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Health & safety

Before you go

No immunisations are mandatory for visiting England or the rest of the UK. Travel insurance, however, is highly recommended.

You should also check reciprocal medical arrangements between the UK and your own country. Everyone gets emergency treatment and European Economic Area (EEA) nationals get free non-emergency treatment (ie the same service British citizens receive) with a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) validated in their home country. Reciprocal arrangements between the UK and some other countries (including Australia) allow free medical treatment at hospitals and surgeries, and subsidised dental care. For details see the Department of Health (www.doh.gov.uk) website – follow links to ‘Health care’, ‘Entitlements’ and ‘Overseas Visitors’.

Internet Resources

Useful sites include the following:

Age Concern (www.ageconcern.org.uk) Advice on travel (and much more) for the elderly.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov)

Foreign & Commonwealth Office (www.fco.gov.uk) The Travelling & Living Overseas section is for Brits going abroad, but useful for incomers.

Marie Stopes International (www.mariestopes.org.uk) Sexual health and contraception.

MD Travel Health (www.mdtravelhealth.com) Worldwide recommendations, updated daily.

World Health Organization (www.who.int) Go to the International travel and health section.

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Internet resources

www.who.int/ith WHO International Travel and Health.

www.ageconcern.org.uk Advice on travel for the elderly.

www.mariestopes.org.uk Women’s health and contraception.

www.fco.gov.uk/travel For Brits going abroad, but useful for incomers.

www.mdtravelhealth.com Worldwide recommendations, updated daily.

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Dangers & annoyances

England is a remarkably safe country, considering the wealth disparities you’ll see in many areas, but crime is certainly not unknown in London and other cities, so you should take care, especially at night. When travelling by tube, tram or urban train service, choose a carriage containing other people. It’s also best to avoid some deserted suburban tube stations at night; a bus or taxi can be a safer choice.

As well as licensed taxis and minicabs, unlicensed minicabs – essentially a bloke with a car earning money on the side – operate in large cities, but these are worth avoiding unless you know what you’re doing. Annoyances include driving round in circles, then charging an enormous fare. Dangers include driving to a remote location then robbery or rape. To avoid this, use a metered taxi or phone a reputable minicab company and get an up-front quote for the ride. London and other cities have websites and phone lines to help you find licensed cabs.

On the main streets of big cities, mugging or bag-snatching is rare, but money and important documents are best kept out of sight and out of reach. Pickpockets operate in crowded public places like stations or bars (bags and jackets hanging on chair-backs are popular targets), so make sure your stuff is secure here too.

In large hotels, don’t leave valuables lying around; put them in your bag or use the safe if there is one. Do the same at city B&Bs, although in rural areas there’s far less risk. In hostel dorms, especially independent/backpacker hostels in cities, keep your stuff packed away and carry valuables with you. Many hostels provide lockers, but you need your own padlock.

If driving, remove luggage from the car when parking overnight in cities and towns. The same applies even in some apparently safe rural locations. While you’re out walking in the countryside, someone may well be walking off with your belongings. Where possible, look for secure parking areas near tourist offices.

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In transit

Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) refers to blood clots that form in the legs during plane flights, chiefly because of prolonged immobility. The longer the flight, the greater the risk. The chief symptom is swelling or pain in the foot, ankle or calf. When a blood clot travels to the lungs, it may cause chest pain and breathing difficulties. To prevent DVT on long flights you should walk about the cabin, contract and release leg muscles while sitting, drink plenty of fluids and avoid alcohol.

Jet Lag

To avoid jet lag (common when crossing more than five time zones), try drinking plenty of nonalcoholic fluids and eating light meals. Upon arrival, get exposure to natural sunlight and readjust to a local schedule (for meals, sleep etc) as soon as possible.

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While you're there

Medical services

Regardless of nationality, everyone receives free emergency treatment at accident and emergency (A&E) departments of state-run NHS hospitals.

If you don’t need full-on hospital treatment, chemists (pharmacies) can advise on minor ailments such as sore throats and earaches. In large cities, there’s always at least one 24/7 chemist.


In summer in England, you can get sunburnt quickly – even under cloud cover and especially on water. Use sunscreen, wear a hat and cover up with a shirt and trousers.


Tap water in England is safe unless there’s a sign to the contrary (eg on trains). Don’t drink from streams in the countryside – you never know if there’s a dead sheep upstream.

Women’s Health

Emotional stress, exhaustion and travel through time zones can upset the menstrual pattern. If using oral contraceptives, remember some antibiotics, diarrhoea and vomiting can stop them from working.

If you’re already pregnant, travel is usually possible, but you should consult your doctor. The most risky times are the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and after 30 weeks.

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