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Scotland Travel Requirements

Updated on January 25, 2013

Preliminary Requirement: Some knowledge of the Scottish sense of humour

Scots are known for their warm welcomes, and you are sure to have a great time in our lovely country – so long as you follow a few simple rules.

And here I probably should point out that Scots are also known for their sardonic sense of humor and for laughing at themselves – and that I am a Scot.

So read on, for a wealth of useful information served with a side order of fun!

Before we move on to the traveler’s requirements for Scotland, let me introduce you to: The Scottish Parliament.


You may have heard a rumor that Scottish people are mean. (Though we Scots would argue that we are “canny,” which means thrifty.) Our parliament building is inconvertible proof that that reputation for meaness is well and truly wrong. In 1997 the estimated cost was “between £24.5 and £34 million.” (US$38.7 - 54.8 ) By the time the parliament opened in 2004, it had cost £414.4 million ($668.4.) Of course it also totally blows our claim to thriftiness!

Requirement One: Knowledge of Acceptable Behavior When Meeting Scots

Scotland has its own parliament and makes many of its own laws, but it is still part of the United Kingdom. However, it is definitely, definitely, not part of England.

Therefore the number one requirement when traveling to or around Scotland is: do not call Scottish people English. (And I speak as someone who is married to an Englishman.) At best you will get an icy look; at worst… let’s just say I warned you.

And now, for a few moments, let’s be serious as we move on to:

Further information

For information on getting around by train

Find out whether you need a visa to travel to the UK by answering 3 questions on the UK Border Agency website: Do you need a visa?

Requirement Two: Passports and Visas

For Travel to Scotland From Abroad:


Most people travelling from the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore do not need a visa to enter the UK for a visit, and can stay for as long as six months – but you do need a return ticket and enough money to last. The same applies to several Caribbean countries. However if you plan a lengthy stay in UK and hope to visit other countries in the EU be aware that in most cases you will need a visa to enter!

Working or Studying

If you plan to work or study you will also need a visa. (And that includes the many young Australians who serve customers in Edinburgh’s cafes and bars.)

If you are from the EU there is no restriction on how long you stay in Scotland and you can don’t need a work permit. From anywhere else in Europe the maximum stay is 3 months.

The easiest place to check whether you need a visa is on the UK Border Agency’s website, and I have included the relevant link in the blue box above right.

If only all travel was still like this…

The Waverley Steamer still makes pleasure cruises along the coast of western Scotland
The Waverley Steamer still makes pleasure cruises along the coast of western Scotland | Source

For Travel to Scotland from other parts of the United Kingdom or Ireland and For Travel in Scotland:

From England, Wales, Northern Ireland or the Republic or Ireland you don’t need a passport to visit Scotland.

However (of course there’s a however) if you travel by plane you will need photographic Id, and that means either a photographic driving license, passport or other Id.

The same applies to traveling on some ferries, for example the Northlink ferry to Orkney and Shetland Isles requires adults to show photographic Id. Children don’t always need Id for ferry travel, but do for air. So it’s probably best to keep your passport ready.

If you travel by train and book tickets on-line you will need the credit card you paid with to collect tickets at a station.

Now that we’ve got the serious bit over, let’s move on to:

These daffodils got a shock…
These daffodils got a shock…
… but these crocuses enjoyed some Scottish sunshine.
… but these crocuses enjoyed some Scottish sunshine.

Requirement Three: Some Knowledge Of The Scottish Weather (or at least an ability to talk about the weather)

There’s a reason Scottish people, and the British in general, are so obsessed with the weather. It changes a lot.

In March 2012, Scotland had weather so warm we all got out our shorts and headed for the beach. Plants and trees were fooled into flowering early. By the beginning of April both people and daffodils got a shock as they shivered under snow. I’m Scottish, so in the interests of this national obsession, let me tell you a little more about it: Aboyne, on Royal Deeside, had the highest March temperature in Scotland since records began, basking in 23.6°C (that’s 74.5°F). Less than a week later everyone packed their shorts away, and in true Scottish style said, “Well that’s our summer over then.” They then got back into their woollen sweaters and down-filled jackets, and headed out into six inches of snow.

I’ll tell you another little secret about Scotland: we have so much water that some of our politicians are talking about exporting it to Southern England where supplies are running short. Guess why we have so much water? It rains. To be honest, most of the rain falls along the west of Scotland, particularly the Highlands, while parts of eastern Scotland have less rain than Rome in Italy or Rabat in Morocco. But you can almost be sure that when Edinburgh gears up for the festivals in August, the clouds also gear up for a festival of their own.

This brings us to:


Requirement Four: Appropriate clothing

First, pack a waterproof jacket.

And then don’t forget your winter woolies even if it’s July, but do remember to take those shorts in March.

Or, to be prepared for variations of temperature, take clothing you can layer.

If you are not familiar with how to layer, take a look at the photo opposite for lessons from a 2-year-old. She was cold, but she’s not now.

This is the wildlife people come to see

A puffin
A puffin | Source
Deer in the Cairngorms
Deer in the Cairngorms | Source

Requirement Five: Knowledge of Scotland’s Wildlife (and I don’t mean Scotsmen in kilts on Friday night)

The good news is Scotland is short on dangerous snakes, spiders or bears. In fact is has no dangerous spiders, no wild bears at all and only one mildly dangerous snake: the adder. Adders are most common in the Highlands and the Inner Hebrides, but they want to see you even less than you want to see them. (I have lived in Scotland most of my life and have never seen one.) Even if you do manage to stand on an adder as it catches some early morning sun, most bites are not serious and will result only in pain and swelling around the bite.

