Holidays are banned, and even essential travel comes with a whole heap of severe restrictions, including a requirement to take a Covid test before you return to the UK and two after you get home, where you must isolate for 10 days. It’s as if we’re suddenly living in the Soviet Union.
That could change on May 17, however, the date when – according to the lockdown exit strategy – overseas trips could be allowed again. How generous.
Even if foreign trips get the green light, however, not all of the world will be open to us. Many countries are still blocking UK arrivals over the new Kent variant (as well as South Africans over the South African variant, and Brazilians over the Brazilian variant), which is believed to be more infectious but won’t dodge the vaccines.
Here are the countries that are already rolling out the red carpet, or will be soon.
France (open now)
Our old frenemy has lifting restrictions on UK arrivals. Having previously required Britons to turn up clutching evidence of a compelling reason to travel (holidays don’t count), the rule will soon be dropped due to our rapid vaccine rollout and improving Covid situation.
French Tourism Minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne announced that restrictions for arrivals from Australia, South Korea, Israel, Japan, New Zealand and Singapore will also be eased.
“The list includes Britain, because the UK variant now also circulates widely in France,” he said on Twitter.
Arrivals will still need to show evidence of a negative Covid test taken in the previous 72 hours.
Greece (open from May 17)
Greece will welcome tourists from mid-May, so long as they have been vaccinated, can provide evidence of a previous Covid infection, or have tested negative for Covid in the 72 hours before departure.
“Greece is ready with a complete protocol for summer 2021,” said Greek tourism minister Harry Theocharis this week. “Tourists will be welcome if before travel they are either vaccinated, or have antibodies, or test negative. All tourists will be subject to random testing.”
The news will further bolster bookings, with tour operators and hotels in Greece already reporting a surge in enquiries since Boris Johnson’s roadmap announcement last month.
“We have seen over the past week and weekend a continued surge of enquiries for Greece in particular, with the destination contributing over a third of all our bookings,” said Simon Lynch, sales director for tour operator Scott Dunn.
Chris Wright, managing director of Sunvil, says Greece holiday bookings are edging “back closer to pre-pandemic levels”. One hotel contacted by the Telegraph, the Auberge Resorts Collection’s Grace Hotel in Santorini, has reported a 50 per cent increase in requests, with the majority coming from the UK.
Spain (open by May)
Spain will open its mass tourism resorts for business in spring, once the country has vaccinated between 30 and 40 per cent of its adult population, its Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto said this week.
The introduction of Covid passports to ease international travel is also anticipated by May, she added.
The statement strikes a more optimistic note than Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, who earlier this year said the threshold to allow for a full reopening of the country’s tourism sector should be 70 per cent vaccination.
“We could be prepared to start to apply the digital passport in mid-May,” Ms Maroto said in an interview on the Antena 3 television channel.
It comes ahead of next week’s expected announcement of a draft EU plan for the Digital Green Pass system showing a traveller’s proof of vaccination or Covid testing status.
Ms Maroto also said that Spain was expecting the approval of the single-shot Janssen vaccine “in a matter of days” to assist with a necessary acceleration in the vaccination campaign to reach 30 to 40 per cent inoculation by June.
Montenegro (open now)
Pint-sized Montenegro relies heavily on tourism, which accounts for around 12pc of GDP. Indeed, it was one of the very first countries to reopen to overseas visitors last year (on June 1). That desire to keep its borders unlocked clearly remains, and since January 12 all travellers, including UK citizens, have been free to enter Montenegro as long as they provide evidence of a negative test. Come on down.
North Macedonia (open now)
Wizz flies direct to Skopje, capital of North Macedonia, and there are no restrictions on arrivals. The Foreign Office explains: “On December 30, North Macedonia cancelled a ban on direct flights from the United Kingdom. The government also cancelled the requirement for passengers arriving from the UK to self-isolate on the basis of their travel history. No PCR test is required.” Very generous of them. What awaits inquisitive travellers? Some of Europe’s most underrated hiking.
Serbia (open now)
All visitors to Serbia must present evidence of a negative PCR test taken in the 48 hours before arrival. However, there is no requirement to quarantine and Britons are welcome too. There are Covid rules, including a ban on gatherings of six or more people, but the country has refrained from completely shutting up shop. Restaurants and cafes can remain open until 8pm (or 9pm if they are found inside a hotel), while theatres, cinemas, museums and galleries may open until 9pm, including on weekends.
Belgrade is not your typical city break, but it’s a fascinating (and cheap) option for anyone tired of the same old tourist-packed European destinations. Wizz flies there non-stop from Luton.
Romania (open now – if you’ve had a vaccine)
The Foreign Office explains: “On January 18 the Romanian Government announced that anyone from the UK who has had both doses of the vaccine, and arrives in Romania more than ten days after the second dose, will no longer be expected to self-isolate. Furthermore, anyone coming from the UK who has had a positive Covid-19 test will be exempt from self-isolation provided that it is more than 14 days and less than 90 days since the confirmation of the result of their test.”
However, the rest of us still can’t go.
Cyprus (open from May 1 – if you’ve had a vaccine)
Cyprus is due to open to all visitors who have received both doses of an approved Covid vaccine from May 1. The second dose of a vaccine should be administered at least seven days before travel. Authorities may still carry out random tests on arrivals, however.
Estonia (open now – if you’ve had a vaccine)
The Foreign Office explains: “Since February 1, the 10-day self-isolation period and Covid-19 testing requirements are not mandatory for individuals who have either tested positive for Covid-19 and declared cured less than six months previously, or those who have undergone Covid-19 vaccination less than six months previously.”
