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Arriving at the UK boarder--What should I expect?

In about a month I'll be going to England to visit/stay with some friends for about a month during the Christmas season. I'm coming from the US. Everything, absolutely everything I read says that I don't need a visa to enter, but should bring some documents in case I need to explain my situation.

Could anybody give me some advice on this? What exactly should I do/bring? Could you tell me some of your personal experiences so I can get a feel for what it will be like?

Much appreciated!

Posted by
8293 posts

Are you travelling with an American passport? If so, that's all you need.

Posted by
4556 posts

Assuming you are a U.S. citizen ...

On the plane, they will hand out a landing card to fill out which you will give to passport control. You will need to know the address where you are staying to fill out the card.

At passport control you may be asked some questions. I'm usually asked how long I am staying, purpose of visit, and if I have any friends in the U.K. that I am visiting. I was once asked to show my return ticket, but that was years ago.

Posted by
11271 posts

If you are traveling with a US passport, you can come to the UK as a visitor for 6 months without needing a visa. However, if the UK immigration authorities think you are coming to work or study, or if they think you are going to stay more than 6 months, they can refuse you entry. They are only likely to do this if they have some reason to suspect that you are not a tourist. So, if you are going to have some red flag in your profile, you would want to bring things to "negate" this.

Two examples of red flags would be a one-way flight, and having recently applied for and been refused a visa to work or study. An example of something that they would want to see would be proof of sufficient funds to support your intended length of stay (this doesn't just mean cash, but can also include credit cards, funds in a bank account you can access with your debit card, etc). For people not staying in a hotel, they may want to contact the friend you are staying with to confirm your story.

You should expect some questions at immigration about your plans (what is the purpose of your visit? how long do you intend to stay? where will you be staying?). If, like most visitors, you are arriving on a round-trip ticket, and have the usual assortment of credit and debit cards, and will be able to provide the contact information of the friends you are staying with, you shouldn't have any problems.

Posted by
9110 posts

Since you want personal experience rather than theory; based on over a hundred entries over many decades, five in the past year, the last one a couple of weeks ago:

They can ask you anything they want, they're mostly wanting to see if you blink or stammer.

You can stick your friend's address in the place you're staying box. You could also enter 'unknown' or 'touring' and it would work fine.

You'll probably be asked how long you're staying and why you're there. Tell the truth. I've been asked if I had a return ticket a few times, sometimes I didn't - - I told them what I was about and that was the end of that.

I've also been asked if I had any money. When I told them not a bit but I knew exactly where a cash machine was, that was the end of that.

I've never had to actually show anything except my passport.

The whole process takes less than a minute. The border fuzz are friendly people unless you act like a butthead.

Stop sweating it.

Posted by
31303 posts

As the others have said, if you're travelling on a U.S. Passport, you shouldn't have any problems. As Ed so succinctly stated, tell the the truth and don't sweat it.

However, one cautionary note. As with travel to Canada or the U.S. (for those of us from north of the 49th), if you have any criminal convictions that COULD be a problem. With the increasingly interlinked computer networks and chip-enabled and machine readable Passports, the U.K. Border officials will likely have a good "profile" on you before they even ask you a question. If you have any "issues" in your past, you might want to check with the nearest U.K. Embassy.

Happy travels!

Posted by
9110 posts

Actually, buttheads are already identified from the passenger manifest, not from the passport if you're arriving on a manifested conveyance.

Also, some of the routine evaluation questions start before the passport is scanned, it just depends on what the border agent is doing.

Look behind the row of border control kiosks. There's usually just one dude/dudette hanging around to provide assistance/whatever. If there's a couple or three in a cluster, they're waiting for the signal that identifies the miscreant when the passport is scanned. Subsequent conversation will take place somewhere else. I've no idea what they'd be interested in but it would have to be pretty big stuff.

Ken's undoubtedly right, however, about something showing up on the screen, good or bad. I always get a funny look, the questions stop, and I get a pretty cordial welcome once they run my passport. It's been going on forever. A couple of trips ago I was the last one in line and the gal and I were jabbering about my odd interests when she finally got around to sticking my passport in the machine. When it got the usual reaction I asked her if I could see the screen. 'Fat chance', was the essence of the reply but she did add the it didn't say much except that I was a known pervert.

Repeating: the border fuzz are friendly people.

Posted by
26061 posts

@heavenbound92

Since neither your pseudonym nor your missing location in your profile give any hint as to your nationality (I do see that you are "coming from the US) can you confirm that you are either a Canadian or US citizen?

If you aren't then there may be other hurdles to jump which we may be able to help with.

