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UK Travel Rules

UK Continues to Snub Central America over Covid Travel Rules

Today we saw another update of the UK travel rules and restrictions. But for us here in Central America, it makes no difference – we’re all still stuck on amber or red.

They said the latest travel advisory update from the UK today would be a different one. The UK updates its “traffic light” system of red, amber, and green countries every three weeks, but with only small changes for the most part. Today’s update, though, they said, would be different, with major changes brought in.

And sure enough, there were more changes today, in the biggest shakeup of the UK’s travel list in a while.

But not, unfortunately, for us in Central America.

Costa Rica and Panama remain anchored to the UK’s red list, while Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua stay amber. No Central American country has moved from amber to green or from red to amber.

But let’s back up a bit. What does the UK’s “traffic light” system even mean?

Well, it’s how they decide which countries are “safe”, Covid-wise.

Coming from the UK, a country with one of the worst Covid reputations in the world, it all seems a little hypocritical, but there you go. Not many countries have handled this pandemic so appallingly bad as the UK.

Anyway, a green country means it’s “safe” to travel to. When you return to the UK from a green country, you don’t need to quarantine at all. All you do is take a Covid test within two days of arrival. This is on top of the Covid test you need to enter the UK in the first place, of course.

An amber country ramps up the hysteria and hypocrisy. Travelers arriving in the UK from an amber country must self quarantine at their home (or hotel or whatever) for ten days and take two Covid tests, one on Day Two and one on Day Eight. This is where most of Central America is.

Then you have the red countries, those countries deemed “untouchable” by the government of Boris Johnson.

They’re the equivalent of having an X painted on your door during the Black Death. If you’re arriving in the UK from a red country, you have to quarantine in a government-approved hotel. No $200 for passing go for you, dear traveler.

Once in that government-approved hotel, you can’t leave your room under any circumstances. Or they’ll prosecute, fine, and possibly imprison you. Oh, and the whole thing is at your expense, too. Land of Hope and Glory? Mother of the Free? Pfft.

Since the UK introduced these quarantine hotels in January, social media has been full of horror stories.

From hours stuck on buses without water to “prison-like conditions” to tales of food poisoning. The Four Seasons these places ain’t.

The UK added six countries to its red list today, dropping the Dominican Republic, Eritrea, Haiti, Mongolia, Tunisia and Uganda down from amber.

At the other end of the scale, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, the Balearic islands (Spain), Barbados, Bermuda, British Antarctic Territory, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Madeira, Malta, Montserrat, the Pitcairn Islands, and Turks and Caicos now move up to green from amber. Good for them.

But it kind of makes you wonder what Central America has to do to get a break here.

Take Belize, for example. The CDC in the United States designates Belize as a Level One country. That’s the lowest possible category, meaning that the risk of Covid is minimal. So why do the British keep it at amber?

And why on earth are Costa Rica and Panama both red? It makes no sense at all.

Although both countries have a higher case-per-million Covid count than the UK right now, they’re not wildly higher. Costa Rica’s Covid numbers are dropping like a stone right now, and while Panama’s are on a slight rise, it’s certainly nothing too out of the ordinary. Both countries should be amber at the very least.

It’s not like the region gets many British tourists, but it’s still ridiculous to continue punishing it in this way, especially Costa Rica and Panama.

But what can we do, huh? We can continue pointing out the ineptness and ludicrousness of the global Covid response, especially that of the UK. But in the end it gets us nowhere.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. The British government also said that next month they’d look at scrapping the quarantine requirement for travelers arriving from amber countries if they’re vaccinated. I somehow doubt that’ll happen, but let’s wait and see.

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.