|Travel Security Advice for the United Kingdom|
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a highly developed constitutional monarchy composed of Great Britain (England, Scotland, and Wales) and Northern Ireland. Read the Department of State Background Notes on the United Kingdom for additional information. Gibraltar is a UK Overseas Territory bordering Spain, located at the southernmost tip of Europe at the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea; it is one of 13 former British colonies that has elected to continue its political ties with London. Tourist facilities are widely available throughout the United Kingdom and Gibraltar.
U.S. citizens living or traveling in the United Kingdom are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate at the Department of State’s travel registration page in order to obtain updated information on local travel and security. U.S. citizens without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. Registration is important; it allows the State Department to assist U.S. citizens in an emergency.
The American Citizen Services section maintains a blog of easy-to-access information relevant to U.S. citizens living in or traveling to the United Kingdom. Local Embassy and Consulate information is available below and at the Department of State’s list of embassies and consulates.
There is no U.S. consular representation in Gibraltar. Passport questions should be directed to the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, located at Serrano 75, Madrid, Spain; telephone: 34-91-587-2200 and fax: 34-91-587-2303. All other inquiries should be directed to the U.S. Embassy in London.
The UK Border Agency (UKBA) has recently implemented a five-tier, point-based visa system that affects U.S. citizens coming to the United Kingdom as well as U.S. citizens and dependents already in the country. Information on the point-based system can be found on the UKBA website.
Companies and individuals intending to employ U.S. citizens, or other nationals from countries beyond the European Economic Area and Switzerland, are required to apply to the UKBA for a sponsorship license. Information on the sponsorship license can be found on the UKBA website.
Educational establishments must also apply for a sponsorship license. This includes American educational institutions offering only short-term study abroad programs on their own premises in the United Kingdom to students who are enrolled in the United States but come to the United Kingdom for one or two semesters prior to returning home to finish their degree courses. All educational establishments must apply for a license from the UKBA. Information on the license for educational establishments can be found on the UKBA web site.
Students and prospective students who intend to stay longer than six months, and those coming for less than six months but who wish to work while studying, are required to obtain a student or prospective student visa before traveling to the United Kingdom. Failure to do so will result in the student or prospective student being refused entry to the United Kingdom. Information on student visas can be found on the UKBA website. Students may apply online.
If travelers or sponsors have any questions about requirements for a visa, please refer to the UKBA website.
Travelers must be outside the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man when they make an application for a UK visa.
It is the traveler’s personal responsibility to ensure that he/she has the appropriate permission to enter the United Kingdom. The U.S. Embassy in London cannot intervene with any application, nor can it secure entry on behalf of U.S. citizens who arrive without a visa when one is required. The UKBA website will assist you to find out whether you need a visa to enter the United Kingdom.
Anyone who does not appear to be in good health may be required to undergo a medical exam (including a HIV test) prior to being granted or denied entry into the United Kingdom.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our website. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information page.
The United Kingdom is politically stable, with a modern infrastructure but shares with the rest of the world an increased threat of terrorist incidents of international origin, as well as the potential for isolated violence related to the political situation in Northern Ireland (a part of the United Kingdom).
Like the United States, the United Kingdom shares its national threat levels with the general public to keep everyone informed and explain the context for the various increased security measures that may be encountered. The UK Home Office posts UK threat levels on its website.
The UK Security Service, commonly known as MI5, publishes through its MI5 website specific reasons for any changes in the threat level and recommended actions for the public..
U.S. citizens are advised to check with the UK Department for Transport for the latest security updates and carry-on luggage restrictions.
The British Home Secretary has urged UK citizens to be alert and vigilant. For example, citizens are encouraged to keep an eye out for suspect packages or people acting suspiciously on the subway (called the Tube or Underground), at train stations, and at airports, and to report anything suspicious to the appropriate authorities. U.S. citizens are reminded to remain vigilant with regard to their personal security and to exercise caution. For more information about UK public safety initiatives, consult the UK Civil Contingencies Secretariat website.