The rest of the world
Mexico (open now)
Another tourism-reliant nation, with 15.5% of its income coming from foreign visitors, Mexico’s seaside resorts have been open for business for much of the last year, with no requirement to show evidence of a negative test. Indeed, the holiday hotspot of Tulum has been positively packed with sunseekers and remote workers in recent months.
And there’s no lockdown, either. Mexico has a national traffic light system to keep Covid levels in check. In late January, the Riviera Maya, where the likes of Tulum and Cancun are found, moved from yellow to orange, meaning businesses have to reduce capacity from 60% to 30%. But they remain open, as do the beaches.
Costa Rica, and a couple of its neighbours (open now)
Central American nations have been keen to reestablish their tourism industries, and a couple of months ago the entire region was open to UK arrivals. The discovery of the Kent variant has cooled the warm welcome, however, with Panama, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras now blocking British visitors.
But Belize and Nicaragua remain options, if you take a pre-departure Covid test, while Costa Rica will let you in so long as you buy insurance with specific cover and complete an advance epidemiological information form. Getting there is a little tricky, as BA’s direct service to San Jose has been put on hold, so you would need to travel via Mexico. One you’re in, there’s sloths and howler monkeys to spot, hot springs to wallow in, and volcanoes to admire.
Barbados, and a few other places in the Caribbean (open now)
If it’s good enough for Captain Tom… The late pandemic hero enjoyed a pre-Christmas break in Barbados (who could blame him?) and the island welcomed plenty more Britons before Boris and his pals ruined everything. It remains open to us, along with a clutch of other Caribbean options (St Lucia, Antigua and Cuba are among them).
For trips to all these islands, you’ll need to follow some pretty strict protocols, including a test before departure, a test on arrival, and up to five days in quarantine. Luckily, the quarantine can take place in the confines of a luxury hotel, so it still beats Britain.
The Maldives (open now)
Few countries have been hit harder by the collapse of global travel, with 28% of its GDP coming from tourism. Therefore it should come as no surprise to learn that the Maldives has done its level best to remain open. All visitors must present a negative PCR test on arrival, issued no more than 96 hours prior to departure. They must also fill in a Traveller Health Declaration form 24 hours before they leave the UK. Once you’re in, however, a world of luxury resorts, snorkelling and sunbathing awaits. And social distancing has always been one of the country’s USPs.
Oman and Bahrain (open now)
Bahrain is open, with visitors required to take a test on arrival and self-isolate until the results arrive, but the better Middle Eastern holiday option is surely Oman. It reopened to tourists in December, with arrivals required to purchase insurance with Covid cover, carry proof of hotel accommodation and onward travel, and take a PCR test at the airport. As with Bahrain, they must self-isolate in their hotel while they wait for the result (this reportedly takes 12-24 hours) and, as long as they are not staying for more than one week (and test negative), they are then free to enjoy their holiday.
Why go? Lara Brunt, after a visit for Telegraph Travel, rated it the greatest holiday destination you hadn’t thought of. There are canyons to rival Arizona, five-star resorts, centuries-old souks, and white-sand beaches dotted with palm trees. Oman Air flies non-stop from Heathrow to Muscat.
Dubai (open now)
The UAE was added to the UK “red list” in January, meaning direct flights are prohibited and returning Britons must spend 10 days in a quarantine hotel – a move that renders Dubai, a haven for travel influencers in recent months, rather less appealing. Whether the rules are relaxed in the coming weeks remains to be seen, but the country’s speedy vaccination programme should certainly work in its favour.
Either way, it is well and truly open for business – indeed, Dubai started welcoming tourists again way back in July. Arrivals must show evidence of a negative test.
Tanzania, and much of southern Africa (open now)
While Sweden bucked the trend in Europe by shunning lockdowns, Tanzania went a step further. After both a goat and a papaya returned positive results, its president, John Magufuli, ordered an end to all Covid testing. Furthermore, borders have remained open, there are no testing requirements for entry, and anyone is allowed in. His policy may well have backfired, however, with recent reports suggesting he may have caught the virus himself.
Sarah Marshall wrote about a recent visit for Telegraph Travel. She said: “In Arusha, I witnessed scenes I’d long forgotten in Europe: crowds squeezing through market stalls; bars spilling with noisy revellers; friends greeting each other with hugs in the street. No-one was wearing a mask.
“Tourists to Tanzania, however, exist in a parallel universe. At Asilia’s Sayari camp in the north of the Serengeti National Park, for example, all members of staff wore face coverings. A hand sanitizer station was positioned at the entrance, meals were served individually to allow social distancing, and most guests have their own private vehicles.”
Several other safari hotspots are open to tourists, including Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia, Rwanda, Botswana and Kenya, although all require arrivals to come with evidence of a negative test. Kenya is the best entry point for the whole region; BA offers non-stop flights to Nairobi. All the countries mentioned above, with the exception of Kenya, are on the UK “red list”, however.
The Seychelles (open from March 25)
Having almost vaccinated its entire population, the Seychelles says it will reopen its borders to all tourists on March 25, hoping to resuscitate a sector that is a mainstay for the economy.
Authorities sealed off the Indian Ocean archipelago last spring, a move that starved resorts, cruise ship ports and nature reserves of customers.
“Seychelles will reopen to tourists from all over the world on March 25,” state-owned Seychelles News Agency reported, citing remarks by Minister for Foreign Affairs and Tourism Sylvestre Radegonde.
Only tourists from South Africa will not be allowed due to lingering concerns over its variant.