According to the current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication, the United Kingdom has been assessed as Level 2. Exercise increased caution due to terrorism.
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
U.S. Embassy London does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizens’ Services unit (ACS) cannot recommend a particular individual or location, and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.
The U.S. Department of State has assessed London as being a MEDIUM-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. The U.S. Department of State has assessed Belfast and Edinburgh as being a LOW-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
Please review OSAC’s United Kingdom-specific page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.
As a result of the close economic, social, political, and cultural ties shared by the U.S. and the UK, the number of American expatriate residents and short-term visitors in the UK is estimated at over a quarter million. Close to 300,000 Americans live, work and study throughout England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland.
Cities in the UK are relatively safer than comparable metropolitan areas in the U.S. However, there are significant incidents of crime affecting all members of the public. For 2017, the UK continued to experience an increase in violent and non-violent crimes, especially in urban areas.
Violent criminal confrontations and the use of weapons are still relatively rare, although serious incidents are possible and do occur. Most violent crimes, including those involving firearms, typically occur between members of rival criminal gangs. The personal possession of guns is outlawed, except for the strictly regulated use of shotguns for sporting purposes.
While personal assaults are less common in the UK, in comparison to the U.S., they do represent an area for concern.
Crimes in London, especially those targeting tourists, are typical. Visitors or temporary residents may be more susceptible to criminal "targeting," due to their unfamiliarity with local practices. As in any other metropolitan area, there are high-crime areas/localities in cities throughout the UK. The UK has a comprehensive website that details crime reporting in a particular area.
Several crime trends flourished in 2017:
People using cell phones on the street continued to be targeted by thieves on scooters in central and north London, increasing 14% from 2016 to 2017.
Crimes involving knives increased 23% from 2016 to 2017.
Vehicular break-ins increased in all parts of the city. Thieves force entry and take belongings, including portable satellite navigation systems, left in plain sight.
Theft of bags, purses, and phones in busy central London pubs, bars, and restaurants was also an increasing problem.
ATM scams continued to be prevalent at Oxford Street, Covent Garden, and in/around the Tube system.
Hate crimes involving ethnicity, religion and transgender issues rose significantly in 2017.
Crimes in Belfast and Edinburgh, especially those targeting tourists, are typical. Visitors and residents should exercise the same level of common sense and caution that they would while living in any major U.S. urban area. Street crime in Belfast and Edinburgh is lower than most cities throughout the UK. Pickpockets and ATM card skimming activities are present, but violent crime against strangers is comparatively rare.
For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.”
Cybercrime is perceived by the British government to be a real, serious threat to national security and public safety. The government has identified cyberattacks against the UK by other states and ‘large-scale’ cybercrime as a ‘tier one’ threat (the highest level of threat) to national security. The UK government has sought to identify threats and opportunities presented by an increasingly connected world and highlighted the need to shape “training for mainstream law enforcement on cyber issues, and making sure the links to related issues such as bullying or child exploitation are made.
Organized crime has been quick to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the Internet, particularly the growth in e-commerce and online banking. Specialist criminal groups target individuals, small businesses, and large corporate networks to steal personal information in bulk in order to profit from compromised data.
For more information regarding cyber security and awareness, visit ‘The National Cyber Crime Unit’ (NCCU) led by the UK National Crime Agency.
For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights."
Road Safety and Road Conditions
Driving, aside from the challenge of driving on the left, is similar to driving in the U.S. City and country roads are generally excellent but are narrow and often congested in urban areas. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.” Visitors uncomfortable with or intimidated by the prospect of driving on the left side of the road may wish to avail themselves of the extensive public transportation system, which includes bus, rail, and air travel options.
Visitors and new residents should be familiar with the meaning of British road signs. “Highway Code” can provide information on driving regulations and road signage. Penalties for driving under the influence of even minimal amounts of alcohol or drugs are severe, often resulting in prison sentences.
The maximum speed limit on highways/motorways is 70 miles per hour. Motorways generally have a hard shoulder (breakdown lane) on the left, defined by a solid white line. It is illegal to stop or park on a hard shoulder, except in an emergency. Emergency call boxes (orange telephone booths with “SOS” printed on them) may be found at half-mile intervals along motorways. White and blue poles placed every 100 yards along motorways point in the direction of the nearest call box.
Travelers intending to rent cars should make sure that they are adequately insured. U.S. auto insurance is not always valid internationally, and travelers may wish to purchase supplemental insurance, which is generally available from most major rental agents.
A congestion charge of £11.50 is imposed on all cars entering much of central London (Mon-Fri, 0700-1800). Information on the congestion charge can be found on the “Transport for London” website.
Public Transportation Conditions
Public transport in London is excellent and extensive. Information on disruptions to London transportation services can be found on the “Transport for London” website. Information about the status of National Rail Services can be found on the National Rail Enquiries web site.