The political situation in Northern Ireland has improved noticeably since the days of the “Troubles;” nevertheless, in November 2009, the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) reported the dissident republican threat in Northern Ireland was at its highest level in six years. The IMC reported the two main dissident republican groups, the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA, were increasing the threat posed to security forces. Attacks by these groups have focused primarily on police and military targets, and involved the use of firearms and explosives; these types of attacks could continue. Additionally, the potential remains for sporadic incidents of street violence and/or sectarian confrontation. U.S. citizens traveling to Northern Ireland should remain alert to their surroundings and should be aware that if they choose to visit potential flashpoints or attend parades, sporadic violence remains a possibility. Tensions may be heightened during the summer marching season (April to August), particularly during the month of July (around the July 12th public holiday).
The Department of State reminds all U.S. citizens that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence. U.S. citizens are therefore urged to avoid the areas of demonstrations if possible, and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of any demonstrations. U.S. citizens should stay current with media coverage of local events and be aware of their surroundings at all times.
The phone number for police/fire/ambulance emergency services – the equivalent of 911 in the United States – is 999 in the United Kingdom and 112 in Gibraltar. This number should also be used for warnings about possible bombs or other immediate threats. The UK Anti-Terrorist Hotline, at 0800-789-321, is for tips and confidential information about possible terrorist activity.
For the latest security information, U.S. citizens traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs website, which contains current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts as well as the Worldwide Caution. Recent communications from U.S. Embassy London to the local U.S. citizen community, called Warden Messages, can also be found here.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the United States, or for callers outside the United States and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s extensive tips and advice on traveling safely abroad.
The United Kingdom and Gibraltar benefit from generally low crime rates. Overall crime rates have decreased over the past decade; however, according to Metropolitan Police statistics, serious crime (i.e. assault, robbery, burglary, gun-enabled, and rape) in many London boroughs has increased during the past 12 months. As with any major metropolitan city, U.S. citizens are urged to be cautious and aware of their surroundings.
Typical criminal incidents include pickpocketing, mugging, and “snatch and grab” theft of mobile phones, watches, and jewelry. Theft of unattended bags, especially at airports and from cars parked at restaurants, hotels, and resorts is common. Pickpockets target tourists, especially at historic sites and restaurants, and on buses, trains, and the London subway (known as the Tube or Underground). Thieves often target unattended cars parked at tourist sites and roadside restaurants, looking for laptop computers and handheld electronic equipment, especially global positioning satellite (GPS) equipment.
Walking in isolated areas, including public parks, especially after dark, should be avoided, as these are advantageous venues for muggers and thieves. Travelers should be especially careful using the underground pedestrian tunnels at night or when there is little foot traffic. As a general rule, either walk the extra distance to use a surface crossing or wait until there are other adult pedestrians entering the tunnel.
In London, travelers should use only licensed Black Cabs or car services recommended by their hotel or tour operator. Unlicensed taxis or private cars posing as taxis may offer low fares, but are often uninsured and may have unlicensed drivers. In some instances, travelers have been robbed and/or raped while using these cars. You can access 7,000 licensed Black Cabs using just one telephone number: 087-1871-8710. This taxi booking service combines all six of London’s radio taxi circuits, allowing you to telephone 24 hours a day if you need a cab. Alternatively, to find a licensed minicab, text HOME to 60835 on your mobile phone to get the telephone number to two licensed minicab companies in the area. If you know in advance when you will be leaving for home, you can pre-book your return journey. The Safe Travel at Night partnership among the Metropolitan Police, Transport for London, and the Mayor of London maintains a website with additional information on cabs and car services.
Travelers should not leave drinks unattended in bars and nightclubs. There have been some instances of drinks being spiked with illegal substances, leading to incidents of robbery and rape.
U.S. citizens should take steps to ensure the safety of their U.S. passports. Visitors in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Gibraltar are not expected to produce identity documents for police authorities and thus may secure their passports in hotel safes or residences.
