The United Kingdom is famous as a melting pot of English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh cultures; a place where the sleepy countryside harmoniously coexists with the Glastonbury arts festival, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and 221B Baker Street. Hordes of visitors flock into the country driven by wanderlust. The number of tourists touched a record high of 40 million in 2018, of which half was accounted for by London alone.
Whether it’s to witness its cultural and historical legacy firsthand or to study at one of its world-famous academic institutions, London has always received a massive influx of visitors. However, the tourism landscape may soon experience a shift. For instance, travelling to the UK after Brexit may invoke a degree of apprehension, with prospective visitors worrying about the socioeconomic fallouts of the referendum.
While there is a standard checklist for travelling to London and other places within the UK, it may vary slightly post the Brexit outcome announcement on 31st October 2019. Depending on the EU’s decision to part ways with or without a deal, visitors can expect changes in passport norms, pet travel guidelines, EHIC (health insurance), and more.
For example, if the EU decides to leave without a deal, visitors will be required to obtain a visa to enter the EU or Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland to extend their stay beyond the 90 days (and within 180 days) period.
For now, let’s look at the common pointers to keep in mind while planning a trip to the UK.
The most important items on your checklist for travelling to London and other places in the UK are your passport and visa. Apart from EU nationals holding a valid national identity card, natives of every country must have a valid passport to gain entry into the UK. While certain countries such as Australia, USA, Singapore, Canada, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand have the facility of using an e-passport, other nationals will have to secure their passport the old-school way. Make sure your passport is valid till well after your intended date of return.
Since the UK doesn’t qualify as a Schengen area, no Schengen visas are handed out to tourists. The traditional visa is applicable for all foreign tourists, except EU citizens and those visiting for tourism from 56 approved countries such as Australia, Andorra, USA, Mexico, New Zealand, etc. If you’re wondering how to apply for a UK visa, you can get all the details on the official UK tourism page.
Please note that the visa application process would depend on the country of origin, the nature of your travel, and the type of visa applied for. In addition to the passport and visa, tourists are also required to carry certain important documents such as identity proof, health and travel insurance papers, vaccination certificates, student ID, etc.
Travel insurance gives you peace of mind by covering for loss and damage to personal items. Additionally, depending on the nature of your visit and the destinations within the UK that you are headed to, you may have to enquire about additional clauses on your insurance.
For instance, those interested in adventure sports must get appropriate coverage over and above what’s offered as standard. Bear in mind that you can avail of a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) if you’re travelling within the European Economic Area and Switzerland.
The strength of the pound sterling (GBP) encouraged the UK to not go for the Euro, and you’ll be mostly transacting in pounds when in the country. In case you are carrying cash in euros, be mindful of rules governing the amount of cash you can carry while travelling to the UK, such as the mandate to declare cash or traveller’s cheques exceeding 1,000 euros.
Ideally, carry cash as well as internationally accepted debit and credit cards. However, carrying a large amount of cash may not be safe, especially when travelling to certain remote places. That aside, your travel insurance may not cover anything more than 500 euros of hard cash. So your London packing list should have an ideal mix of the local currency (as petty cash) and cards to swipe on the go. Tourists are advised to get their money changed before they embark on their trip, as this is likely to give them a better exchange rate.
While debit and credit cards are the safest way to pay your way through the trip, the convenience comes at a cost. Besides the currency exchange cost, your withdrawal charges could be up to 2% for debit cards and 3% for credit cards, while some cards may add an additional fee of roughly GBP 1.50. Such peripheral costs will eventually hike up your overall spend. Therefore, it’s important to factor these in while chalking out your travel budget.
Your London packing list will differ from a checklist for Snowdonia or the Scottish Highlands. The list of essentials will depend on the places you intend to visit in the UK as well as the purpose of your travel. For instance, every checklist for travelling to London will recommend that a traveller carries a mix of comfortable breezy clothes plus a light sweatshirt or windcheater as the unpredictable weather could force one to reconsider one’s sartorial choices.
It’s also prudent to check the weather forecast around the time of your trip. Of course, if you intend to engage in activities such as trekking, water sports, photography, etc. be sure to carry the appropriate gear.
If you’re looking at a long stay in the UK, do stock up on toiletries and other basic essentials, as you may not find your preferred brands while you are there. Ancillary items such as mobile phone chargers, power banks, camera accessories, etc. must be put in appropriate cases and packed carefully.
It is recommended to carry your prescription drugs, as well as some generic medicines for flu, rash, headache, nausea, fever, etc. A change of weather and water may lead to some common health issues, so carrying trusted medicines for these will save you the time and effort in looking for a doctor while you are abroad.
A trip to the UK can be an enriching experience for anyone visiting for work or leisure. To fill your trip with positive experiences, be sure to follow the tips mentioned above and make it a memorable one.