Last updated: 13 April 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.
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 closed 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. You can read about these rules here.
Unfortunately, there is also a lot of misinformation out there and some people from outside Scotland even suggest, that you can simply bend the rules and visit Scotland anyways.
Update 13 April 2021
The Scottish Government has confirmed that non-essential travel between Scotland, England and Wales will be permitted from Monday, 26 April as long as infection levels allow it.
Some localised travel restrictions may still apply (or be re-introduced) in areas with lots of Coronavirus cases.
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.
Here’s what the current guidelines say (18 Feb 2021):
“Everyone who arrives directly in Scotland by air from outside the Common Travel Area (the CTA, comprising United Kingdom, Ireland, the Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands) must:
- provide a Coronavirus (COVID-19) test and get a negative result during the 3 days before you travel
- before departure for arrivals from Monday 15 February, book and pay for managed isolation in a quarantine hotel for at least 10 days from arrival. This applies to arrivals from all countries outside the CTA and includes British citizens. […]
- complete an online passenger locator form before travelling, and provide contact details, travel details and the address of their final destination. You will need to enter the booking reference for your managed isolation package.
- be tested on day of 2 and 8 during of your 10 day quarantine
- follow the national rules on Coronavirus in Scotland.”
The guidelines further specify that if you enter Scotland via one of the other UK nations, you must self-isolate. 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 arrivel you are banned from entering Scotland.
That means you can not simply enter the UK by flying to Heathrow and then travel up to Scotland as if nothing happened. You must abide by the Scottish rules for entering the country.
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 February 2021, the majority of the country is in a strict lockdown.
- People are advised to stay at home, shops and hospitality businesses are closed (apart from takeaway), mingling with others indoors (and to an extent outdoors) is strongly discouraged and domestic travel between different regions of Scotland is not possible.
- Accommodation providers are only allowed to host guests who travel for essential purposes (essential work, health care, other care obligations, some education purposes), not leisure visitors.
- Tourist attractions and restaurants are closed. Tour operators are not offering tours and activities.
So, even if you were self-important enough to bend the rules and enter Scotland for leisure – and I really hope you’re not that person – there would literally be nowhere to stay and nothing to do.
A good indicator is always to look at what the local population is able to do. And currently we are advised to stay at home, avoid mingling with other households indoors or outdoors, and must not travel to other areas in Scotland.
Once the local population can move freely again, you can start thinking about whether a visit is feasible to visit.
Update: 13 April 2021
From Friday, 16 April, non-essential travel around Scotland is permitted for outdoor socialising, recreation and exercise. Six adults from up to six households may meet outdoors.
Accommodation providers, hospitality businesses, shops, attractions etc. may re-open from Monday, 26 April. Non-essential travel between Scotland, England and Wales will also be permitted from the 26th.
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 transit 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.
As such, I would not expect the UK or Scotland specifically to open its borders to vaccinated travellers without any further quarantine or isolation requirements.
If either the UK or Scottish Government decide to ease restrictions for vaccinated people, I will add this information here.
When can you visit Scotland again?
It is impossible to predict when it will be possible to visit Scotland for leisure travel again.
One thing I can say though is that the country will not start with re-opening to overseas leisure travel. The Scottish Government is taking it step-by-step and prioritises the easing of guidelines that affect first-and-foremost the local population.
At the moment, the government prioritises safely re-opening schools. I’m sure the next steps will be to re-open the local economy, lifting restrictions about socialising, then maybe regional and domestic travel.
Only once things are safe and to an extent “normal” again for the local population, would I expect any kind of easing of restrictions for international travel.
Another thing to keep in mind is that some remote regions might keep restrictions up for longer to protect their local populations.
It’s a tough truth to hear (and say) – I truly want to be able to visit again – but in a global pandemic, it’s fair to say, that leisure travel cannot be our first priority.
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.
While it seems unlikely, we simply can’t predict how quickly the vaccinations might change the playing field after all. 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 right now, even for domestic travel from within Scotland or the UK, but even more so. from outside the UK. 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.