United Kingdom Country Report
The United Kingdom (population 65 million) has a high level of security, good health conditions, high-quality medical services, hotel accommodations, and transport infrastructure. Nevertheless, there are still some concerns of which potential travelers to the UK should be aware.
The threat of terrorism is taken very seriously by British authorities in 2017. The British government classifies the threat of terrorism in the country as "severe" (an attack being "highly likely"). Public transportation and tourist sites are considered the most likely targets. The British government believes that the threat comes primarily from the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group, as well as al-Qa'ida and affiliated networks. More than 750 British citizens are believed to have left the country to fight for IS in Iraq and Syria.
British authorities have been particularly vigilant in recent years and have foiled at least 12 terrorist attacks since June 2013 (as of October 31, 2016). The UK's most serious terrorist incident to date occurred on July 7, 2005 ("7/7"), when London was rocked by a series of bombings carried out on public transportation (underground, bus) during rush hour. Scores of people were killed and hundreds injured.
More recently, in the six months of 2017, the country was hit by a wave of terrorist attacks claimed by IS. The first attack targeted the city of London on March 22, when a terrorist drove his vehicle into people walking on the Westminster Bridge before plowing into the gates of the Palace gardens. After crashing the vehicle, the individual then reportedly stabbed a police officer, who later died of his wounds, before being shot and killed by police. Three civilians also died in the attack, which left about forty people (including foreigners) injured. Anti-terrorist units raided several cities across the country (including Birmingham and London) and arrested a dozen individuals in the wake of the event. A second attack took place in May 22, when a suicide bomber blew himself up at the exit of a concert taking place in Manchester, killing 22 people (mostly younger attendees) and wounding 100 others. Finally, on June 3, eight people were killed and 21 seriously injured in an attack which took place on the London Bridge. The terrorists rammed a vehicle into pedestrians before stabbing bystanders in the Borough Market area. All three assailants, who wore fake suicide belts, were shot and killed by the police.
POLITICAL & ETHNIC VIOLENCE
Northern Ireland remains troubled by civil strife despite a series of peace agreements. Since the implementation of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the conflict has largely transformed from a separatist political struggle ("The Troubles") to lower-level violence between rival Protestant and Catholic gangs, generally populated by young working-class men. Political disagreements, as well as poor socio-economic conditions, are an obstacle to achieving a lasting peace between the two communities.
The British government believes that the threat of attacks in Northern Ireland from these dissident groups is "severe", and incidents occur regularly. Although most attacks target security personnel, recent incidents targeted commercial interests.
Protests are relatively common, particularly in larger cities; while most protests remain largely non-violent, clashes and acts of vandalism are not rare.
Frequent protest sites in London include Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus, Whitehall (Downing Street), Westminster, as well as Waterloo and Charing Cross train stations. Students tend to protest outside major universities located near Aldwych and Strand.
Public transport strikes are common in London and always announced in advance on the Transport for London website. Strikes typically start at 18:00 (local time), end at 09:00 the next day, and can last for several days. Buses, taxis, and hire bikes ("Barclays bikes") become scarce as commuters use alternatives means of transport. Many Londoners resort to using their own vehicles to commute, which leads to heavy traffic on roads in and outside London (especially on the M25 ring road).
Parades in Northern Ireland are an important part of the local culture and the majority of them take place on Saturdays. Easter is a prominent time for both unionist (majority Protestant) and nationalist parades (less than 5 percent of the Northern Irish population is considered nationalist), and is traditionally considered the start of the "marching season." Due to the religious and ideological nature of the parades, clashes between opposing camps can occur. It is best to avoid all gatherings.
Several other non-sectarian parades are held in Belfast to commemorate events such as St Patrick's Day, Remembrance Sunday, Gay Pride, etc. Security measures are bolstered and traffic diverted to ensure the safety of the partakers.
In August 2011, disadvantaged neighborhoods and suburbs of several English cities fell into chaos for several days (riots, looting, arson, clashes) before security forces could reinstate order. These were the most serious riots observed in the country in 25 years.
Crime rates are moderate throughout the country.
The National Crime Agency has reported on October 31, 2016, a surge in gun crime in recent months, which has prompted concerns that illegal weapons in the hands of extremists could enable attacks similar to those seen in Paris in 2015. Although firearms are not as widely accessible in Britain as they are in the United States, authorities have reportedly seen evidence of gang criminality potentially linking to terrorism.
Petty thefts, such as pickpocketing and purse snatching, are common in the capital. Cash, smartphones, and identity documents are the most stolen items. It is advised to be particularly vigilant in pubs, restaurants, and public transports, as well as in tourist areas (Westminster, Regent Street, Covent Garden, etc.).
Crime rates tend to increase after nightfall in certain neighborhoods of Central London (Soho, Leicester Square, Shoreditch, Clapham, Brixton) and Greater London (Peckham, Hackney, Croydon, Stockwell, Lewisham) due to the consumption of alcohol and the very agitated crowds.
The next national elections will take place by 2020.
