Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on travel and transport

Published: 10 Dec 2020
Last updated: 23 Dec 2020 - see all updates

Guidance on travel rules and restrictions and protection levels, including information on essential travel.

10 Dec 2020
Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on travel and transport

To suppress the spread of COVID-19 it is essential that, with limited exceptions, there is no travel to or from areas where higher numbers of people may be carrying the virus. 

On 20 November travel restrictions were put into law. 

If people don’t abide by the travel restrictions there is a risk that the virus will spread to areas where it is less common and we may have to return to national restrictions.

To avoid that, to keep everyone safe, please comply with the rules and advice set out below.

Read the guidance for the festive period

These rules will be kept under review and if the prevalence of the virus in all, or part of, any of these countries reduces it may be possible to relax these restrictions for some areas.

If you have to travel for essential purposes, follow the guidance on travelling safely.

International travel (outside the UK, Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man)

Please note, that as a result of the identification of a new variant strain of the virus a number of other countries have taken action to restrict travel from the UK. The list of countries implementing new restrictions on travel from the UK is changing and new controls are being brought in with limited notice. It is therefore very important that you check the position before you travel and be aware that you may face travel difficulties both in leaving and returning to the UK.

Travellers arriving in Scotland from certain countries and regions overseas may be required, by law, to quarantine by self-isolation for 10 days after arrival. See the list of countries to which this applies. The list is reviewed frequently against the evidence available and it changes from time to time.

If you travel back from a country, to which the quarantine rule applies, to another part of the UK, but your final destination is Scotland, you must follow the rules that are in place in Scotland. 

The Scottish Government advice about travel has been consistent.    Given the state of the pandemic, people who live in Scotland are strongly advised against any non-essential overseas travel.

People who live in a Level 3 or 4 local authority area in Scotland are required to stay in that area unless they have a reasonable excuse to travel, such as work, education, or welfare reasons – see travelling around Scotland. Non-essential travel, such as going on holiday, is not a reasonable excuse to leave a level 3 or 4 area.

From 26 December, until further notice, all parts of Scotland will be in Level 3 or Level 4 so travel to or from Scotland without a reasonable excuse is not permitted.  See exceptions for a range of examples of reasons for which travel is permitted.

If you do travel for essential reasons you should be aware that, as the list of countries and regions to which the quarantine rules applies changes frequently, you may be required to self-isolate when you return even if your destination is currently exempt from the requirement to self-isolate.

It is vital that before travelling overseas you check the rules put in place by the destination country about who is allowed to enter, requirements for quarantine and restrictions on movements within the country.  You are advised also to check that your insurance policy provides cover for cancellations.    

Travelling around Scotland

Wherever you live or work– at whatever level – you should not travel to another area to avoid restrictions.

If you live in a Level 4 local authority area:

  • you must, by law, remain within that area unless you have a reasonable excuse (see exceptions)
  • if you have to travel for essential purposes, you should follow the guidance on travelling safely
  • you should also keep journeys within the area to an absolute minimum.

If you live in a Level 3 local authority area:

  • you must, by law, remain within that area unless you have a reasonable excuse (see exceptions)
  • if you have to travel for essential purposes, you should follow the guidance on travelling safely 
  • In the Level 3 areas remaining in your area would include travelling on inter island ferries within that area

If you live in Highland or Argyll and Bute, from 26 December your local authority will be split into Level 4 and Level 3 (remote islands) areas.

  • you must, by law, remain within the Level 3 or Level 4 part of your local authority area unless you have a reasonable excuse (see exceptions)
  • if you have to travel for essential purposes, you should follow the guidance on travelling safely
  • you should also keep journeys of any sort within the Level 4 area to an absolute minimum.

In those areas still in Levels 1 or 2 until 26 December

  • people should minimise unnecessary journeys between areas in different levels
  • people must, by law, avoid any unnecessary travel to places in Level 3 or Level 4 areas
  • if you have to travel for essential purposes, you should follow the guidance on travelling safely

You can find out which parts of Scotland are in Levels 1. 2, 3 and 4 via our postcode checker

Travel between Scotland and the rest of the UK, Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man

Under current Scottish law, given the state of the epidemic, unless you have a reasonable excuse (see exceptions) you must not travel between Scotland and:

  • England
  • Northern Ireland
  • Wales
  • County Donegal in the Republic of Ireland
  • Jersey

From 26 December, non-essential travel will also be prohibited between anywhere in Scotland and:

  • The rest of the Republic of Ireland
  • Guernsey
  • The Isle of Man 

You should be aware that, if you travel for essential reasons, rules may apply in other countries or Crown Dependencies within the Common Travel Area that may restrict your ability to enter or travel within them, or which may require you to self-isolate for a period of time after your arrival.  Please check any restrictions that may be in place in your destination before you travel. You can find information here:


Scottish law prohibits travel without a reasonable excuse to or from a Level 3 or 4 local authority area, or between Scotland and other parts of the world as explained above.

