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5 Things to Keep in Mind When Visiting the United Kingdom

While it might seem that the COVID-19 pandemic has put a halt to all immediate travel, it doesn’t mean you cannot go anywhere during this time. Quite the contrary, many countries are pleased to continue welcoming new visitors – you just need to meet a few additional requirements – and the United Kingdom is one of them.

However, just like before visiting any other foreign country, it is essential to check what rules to follow to be allowed to enter the UK. Apart from particular documents to obtain, you also want to check what you can and cannot bring with you – for example, if you plan on traveling with a vaping device, you should read more about local vaping regulations first.

In this article, you will find the essential information you need to know before going to the UK to ensure that you will enter the country safely and avoid unexpected fees and other additional expenses during your stay. Read on!

Documents

Before you start looking for tickets and accommodations, it is crucial to check the necessary documents you need to obtain to enter the United Kingdom. First of all, you need to have a passport or other travel document valid for the whole duration of your stay in the UK.

You are also required to show that you are a genuine visitor by demonstrating your personal circumstances in your home country and providing evidence that:

  • your visit involves only permitted activities,
  • you will leave once your visit to the UK is over (e.g., return tickets),
  • you have sufficient funds available to cover all the costs of your trip (e.g., bank statements, proof of earnings, building society books).

Visa

Depending on which country you’re from, you may either be able to visit the UK for up to 6 months without needing a visa or have to apply for it before going to the UK. This step applies mainly to the visitors from the outside European Union, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, or Liechtenstein. However, you can quickly check if you need a UK visa by filling out the form on the GOV.UK website.

A Standard Visitor visa has a £95 fee and allows you to stay in the UK or visit it several times during the period for up to 6 months. However, if you plan on traveling to the United Kingdom frequently, you may consider applying for a long-term Standard Visitor visa which lasts 2, 5, or 10 years (with 6 months of maximum length per stay) and costs £361, £655, or £822 respectively.

The cannons of the Tower of London
The cannons of the Tower of London

COVID

Traveling during the pandemic necessitates meeting some more requirements, which tend to change often. So, it would be best to check the current coronavirus-related restrictions at least two weeks in advance and double-check if there are any updates a couple of days before setting off.

As of February 11th, 2022, a person qualified as fully vaccinated, i.e., has proof of full vaccination with a full course of an approved vaccine, with the final dose of the vaccine received at least 14 days before arriving in the UK, does not need to take a COVID-19 test before or after arriving and will not have to quarantine.

As for the travelers who do not qualify as fully vaccinated, they can still travel to the UK but will have to perform several additional actions, including:

  • provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test result (taken within the last two days before the travel),
  • book and pay for a COVID-19 PCR test before the trip (to be taken after arrival),
  • quarantine but only if the latter test result is positive.

Both qualified and unqualified as fully vaccinated visitors need to complete the passenger locator form 48 hours before arriving in the United Kingdom.

What to Bring

When packing your personal belongings and items for personal use for the trip, you should not only check the requirements applied by an airline company you’ll be traveling with but also look into banned and restricted goods in the country of your destination. These are items you cannot bring into the UK; otherwise, customs will seize them. 

It is important not to neglect to check them before you set off, as in some cases, it can lead to more serious consequences than just confiscation. For example, if you bring pirate copies of movies, TV shows, or music, you could be prosecuted for infringing intellectual property rights.

There are various restrictions regarding bringing food into Great Britain that you should check beforehand. Some other goods that you cannot bring into the UK include:

  • offensive weapons and self-defense sprays,
  • controlled drugs,
  • rough diamonds,
  • indecent and obscene materials (e.g., books, magazines, DVDs).

You will most likely bring a few electronic devices with you, ranging from smartphones, tablets, and laptops to power banks, e-cigarettes, and hair straighteners.

Certain restrictions are applied regarding the transportation of such items, so you want to check them with both GOV.UK and your airline beforehand, as some of the restrictions may vary.

For example, vaping devices can only be kept in your carry-on baggage and are strictly prohibited in checked-in luggage.

The Quintessentially British Guide to London
The Quintessentially British Guide to London

Driving

If you plan to rent a car during your stay in Great Britain, you may be worried about driving in the left-hand lane. You will need some time to readjust to the “wrong” side of the road, so it is crucial not to drop your guard during the first several days of your stay to avoid accidents on the road. 

Apart from staying concentrated on the road, you may also want to take a practice theory test online to familiarize yourself with driving rules in the UK. Another helpful source is The Highway Code, which you can download online. It is an essential reading for drivers that covers not only rules for all road users but also provides information on penalties, signals to other drivers, and first aid on the road.

Conclusion

Like any other travel destination, the United Kingdom has its own regulations regarding documents and personal belongings that you have to meet to be able to enter the country. Getting familiar with them beforehand will allow you to plan your trip accordingly and avoid unnecessary fines or getting particular goods confiscated by customs for not following the restrictions.

In the case of the UK, you may also want to prepare yourself for driving differences to avoid accidents on the road with possible injuries and costly indemnities they might entail. Other than that, remember to regularly check the coronavirus-related restrictions to travel safely. But most importantly – remember to have fun on your trip!

Henry the VIII armor at the Tower of London
Henry the VIII armor at the Tower of London