In June 2016, British voters surprised international observers after a majority (51.9 percent) voted "Leave" on a referendum regarding whether or not the UK should remain a member of the EU. Following the vote, Prime Minister David Cameron, a staunch supporter of the "Remain" campaign, announced his pending resignation and was replaced by Theresa May in mid-July. Several fervent supporters of Brexit resigned shortly after, including Boris Johnson ,at the time Mayor of London and Prime Minister aspiran who is now Foreign Secretary. Nigel Farage, the former leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), also resigned. Prime Minister May activated the EU exit process on March 29, 2017.
Prior to departure, travelers should purchase a health insurance plan covering overseas care and medical repatriation, the latter being mandatory in case of a significant or urgent health issue.
As in all European countries, the influenza virus is present in the United Kingdom. Influenza is a contagious virus that can spread from human to human. Symptoms include high fever, aching muscles, headache, and respiratory issues. Particularly vulnerable individuals include young children, the elderly, pregnant women, the obese, and individuals suffering from chronic diseases. To reduce the risk of contracting the flu, wash your hands regularly and thoroughly, particularly before meals.
In 2017, drinking tap water quality is compliant with the UK and European standard (99 percent in England and Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland).
In December 2015 and January 2016, Northern England and Scotland were hit by a series of storms that brought heavy flooding to the region, causing extensive damages to home and infrastructure.
Floods, fog, rain, and snow, which are particularly common in winter months, can have a significant impact on air, maritime, and ground transportation.
Driving lanes are on the left-hand side of the road and the the drivers' seat in local cars is on the right-hand side of the car. Although secondary roads can be narrow, even in big cities, the entire road network is very well-maintained, including in the countryside. Speed limits are 50 km/h (30 mph) in urban areas, 80 km/h (50 mph) outside urban areas, and 110 km/h (70 mph) on highways. Traffic wardens are very strict about parking; it is advised to refer to the Highway Code before driving in the United Kingdom. Roads signs in Wales feature directions in both the Welsh and English languages, with the Welsh first in many areas; plan ahead and allow more time for your journey, as it can be tricky to read signs whilst driving.
A congestion charge is imposed on all cars entering Central London Monday-Friday from 07:00 to 18:00 (local time). More information about this can be found on the Transport for London website.
Official taxis, commonly referred to as "cabs", are generally black with yellow illuminated "for hire" signage and a distinctive uniform appearance (hackney carriages). They feature a meter. Most of them accept payment by card but those who don't will gladly stop at an ATM on the way for the passenger to withdraw cash. It is safe to hail one off the streets, but it is advised to book one in advance as they can be scarce, especially in the City, London's business district. One should not accept rides from anyone proposing taxi services. In London, texting the word HOME to 60835 will produce a response listing telephone numbers for licensed taxi providers.
Public transport is extensive but not always on time. Strikes regularly affect public transportation. Maintenance work on the rail network can cause significant disruptions. Information about the status of National Rail Services can be found on the National Rail Enquiries website. Scotland's rail network is old. London has a very extensive bus network and offers hire bikes (Barclays bikes).
The United Kingdom is well served by air, both domestically and internationally. London counts five international airports, all within 15 to 45 minutes' reach from a Central London station. They include City Airport (LCY, located in Central London), Heathrow (LHR), Gatwick (LGW), Luton (LTN), and Stansted (STN) airports. London Heathrow and Gatwick International Airports have their own Heathrow Express and Gatwick Express lines, departing from London Paddington and London Victoria stations respectively.
The government has announced that passengers flying directly to the United Kingdom from six Middle Eastern and North African countries will be banned from transporting any electronic devices larger than a "normal sized" smartphone ( 16 cm x 9.3 cm x 1.5 cm) in carry-on luggage. This include laptops, tablets, e-readers, cameras, DVD players and videogames, which will be transported in checked luggage. The UK ban applies to all direct flights from airports in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Turkey. The measure took effect on March 25 and will remain in place until further notice.
It is illegal to carry bladed weapons.
The United Kingdom does not belong to the visa-free and goods-free-circulation Schengen zone.
The United Kingdom has an oceanic climate. Summers are mild (temperatures rarely climb above 32°C) and winters are generally not very cold (temperatures rarely fall below -10°C). Average annual rainfall is over 1000 mm. The western coast, exposed to ocean winds, receives more rainfall than the east. Annual rainfall ranges from 5000 mm in the western Highlands (Scotland) and Wales to less than 500 mm in certain parts of East Anglia. November, December, and January are the least sunny months.
Useful NumbersCountry Code: +44 Police: 999 Fire Dept.: 999 Ambulance: 999
Voltage: 230 V ~ 50 Hz
United Kingdom: Rail disruptions February 25, March 4 and 11
TIMEFRAME: from 2/21/2018, 12:00 AM until 2/28/2018, 11:59 PM (Europe/London).
United Kingdom: Disruptions possible at London-Heathrow Feb. 14
TIMEFRAME: from 2/14/2018, 12:00 AM until 2/14/2018, 11:59 PM (Europe/London).
COUNTRY/REGION: London-Heathrow Airport