The law does not prohibit travel through a Level 3 or 4 area, or through Scotland, to reach somewhere else.  

It also lists a range of examples of reasons for which travel is permitted. Guidance on those is set out below. But please remember that it is important for everyone’s safety that we all minimise such travel as much as possible.

  • travel for work or an activity associated with seeking employment, or to provide voluntary or charitable services, but only where that cannot be done from your home
  • travel to school (including travel to or from boarding school), college, or university (for example to or from home at the start or end of term)  This includes travel for home education, training, school day trips or for other essential purposes connected with a course of study
  • (to and from Level 3 local authority areas but not Level 4) travel for under 18s organised activities and sport
  • travel for essential shopping, including essential shopping for a vulnerable person. However, you should use online shopping or shops, banks and other services in your local authority area wherever you can. In Level 3, a person who lives next to a local authority boundary can cross that boundary for non-essential shopping if that retail outlet is in the immediate vicinity of where they live
  • travel for healthcare
  • travel for childcare or parental support services
  • travel for essential services, including:
    • social care
    • accessing day care centres
    • services provided by the Department for Work and Pensions
    • services provided to victims (including victims of crime)
    • asylum and immigration services and interviews
    • services of a charitable or voluntary nature such as food banks
    • waste or recycling services but only if they are not available in your local authority area
  • travel to provide care, assistance, support to or respite for a vulnerable person
  • travel to participate in or facilitate shared parenting or between two parts of an extended household
  • travel to meet a legal obligation including satisfying bail conditions, to participate in legal proceedings, to comply with a court mandate in terms of sentence imposed or to register a birth
  • travel for attendance at court including a remote jury centre, an inquiry, a children’s hearing, tribunal proceedings or to resolve a dispute via Alternative Dispute Resolution
  • travel for essential animal welfare reasons, such as exercising or feeding a horse or going to a vet
  • local outdoor informal exercise such as walking, cycling, golf, or running (in groups of up to 6 people, plus any children under 12, from no more than 2 households) that starts and finishes at the same place (which can be up to 5 miles from the boundary of your local authority area)
  • in Level 3 travel to attend a gathering which relates to a marriage ceremony or civil partnership registration
  • in Level 4 travel to attend a marriage ceremony or registration of a civil partnership
  • travel for gatherings related to funerals or for compassionate reasons which relate to the end of a person’s life. This includes gatherings related to the scattering of ashes
  • travel to or from a level 3 area (but not to or from a level 4 area) for the purposes of driving lessons or taking a driving test
  • if you are a minister of religion or worship leader, travel for the purposes of leading an act of worship
  • (to or from Level 3 local authority areas, but not to or from Level 4) travel to attend your normal place of worship
  • travel to donate blood
  • travel to transit through a Level 3 or 4 local authority area by road or public transport if your journey begins and ends outside such an area;
  • travel in connection with moving home (including viewing a property), or for activities in connection with the maintenance, purchase, sale, letting, or rental of residential property that the person owns or is otherwise responsible for.  Travelling for the purposes of undertaking maintenance on a property other than your main residence should not be used as a pretext for a holiday.  You should not stay longer than for the length of time required to undertake the necessary work.
  • travel to avoid injury, illness or to escape a risk of harm
  • for those involved in professional sports, travelling to training or competing in an event
  • to visit a person receiving treatment in a hospital, staying in a hospice or care home, or to accompany a person to a medical appointment
  • travel to register or vote in an Scottish or UK Parliament, Local Government or overseas election or by-election, including on behalf of someone else by proxy
  • travel to visit a person detained in prison, young offenders institute, remand centre, secure accommodation or other place of detention

Travelling safely

Transport Scotland has produced guidance on travelling safely in all forms of transport. Where possible you should consider walking, wheeling or cycling, if you can, to reduce pressure on the road network and on public transport where capacity will be limited.

Public transport

Transport providers will have procedures to promote the safety of customers and staff, but it is an individual’s responsibility to comply with guidance.  

On public transport you must by law wear a face covering, unless you are exempt, and comply with the physical distancing measures that are in place. Find out more about face coverings

Car Sharing

You should avoid sharing in a vehicle with people who are not members of your household or extended household as much as possible. If you have no other option, you should:

  • keep to small groups of people (such as up to 6 at any one time in a minibus)
  • keep your distance and take care entering and exiting the vehicle
  • sit as far apart as possible in the vehicle, avoiding face-to-face
  • maintain good ventilation by keeping the car windows open
  • wear a face covering, unless you are exempt
  • clean your hands before and after your journey
  • if the vehicle is your responsibility, clean the door handles and other areas that people touch

If you regularly share transport whether it is a car or minibus or other private vehicle, try and share with the same people each time.

Read more information in the Transport Scotland guidance on travelling safely.


First published: 10 Dec 2020 Last updated: 23 Dec 2020 -