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UK Travel Trafiic Light System

Could the UK Scrap its Travel Traffic Light System this Month? (and What Does it Mean for Central America?)

Reports from the UK today indicate that maybe, hopefully, the government there is ready to finally scrap its travel traffic light system by the end of September. Could this mean the end of the Central America travel bans to that country?

As it stands, the UK separates countries around the world into green, amber, and red lists. Green list countries are deemed safe to travel to (and, from the UK government’s point of view, safe to return/visit from) and require no quarantine from the travelers once arrived in the UK. Travelers coming from a green list county need to take a Covid test two days after arrival.

Amber and red list countries mean travelers returning/visiting from them must quarantine.

Unvaccinated travelers arriving from an amber list country need to self-isolate in their homes or hotels for ten days (11 nights), taking a Covid test on days two and eight. Vaccinated travelers coming from an amber list country don’t need to self-isolate, they just take the Covid test on day two.

If you’re entering the UK from a red list country (or if you’ve been in a red list country in the ten days prior to entering the UK), you can only enter if you’re a British or Irish citizen/resident. No tourists from a red list country can enter.

Travelers returning from, or who’ve been in, red list countries must quarantine in a government-approved quarantine hotel for ten days (11 nights) at their own cost. This applies regardless of vaccination status.

The system has drawn criticism from all sides, both travelers and the travel industry.

It keeps chopping and changing which countries are on which list, creating confusion and mixed messages.

In August, the World Travel and Tourism Council called the system “hugely damaging and called for its immediate scrapping. The CEO of British Airways said the system’s “not fit for purpose“. Sentiments shared across the board by all.

And now it looks like that might well happen.

Don’t hold your breath yet, the end could be near for the traffic light system, according to reports.

Multiple media sources including the BCC, the Independent, the Telegraph, and more are all talking about this today. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

The reason for the smoke is a man named Paul Charles.

He’s the CEO of the PC Agency, a travel industry PR and brand consultancy. According to the Independent, he’s well-connected with what the UK government is thinking regarding Covid travel policy, and has pre-empted official announcements before. Maybe it’s not much to go on, but it’s something.

Charles tweeted last night that the government “expected” to scrap the traffic light system and replace it with something simpler, a U.S.-style system where green and amber lists disappear, and only the red list remains.

Basically, the UK will mark all countries as green or red, with travelers free to travel to and from non-red list countries without having to quarantine.

So what does this mean for Central America?

Currently, all seven Central American countries are either amber or red.

Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua are all amber. This means that anyone (including non-UK/Irish citizens/residents) can arrive in the UK from them and that if vaccinated, they don’t need to self-isolated, while non-vaccinated travelers need to self-isolate at home.

They will, in effect, become green if the UK scraps the system.

Costa Rica and Panama remain on the UK’s red list and nothing will change there, unless they come off that list. A long, expensive hotel stay and only UK/Irish citizens/residents allowed.

Justifying the UK’s travel policy on Central America isn’t easy, especially when you look at the mess that country has made of its own pandemic.

It seems insane that Panama is still on the red list, while, say, Guatemala is not. There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. The UK has a far higher case-per-million rate than any Central American country.

One suspects that once they toss a small, poor country onto one of these lists, they forget about them forever and there they stay. It’s not like Central America has the resources to petition the UK government to look again at their countries.

But, fingers crossed, if the end comes soon to this entire system, maybe they’ll look at Central America – especially Costa Rica and Panama – and do the right thing.

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.