ATM Fraud: Abundant ATMs that link to U.S. banking networks preclude the need to carry a passport to cash travelers’ checks. Travelers should be aware that U.S. banks might charge a higher processing fee for withdrawals made overseas. Common-sense personal security measures taken in the United States when using ATMs should also be followed in the United Kingdom. ATM fraud in the United Kingdom is becoming more sophisticated, incorporating technologies to surreptitiously record customer ATM card and PIN information. Travelers should avoid using ATMs that look in any way temporary in structure or location, or are located in isolated areas. Travelers should be aware that in busy public areas, thieves use distraction techniques, such as waiting until the PIN has been entered and then pointing to money on the ground or attempting to hand out a free newspaper. When the ATM user is distracted, a colleague will quickly withdraw cash and leave. If distracted in any way, travelers should press the cancel transaction button immediately and collect their card before speaking to the person who has distracted them. If the person’s motives appear suspicious, travelers should not challenge them but remember the details and report the matter to police as soon as possible. In addition, travelers should not use an ATM if there is anything stuck to the machine or if it looks unusual in any way. If the machine does not return the card, report the incident to the issuing bank immediately.
In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law. In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.
Internet Financial Scams: Financial crimes conducted over the Internet have increased dramatically in the United Kingdom. Internet scams are attempts by con artists to convince you to send them money. These fraudulent schemes can include lotteries, online dating/social networking services, inheritance notices, work permits/job offers, bank overpayments, or schemes that make it appear you are helping a loved one or a friend in trouble.
A number of U.S. citizens are lured to the United Kingdom each year in the belief that they have won a lottery or have inherited from the estate of a long-lost relative. U.S. citizens may also be contacted by persons they have “met” over the Internet who now need funds urgently to pay for hospital treatment, hotel bills, taxes, or airline security fees. Invariably, the person contacted is the victim of fraud. Any unsolicited invitations to travel to the United Kingdom to collect winnings or an inheritance should be viewed with skepticism. Also, there are no licenses or fees required when transiting a UK airport, nor is emergency medical treatment withheld pending payment of fees.
Visit the Embassy London website for more information about Internet Financial Scams and how to protect yourself. The site contains useful tips to prevent becoming a victim. To view a common example of Internet financial scams, see Embassy London’s YouTube video. The U.S. Department of State also provides information about other types of international financial scams.
If you are the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate (see the Department of State’s list of embassies and consulates). This includes the loss or theft of a U.S. passport. The embassy/consulate staff can, for example, help you find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds may be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime are solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.
The local equivalent to the 911 emergency line in the United Kingdom is 999; in Gibraltar, it is 112.
Visit the Victim Support website, maintained by an independent UK charity to help people cope with the effects of crime.
Please see our information on victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. Persons violating British laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in the United Kingdom are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Many pocket knives and other blades, and mace or pepper spray canisters, although legal in the United States, are illegal in the United Kingdom and will result in arrest and confiscation if detected. Please refer to "A UK Customs Guide," detailing which items visitors are prohibited from bringing into the United Kingdom.
Air travelers to and from the United Kingdom should be aware that penalties against alcohol-related and other in-flight crimes (“air rage”) are stiff and are being enforced with prison sentences. Please also see our information on customs regulations that pertain when returning to the United States.
From March 31, 2009, drivers of non-UK-registered vehicles may have to provide an on-the-spot deposit of up to 900 pounds if stopped for a motoring offense. If the driver cannot pay due to lack of cash or credit, the vehicle will be clamped until payment is made, and a release fee will be charged in addition to the deposit.
Non-UK-resident drivers charged with motoring offenses are often unable to provide a verifiable address where a summons (subpoena) to appear in court can be delivered and/or enforced, or fail to return for court if released on bail. U.S. citizens may be detained and arrested if they cannot provide a UK address to receive a subpoena or are about to depart the United Kingdom and have to be brought to court quickly for a motoring offense. If alleged offenders attend court and are found not guilty, the deposit is returned.
The legal drinking age (18 years old to purchase alchohol) in the United Kingdom is generally lower than that in the United States, and social drinking in pubs (bars) is often seen as a routine aspect of British life. Parents, organizers of school trips, and young travelers should be aware of the impact that this environment may have when combined with the sense of adventure that comes with being abroad. Please see our Students Abroad website as well as our fact sheet on Studying Abroad to help students plan a safe and enjoyable experience.
