Is a trip to Britain on your travel itinerary? You might want to leave your packing for the last minute, but don't do the same with your travel documents. Getting things in order well in advance of your departure can guarantee that you have the necessary paperwork for entry and travel throughout the United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland).
Travelers from the United States will need a valid passport in order to obtain entry into the United Kingdom. Make sure the passport is valid for the entire duration of your stay; otherwise, you'll be making a trip to the U.S. Embassy in London for help if your passport is lost or expires while you're overseas.
Similarly, make a copy of your passport and keep it in a safe location while you travel. If you lose your passport, this information can help you get a replacement.
You will need a visa for travel to Britain if you're planning to stay for longer than 6 months or do charity work, get a job or attend school. If any of these apply to you, you'll need to get the appropriate information from the company, school, or organization sponsoring you. This needs to be done well in advance of your departure, so begin your research now. The length of your visa depends on what you'll be doing in the UK. If you're a student at a British university, for example, you can stay for up to five years. If you're there as a temporary charity worker, the time is usually one year.
Driver license and insurance information
You can rent a car and drive in England (read through the British Highway Code before you go to familiarize yourself with rules of the road — and make sure to drive on the left!). Do travel with your driver license and proof of automobile insurance when you travel to the United Kingdom. Although an international driver license can be helpful in non-English-speaking countries, you won't need one in Britain.
You'll need to contact your insurance company in order to ascertain how much coverage you'll have when you're outside of the United States. However, some European rental car companies may still insist (even if they're incorrect) that you'll need to purchase their rental insurance before you can leave the lot. Call you insurance agent and ask specific "what if" questions before you decline rental-company coverage. Make sure you know your policy before you go and proceed accordingly.
Some credit card companies will also help with insurance if you use them to pay for the rental, especially if you're an elite cardholder. Others, most notably American Express, will cover your out-of-pocket expenses for a flat fee per rental period, which is often less than the rental agency cost. Check the fine print before you use any of these options.
Address and itinerary
You'll be asked to provide the address of your destination and details of your itinerary when you go through immigration. Have the addresses of the places where you intend to stay handy to speed your entry into the country.
Credit card/ATM card
Just about every retail outlet in Britain takes plastic. Even if you don't intend to use them, travel with at least one current credit card and an ATM card when you head into the United Kingdom. You'll be able to use them if you choose (let retailers know that your credit card doesn't have a chip so they don't ask for a pin; most ATM cards only work as debit cards in their home regions). Call your credit card issuers before you leave and notify them where you're going so they don't think your cards have been stolen when purchases in another country start turning up in their records. Also, note that some shops in the UK won't accept certain cards (Discover and American Express, for example).
Health care information
Before you leave for the UK, check with your health insurance company to see if it offers overseas coverage. If yours doesn't, you may want to buy supplemental insurance for your time abroad. Travel with proof of your health care coverage when you leave the United States for Britain (or any other foreign country). In the event of an emergency, you'll need to have your information on hand. Hospitals won't turn you away, but you could find yourself with a hefty bill from the National Health Service, which pays for British residents' health care. Money owed to the NHS could impact your future entry into the UK.
by Kelly Herdrich
Top: If you'll be touring Britain by car, make sure you bring proof of insurance, and don't forget to drive on the left. (Photo by Britain on View/Visit Britain)
Right: Unlike tourists, students from the U.S. usually need visas. (Photo by Eric Nathan/Visit Britain)