Illinois travel guide
Chicago grabs the glory, but lift the lid on the rest of Illinois and you will encounter tales of Abraham Lincoln, kitsch diners on Route 66, enticing wineries and ancient blackwater swamps.
Curling along the shore of Lake Michigan, Chicago is the USA’s third largest city and the birthplace of the skyscraper. Peer over the edge of the iconic Willis Tower for epic views or keep your heart rate down on a cruise around the city’s historic waterways. Culturally, Chicago is up there with the best, thanks to its phenomenal museums, world-renowned symphony orchestra and terrific open-air performances at the legendary Petrillo Music Shell.
Central Illinois is Abe Lincoln territory. You can dip into Lincoln history at his family home, law offices and the presidential museum in Springfield, then chomp your way through the regional speciality: a battered hot dog on a stick, known locally as a ‘cozy dog’.
Many a road trip has kicked off in Illinois along historic Route 66, which is lined with all-American diners and naff roadside attractions. There’s memorabilia aplenty at the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum in Pontiac as well as the ultimate photo op – a giant mural featuring the iconic Route 66 shield.
Between the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, western Illinois is effortlessly compelling, with pretty towns, excellent wineries and rippling countryside. It’s also home to Galena, a charming town characterised by its sweep of 19th-century storefronts.
Seeking adventure? Then get outdoors in southern Illinois where canoeists weave through 1,000-year-old cypress trees on the Cache River, cyclists freewheel through ghost towns on the Tunnel Hill State Trail and hikers scramble over gnarly rock formations in Shawnee National Forest’s Garden of the Gods.
149,997 sq km (57,914 sq miles).
12.9 million (2015).
85.7 per sq km.
This travel advice also covers American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and United States Virgin Islands
Smoke from wildfires in Canada is currently causing poor air quality across parts of the East Coast of the USA. You should check AirNow.gov for updates on the current air quality in your location and follow the advice given by the US authorities, including wearing a face mask to protect yourself.
Air travel may also be disrupted. You should check the status of your flight with your airline before travelling.
Before you travel, check the ‘Entry requirements’ section for the USA’s current entry restrictions and requirements. These may change with little warning. Monitor this advice for the latest updates and stay in contact with your travel provider.
If you plan to pass through another country to return to the UK, check the travel advice for the country you’re transiting.
It is more important than ever to get travel insurance and check it provides sufficient cover. See the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO)’s guidance on foreign travel insurance.
Millions of British nationals visit the USA every year. Most visits are trouble free.
Protests are commonplace across the USA, some of which can become violent. See protests
Snow storms during winter can disrupt critical infrastructure, including causing power cuts as well as delays and cancellations throughout the major transport hubs in the USA. See Snow storms
Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in the USA. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners. You should monitor media reports and remain vigilant at all times. See Terrorism
You should be alert to the dangers of car and street crime. See Crime
The Atlantic hurricane season normally runs from 1 June to 30 November. The Pacific hurricane season runs from 15 May to 30 November. See Hurricanes
See our Tropical Cyclones page for advice on what to do if you are caught up in a storm.
Forest and brush fires (wildfires) are a danger in many dry areas. See Wildfires
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
Entry and borders
As of 12 May 2023, there are no COVID-19 vaccination requirements for travel to the United States. A pre-departure COVID-19 test is also not required. For more information see the US Embassy website.
Coronavirus travel health
Check the latest information on risk from COVID-19 for the USA on the TravelHealthPro website
Be prepared for your plans to change
If you test positive for COVID-19 while in the USA, you may be required to isolate in a private area, likely a hotel or a private residence. Isolation requirements will depend on the guidance in the state where you are residing/visiting. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a minimum isolation period of at least five full days.
Plan ahead and make sure you:
- can access money
- understand what your insurance will cover
- can make arrangements to extend your stay and be away for longer than planned
Your emotional and mental wellbeing is important. Read guidance on how to look after your mental wellbeing and mental health.
View Health for further details on healthcare in the USA.
For information on financial support you can access whilst abroad, visit our financial assistance guidance.
If you need urgent consular assistance, contact your nearest British embassy, high commission or consulate. All telephone numbers are available 24/7.
