Travel To UK From The US: UK Covid Restrictions and Entry Requirements

Jun 21, 2022

12 min read

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If you want to travel to the UK, this post is for you. Traveling the world is something everyone of us wants or wanted to do at some stage. I would highly recommend starting with the UK, it offers a lot and I’m not the only one who thinks so. UK gets thousand of tourist or travelers a year. In this post I’ll help you with everything you need to understand how U.S. citizens can travel to the UK.

Let’s start:

Do U.S. Citizens Need A Visa To Travel To The UK

According to the UK government, the United States is among the visa-waiver nations. Therefore, as a U.S. citizen, you can enter the territory of the United Kingdom for a period of up to 6 (six) months with no need to apply for a visa. But, of course, a valid U.S. passport is required. It means that you can travel to the islands without the hassle of getting an entry permit. In general, you won’t need to acquire any additional documentation, aside from a valid passport, to enter the territory of the United Kingdom. However, these advantages apply only when traveling to the UK, either for tourism or business. So, if you simply want to take a quick trip to visit London or have a business meeting there – you will not require a visa.

The British authorities make the final call on admission to their territory. Therefore, they might not allow you to enter the UK if the officers decide so. Generally, this might happen if the reason behind your travel does not fit the British definition of tourism – in that case, they can deny you entry for lack of an appropriate visa.

These common activities are often mistakenly considered as tourism and instead require a valid visa to enter the United Kingdom. These activities include:

  • Religious volunteering.
  • Internship programs.
  • Charity work.
  • Studying.
  • Other special programs.

If you are planning to travel to the UK for any of the reasons mentioned above, or you think your travel exceeds the tourism definition, you might need a UK visa.

Do US Green Card Holders Need A Visa For The UK?

Green Card holders or US residents may need a visa to travel to the United Kingdom depending on their country of citizenship and the purpose of travel. This means that if you have a passport from a UK visa exemption country, you can travel to the United Kingdom without a visa. The UK government has established types of visas that fit every traveler based on their purpose of entry.

Can I Travel To The UK Without A Visa?

We already know that U.S. citizens can travel to the United Kingdom without a visa, but you can only enter the UK without a visa for the following reasons:

Each of these reasons for visiting has its regulations which you should be aware of before you book your flights.

Entering The UK As A Tourist

While you won't need a visa before you visit the UK for less than six months, I highly advise that you bring documentation similar to that you would provide for a visa application. This can include evidence of your flight home and the amount of savings you have to support yourself during your stay.

Americans are very common travelers to the UK, but sometimes UK border staff may doubt your intentions in the country and detain you if they feel you pose a risk.

Entering The UK To Visit Family Members

When visiting your family for six months or less, you can freely enter without a visa. However, as with tourist visits, you'll need to prove you intend to leave before six months is up. This can be more complicated for those visiting family – the Family Visit Visa for visa nationals has one of the highest refusal rates overall.

The UK authorities need proof that you intend to leave once your visit is over. You can prove this by showing proof of financial or family commitments back in the States. So make sure you’re prepared to answer any questions border staff might ask you about your visit.

Entering The UK To Receive Private Medical Treatment

While the UK has one of the most extensive national health services in the world, this is not available to visitors. If you intend to receive medical treatment in the UK, you will need to have paid for it through a private company. I highly advise you to have evidence of your treatment ready to show to the border authority, and proof of a return flight ticket is also useful.

Should you need to stay in the UK for longer than six months for treatment, you may need to apply for a Visit Visa. You can get this type of visa for up to 11 months.

Entering The UK To Study

As long as your study course is less than six months, you won't need to apply for a visa to come to the UK from the US. Make sure you bring evidence that you are accepted onto a six-month course to ensure officials at the border know when you intend to leave. If you’re looking to study for longer than six months but less than 12 months on an English Language course, you may be able to apply for the Short-term Study Visa.

For anything longer than a year, you’ll need a Tier 4 Study Visa.

Entering The UK For Business Or Academic Activities.

If you're from the US can also visit the UK for up to six months to undertake a limited number of activities in business or academia.

Business activities include:

  • Attending conferences, meetings, or specified training.
  • Taking part in sports-related events.
  • Performing as an artist, entertainer, or musician.
  • Doing academic research or accompanying students in a study abroad program.

Academic activities include:

  • Giving guest lectures at higher education institutions.
  • Advocating in legal proceedings.
  • Taking part in arts, entertainment, or sporting events.

What Are The Required Documents When Traveling Visa-Free To The UK?

When you enter the UK, you should have physical proof of these engagements (tourism or business), so you aren’t held up at the border. It is always best to make sure you can prove why you're coming to the country and that you don’t plan to stay any longer than you’re allowed. This can include hotel bookings, return flight tickets, or an invitation letter from your family. If you need to come to the UK for longer than six months, you must identify the relevant visa type for your travels and apply before entering the UK.

For further information or if you need more help from an immigration visa lawyer, you can go to the IAS services website. Remember that the documents I mentioned above could also help you at the UK border.

How Long Can U.S. Citizens Stay In The UK Without A Visa?

As mentioned above, U.S. citizens (US travellers) can enter the UK without a visa for 6 months. After 6 months, you need to return to the United States.

What Are The Required Documents For A UK Visa?

The UK authorities will decide whether your visa is accepted, which will depend on the requirements of the type of visa you have applied for. Keep in mind that these requirements differ depending on the type of visa. For example, each type of visa can require different documents, papers, or photos. Therefore, if you want them to accept your visa, you should ensure that your visa fulfills those requirements.