Public transport in Northern Ireland is more limited than the rest of the UK. The primary public transportation modes are buses with some train service available to certain cities in Northern Ireland. Information about mass transit is available on Translink NI’s website.
Other Travel Conditions
Pedestrian safety is a major consideration, as U.S. citizens are occasionally injured or killed when they forget that oncoming traffic approaches from the opposite direction from what they are accustomed to. There are reminders painted on the sidewalk curbs indicating the direction in which pedestrians must look before crossing. Visitors and new residents should be aware that, as a pedestrian, having the green traffic light does not mean it is safe to proceed into the street. As drivers, especially in urban centers, may not be entirely familiar with UK road signage and rules, pedestrians should always proceed with caution and never presume that being "right" means being safe.
The U.S. Department of State has assessed London as being a HIGH-threat location for terrorist activity directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. The U.S. Department of State has assessed Belfast as being a MEDIUM-threat location for terrorist activity directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. The U.S. Department of State has assessed Edinburgh as being a LOW-threat location for terrorist activity directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
International terrorism continues to be a considerable concern in the UK. In 2017, five major terrorist attacks occurred in the UK, four in London. Attacks included knives, vehicles, and explosives and resulted in the highest number of deaths as a result of terrorism since 2005 in the UK. The number of terrorism arrests by the Metropolitan Police and security services increased by 54% to over 400 in 2017.
Islamist extremists continue to view the UK as a legitimate and high-priority target for attack. Following the attacks in London and Manchester, the UK government increased counter-terrorism operations, which resulted in multiple surveillance and terrorism-related arrest operations against radical Islamist groups and their surrogates who have demonstrated their intent and capability to conduct attacks on UK soil. This threat is enhanced by the reality of violence perpetrated by radicalized lone actors, in groups and individually.
The UK government assesses that the current threat of international terrorism against the country is “Severe,” meaning that an attack is “highly likely.” The threat rating was raised to “Critical” on two occasions during 2017, once after the Manchester attack and again for a brief period following the Parsons Green bombing. Threats against specific American targets in the U.K. are assessed at a “Substantial” level, meaning that there is a “strong possibility” of attack. Some of the attacks in 2017 included:
On September 15, a subway train was attacked at Parsons Green station in West London. An improvised explosive device (IED) left in a construction bucket partially ignited, injuring 22. An 18-year old man was arrested in relation to the attack.
On June 19, one person was killed, and 10 people were injured when a man drove a van through a crowd outside the Finsbury Mosque in North London. The man was apprehended by bystanders and arrested by police.
On June 3, three men in a van struck pedestrians along the London Bridge, killing three. Armed with ceramic knives taped to their hands, they proceeded to stab five people to death. 48 people were injured on the bridge and in Borough Market. Police responded within eight minutes, shooting and killing all three attackers on the street in Borough Market.
On May 23, an individual carrying an IED in a backpack detonated his device as audience members attending an Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena were departing. 22 people died, and 59 were injured. The attacker died in the explosion.
On March 22, a lone individual drove a vehicle into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, killing four. The attacker crashed into a fence at the Houses of Parliament, exiting the vehicle with a knife and killing an officer. The individual was shot and killed by police.
In Northern Ireland, Republican dissident groups mostly target British police, military, and governmental interests and have not stated grievances against U.S citizens or the U.S. private sector. Any direct impact on U.S. interests would likely be a “wrong place, wrong time” scenario, rather than a targeted attack.
The UK National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), created a nationwide video campaign -- “Run, Hide, Tell” -- that advises members of the public on how to react in the event of a firearms or weapons attack. The four-minute film called “Stay Safe: Firearms and Weapons Attack” sets out three key steps for keeping safe and can be accessed at the National Police Chiefs Council website.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
The U.S. Department of State has assessed London and Belfast as being MEDIUM-threat locations for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. The U.S. Department of State has assessed Edinburgh as being a LOW]-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
Given the diversity of the population, political events that take place around the globe can often precipitate demonstrations and protests in the U.K., particularly in London. The U.S. Embassy, Trafalgar Square, and Houses of Parliament are routinely the target of protest and civil unrest.
London has witnessed numerous, large-scale political demonstrations in recent years, such as the “Refugees Welcome Rally” in September 2015 that attracted over 100,000 protestors, and in June 2015, an estimated 250,000 people were said to have attended the capital’s “anti-austerity” protests. In January 2017, approximately 40,000 protested outside the U.S. Embassy, marching to Trafalgar Square to join a larger protest of close to 100,000 people.
