccines, either through direct purchase or the COVAX program. Makes no difference, the UK recognizes none of them.

Again, we’re not trying to be party poopers here.

But Panama remaining on the Red List is ludicrous, and Costa Rica’s vaccine program not being recognized is confusing. As is the refusal to recognize the programs in every other country.

As soon as we have some clarity about these issues, we’ll shut up about all this and join the celebrations, we promise.

James Dyde is the editor of He lives in Escazu, Costa Rica.

James Dyde

James Dyde

James Dyde is a British immigrant to Costa Rica and the editor of this website. He has lived in Central America since 2000 and retains a deep love for the region. He lives in Escazu, Costa Rica.