You need to attach the following general travel documents to your application:

  • Application form (available online or at a U.S. Embassy)
  • Biometric photograph: Make sure you attach two biometric photographs.
  • Unexpired passport.
  • Proof that you have sufficient funds to cover the living expenses in the UK (bank statements).
  • Evidence that you have a place to stay.
  • Travel plan.
  • Invitation letter.
  • UK visa fee payment: You need to submit evidence that you paid the UK visa fee (payslip). I'll discuss the visa fees later in this post.

What Are The Additional Documents For A UK Visa?

You might need additional documents if you are employed, under 18, or documents to show at the entry point. These additional documents are:

  • Prove that you're employed by an institution (only if you have a job). If you're self-employed, you'll need to confirm the individual's name and start date in charge of the business.
  • Evidence of enrollment (only if you're a student).
  • A birth certificate only if you're younger than 18.
  • You have a passport and arrival card if you're at the entry point.

What Are The Covid-19 Entry Requirements For The UK?

The entry requirements (travel restrictions for covid 19 aren’t as strict as you would think. You don't need to take any COVID-19 tests (PCR test) or fill in a passenger locator form. This applies whether you are fully vaccinated or not. To top it all off, you no longer need to self-isolate when you arrive in the UK.

What Covid-19 Restrictions Can Visitors Expect?

I know you're wondering about the Covid-19 restrictions in the UK. The pandemic is something that changes so often (much like coronavirus) we don’t know what to do anymore. So I'll give you a list of countries and their Covid-19 restrictions to put your mind at ease.

Covid Restrictions In England

There are no legal Covid restrictions in England. Face coverings are no longer mandatory anywhere. London's Heathrow Airport has removed its face-covering mandate. Venues operating with large numbers like theaters, concert venues, and nightclubs no longer require proof of vaccination or proof of a negative viral test.

Covid Restrictions in Wales

Wales is currently at what the country calls Covid alert level 0, and they lifted most Covid restrictions. Face masks are no longer a legal requirement in Wales, aside from health and care settings. Venues like theaters, concert venues, and nightclubs no longer require proof of vaccination or proof of a negative PCR test or negative rapid lateral flow test.

Covid Restrictions in Scotland

There are no remaining Covid restrictions in Scotland. They removed the legal requirement to wear face masks in Scotland. Scottish venues like theaters, concert venues, and nightclubs no longer require proof of vaccination or proof of a negative PCR test or negative rapid lateral flow test. If their last vaccine dose was more than four months ago, people in Scotland must show they've had a booster jab to be considered fully vaccinated.

Covid Restrictions in Northern Ireland

There are no legal Covid restrictions in Northern Ireland. Wearing a face covering is no longer a legal requirement in Northern Ireland. Still, they strongly recommend wearing face masks in indoor areas where you come into contact with people you do not usually meet, like public transport. Venues like theaters, concert venues, and nightclubs no longer require proof of vaccination (like Pfizer or Moderna) or proof of a negative PCR test or negative rapid lateral flow test.

What Are The Covid-19 Entry Requirements When Traveling Back To The US?

According to the CDC, the test requirements state that you must show a negative COVID-19 test result taken no more than 1 day before travel before you board your flight to the USA. There is also an option for people who have documented recovery from COVID-19 in the past 90 days.

Children under 2 years old do not need to test.

All air passengers to the United States must also provide contact information to airlines before boarding flights to the United States. This strengthens a travel process already in place to rapidly identify and contact International travelers in the U.S. who may have been exposed to a communicable disease, such as COVID-19. Access to travelers’ contact information will allow U.S. federal, state, and local health departments, and agencies to share appropriate health and public health information necessary to help keep the public safe.

After You Arrive In The U.S.

You might have been exposed to COVID-19 on your travels, whether you traveled by air, land, or sea. You might feel well and not have any symptoms, but you can still be infected and spread the virus to others. For this reason, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following:

  • If you’re not up to date with your vaccinations (unvaccinated): Stay home and self-isolate for 5 days after you landed.
  • All travelers (regardless of you covid-19 vaccination status): Get tested for covid-19 (antigen test or PCR) or self monitor and test when you experience symptoms.

All done!

Now all you need to do is grab your passport and get on your flight. Enjoy some family time or all the amazing tourist attractions the UK offers.

Written By: Laliq Schuman
Fact Checked By: Richard Nathan

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I Enter The UK Even If My Passport Expired?

Whether your travel plans include the visa-free or visa-required options, you’ll need a valid U.S. passport to pass the UK border in both scenarios. They can refuse you entry due to an expired passport, and that would definitely ruin your vacation plans. For this reason, it’s worth checking your travel document to see if you can use it in your travels. And, in case you need to renew your passport.

Can I Travel To The UK With A Pet?

The U.S. and Canada have joined the U.K. PET Travel Scheme. For travelling with your pet and information on changes to U.K. quarantine laws please see the website of the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

Why Would They Reject My UK Visa?

A visa is not always accepted and this depends on the following factors:

  • They can reject your visa if you have not submitted all the required documents.
  • Rejection can also happen if there is missing or mismatching information with the submitted documents.
  • If you do not have the necessary financial funds to support your stay in the UK.
  • Your English language is not at the required level.

All in all, make sure that you submit every necessary document that is asked in the application papers and pay keen attention to them.

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