The Return of International Travel

Travel outside England for leisure purposes ceased to be illegal with effect from 17 May 2021; and is to be replaced by the traffic lights system for England. This system dictates the Covid-19 testing regime and whether a traveller must quarantine or self-isolate on their return home.

This article deals with some of the actions tour operators should now take. This position is correct at 27 May 2021, but the situation is evolving very quickly.

Traffic lights

These are the key points:

  • Government advice is that travellers should not travel to amber or red list countries for leisure purposes. However, this is not prohibited.
  • The traffic light system affects return to England only. Travellers need to check the entry requirements for the country to which they are travelling.
  • Currently vaccination status is irrelevant to the requirements.
  • Travellers who have been in or through a red or amber list country in the 10-days prior to arrival in England will have to follow the stricter amber or red list rules.
  • All travellers arriving in England must complete a passenger locator form.
  • Covid-19 tests must meet the specific requirements set out in the regulations. Travellers may not use NHS tests.
  • All returning travellers must take a compliant Covid-19 lab test with an approved provider in the 3 days prior to travel.
  • Travellers arriving from green list countries will not need to quarantine or self-isolate but they must have booked and paid for a day 2 test.
  • Amber list travellers need to self-isolate at home for 10 days and must have booked and paid for a day 2 and a day 8 test (unless they pay for a test to release.)
  • Red list travellers need to have booked a quarantine hotel package prior to arrival, which includes the required tests.
  • A breach of the regulations attracts fines for the traveller of up to £10,000 depending on the nature of the offence.

Information obligations

“Operators” of a commercial transport service – most commonly an airline or ferry operator (not the tour operator) have specific duties to provide prescribed information to their passengers at various points. They must also ensure that passengers have completed passenger locator forms, have a negative test before travel and meet the other requirements for entry. It is sufficient for the operator to show that they provided the prescribed information to the person who made the booking (who might be the tour operator.)

Under the Package Travel and Linked Arrangements Regulations 2018 (PTR) tour operators and/or retailers have a duty to provide specific information to the traveller prior concluding the contract, this includes general information on passport, visa requirements and health formalities for the country of destination. There is no requirement to provide such information about a traveller’s return to England. Ensuring travellers have this information is clearly good practice.

The PTR also provide that the organiser must provide assistance to the traveller if they are in difficulty of any kind.

Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office advice

Tour operator booking conditions sometimes include a contractual commitment to follow FCDO advice, if yours do, you may want to review whether to maintain this. The government has been under pressure from the travel industry to align FCDO advice with the traffic light system. Although there has been a shift away from blanket advice against non-essential travel, it is not completely aligned. For example, Spain remains on the amber list but the Canaries no longer have an advice against all but essential travel.  Once a country goes onto the green list, the FCDO may still advise against all non-essential travel to that country for Covid and/or non-Covid reasons.

Public liability insurance held by tour operators may contain specific provisions about coverage linked to FCDO advice so you should be aware of this and check your policy terms.

What does this mean in practice for tour operators?

  • Providing up to date advice to travellers about outbound and return entry requirements will be essential.
  • A traveller who fails to book a test or obtain a test result for their return trip may ask for help from the tour operator. The tour operator should not be liable for the costs associated with the delayed return, however, this may depend on the specific circumstances.
  • The airline or other commercial transport provider will be entitled to refuse to transport travellers who do not comply with the requirements for entry to the UK. It is therefore, advisable that tour operators provide clear and prominent information to travellers to ensure that they are informed in advance of travel.
  • Tour operators will need to consider how to manage travel to amber and red list countries, both where the advice changes after booking and for those clients who wish to travel to such destinations.

Actions to consider:

  1. Review the information you are providing, how this is provided and at what points.
  2. Check booking conditions to ensure that they are up-to-date, deal with the Covid-19 situation and what you do, or intend to do, in practice.
  3. Review your position on travel to amber or red list countries.



If you have any queries about anything in this article please contact Claire Ingleby (

mb LAW
Studio 3, The Quays,
Concordia Street,
Leeds LS1 4ES

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