General Entry Information
U.S. citizens are generally allowed to travel to the U.K. without a visa if they are coming only for tourism and only for a short time. However, the decision on admission to the U.K. is made by British authorities (the UK Visas and Immigration – UKVI) in accordance with British law. Under British law, some common activities may not be considered “tourism.” Religious volunteers, charity workers, interns, prospective students and others pursuing special programs may need to get a visa before traveling to the U.K. You can find more information on U.K. visas and application procedures on the UKVI website. You can also find information about traveling to the U.K. on the Department of State’s Country Specific Information page.
Although the vast majority of Americans who travel to the UK for tourism are admitted without incident, British authorities have the right and responsibility for enforcing their laws and as a result not everyone who arrives at a U.K. port of entry is permitted to enter. When travelers are refused entry, the U.K. authorities usually order them returned to the airport from which they last departed, regardless of nationality or place of residence. Neither the U.S. Government nor the U.S. Embassy in London can intervene on your behalf if you are denied entry into the U.K., nor can we attempt to influence the U.K. Government’s decision.
What to Expect If You Are Denied Entry to the U.K.
Being denied entry to the U.K. can be upsetting for travelers and their loved ones. It helps to know what to expect, and what you can do to make the experience less stressful.
If you are denied entry into the U.K., you will be held at the airport until you can be returned to the location from which you departed. You are not under arrest and no criminal charges will be filed, you are simply not eligible to enter the U.K. on this visit. Because you are not under arrest, and because the U.S. Embassy is prohibited from interfering in decisions by U.K. border officials, you may not be asked whether you would like to contact your Embassy.
You will generally be returned to your departure location on the next available flight offered by your carrier. However, in cases where you would have a long wait for your return flight, UKVI may put you in a temporary detention center until your flight departs. Conditions in the detention center are comfortable and you will be given food and water, and access to a telephone and medical treatment if necessary. In still other cases, UKVI may allow you to enter for a short period, but order you to depart by a specific date. If this happens, UKVI will retain your passport until you depart.
What You Should Do If You Are Denied Entry to the U.K.
Stay calm. Do not attempt to dispute the UKVI official’s decision. Once you have been found inadmissible, you will not be permitted to enter.
Inform U.K. authorities if you have a medical condition, are taking medication, or are in need of medical treatment. Also inform them if you have special dietary needs.
Listen, and ask why you were not admitted. Be sure you clearly understand what you will need to do the next time you intend to travel to the U.K. – i.e. will you need a visa? Is there a waiting period before you can apply to re-enter?
Ask for documentation of the refusal as you may need to show it to U.K. officials at a consulate in the U.S. if you require a visa.
Contact your airline if you are not being returned to the U.S., as you will be responsible for re-booking or purchasing a new flight home from your last port of departure.
What You Should Do Upon Your Return to the U.S.
If you intend to apply for a U.K. visa, you can find information about application procedures on the U.K. Embassy’s website.
If you have questions about future travel to the U.K., or other general questions, you should contact your nearest U.K. Consulate. A list with links can be found here.
If you have complaints about your experience at the border, or about UKVI of UK Border Force staff, they can be directed to:
UKVI – 2 Marsham Street, London, SW1P 4DF
Tel: 1-888-683-9699 or 0044-1243-213-387
UK Border Force – Lunar House, 11th Floor Long Corridor, 40 Wellesley Road, Croydon, CR9 2BY