Posted by
2263 posts

Just thought I'd throw this in from when we went through Immigration at LHR in July. (We are from the US)

The immigration officer was NOT amused that we could not give the address of where we were staying (we knew where it was on our map, just could not remember it) and was not accepting that we would be in multiple locations over a couple weeks. Had to have the first place looked up.
Had similar a few years back when we were in Glasgow airport only long enough to get our connecting boarding pass and go to the next gate. "We are not staying, we are passing through" almost got us detained.
For whatever reasons, the immigration folks are very strict in the UK, at least from what we have seen.

Posted by
27 posts

Let me add my two cents from July. I to was questioned by UK immigration. I had terrible jet lag. Didn't sleep on the plane (long story). I couldn't remember the name of the place where I was staying. The officer got kind of rude. I then pulled out my travel info and then he was okay. I also had a different experience coming from Germany into the UK about five days later. This officer was nicer and she was very quick and friendly. Just be prepared to show/ know where you are staying.

Posted by
8429 posts

Since you asked for personal experiences, I'll add mine from September when I entered at Heathrow from the US. I did have the name of the first night's lodging. The Officer asked if I had been to UK before and I said yes, but it was a long time ago, the late 80's. He looked straight at me and said Where've you been? You didn't write, you didn't call! then burst into a big smile and said Welcome back. I know they aren't all like that, but it was such a nice welcome.

Posted by
51 posts

We were at LHR in September. The guy in immigration didn't ask anything other than why we were there. Told him vacation, he smiled and told us to have fun. We had filled out the card on the plane as best we could. Simply put the name of the b&b and the town. Apparently that was sufficient.

Posted by
31303 posts

@Ed,

"Buttheads and Miscreants" - your very descriptive wording is always entertaining to read.

One other point I wanted to mention, is that last time I went through LHR to reach a connecting flight, I had to go through "Biometric Identification" which consisted of having my photo taken (hopefully the Camera didn't break). A small bar code sticker was attached to the back of my Passport, and I then continued to security for the next flight. I happened to catch a glimpse of the screen there, and when the agent scanned the small tag, my smiling countenance was displayed. After that step, the tag was removed.

A couple of people from my original flight somehow "missed" going through the Biometric point, and when they got to the next checkpoint after an extensive walk through numerous maze-like hallways, they were sent back. They were NOT going any further without that small tag.

I never have a problem if I'm asked for the name/address/phone number of my hotels, as I always have that listed on my detailed Itinerary (usually 12-14 pages) which is kept in my carry-on.

Posted by
9363 posts

My August experience at Heathrow was simple. There was no waiting at all (odd, I know), and when I was asked where I was staying and I said I was actually going into the city, then catching a train to Scotland, they just stamped my passport and waved me on. I didn't give them the address (or even the town) where I was staying in Scotland, either. There just isn't a standard experience.

Posted by
231 posts

Never had it happen to me, but last month my son and daughter-in-law were asked why they both had brand new passports. They answered: "first trip outside the US" (her) and "my old one would have expired in a couple weeks" (him) and all was well.

@Ken

The camera is fine--my son and d-i-l had their photos taken also. Made them feel one up on us since we hadn't had that experience. :-)

Posted by
8293 posts

Don't we all wonder what heavenbound92 makes of the replies and if indeed he does have a U.S. passport?

Posted by
31303 posts

@Norma,

I agree! The OP seems to have disappeared. Perhaps we've all been wasting our time replying to this post?

Posted by
8954 posts

Perhaps the OP has a life outside this message board;) (life the NFL) Newsflash you can live I perfectly well adjusted life without checking the boards every five minutes to see if anyone has replied. The earth will keep spinning on it's axis if one decides to wait 24 hours to read the thread.

Posted by
8293 posts

Ah, the Old Philosopher has checked in.

Posted by
970 posts

I see the OP hasn't returned. Too bad. I want to see the answer to Nigel's questions.

My experiences have always been with Passport Control at Heathrow. I've found them to be professional, busy, and often obviously tired. I've always been really tired. Last time through in response to the "How long will you be staying in the UK?" question, I said, "Tonight in London, but then two weeks in Scotland." The agent responded, unsmilingly, "You do know Scotland in a part of the UK? So, how long in the UK, please."

If you are travelling on an American passport and don't set off any flags (you aren't dragging 19 suitcases for a claimed one-week stay, for example) you will be asked, at a minimum, where you are staying that night and how long you will be staying in the UK. You may be asked about the rest of your itinerary. There's a very good chance you may be asked when and where you plan to leave the UK. You very likely will be asked if you have been to the UK previously (they know).

