Last updated: 28 July 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?
Unfortunately, at the moment the answer is: NOT VERY LIKELY.
Of course, this may change over the next few months as vaccination programmes progress and so on, but looking at the way things are currently, this is the realistic situation.
See below for important updates.
Here are some of the key things to consider if you want to visit Scotland in 2021.
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.
Update 28 July 2021
From Monday, 2 August, fully vaccinated visitors from countries on the amber list (incl. the US and EU) are no longer required to self-isolate for 10 days.
However, travellers still have to produce a negative test result before departure and a negative PCR test on day 2 after arrival.
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 “traffic light” system to manage who can enter Scotland and what requirements there are upon arrival:
- Arrivals from red list countries will be required to enter a managed isolation hotel and stay there for 10 days. Travel to such countries should only be for essential reasons.
- Arrivals from amber list countries, which will be the majority of countries, should self-isolate at home [or if a visitor from another country, their accommodation on arrival] for 10 days, and take two PCR tests while they are isolating. This requirement is relaxed from 2 August for fully vaccinated travellers.
- Arrivals from green list countries will not be required to quarantine or isolate on arrival in Scotland, but will need to take a PCR test shortly after arrival.
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. If you enter via another UK country and have been to an “acute risk country” (Brazil, South Africa and a few others) in the 10 days before your arrival you are banned from entering Scotland.
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 writing this in July 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 limited. Entry to most tourist attractions must be pre-booked. Masks must still be worn indoors. Many accommodations are booked solid throughout summer.
And most importantly, Covid cases are still pretty high because of the Delta variant. While many people in Scotland are now fully vaccinated and hospitalisations aren’t rising, there is still a high 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, 2 August, fully vaccinated travellers from amber countries may enter Scotland without the need to self-isolate for 10 days. However, you still require two negative test results. One before departure and one on day 2 after arrival.
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 2 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 right now. 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 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.