Arriving in the UK comes with its own set of questions. Do you need a visa? What’s the best way to get around? And what about WiFi and SIM cards? Here we have compiled a list of useful tips for your first time visiting the UK.
Although most will fly into the UK, travellers from continental Europe might consider the train as a greener alternative. From neighbouring capitals Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels you can hop on the Eurostar and avoid many of the hassles of UK airports, arriving in just a few hours at St Pancras Station in Central London.
Citizens of many places like the USA, Canada, EU, Australia and New Zealand don’t need a visa to enter the UK and can visit for the purpose of tourism for up to 6 months.
Other nationalities can apply for a ‘Standard Visitor’ visa 3 months before travel, with a cost of £100 for up to 6 months. You can check if you need a visa via the UK government's official site.
You may need to have 6 months validity remaining on your passport (depending on where you are coming from), it must be valid for the duration of your holiday.
You could also be asked to prove that; you are visiting for tourism, you have enough funds, you have somewhere to stay, and how/when you are planning to leave.
Customs is modernising in the UK with over 270 eGates at air and rail ports, if you have a biometric passport you should be able to use these faster queue systems. You can also pay in advance to ‘fast track’ through customs at Gatwick, Stansted, Manchester, Edinburgh, Birmingham, and East Midlands airports.
You can’t bring any animal products or fruit, vegetables, nuts or seeds into the UK (unless you have a permit). It’s not necessary anymore to complete a landing card when you arrive in the UK and there are no COVID restrictions.
All major UK airports like Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, and Manchester have free WiFi throughout the terminals, it's easy to get connected but make sure to use a secure VPN to protect your privacy.
You can also buy UK sim cards at the arrivals hall, although slightly more expensive than in the city, you can pick up a prepaid sim card with 25 GB data for around £20 with top providers like EE or Three.
From Gatwick Airport there’s an express train to London Victoria every 15 minutes, and the service runs 24/7. The journey takes 30 minutes and costs around £13, with free WiFi included.
From Heathrow Airport the tube (Heathrow Express or Elizabeth Line) regularly runs to London Paddington, taking between 15 and 37 minutes (depending on stops). Prices start from £12.30 when pre-booked online, the first train is at 04:12, and the last train is at 23:20.
From these central stations trains to other parts of London run regularly, but black cabs can be easier if you have a lot of luggage. London airports like Luton and Stansted are a little further away, but do also have regular transport links.
Trams depart Edinburgh Airport every 7 minutes between 7am and 7pm, taking 30 minutes to get to St Andrews Square (overnight they run every 15 minutes). Always buy tickets before boarding the tram; an adult single costs £7.50 from the airport or £7 when pre-booked.
The Airport Express bus service runs to the centre 7 days a week. Tickets are available from the tourist information desk in arrivals, but you can also buy them directly from the driver. A ticket from Belfast Airport to Belfast costs £8.50, or £12.50 if returning in the same month.
Bus and taxi drivers are required by law to give reasonable assistance to help passengers to enter a vehicle, and will accept assistance dogs.
All UK trains must comply with the Accessible Travel Policy (ATP), and a full list of accessible train stations can be found on the National Rail website. It’s best to let airlines and airports know in advance if you need special assistance, they will make any necessary arrangements.
Planning a trip to the UK? Read our UK travel guides
Last Updated 13 June 2023