You can also find information at:
Take sensible precautions to protect yourself and your property against petty crime. Don’t leave passports in rental cars, especially in the boot, as there have been a high number of thefts by gangs targeting the vehicles of those who appear to be tourists.
Violent crime, including gun crime, rarely involves tourists, but you should take care when travelling in unfamiliar areas. Avoid walking through less travelled areas alone, especially at night. You can find public advisories and information about recent incidents on the websites of local law enforcement authorities.
Incidents of mass shooting can occur, but account for a very small percentage of homicide deaths. Read the US Department of Homeland Security website, which has published advice on what to do in such an incident.
Research your destination before travelling, be vigilant, and follow the advice of local authorities. Crime associated with the illegal drugs trade is a major issue in Mexican states bordering Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas. Some foreign nationals have been among the victims of crime in the border regions, but there is no evidence to suggest they have been targeted because of their nationality.
Protests are commonplace across the USA, some of which can become violent. Different jurisdictions may introduce curfews or emergency orders - you should follow the guidance and instructions of local authorities. If you do attend any peaceful protests, you should be mindful of your surroundings, move away if there are signs of trouble, and follow the instructions of local authorities.
Traffic laws vary from state to state. If you’re planning to drive in the USA, check the driving rules in the state(s) you’ll be visiting. In most states, a full UK driving licence is sufficient (provisional licences aren’t accepted). However, some states may also require an International Driving Permit (IDP), which you can get over the counter at the Post Office. The USA doesn’t issue IDPs to foreign visitors, so you’ll need to get one before you travel. If you’re hiring a vehicle, check requirements with your rental company before you travel.
Driving is on the right-hand side of the road.
Check the weather conditions before embarking on a long journey, particularly in mountainous and isolated areas where there is increased likelihood of snowfall, or in dry desert areas where you may need extra water and petrol stations could be scarce. Do not sleep in your car by the roadside or in rest areas and avoid leaving any items on display in your car. Try to stay on main roads and use well-lit car parks. If you’re involved in a collision while driving, indicate to the other driver to follow you to a public place and call 911 for the police.
Petrol stations that do not display the price of fuel usually charge considerably more than the national average for a gallon of fuel. They’re often found close to tourist destinations and airports, and notoriously near to Orlando International Airport.
In 2021 there were 42,915 road deaths in the USA (source: US Department of Transportation). This equates to 11 road deaths per 100,000 of population and compares to the UK average of 2.7 road deaths per 100,000 of population in 2019.
Before you travel, check the security measures you’re likely to face at the airport on the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) website. The TSA has a helpline number to help passengers with disabilities and medical conditions before they fly.
Don’t make flippant remarks about bombs or terrorism, especially when passing through US airports.
Altitude sickness is a risk in parts of the USA. More information about altitude sickness is available from the TravelHealthPro website.
Safety rules at public venues, such as theme parks and other tourist attractions, may vary from state to state.
Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in the USA. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners, crowded areas, and transportation networks. You should monitor media reports and be vigilant at all times.
UK Counter Terrorism Policing has information and advice on staying safe abroad and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack. Find out more about the global threat from terrorism.
The main threat comes from individuals who may have been inspired by terrorist ideology to carry out so-called ‘lone actor’ attacks targeting public events or places. Attacks could take place with little or no notice.
The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) provides public information about credible threats. Expect an increased presence of law enforcement and tight security at public places and events. This may include a heavy police presence, additional restrictions and searches on bags, and the use of screening technologies. For all current alerts within the USA and its territories, visit the DHS website.
There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Laws vary from state to state. When you are physically present in a state, even temporarily, you are subject to that state’s laws. You must carry a passport showing that you have leave to enter or remain with you at all times.
The FCDO has published information about the assistance offered by the British Embassy and Consulates to British nationals if arrested or detained in the USA.
The US is an extremely diverse society and attitudes towards lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people differ hugely across the country. Read our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel. You can find more detail on LGBT issues in the USA on the Human Rights Campaign website.
Under US federal law, the legal age for buying and drinking alcohol is 21 years. Some states have different laws. If you are under 21 years of age, check the relevant state laws before drinking or attempting to buy alcohol.