Be prepared to answer those questions. Be polite. Don't be overweening. Be honest and be brief. See all those people behind you? You're leaving, but the agent gets to stay until shift change.

Posted by
3 posts

Hi everyone!
I do sincerely apologize for not replying to this post... I am going to college so my life is pretty busy and I've forgotten to respond. Additionally, I am new to ricksteves.com, so, I haven't had the time to change my profile or name.

All of your replies have been simply wonderful and helpful. Really and sincerely, I thank you.

Some information that I forgot to include which some people asked. First of all, yes, I am a US Citizen, so, not just coming from the US, but live there as well. :)

Another thing, I'm a full-time college student and I'm not currently employed. I've saved up quite enough money for the trip, but I'm worried that this could possibly affect me entering? Should I bring evidence of my studies?

Again, thank you all so much for your time and I am so sorry for the late reply :)
This is without a doubt the most helpful travel forum I've been lucky to find :)

Posted by
9363 posts

If you have a round trip ticket, immigration in the UK is not going to care if you have a job at home or how much money you have. You won't need proof that you are a college student, just your passport.

Posted by
31303 posts

heavenbound92,

Thanks for the additional information, that helps.

You should be fine with just a Passport and won't need to bring college documents. If they ask, just tell the officials that you're currently going to college in the U.S., and visiting friends in the U.K. over Christmas. If necessary, supply them with the address or phone number of your friends.

One other point to mention is to check the expiry date of your Passport to make sure that it will be valid during your trip.

If you haven't been there before and need information on transportation from the airport or anything, there's a very well travelled group here and someone will be able to supply the information you need.

I'd suggest packing along £50-80 or so to provide some "travelling funds" until you get settled in the U.K. Your local Bank should be able to supply that. If you're planning to use an ATM card or credit card while in the U.K., be sure to notify your Bank that you'll be traveling so they don't "freeze" your card when they see transaction activity in another country. Also note that funds accessed through an ATM usually must be in a chequing account with a four number PIN. Be prepared for the costs there, as the U.K. is expensive. Exchange rate on the U.S. dollar is currently at about 1.6, so £50 will cost you about US$80 to buy.

Posted by
3 posts

@ Nancy and @ Ken,

Thank you very much! This information is so helpful, and I really appreciate it. It seems like I've been over-preparing, which probably isn't necessarily a BAD thing, but it's nice to know that things will likely go smoother than I've been anticipating :)

Also, I wasn't fully aware of the exchange rate so--thanks for that heads up. That'll be helpful when deciding how much funds to bring :)

Happy traveling!

Posted by
26061 posts

One other thing to consider when deciding on the amount of money to bring over here is that for virtually all normal consumer purchases, they are quoted after all taxes have been accounted for. Wherever you may be in the USA it likely that when you make a purchase a state sales tax is added, sometimes a city one too. In the UK we don't have a sales tax. We do have a VAT - a Value Added Tax, which is currently running at 20 percent on most products and services. You won't probably see references to that VAT as it should be included in the headline prices for retail products and services - - so that you won't then have to add on another tax.

UK prices are relatively high relative to US prices, figger around something that costs $10 (plus tax) in the States will cost around £10 in England and the Pound is about $1.60.

Posted by
31303 posts

heavenbound92,

A few comments on the points that Claudia mentioned (unfortunately her post has now been deleted, but the information I've listed here is still relevant so I'll leave it)......

  • You may or may not need a "Power Converter". If you're going to packing along any electronic devices, you'll definitely need at least one Plug Adaptor.
  • If you're planning to travel with a Cell phone (especially a Smartphone), you'll need to be VERY careful to avoid high roaming costs, especially with data roaming. It would be easier to offer more specific advice if you could indicate what you'll be traveling with?
  • If you're planning to use a Waist Pack, DON'T refer to it as a Fanny Pack!
  • The term "Wanker" can be construed as more vulgar and pejorative than just "idiot", so I'd suggest being very careful in using it. Perhaps one of our U.K. members could provide some perspective.

Cheers!

Posted by
9363 posts

Since you didn't say anything about what kind of phone you are bringing (or that you are bringing one at all) I'm not sure how anyone would know that your phone "won't work" in the UK. There are a number of phones that work just fine in Europe. As for British slang, best to stay away from "wanker" all together. It does not really mean "idiot" and I can't imagine your needing to use the word in normal conversation anyway.

Posted by
389 posts

"Tonight in London, but then two weeks in Scotland." The agent responded, unsmilingly, "You do know Scotland in a part of the UK? So, how long in the UK, please."

So he made you repeat "two weeks"? Talk about a butthead. But from what I hear the U.S. immigration service has far and away the most power-tripping a-holes.