Scotland travel ban: What restrictions are in place?

Helen Coffey and Qin Xie
·9-min read
The latest travel advice for Scotland (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
The latest travel advice for Scotland (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Scotland offers some of the most beautiful surroundings for a staycation, from the wild Highlands and Hebrides to the city break charm offered by Edinburgh and Glasgow.

But the current coronavirus pandemic means there are varying travel restrictions across the UK, which in some cases mean you cannot travel to Scotland.

Here’s everything you need to know.

Am I allowed to travel to Scotland from the rest of the UK?

It all depends on where you’re going, where you’re coming from and why.

As of Thursday 5 November, England has been under a second nationwide lockdown, which bans domestic and international leisure travel.

It means those in England should not be travelling to Scotland for a holiday or for any purpose that’s not deemed essential and doing so would break the law.

Wales, which just ended its “fire-break” lockdown, has an indefinite “non-essential travel” ban in place. The Welsh government says: “Travel out of Wales is only allowed under limited circumstances, such as for work or education.”

Northern Ireland, which recently ended its “circuit-breaker”, is a bit more ambiguous. The government advice says “you should avoid all unnecessary travel” but does not outright ban it.

It also advised: “You should carefully consider your holiday and travel options, in light of the continuing COVID-19 threat. A 'staycation' is one way of mitigating the risks – while also supporting the local economy. If you're holidaying abroad, you may have to self-isolate for a period of 14 days on your return home – depending on which country you have visited.”

Scotland has introduced emergency legislation banning non-essential travel from the “common travel area”, which includes England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The new legislation specifies: “A person who lives in a place within the common travel area… must not enter or remain in Scotland. But a person who does not live in Scotland may travel through Scotland in order to reach a place outwith Scotland.”

It means that those living on the borders of Scotland could still enter the country to use its airports and fly to other destinations.

Those with reasonable excuse (see below) will be allowed to enter Scotland, however.

Can I travel within Scotland?

Scotland has its own measures in place depending on the region, with a five-level system currently in place, running from level zero to four. Several regions will be moving into level 4 from 6pm Friday 20 November.

People outside of level three or four areas have been banned from travelling there unless for a number of essential reasons (see below); while those living in level three or four areas are not allowed to travel out unless for essential reasons under the new emergency legislation.

Those in other levels are advised not to cross into regions on different levels for non-essential reasons but can otherwise travel for leisure.

Within a region, things are a little more flexible. Up to and including level three, hotels and holiday accommodation can remain open.

The Scottish government said: "Those living in a Level three area can still use holiday accommodation in their area but should not stay in the same self-catered accommodation with another household.

“You can meet in a group of up to 6 people from up to 2 households indoors in a public setting in your holiday accommodation. You should not meet indoors in your bedroom or self-catered accommodation.”

Can I travel out of Scotland?

If you’re a resident in a Scottish region classed as level three or four, you must not leave the area without an essential reason.

In addition, everyone living in Scotland, regardless of the level their region is in, must not travel to nations in the common travel area – England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – for non-essential reasons. Doing so is against the law.

The legislation says: “A person who lives in Scotland must not leave Scotland for the purpose of entering or remaining in a place within the common travel area… But a person who lives in Scotland may travel through such a place in order to reach another destination.”

However, international leisure travel is still allowed for those living in levels zero to two – but the Scottish government is currently advising against doing so.

In a statement on 20 November, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: "In addition – of course – we are continuing to advise very strongly against unnecessary travel overseas, at the moment. That includes advice not to go overseas on holiday just now.

"Now I know people have been asking why it is against the law - depending on where you live - to travel to an airport but not against the law to fly to another country. So I want to be clear about this. Just because its not against the law to travel overseas doesn’t mean we think its OK to do it just now.

"This is a global pandemic and it is for that reason that we have repeatedly advised people not to travel overseas unless it is for an essential purpose.

"Some have also asked if people would get refunds on flights or holidays booked if we made overseas travel against the law. That does not follow. Your entitlement to a refund will depend on the terms of your travel insurance.

“For all these reasons, our advice is not to book non-essential overseas travel.”