The United Kingdom has strict gun-control laws, and importing firearms is extremely complicated. Travelers should consider leaving all firearms in the United States. Restrictions exist on the type and number of weapons that may be possessed by an individual. All handguns, such as pistols and revolvers, are prohibited, with very few exceptions. Licensing of firearms in the United Kingdom is controlled by the police. Applicants for a license must be prepared to show “good reason” why they require each weapon. Applicants must also provide a copy of their U.S. gun license, a letter of good conduct from their local U.S. police station, and a letter detailing any previous training, hunting, or shooting experience. Background checks will also be carried out. Additional information on applying for a firearm certificate and/or shotgun certificate can be found on the London Metropolitan Police Firearms Licensing web page.
While medical services are widely available, free care under the National Health System (NHS) is allowed only for UK residents and certain EU nationals. Tourists and short-term visitors will be charged for medical treatment in the United Kingdom. Charges may be significantly higher than those assessed in the United States.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
Hiking in higher elevations can be treacherous. Several people die each year while hiking, particularly in Scotland, often due to sudden changes in weather. Visitors, including experienced hikers, are encouraged to discuss intended routes with local residents familiar with the area and to adhere closely to recommendations.
The Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to consult their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to determine if the policy applies overseas and if it covers emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page.
Remember that most medical care facilities and medical care providers in the United Kingdom do not accept insurance subscription as a primary source of payment. Rather, the beneficiary is expected to pay for the service and then seek reimbursement from the insurance company. This may require an upfront payment in the $10,000 to $20,000 range.
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
UK penalties for driving under the influence of even minimal amounts of alcohol or drugs are stiff and often result in prison sentences. In contrast to U.S. and continental European traffic, which moves on the right side of the road, UK traffic moves on the left.
The maximum speed limit on highways/motorways in the United Kingdom is 70 mph. Motorways generally have a hard shoulder (breakdown lane) on the far left, defined by a solid white line. It is illegal to stop or park on a hard shoulder unless it is an emergency. In such cases, you should activate your hazard lights, get out of your vehicle, and go onto an embankment for safety.
Emergency call boxes (orange telephone booths with SOS printed on them) may be found at half-mile intervals along the motorway. White and blue poles placed every 100 yards along the motorway point in the direction of the nearest call box. Emergency call boxes dial directly to a motorway center. It is best to use these phones rather than a personal cell phone, because motorway center personnel will immediately know the location of a call received from an emergency call box.
Roadside towing services may cost approximately £150 (as of 12/09, approximately $225). However, membership fees of automotive associations such as the RAC (Royal Automobile Club) or AA (Automobile Association) often include free roadside towing service.
Visitors uncomfortable with or intimidated by the prospect of driving on the left side of the road may wish to avail themselves of the United Kingdom’s extensive bus, rail, and air transport networks. Roads in the United Kingdom are generally excellent but are narrow and often congested in urban areas. If you plan to drive while in the United Kingdom, you may wish to obtain a copy of the Highway Code.
Travelers intending to rent cars in the United Kingdom should make sure that they are adequately insured. U.S. auto insurance is not always valid outside the United States, and travelers may wish to purchase supplemental insurance, which is generally available from most major rental agents. A congestion charge of £8 (as of 12/09, approximately $15) is imposed on all cars entering much of central London Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Information on the congestion charge can be found on the Transport for London website.
Public transport in the United Kingdom is excellent and extensive. Information on disruptions to London transportation services can be found on the Transport for London website. Information about the status of National Rail Services can be found on the National Rail Enquiries website. Many U.S. citizen pedestrians are injured, some fatally, every year in the United Kingdom because they forget that oncoming traffic approaches from the opposite direction than in the United States. Extra care should be taken when crossing streets; remember to remain alert and look both ways before stepping into the street.
Driving in Gibraltar is on the right side of the road, as in the United States and continental Europe. Persons traveling overland between Gibraltar and Spain may experience long delays in clearing Spanish border controls.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. For specific information concerning UK driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance, refer to the UK Department for Transport web site or the Driving Standards Agency website. The U.S. Embassy in London can also provide information.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the UK government’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of United Kingdom’s air carrier operations. Further information may be found on the FAA’s safety assessment page.
This replaces the Country Specific Information for the United Kingdom dated March 27, 2009, to update sections on Registration/Embassy Information, Threats to Safety and Security, Crime, and Traffic Safety/Road Conditions.
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