COUNTRY DESCRIPTION ^
The United Kingdom is a highly developed constitutional monarchy comprising England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland; Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory. Tourist facilities are widely available.
SECURITY AND SAFETY ^
The United Kingdom is stable and modern but shares with the rest of the world an increased threat of terrorist incidents of international origin, as well as violence related to the political situation in Northern Ireland (a part of the United Kingdom). Americans are reminded to remain vigilant with regard to their personal security and to exercise caution. In the past year, several arrests have been made in Great Britain in connection with various possible terrorist plots. The British Home Secretary has urged its citizens to be alert and vigilant by, for example, keeping an eye out for suspect packages or people acting suspiciously at subway and train stations and airports and reporting anything suspicious to the appropriate authorities by contacting the free confidential anti-terrorist telephone hotline on 0800 789 321.
From time to time during periods of heightened threat of terrorism, the U.K. government deems it necessary to raise levels of security activity. Heightened activity may include the use of military personnel in support of the police and law enforcement officers. The use of troops, who remain at all times under the control of the police, is part of long-standing contingency plans. Military personnel and equipment may be deployed at airports and other transportation links, or other public locations. For more information about U.K. public safety initiatives, consult the U.K. Civil Contingencies Secretariat website at
Political demonstrations are well policed and generally orderly. Although the political situation in Northern Ireland has dramatically improved since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, incidents of terrorist violence have, nevertheless, occurred in the past few years. Early in 2001, two explosive devices were detonated in London suburbs, injuring eight people and damaging buildings. Within Northern Ireland, flash-points for sectarian confrontations still exist, but they are generally removed from areas where tourists congregate. Sporadic incidents of street violence may erupt during the summer marching season (April to August), with tensions heightened during the month of July, especially around the July 12th public holiday. As a result, American citizens traveling in Northern Ireland have experienced delays and disruption.
The United Kingdom and Gibraltar benefit from generally low crime rates; however crime, including violent crime, has increased over the last few years, especially in London. Incidents include pickpocketing, mugging, �snatch and grab� theft of mobile phones, watches and jewelry and theft of unattended bags, especially at airports and from cars parked at restaurants, hotels and resorts.
Pickpockets target tourists, especially at historic sites, restaurants, on buses, trains and the London Underground (subway). Thieves often target unattended cars parked at tourist sites and roadside restaurants, looking for laptop computers and hand-held electronic equipment. In London, travelers should use only licensed �black taxi 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 raped while using these cars. Travelers should take care not to leave drinks unattended in bars and nightclubs. There have been some instances of drinks being spiked, leading to incidents of robbery and rape.
Due to the circumstances described above, visitors should take steps to ensure the safety of their U.S. passports. Visitors in England, Scotland, Wales and Gibraltar are not expected to produce identity documents for police authorities and thus may secure their passports in hotel safes or residences. In Northern Ireland, however, passports or other photographic I.D. should be carried at all times. The need to carry a passport to cash traveler's checks is also minimized by an abundance of ATMs able to access systems widely used in the U.S. and offering more favorable rates of exchange. Note: Common sense personal security measures utilized in the U.S. when using ATMs should also be followed in the U.K.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES ^
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. Persons violating British law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use or trafficking in illegal drugs in the United Kingdom are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines. Many pocketknives and other blades, and mace or pepper spray canisters, although legal in the U.S., are illegal in the U.K. and may be confiscated.
Under the PROTECT Act of April 2003, it is a crime, prosecutable in the United States, for a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien, to engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18, whether or not the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident alien intended to engage in such illicit sexual conduct prior to going abroad. For purposes of the PROTECT Act, illicit sexual conduct includes any commercial sex act in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18. The law defines a commercial sex act as any sex act, on account of which anything of value is given to or received by a person under the age of 18.
Under the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998, it is a crime to use the mail or any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transmit information about a minor under the age of 16 for criminal sexual purposes that include, among other things, the production of child pornography. This same law makes it a crime to use any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transport obscene materials to minors under the age of 16.
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.
MEDICAL FACILITIES ^
While medical services are widely available, free care under the National Health System is allowed only to U.K. residents and certain EU nationals. Tourists and short-term visitors can expect charges roughly comparable to those assessed in the United States.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS ^
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning the United Kingdom is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance:
Safety of Public Transportation: Excellent
Urban Road Condition/Maintenance: Excellent
Rural Road Condition/Maintenance: Excellent
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Excellent
U.K. penalties for drunk driving are stiff and often result in prison sentences. In contrast to the United States and continental Europe where traffic moves on the right hand side of the road, traffic moves on the left in the U.K. Visitors uncomfortable with or intimidated by the prospect of driving on the left-hand side of the road may wish to avail themselves of extensive bus, rail and air transport networks that are comparatively inexpensive. 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 U.K., you may wish to obtain a copy of the Highway Code, available in the United Kingdom. The Automobile Association (AA) of the U.K. provides information and updates on travel and traffic-related issues on its website at
http://www.theaa.com/index.html. If you intend to rent a car in the U.K., check that you are adequately insured. U.S. auto insurance is not always valid outside the U.S. and you may wish to purchase supplemental insurance, which is generally available from most major rental agents. The city of London imposes a congestion charge on all cars entering the downtown area Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Information on the congestion charge can be found at
Public transport in the United Kingdom is excellent and extensive. However, poor track conditions may have contributed to train derailments resulting in some fatalities. Repairs are underway and the overall safety record is excellent.
Many U.S. citizens are injured every year in pedestrian accidents in the United Kingdom, forgetting that traffic moves in the opposite direction than in the United States. Care should be taken when crossing streets.
Driving in Gibraltar is on the right-hand side of the road, as in the U.S. and Continental Europe. Persons traveling overland between Gibraltar and Spain may experience long delays in clearing Spanish border controls.
For specific information concerning United Kingdom driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, refer to the United Kingdom's Department of Environment and Transport web site at
http://www.dft.gov.uk; the Driving Standards Agency web site at
http://www.dsa.gov.uk, or consult the U.S. Embassy in London's web site at
The phone number for police/fire/ambulance emergency services - the equivalent of "911" in the U.S. - is �999� in the United Kingdom and �12� in Gibraltar.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT ^
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of the United Kingdom's Civil Aviation Authority as Category 1 �- in compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of the United Kingdom's air carrier operations. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA's Internet website at
The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact DOD at (618) 229-4801.
Please also refer to the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement.
July 30, 2004