Travelling to US from the UK

For the majority of 2020, travel plans have been put on hold or certain restrictions applied, as part of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the virus first became a worldwide concern after starting in China, countries around the globe have had to react to the rising number of cases by going into lockdown and enforcing international travel restrictions.

Both the US and the UK are two of the most highly impacted countries from COVID-19 and both countries have had strict lockdown and travel restrictions in place for several months. In the UK non-essential travel was recently allowed again to certain countries that are regarded to be low risk in terms of infection rates, however as the virus continues to spread and rates are fluctuating in areas across Europe, quarantine rules have been introduced.

Closures of US Embassies

For anyone considering travelling to the US from the UK, this is still not allowed for non-essential travel, as the US placed the UK and Republic of Ireland on their travel restriction list. The US closed their embassies and consulates during the first months of COVID-19 entering the US and many visa services are on hold or backlogged due to the combination of furloughed staff and travel restrictions. The US Embassy in London is currently providing emergency and some limited routine consular services. Green cards are not being issued right now and visas including H1-B, H2-B, J and L are also not being issued until at least 31 December 2020.

Similar to the UK government, the US is monitoring data regarding the number of cases in the US and other countries, to take action when it is appropriate to do so, to allow travelers to visit the US. These restrictions have hit the tourism industry hard, but with high volumes of rates in many areas of the US still, the US government is currently not allowing foreign citizens from the list of banned countries to enter the US yet.

US citizens that are returning to the US are required to travel into selected airports that have enhanced screening procedures and they must also quarantine. Within the US, travel between states has also been restricted, with non-essential travel banned in some, and many requiring quarantine when arriving from areas where rates are higher.

Booking Commercial Flights Between UK and US

Commercial flights are operating between the UK and the US for US citizens to return to the US. If you are a US citizen and need to travel back to the US, you should check the available flights operating from Heathrow and connecting airports.

At the airport, changes have been made to make the environment more COVID-19 secure, including the temporary relocation of airlines from T3 and T4 and the terminals are subject to change, so travellers are asked to regularly check for any updates.

Enhanced screening is taking place for all flights, with temperature screening being trialled. Social distancing must be adhered to and anyone aged 11 and over is required to wear a face mask whilst in the airport building.

Who Can Travel to the US from the UK?

Under the current restrictions that have been in place since 16 March, the majority of British nationals may not enter the US if they are traveling from the UK, Ireland, Schengen zone, Iran, Brazil or China. The only exemptions for traveling into the US from these countries are US citizens and permanent residents of US and certain limited categories of visa holders. British citizens may contact the US embassy to determine whether they are exempt from the travel restrictions, for example, if they qualify under economic interest or humanitarian purposes. Those who do qualify are required to self-isolate for 14 days upon entry into the US.

If you are planning to visit the US from the UK for what would be considered as non-essential travel, then you should stay up to date with the latest travel news to see if the US travel restrictions change. Before booking any travel arrangements to the US or elsewhere, it is a good idea to look at cancellation policies for flights and any accommodation, and taking out COVID-19 related travel insurance if necessary to avoid losing money.

With COVID-19 daily cases still relatively high in many states across the US, many countries are advising against travel there (in the event that the US travel restrictions were lifted by the US government), so as well as keeping up to date with US travel updates, check the UK government guidance. In the UK, local lockdowns have been put into place in areas where infection rates are increasing, so these restrictions also impact travel in the UK.

Future travel to the US from UK

It is not possible to predict what will happen in terms of international travel going into 2021 and beyond, as it will be determined by the COVID-19 infection rates and whether a vaccine is developed. Many countries are expecting to see a second peak of cases, having already put lockdown measures in place to prevent the virus from spreading further during the first wave.

So, travel to the US from the UK is very uncertain for non-essential travel although most travel companies are allowing you to book holidays for next year with flexibility to move or cancel the trip, should it become affected by the virus restrictions.

If you want to book a trip to the US from the UK then you are able to apply for an ESTA instead of a visa, if you are travelling for business or tourism purposes. The processing time for this is very fast (usually within a few hours), so you do not have to arrange this very far in advance of travel, unlike with a visa. You will require a passport that is valid for at least six months and providing that your ESTA is approved, your ESTA will electronically be linked to your passport for two years, or until the passport expires, whichever date is the soonest.

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