The greatest hazards to visitors in Northern Ireland are along the protest and parade routes in Belfast during marching season, which typically occurs in the summer (June and July). Northern Ireland will frequently have demonstrations, but they are generally small (<100 people) and typically occur near Belfast City Hall. There is always a visible police presence, and there is no recent history of violence occurring at City Hall demonstrations. Travelers should maintain good personal security practices, stay current with media coverage of local events, avoid large demonstrations, and exercise caution should they happen upon demonstrations. On days when large political protests are planned, visitors and residents in the area of the demonstration should be cautious not to wear anything that might be seen as offensive by demonstrators and/or anything blatantly associated with the U.S. Travelers who are confronted or otherwise caught up in a group of demonstrators should attempt to depart the area immediately and seek protection from the nearest police officer, or enter a public establishment and contact police by dialing 999. Demonstrations at the Consulate in Belfast are rare, small, short, and peaceful.
Though religious and ethnic undertones may exist in many of the protests and significant events, it is more appropriate to associate these events with the outward messages conveyed by the individuals or groups, rather than to attribute them to religious or ethnic tensions within the UK.
Response by police, fire, and emergency medical services are equivalent to those in the U.S. Police services are professional, well trained, and community-focused. All levels of police services continue to face daunting fiscal challenges and thus strongly encourage public participation in ensuring personal and neighborhood safety. These initiatives often take the form of extensive community policing programs that educate citizens, residents, and visitors regarding current crime and safety issues. Expatriate residents and long-term visitors may take advantage of the opportunities provided by UK emergency services to educate themselves on safety and security practices.
Policing units are routinely unarmed with the exception of a handful of specialized firearms support teams, counterterrorism protective specialists, and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
If arrested or detained, American citizens are advised to contact U.S. Embassy London’s American Citizen Services (ACS) unit. The Embassy's main number is +(44)(20) 7499-9000 and can be reached 24 hours a day.
Crime Victim Assistance
The nationwide telephone number for emergency assistance is 999. The number connects to an operator who can connect with any needed emergency service (police, fire, medical responders).
Non-emergency calls should be made to other numbers found in the local telephone directory for the service required. Non-emergency calls to the police may be directed to 101, which terminate at the local police precinct.
For local first responders, please refer to the Embassy’s Emergency Assistance page.
The Metropolitan Police Service employs 31,000 officers and 1,464 Police Community Support Officers, covering an area of 620 square miles, a population of 8 million people across 32 boroughs within London. There are over 600 “Safer Neighborhood” teams.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) employs 6,600 officers and is responsible for all policing efforts throughout Northern Ireland.
Police Scotland employs approximately 17,000 officers who are responsible for all policing matters in Scotland.
Emergency medical assistance may be summoned by dialing 999 countrywide; in London, non-emergency medical advice is available by calling 111.
Contact Information for Available Medical Services
Patients may present themselves at the accident and emergency (referred to as “A and E”) department of major National Health Services (NHS) hospitals or at private urgent and emergency care clinics. The National Health Service (NHS) is the main healthcare provider in the UK. NHS treatment is free for U.K. residents. Those not covered by the NHS will be seen in NHS facilities for any medical emergency; however, they are generally expected to pay directly for the services. Treatment for non-life-threatening conditions at “A and E” departments may require several hours, depending on demand. Those wishing to use private clinics will also be expected to pay directly for services, often at rates significantly higher than those in the U.S.
For medical assistance, please refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.
Available Air Ambulance Services
As medical services can provide treatment fully comparable to that available in U.S. hospitals and clinics, air ambulance services are generally not necessary. London Helicopter Emergency Service (HEMS) is the primary air ambulance service in London.
Air Ambulance Northern Ireland (HEMS) is the sole air ambulance service in Northern Ireland and began operation in August 2017.
The Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to consult their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to determine if the policy applies overseas and if it covers emergency expenses. You are strongly advised to take out travel insurance to cover any medical expenses. Tourists and short-term visitors will be charged for medical treatment, and these may be significantly higher than those charged for similar care in the U.S.
Most medical care facilities and medical care providers do not accept insurance subscription as a primary source of payment. Rather, the beneficiary is expected to pay for the service and then seek reimbursement from the insurance company. This may require significant upfront payments in an emergency, which can be between $10,000 and $20,000 or more.
Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for the United Kingdom.
OSAC Country Council Information
The London Country Council is active, meeting twice a year. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Europe Team with any questions.
U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information
Embassy Address and Hours of Operation
U.S. Embassy London
33 Nine Elms Lane, London, UK SW11 7US
Hours of Operation: Mon-Fri, 0830-1730
Embassy Contact Numbers
Switchboard: +44 (0)20 7499 9000
Consulate General Belfast: https://uk.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/belfast/
Consulate General Edinburgh: https://uk.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/edinburgh/
The U.S. Department of State encourages all visitors to take part in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP is a free service to allow U.S. citizens and nationals traveling abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. The benefits of enrolling the STEP include: receiving important information from the Embassy about safety conditions in your destination country; helping you make informed decisions about your travel plans; helping the U.S. Embassy contact you in an emergency, whether natural disaster, civil unrest, or family emergency; and to help family and friends get in touch with you in an emergency.
United Kingdom Country Information Sheet