According to the UK National Health Service (NHS), since 1876 there have been only 14 reported deaths from adders in the UK, so your chances are good, especially since most bites are of the “dry” variety – which means the snake does not inject any venom.

If you do get bitten, the NHS also says one symptom you may experience is “anxiety.” Now there’s a surprise! To alleviate that anxiety, don’t take any chances and head for the nearest hospital where you will be administered anti-venom medicine if you need it. You will be pleased to know that emergency treatment is free in Scotland, even for visitors.

So assuming you are not the unluckiest traveller on the planet, and that you are also not in the habit of hunting out snakes, you can probably relax and travel around our fair country with ease.

Land of glorious sunrises and sunsets

Aberdeen Harbour
Aberdeen Harbour | Source
The Firth of Forth
The Firth of Forth | Source
Okay, this one is cheating a little. My husband took it from an airplane.
Okay, this one is cheating a little. My husband took it from an airplane.

Except Scotland, land of the brave, land of the inventor, land of beautiful mountains and glorious sunsets – is also land of the Highland midge. In Scotland that’s pronounced midgey, by the way!

Just in case you don’t know what a Highland midge(y) is – it’s a tiny fly, with two wings so small that you wouldn’t know they existed unless you looked under a microscope. And, unlike many other midge species, the Scottish one bites.

I’ll be totally honest here even though it pains me to admit it – it’s the females you have to watch out for. The males just hang about and do nothing all day, but the females get together in a swarm and attack anything with blood. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little – apparently they prefer biting deer or sheep because their blood is tastier, but if those aren’t around a human will do.

And to give the female midges their due, they want our blood because they need a hearty meal before they lay their eggs. So they are really just being good mothers.

But while traveling around Scotland you maybe don’t want a midge(y) mother to get to you, so what follows are some:

Tips on Avoiding Midges

Know When Midges Are Active

Midges are most active just after dawn and before sunset. They are only around in large numbers between June and August, and they are pretty fussy about the weather: they don’t like bright sunshine or wind; they do like damp, but not rain. You will find them (or they will find you) in forests, but not on exposed hilltops. So if you go up Ben Nevis (our highest mountain) on a sunny, windy, rainy day in October you should be fairly safe.

Midge Repellents available on Amazon

Avon SKIN-SO-SOFT Bug Guard PLUS IR3535® Insect Repellent Moisturizing Lotion - SPF 30 Gentle Breeze, 4 oz
Avon SKIN-SO-SOFT Bug Guard PLUS IR3535® Insect Repellent Moisturizing Lotion - SPF 30 Gentle Breeze, 4 oz
According to several sources this repellent is used by the UK armed forces and Forestry workers. It is DEET and PABA free.

The Sheep Tick (Larger than actual size)


Further reading on health care

For more advice on how to avoid ticks: Ticks in Scotland

Health Rights Information Scotland provides information on: Health care in Scotland for holidaymakers from overseas

How To Avoid Bites

Long sleeves and long trousers are a good idea in any area with midges. Use an insect repellent on any exposed skin.

What to do if you get bitten

Midges don’t carry any diseases so in most cases their bites are no worse than a mild itch and some people don’t notice them at all. If you get itching or swelling the NHS recommend washing the bite and placing a cold compress on the area. Tea tree oil can reduce itching. In rare cases people develop an allergic reaction and if this happens to you see a doctor. (Again, emergency treatment is free in Scotland, even for visitors.)

Before we leave the Insect Department, let me tell you about Scotland’s up-and-coming and potentially dangerous pest: the Tick.

Ticks have been around Scotland for a long time, and apart from annoying a few sheep they didn’t do a lot of harm. But in recent years there has been a leap in the number of cases of Lyme Disease in Scotland, rising from 10 in 1996 to 177 in 2006. Ticks in Scotland are generally found where there are sheep or deer, particularly on heath land or wooded areas, though some been found in parks and gardens. Lyme Disease is an unpleasant illness best avoided.

Tips on Avoiding Ticks

Wear long trousers if out walking in the countryside.

Use an insect repellent.

If you are bitten

Remove the tick with tweezers.

Not all ticks carry Lyme Disease, but if you feel unwell after a bite, especially with flu-like symptoms, see a doctor.

Requirement Six: (This one is most compulsory of all.)

Have fun, stay safe and enjoy your stay!

As if you could do anything else with scenes like these:

Click thumbnail to view full-size
St Ninian’s Isle Beach, ShetlandAt Aberdeen harbourShetland PoniesLerwick, ShetlandCherry blossom at duskHollyrood Park at SunsetArthur’s Seat, Edinburgh’s (extinct) volcanoThe Cairngorm mountains at dusk
St Ninian’s Isle Beach, Shetland
St Ninian’s Isle Beach, Shetland | Source
At Aberdeen harbour
At Aberdeen harbour | Source
Shetland Ponies
Shetland Ponies | Source
Lerwick, Shetland
Lerwick, Shetland | Source
Cherry blossom at dusk
Cherry blossom at dusk | Source
Hollyrood Park at Sunset
Hollyrood Park at Sunset | Source
Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh’s (extinct) volcano
Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh’s (extinct) volcano | Source
The Cairngorm mountains at dusk
The Cairngorm mountains at dusk | Source

Have you been paying attention? Find out how you’d fare on a Scottish hillside.

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Scotland Travel Guides Available on Amazon

Map showing locations mentioned in this article

Edinburgh, Midlothian, UK

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Aberdeen, UK

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Aboyne, Aberdeenshire AB34, UK

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Cairngorm mountains:
Cairngorms National Park, United Kingdom

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Shetland Islands:
Shetland Islands, UK

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Orkney Islands, UK

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Inner Hebrides:
Inner Hebrides, Isle of Mull, Argyll and Bute PA72, UK

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