Last updated: 6 October 2021

Are you desperate to hit the road again and visit Scotland in 2021? Welcome to the club – here is everything you need to know if you are hoping to travel to Scotland this year.

The longer the Coronavirus pandemic and related travel restrictions continue, the more restless people around the world get about when they will be able to travel to Scotland again.

And I get it – I also can’t wait to hit the road.

So, how likely is it that you can visit Scotland in 2021?

At the moment, the answer is: IT DEPENDS! On a couple of things…

See below for important updates.

Here are some of the key things to consider if you want to visit Scotland in 2021.

UPDATE: October 2021

From 5 October 2021, the British and Scottish governments have further eased the restrictions for international travellers depending on where they travel from and their vaccination status.

Country of departure

The UK has dropped its traffic light system, but there continues to be a red list of countries which are considered high risk. All other countries (formerly green or amber list) are not considered non-red list areas. Whether you can enter the UK/Scotland and have to quarantine or not, depends on your country of departure, or rather, which country(/ies) you spent time in the 10 days before departure.

So where you live and where you catch your plan from matters. There are different regulations around transferring through a third country. If you have to change planes in a different country than the one you left from, make sure you also check regulations and requirements there.

Your vaccination status

If you arrive from a non-red list country, your vaccination status makes all the difference. Whether you have to quarantine in the UK and how many PCR tests you have to take upon arrival depends on your vaccination status. If you are fully vaccinated, you may get away without quarantine and fewer tests.

Arriving from the US, Europe and Canada

As of writing this, the rules for entering Scotland from the US, Europe and Canada are the same as they are all on the non-red list.

  • Arriving from an non-red list country and FULLY VACCINATED (includes USA, EU countries, Canada and many others), you must fill in a passenger locator form and book a PCR test to take on day 2 of your time in the UK. You do no longer have to take a PCR test before departure.
  • Arriving from an non-red list country and NOT FULLY VACCINATED, you must take a PCR test before departure and fill in a passenger locator form. On arrival, you must isolate for 10 days and you have to take 2 PCR tests on day 2 and 8 of your isolation period.

To find out which countries are on the red list, which rules apply to under-18s, which vaccines are accepted and what proof of vaccination you require, refer to the official guidance here.

Be aware that these regulations can change on short notice and countries may shift from green to amber to red depending on the Covid situation there.

Crossing the UK Border

The borders of the United Kingdom (which consists of 4 countries – read more here) are currently open to leisure travel.

The numbers of Coronavirus cases in the UK are very high and the national health service (NHS) close to capacity, which is why people from outside the UK may only enter for essential purposes.

Each of the four sovereign nations in the UK has its own set of rules regarding quarantines for new arrivals – with England often having loser restrictions in place than Scotland. You can read about these rules here.

Unfortunately, there is also a lot of misinformation out there and some people even suggest, that you can simply bend the rules and visit Scotland via England if their rules are less strict.

Entering Scotland

The Scottish government is very clear about who can enter the country for essential purposes or leisure at the moment. You can always find up to date information here.

As a partially self-determined country with a devolved government that is elected by the people of Scotland, Scotland makes its own rules about which measures are necessary to curb the spread of the Coronavirus.

You must abide by the Scottish rules for entering the country.

Currently, the Scottish government uses a dual system to manage who can enter Scotland and what requirements there are upon arrival:

  • Arrivals from red list countries will be required to take a PCR test before arriving, enter a managed quarantine hotel for 10 days and take 2 PCR tests after arriving. Travel from such countries should only be for essential reasons. This is regardless of your vaccination status.
  • Fully-vaccinated arrivals from non-red list countries, which includes the US, Europe and Canada, are not required to quarantine or isolate on arrival in Scotland, but need to take a PCR test shortly after arrival (within 2 days).
  • Arrivals from non-red list countries who are not fully vaccinated, must take a PCR test before arriving, self-isolate for 10 days, fill in the passenger locator form and take two PCR tests after arriving.

The guidelines further specify that if you enter Scotland via one of the other UK nations, you must self-isolate depending on your country of departure.

Coronavirus Guidance in Scotland

The guidelines around Coronavirus in Scotland are constantly monitored and frequently updated. You can always find the most up-to-date information here. I also have a blog post about current guidelines that I update as frequently as possible.

At the time of updating this post in October 2021, the majority of the country is fairly open.

  • Domestic travel between different regions of Scotland is allowed.
  • Accommodation providers are open for leisure visitors.
  • Many tourist attractions and restaurants have re-opened.
  • Tour operators are back to offering tours and activities.

That said, things are by no means “back to normal”.

Capacity in accommodations, public transport, ferries and restaurants is still limited and many businesses face staff shortages. Entry to many tourist attractions must be pre-booked. Masks must still be worn indoors, on public transport and in crowds.

And most importantly, Covid cases are still pretty high because of the Delta variant. While many people in Scotland are now fully vaccinated and hospitalisation rates aren’t rising dramatically, there is still a risk to catch the virus while travelling.

Can I enter if I had the vaccine?

All scientific research we have at the moment suggests that even if you get the vaccine, you might still be able to transmit the virus.

Here are some sources about this on BBC Future, a study published in the biological journal PLOS Biology, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, official advice by the UK Government and official advice by the CDC in the US.

That means at the moment, even if you had both doses of the vaccine, your life is not just going to go back to normal and you may still pose a health risk to others.

From Monday, 5 October, fully vaccinated travellers from non-red list countries may enter Scotland without the need to take a pre-departure PCR test or the requirement to self-isolate. However, you are still required to take a PCR test within 2 days of arriving – if your test result is positive, you must self-isolate.

What about your bookings for 2021?

If you have already made travel plans for 2021 or rolled your reservations from 2020 over to this year, hold on to them for now. Hopefully, with the new easing of restrictions from August, you will be able to travel!

That said, we simply can’t predict how quickly this might change again…

Hold on to your reservations, hope for the best, but enquire about making changes again, so you are not rushed if you do have to postpone (again).

Personally, I would not make any new travel plans for 2021 from outside the UK just yet. If you decide to make any reservations, try to book refundable rates or – even better – discuss with providers in advance what happens if you have to postpone. I would also, before booking flights, make sure you can find accommodation in the places you’d like to visit.

Great organisations to check for updates on travel in Scotland specifically are, the Scottish Tourism Alliance, the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers and of course VisitScotland.

I hope that if you read my Scotland blog, you appreciate my perspective as a local who lives here and experiences life in Scotland during the pandemic on a daily basis.

I’m a huge advocate for travel as a life-changing experience and I know first-hand how many people are dependent on a thriving tourism industry to earn a living.

But the people of Scotland have to come first – and the same counts for any other country you may want to visit. Keeping the locals in mind when you make your travel decisions is going to make you a more responsible visitor – now and even beyond the pandemic in the future.

I hope you will be able to visit Scotland again in the not so distant future and make up for the trip you may have had to postpone.

Until then, take care and stay safe!

And PS: If you want help planning a trip to Scotland and really go off the beaten track, hire a local like me as a travel consultant.

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4 thoughts on “Can you visit Scotland in 2021?

  1. Susan says:

    I just read that the UK will allow US citizens who have been vaccinated to enter as of July 19, 2021. Will Scotland follow soon after? We’re planning a cruise September 2021 and really want to be able to visit Scotland. Thank you.

    • Kathi says:

      Hi Susan, I’d hold my breath until the Scottish Government makes an announcement about this. T
      Scotland has repeatedly kept stricter rules in place throughout the pandemic.

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