GSS Country Snapshot
A brief overview of Harvard activities, safety & security, health, cultural, and outbound immigration considerations
Registered Trips in 2023
The United Kingdom (collectively England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales) is a popular destination for Harvard affiliates to study, research, intern, attend conferences, and travel. It consistently ranks in the top 10 registered locations for Harvard travelers. Through our Harvard Global entities in the UK, we provide international employment, office administration, and gift administration services that support the University’s research, fundraising, and educational activities.
The information below is intended as a high-level summary and is not all encompassing. We encourage you to review the additional resources and utilize your Harvard network to learn more. You can also schedule a consultation with us if you’d like to discuss the safety and security or operational matters unique to you and your travel or project. We’ll work with you to minimize risks and help you make informed decisions about your travel and activities.
Safety & Security
Although the Harvard GSS risk rating for the UK is low risk, there are still factors for Harvard affiliates to consider when traveling or planning activities in the UK. For example, opportunistic and petty crime is a risk, and it often occurs in crowded locations. Terror attacks have occurred in urban centers in the past, and the country remains a potential target for terrorist activity. Homosexuality and same sex marriage are legal in the UK, although the latter is not recognized fully in Northern Ireland. Sectarian tensions between Unionist and Nationalist populations of Northern Ireland still remain and lead to sporadic unrest and violence. As with any country, you need to research and consider all factors in the context of your identity, your activities in country, and your familiarity with the country and its culture. If a security incident occurs, contact International SOS through the Assistance App or by dialing +1-617-998-0000.
Adverse weather conditions, including high winds, flooding, and snowfall, occur seasonally in the winter months. Download the International SOS Assistance App to receive push alerts about incidents in your area.
Major cities in the UK have at least one international airport, and there also are numerous domestic flight options. The road network, driving standards, and adherence to road safety standards are very good. Be mindful that traffic drives on the left and pedestrians do not have the right of way. Travelers are advised not to drive because conditions may vary from what you’re used to. The public transit system, including buses, trains, and the London Underground, is extensive. Licensed taxis are also plentiful. Review the road safety reports (access code: Harvard1636) for Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales for more information on public transit, walking, biking, and driving in those locations.
Mobile and internet coverage networks are extensive and cover almost all areas of the country. Cybercrime via phishing attacks and unsecured networks are a risk. Know how to keep your data safe abroad.
Make sure you’re up-to-date on any required and recommended vaccines for the UK. Health threats such as Covid-19, Lyme disease, and rabies may be present. If you're traveling with medication, check the UK's controlled drug list to see if your medications are legal and available in the UK. Many common U.S. medications and supplements are illegal abroad or require special authorization. Note that pharmacies are referred to as “chemists” in Northern Ireland and other parts of the UK.
Visit your doctor or a travel clinic (such as Harvard University Health Services) at least a month before your departure to discuss all health risks and your individual health with a professional, to receive any vaccines or medications you’ll need, and to learn how to reduce your risk of infection or transmission.
Keep in mind that all travelers have a small risk of developing traveler’s diarrhea in any country. Learn how to make safe food and drink choices.
If you need any medical or mental health assistance while on a Harvard-related trip in the UK, contact International SOS through the Assistance App or by dialing +1-617-998-0000. International SOS can direct you to appropriate inpatient or outpatient care. Emergency and trauma capabilities are available, and evacuations from more rural areas are possible.
The UK is a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarchy. It has a highly developed social market economy driven by the service sector, including business, finance, healthcare, and tourism. Following the UK's exit from the European Union, the two sides negotiated a trade and cooperation agreement. To help mitigate any adverse effects on your travel or your project, make sure you're aware of the potential changes related to immigration and visas, employment, and other financial matters.
English is the UK’s official language, although the regional languages of Welsh, Scots, and Irish Gaelic are also spoken in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, respectively. There’s a range of English dialects and accents across the country. Nearly 60 percent of the country identifies as Christian, four percent Muslim, and about a quarter of the population does not identify with any religion.
Social interactions in the UK tend to be more formal than in surrounding European countries. Casual dress is generally accepted; however, some establishments may require more formal attire. Note that it is considered rude to wave one’s hand at or call when summoning a waiter at a restaurant.
Chip-and-pin credit card technology is widely used and preferred over cash, but ATMS are widely available. All major credit cards are broadly accepted.
When booking travel or scheduling meetings, be mindful of the UK’s holidays and festivals since businesses may be closed or have reduced hours, particularly in July and August and around May bank holidays, Easter, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
Visas & Travel Documents
Before traveling to the UK, make sure your passport is valid for at least three months beyond your length of stay and that you have at least one blank page.
Depending on your citizenship, reason for travel, and length of stay, you may need a visa or an onward/return ticket to enter. For example, if you are interning, you will likely need to submit biometrics and receive a certificate of sponsorship in order to apply for a visa.
Requirements are subject to change, particularly following the UK's withdrawal from the EU, so always check your visa and travel document requirements well in advance.