Travel Tips

Passports

For residents of the USA, you need a passport to enter the UK.  Please consult this website for specific information regarding applying for or renewing passports. Children also require passports. Processing can take up to 6 weeks for a new passport, so please apply early. Visas are typically not necessary for tourism-related travel to the UK (for stays under 90 days), but if you are including other destinations during your trip, please check the US Department of State website to find out if you need a specific visa. Some visas require application and approval weeks before you actually enter the country, and without the visa, you will be turned away at the airport.

Please be aware that when flying into the UK, you will need to go through customs. When returning to the USA, you will also have to clear customs when you enter the country. This can add to your travel time, in some cases up to 3 hours. Pay particular attention when scheduling flights with layovers that enough time is provided for you to go through customs. Frequent travelers may want to look at the Trusted Traveler Programs available through US Customs and Border Protection to speed up time through customs. Also, be aware that it is normal for customs agents to ask you questions about your trip; please be cooperative or you could experience delays.

General Safety Tips

  • Buddy rule: when you’re out, travel in pairs or groups. Share your cell phone number with the directors, especially if you plan on striking out on your own.
  • Let people know when and where you are going.
  • Dial 999 in an emergency
  • If you need a taxi, make sure you locate taxis in the publicly-posted taxi line/cue. You can also ask many establishments, such as pubs, restaurants, or hotels to call a taxi company for you.

Cell phone/Mobile Phone calls: 

To use your cell phone, you’ll need to check with your mobile provider to make sure your phone will work in the UK.  Many carriers now offer several “international plan” options, including pay-by-the-day and monthly plans. SIM cards can be purchased in the UK, but make sure you are buying from a reputable seller (cheap fake cards are a common scam). Please note if you intend on checking email or sending texts through your mobile, you will likely need a data plan as well as voice plan.

 Skype:

Skype calling is often the most affordable way to call ‘home’. Skype can be put on laptops, tablets, and cell phones.  You need to set up an account and add “skype credit” to make calls to phones; otherwise, free calls can be made to other wifi-supported devices with skype enabled.  You can also purchase a UK-based “skype number” if you plan on making a lot of calls.

Electric

The UK uses 220-volt current.  You will likely need power adapters, which can be purchased at many stores like Target, Walmart, or luggage shops.  An example of a UK-compatible adapter can be found at Amazon. In most cases, a power adapter will be sufficient, but some appliances (such as hair dryers) may need a power converter. Here’s a good article from REI on what type of adapter or converter you may need. Many laptops are able to convert the power current with its own power cord (check with your specific model) but you will still need an adapter for the plugin. USB cords regulate power as needed and thus USB-connected devices typically only need an adapter as opposed to a converter.

Money

England and Scotland use the GBP, or British Pound (£).  Conversion rates change, so you’ll want to check closer to your trip for the most accurate rate. You can get pounds through your bank in the USA before you leave.  Typically this will have to be ordered, so do it ahead of time.  You can convert money at the airport as well.  Banks tend to have the best exchange rate.

It is also possible to use ATM’s in the UK if you use an ATM card with a 4-digit pin.  You will want to check with your bank regarding any fees you might incur for withdrawing in other countries. Also, some US banks have branches in the UK but operate under a different name.

 Credit cards (with chip) are widely accepted, but there will be circumstances where cash is needed (e.g. taxis).  You may need to contact your credit card company to inform them that you’ll be using your card out of the country.   Also, check with your company regarding any additional fees that might be added when using the card overseas.  The benefit of using credit is that most credit cards carry protections in case your card is lost or stolen, or if you need to dispute an incorrect charge from a merchant.

Weather

July is summer in Scotland, making it a great time to experience a variety of outdoors events. Average summer daytime temperature is in the 70’s, although you should check prior to your trip to get the most accurate weather information. Rain is common in the Scottish summer so you may want to consider bringing an umbrella or packable raincoat. 

Packing

Scotland has a way of throwing weather surprises in the summer. Dressing in layers may be helpful.  The Institute is “dress casual”; we recommend packing good walking shoes as Edinburgh is a hilly town and we do a great deal of walking! There is no need for formal clothing.  However, if you plan on attending a high-end restaurant or show, more formal attire (e.g., collared shirts, jackets) may be required. Moving with your luggage may be a challenge in the more crowded areas, thus try to keep your packing to one manageable suitcase you can pick up.

You may also want to carry a daypack/small backpack for outings.  This can make it easier to carry a camera, wallet, maps, water, and also anything you happen to buy along the way. Given Scotland’s excellent outdoors, you may want to bring hiking boots or trail shoes if you plan on visiting the Highlands or various Lochs.

If you think you may want to get in some exercise, the Royal Commonwealth pool offers day and week passes at very affordable rates. Thus make sure to bring your own swimwear or workout gear!

Health Care

Hopefully, this won’t be a concern, but accidents can happen.  The UK operates with the National Healthcare System which offers free health care to residents. Emergency services are also free to visitors.  For more information on what is available, this article gives a basic reference. You should check with your own health plan to see what is covered abroad.  You may want to consider purchasing temporary travel insurance that will cover medical needs.

If you have a medical emergency that does not require ambulance services or paramedics, just walk into:

    • Any GP’s office (they are known as GP’s surgeries in the UK)
    • A Walk-in Emergency Medical Centre
    • A hospital emergency room. Hospital emergency rooms are called Accident and Emergency Units or A&E. People may also refer to that part of a hospital as a Casualty Unit or department

“Boots” is a common local pharmacy chain where you can find most medicines and items you would locate in a Walgreen’s or CVS.

If you are taking any prescription or non-prescription medications, be sure you have an adequate supply for the duration of your time away from home. Make sure to pack these in your carry-on luggage! Some insurance providers such as HTH and travel assistance companies can secure prescription medications for you while you are abroad, but this service can be costly, and you must have subscribed to a company that provides the service. Sometimes medications easily found in the United States may not be available abroad or in the dosages that your doctor prescribed. All medications, including over-the-counter medications, must be clearly labeled and in the original containers since they are open to inspection by customs officials.

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