Staying safe while visiting the United Kingdom

| July 4, 2024
Safe travelling to the UK

Travellers must be more security conscious than ever before when travelling abroad. Acts of terrorism are an ever present risk with airports and flights a particular area of concern. For the United Kingdom, the U.S. State Department current travel advisory is Level 2 meaning travellers should be extra vigilant but, otherwise, the situation is as normal. Intending visitors to the United Kingdom (or indeed anywhere in the world) should, however, always check the travel advisory information before setting off on a journey as this can change from day to day, or even from hour to hour.

Visiting England 

Although England is by far the most popular tourist destination in the United Kingdom the other three UK countries of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also attract large numbers of overseas visitors. It should be said that it is impossible to guarantee every visitor’s safety while within the UK but the risk of personal attack, injury or robbery are relatively low in comparison to many other regions of the world.

As is the case virtually across the globe, tourists are often targets for criminals with pickpockets and scam artists quick to seize upon an unwary foreigner. The major cities will obviously attract greater numbers of tourists and consequently the risk of falling foul of criminal activity is higher here than in small towns or rural settings. Common sense is often the best way of avoiding potentially risky situations and it always pays to heed local advice and guidelines with regard to keeping oneself and one’s possessions safe and secure.

Dangers and Risks

On a larger scale, the risk of encountering natural disasters such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and hurricanes can be discounted while in the UK as this is a relatively stable part of the world. Heavy snow (particularly in northern England and Scotland) during the winter along with occasional regional flooding is about as bad as it gets.

Probably the biggest safety concerns for tourists out and about in the United Kingdom are the same as they are in any part of the world: theft, mugging, pickpocketing, scams and random acts of violence.


Personal theft is not a widespread issue across the United Kingdom but it can (and does) happen and many of the unfortunate victims are unwary tourists. Visitors to a strange town should be particularly watchful around train or bus stations, in busy stores and on crowded city streets.

Avoiding problems is far preferable to dealing with the aftermath of a robbery or theft and a few useful tips in avoiding trouble include:

  • Be aware of any high risk areas that are better avoided. Ask for guidance at hotel reception or from someone who knows the area well.
  • Pickpocketing and bag snatching are among the most likely crimes to be perpetrated on visiting foreigners. Only carry the bare minimum in cash with additional money stored securely in a hotel safe.
  • Keep credit cards and important documents in a secure, zipped compartment in a jacket or coat.
  • Be particularly vigilant in crowds, crowded places and when using an ATM.
  • Do not flash large sums of money in public places including shops, bars and restaurants.

Tourists are usually easily spotted by criminals. Flashy clothing, expensive cameras and carrying a tourist guide or map are all giveaway signs. Visitors should try to blend in as much as possible and avoid looking like a tourist. Be wary also of kind strangers offering assistance and guidance. In most cases these will be well-intentioned strangers but it is best to always err on the side of caution.


Usually confined to after dark, and more prevalent in large cities like London, Birmingham and Manchester, mugging is a cause of concern for both locals and outsiders. Muggers care little who their victim is but tourist are an easy target as they are usually presumed to be carrying cash, credit cards, cameras and mobile phones.

Enjoying a night out is part and parcel of most visitors UK experience and should be approached with confidence although vigilance is always needed.

Playing safe includes:

  • Avoiding dark, secluded roads, alleys and lanes. Taking a shortcut home is not advised. Better to go the longer and safer route.
  • If in a group always stay together and never leave a single person on their own in an unknown environment.
  • When possible plan a route to and from the chosen bar, restaurant or venue.
  • Women, especially when alone, should never leave a drink unattended or accept offers of a drink from a total stranger.
  • Be wary of giving too much information to strangers regarding intended travel plans or current accommodation.

London is a huge, sprawling city and there are many illegal taxis operating without a license or insurance. Try to always use one of the well-known London black cabs and avoid taxis waiting outside bars or soliciting business from people on the sidewalk.


Pickpocketing is a big crime risk for visitors to the UK, with many thousands falling victim to light-fingered thieves every year. Pickpockets are usually most active in crowds or congested places and their methods of reliving victims of their valuables are many and varied.

Three common methods employed by pickpockets are:

  1. The Bottleneck – On busy undergrounds or crowded malls, one member of the team will create a scrum of people by blocking a passageway, entrance or exit before other members proceed to lift what they can in the confused mass of people. This is particularly prevalent on the London Underground (the Tube) with King’s Cross, Oxford Circus and Victoria Street being known hot spots of such criminal activity.
  2. Distraction – Usually performed by a team of two pickpockets. One holds the victim’s attention with a simple distraction of asking directions, taking a photo or spilling a drink. During the distraction the second person moves in to remove whatever is easily available such as a wallet or phone.
  3. Moped Mugging – Not strictly old-school pickpocketing but with the same outcome. Unwary tourists often fall victim to moped mugging where the drive-by criminals snatch a phone, wallet or money from a pedestrian’s hand before speeding off into traffic. Moped mugging is a fairly new phenomenon and numbers of cases have risen steadily over the past ten years across England and Wales. Pedestrians can largely avoid the risk of moped mugging by walking on the pavement of the side of the road that goes against traffic. Visitors queueing for a bus or taxi should stand well back from the road and keep money and other valuables out of sight and easy reach.

Common Scams

Confidence tricksters and scams are not unique to the United Kingdom and many of the world’s most common scams can often be perpetrated on unsuspecting visitors. Being aware of what to look out for is the best method of avoiding being scammed.

  1. Fake Gift – Being offered a flower or other ostensibly free gift by a stranger is usually followed by the stranger demanding payment. Embarrassment often means the victim will hand over money but threats of physical violence can also be used.
  2. Counterfeit Bargains – Remember the old adage “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is”. The same applies to unbelievable bargains found in small stores and markets. Perfume is a good example where the sample offered smells just like the original. However, once home the victim soon discovers that the expensive perfume just purchased for a pittance is a cheap rip-off copy of the real thing.
  3. Mock Auctions – Similar to counterfeit bargains is the mock auction scam. Passers-by are lured in by the sight of a vendor selling various items at unbelievably low prices. The scam is usually run out of the back of a van or lorry and the tremendous bargains are enthusiastically snapped up by confederates of the seller. Electrical goods and cameras are usually on offer but the items actually handed to the new buyer are invariably faulty and useless.
  4. Fake Police – Being approached by a policeman can be unsettling for most people and particularly so if the officer in question turns out to be bogus. Incidents have been reported in London of fake policemen stopping tourists and asking for identification. Once checked, the wallet is returned to the owner but any money in the wallet has mysteriously disappeared along with the police officers.
    Be wary of police officers not in uniform asking to see identification or wanting to check personal possessions. If in any doubt ask for official police identification, the officer’s name and rank and be prepared to telephone the officer’s assigned station for verification if necessary.

Random Violence

Murders, rapes and kidnappings are rare in the United Kingdom but still happen. Becoming a victim of serious crime is extremely unlikely but avoiding known trouble spots will cut the risk factor considerably. Acts of terrorism cannot be predicted but it is always prudent to avoid political rallies or mass demonstrations where the possibility of crowd violence is a genuine concern.

Safety first, no matter where you visit

It may seem like the United Kingdom is a crime infested region and best avoided by tourists. This is far from the truth as the UK is a lot safer than many other countries and serious crime rates are generally considered as low. Knowing what to look out for, exercising caution, remaining vigilant and avoiding known trouble spots should ensure a crime-free and enjoyable visit to the United Kingdom.

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