Possession or trafficking of illegal drugs in the USA can carry a severe prison sentence and/or fine. Check with each state you are intending to visit to make sure you comply with the personal possession and consumption laws of controlled substances within those states. A list of all types of controlled substances, as listed under the Controlled Substances Act, can be found on the US Department of Justice website.
This page has information on travelling to the USA.
This page reflects the UK government’s understanding of current rules for people travelling on a full ‘British Citizen’ passport from the UK, for the most common types of travel.
The authorities in the USA set and enforce entry rules. If you’re unsure how the USA’s entry requirements apply to you, contact its UK embassy, high commission or consulate.
You will need to get a visa or an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) visa waiver to enter or transit the USA as a visitor. You should consult the US State Department website to determine which you will need.
You should be aware that if you have travelled to or have been in Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen on or after 1 March 2011, you are normally not eligible for an ESTA visa waiver and will need to apply for a US visa.
You should also be aware that if you have travelled to or been in Cuba any time since 1 January 2021, you can not apply for an ESTA to travel under the US Visa Waiver Program. You will instead need to apply for a US visa. You should consult the US State Department website to determine which US visa you will need.
The US Embassy advise that travellers who come under the following categories should not attempt to travel on an ESTA and should instead apply for a visa
- those who have been arrested (even if the arrest did not result in a criminal conviction)
- those who have a criminal record
- those who have been refused admission into, or have been deported from the USA
- those who have previously overstayed under an ESTA
Further details are on the US Embassy Website.
Proof of COVID-19 vaccination status
As of 12 May 2023, there are no COVID-19 vaccination requirements for travel to the United States. A pre-departure COVID-19 test is also not required. For more information see the US Embassy website.
Children and young people
Children aged 17 and under must hold a valid visa or ESTA on arrival. They must be able to provide evidence about the purpose of their visit, duration and place of stay if questioned by immigration officials.
If a child (17 and under) is travelling unaccompanied, with only one parent or someone who is not a parent or legal guardian, they will be asked on arrival to provide written consent to US Customs and Border Protection from both parents, or the parent who is not accompanying the child. Check the USA Government website for more information on what is required. Any questions should be directed to the US Embassy.
The US authorities can stop any person from entering the USA if they have safeguarding concerns. If this happens, the US authorities will take the child into their care. Their return from the USA could take months. The FCDO cannot speed up the return of British nationals under the age of 18 from the USA.
US Visa appointments
Visa appointments at the US Embassy in London remain limited. Therefore, in making an application, you are strongly advised to plan as far ahead as possible before your date of travel. If you have an urgent need to travel, you can request an expedited interview through the US Embassy’s appointment service provider.
Further information is available on the US Embassy’s website.
If you’re transiting through USA
Those transiting through the USA will need to get a visa or an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) visa waiver. You should consult the US State Department website to determine which you will need.
Check your passport and travel documents before you travel
If you are visiting the USA your passport should be valid for the proposed duration of your stay. You don’t need any additional period of validity on your passport beyond this.
Check with your travel provider to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
The US Customs and Border Protection programme Global Entry gets pre-approved travellers through border control faster at some US airports. If you’re a British citizen you can register to get a UK background check on GOV.UK. If you pass the background checks, you’ll be invited to apply for Global Entry.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) aren’t valid for entry into the USA or transit through the USA on an ESTA. If you’re planning to enter or transit through the USA using an ETD, you must apply for a visa from the nearest US embassy or consulate before you travel, which may take a number of days, or hold a valid lawful permanent resident card (often referred to as a ‘green card’), which you must have with you on arrival. UK ETDs issued in the USA are valid for exit from the USA.
Travelling to the USA from Cuba
It’s possible to travel to the USA after you’ve been to Cuba.
However, you will need to apply for a US visa before travelling to the USA if you have visited Cuba since 1 January 2021, as you will not be eligible to use an ESTA to travel under the US Visa Waiver Program (VWP). You should consult the US State Department website to determine which US visa you will need.
If you have visited Cuba and departed before 1 January 2021, you are usually still eligible to apply for an ESTA and travel to the USA under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).