In explaining why the rules for common travel area is different from international travel, the Scottish government explained: “Given the volume of essential travel between Scotland and the rest of the UK and the impracticability of detecting such movements within Great Britain, a different approach is needed from that for international travel.”

What are the essential reasons for travel?

The Scottish government has provided a list of essential reasons to travel, but has said that these should not be seen as loopholes.

These are:

  • travel for work, or provide voluntary or charitable services, but only where that cannot be done from your home

  • travel to school, college, or university where teaching is not provided remotely

  • (to and from Level 3 areas but not Level 4) travel for under 18s sport

  • travel for essential shopping only where it is not possible in your local authority area – you should use on-line shopping or shops, banks and other services in your local area wherever you can

  • travel for healthcare, social care, childcare and other essential services, including recycling, but only if they are not available in your local area

  • travel to provide care or assistance to a vulnerable person

  • travel to visit a person receiving treatment in a hospital, staying in a hospice or care home, or to accompany a pregnant woman, vulnerable person or child to a medical appointment

  • travel for shared parenting or travel between the two parts of an extended household

  • travel to meet a legal obligation, including attending court or satisfying bail conditions, or to participate in legal proceedings

  • travel for essential animal welfare reasons, such as feeding a horse or going to a vet

  • local outdoor informal exercise such as walking, cycling, golf, or running (in groups of up to 6 people from no more than 2 households) that starts and finishes at the same place

  • travel locally (within around 5 miles of your local authority area) to reach a place to take exercise outdoors

  • travel for weddings, civil partnership registrations, funerals and other “life events” (such as bar mitzvahs and christenings)

  • if you are a minister of religion or worship leader travel to your place of worship

  • (to or from Level 3 areas, but not Level 4) travel to your normal place of worship

  • travel to give blood at a Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service collection session

  • travel to transit through Level 3 and 4 areas by road or public transport if your journey begins and ends outside such an area

  • travel to move house

  • travel to avoid injury, illness or to escape a risk of harm

Are hotels and campsites open?

All holiday accommodation can stay open in regions that are level three or below, in line with guidance.

Hotels and other accommodation providers can serve food to guests staying in their premises, for consumption in or outdoors. Alcohol may only be served as part of room service.

People from more than one household (or extended household) must not stay in self-catered accommodation together while the current restrictions on indoor private gatherings are in place. This includes accommodation such as a caravans, flats and holiday cottages.

If you are staying in a hotel, B&B or similar accommodation, you should not have more than one household (or extended household) staying in each room booked.

When an area enters level four, all holiday accommodation must close to tourists. Hotels, B&Bs and self-catering can remain open for essential customers only, such as those travelling for work.

Are restaurants, shops and attractions open?

Up to level three, restaurants can remain open, although a maximum of six people from two households can meet together, whether indoors or outdoors.

Table service is compulsory, as is wearing a mask when moving around the restaurant or not eating and drinking.

In level one areas, all hospitality premises must shut by 10.30pm; in level two alcohol is only permitted if sold alongside a meal; and, in level three areas, no alcohol can be sold and all establishments must close by 6pm.

Restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars will be closed in level four, although hotels can still serve customers staying on their premises for essential reasons until 10pm. Takeaways are also permitted to remain open.

Shops, visitor attractions, libraries, hairdressers, barbers and beauticians can all stay open with social distancing measures in place up to level three, but other services may have to close depending on what level the area has been designated. From level four, only essential shops will be allowed to open.

Nightclubs must remain shut across the board; stadiums will close to spectators in levels two and three; and soft play, funfairs, snooker and pool halls, indoor bowling alleys, casinos and bingo halls will remain closed in level three.

Outdoor live events are also banned in level three areas, as are contact sports and training, plus indoor group exercise classes, for those aged 18 and over.

The rules are constantly changing, as are the areas affected. You can check the latest guidelines here.

What rules are in place?

Other than the above, face coverings are now mandatory in shops and on buses, trains, trams, planes and taxis, plus in indoor group settings, including staff canteens and workplace corridors.

You should avoid crowded areas and maintain 2m social distancing where possible.

People are also being advised against sharing a vehicle with another household.

If you have any of the coronavirus symptoms, you should self-isolate and book a test.

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