Contact the nearest US Embassy or Consulate if you have any further questions or concerns.
If you have a health condition, or you are pregnant, you may need specialist healthcare abroad. Check whether your destination country can provide the healthcare you may need and ensure you have appropriate travel insurance for unexpected medical evacuation or local treatment.
See the Coronavirus travel health and Healthcare sections in the Coronavirus page for COVID-19 health information.
At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the latest country-specific health advice from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) on the TravelHealthPro website. Each country-specific page has information on vaccine recommendations, any current health risks or outbreaks, and factsheets with information on staying healthy abroad. Guidance is also available from NHS (Scotland) on the FitForTravel website.
General information on travel vaccinations and a travel health checklist are available on the NHS website. You may then wish to contact your health adviser or pharmacy for advice on other preventive measures and managing any pre-existing medical conditions while you are abroad.
While travel can be enjoyable, it can sometimes be challenging. There are clear links between mental and physical health, so looking after yourself during travel and when abroad is important. Information on travelling with mental health conditions is available in our guidance page. Further information is also available from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC).
Bringing medicines into the USA
There are restrictions and prohibitions on the import of certain prescription drugs into the USA. The US Food and Drug Administration website contains further information and advice on bringing medicines into the USA. UK prescriptions are not valid in the USA. In order for a British National to obtain pharmacy drugs, you would need to have a prescription from a US provider. This can be done from attending an ‘Urgent Care’ facility, Emergency Room or a doctor’s surgery.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 911 and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you’re referred to a medical facility for treatment.
Medical treatment is expensive and there are no special arrangements for British visitors. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.
Some hospitals may ask non-US residents to pay a deposit or ‘good faith’ payment on admittance. You should direct any requests for funds to your travel insurance provider in the first instance; only pay the hospital if you’re advised to do so by your travel insurance company. Your level of medical care won’t be affected while your claim is being processed.
Medical facilities in American Samoa are basic and medical evacuation by air ambulance to Hawaii, New Zealand or Australia may be necessary. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.
You should take suitable steps to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes and ticks. There are occasional outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases.
UK health authorities have classified the USA as having a risk of Zika virus transmission in Florida, Texas (Cameron County and Hidalgo County only), Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. For more information and advice, visit the National Travel Health Network and Centre website: for travel to Florida and Texas (Cameron County and Hidalgo County only) - for travel to Puerto Rico - for travel to US Virgin Islands - for travel to American Samoa - for travel to Guam.
Snow storms during winter can cause disruptions to critical infrastructure, such as power cuts, or delays and cancellations throughout the major transport hubs in the USA. Contact your travel company or airline before you travel. To monitor airport conditions in the USA, visit the Federal Aviation Administration website.
The Atlantic hurricane season normally runs from June to November. The Pacific hurricane season normally runs from May to November. They can affect US coastal regions, Hawaii and Guam. The South Pacific tropical cyclone season normally runs from November to May and can affect American Samoa.
You should monitor the progress of approaching storms on the US National Hurricane Center website and follow instructions issued by the local authorities, including any evacuation orders.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website contains information about how to prepare for extreme weather conditions and what to do if you are told to evacuate. It also provides a list of disaster supplies that will help if you live in an area affected by storms and hurricanes.
See our tropical cyclones page for advice about how to prepare effectively and what to do if you’re likely to be affected by a hurricane or tropical cyclone.
Alaska, American Samoa, California, Guam, Hawaii, Nevada, Northern Mariana Islands, Oklahoma, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Washington state and the US Virgin Islands are prone to earthquakes. To learn more about what to do before, during and after an earthquake, visit the Federal Emergency Management website.
Tornadoes can occur at any time of the year depending on weather conditions. To learn more about what you should do during, and after a tornado, visit the FEMA website
Forest and brush fires (wildfires) are a danger in many dry areas. High winds can cause fires to spread very rapidly. Areas of high risk are canyons, hills and forests. Monitor local media and weather reports and follow the advice of local authorities, including any evacuation orders. Exercise caution in areas which have been recently affected by wildfires as they are more susceptible to mudslides during heavy rainfall.
For more information visit the National Interagency Fire Centre and Fire Research and Management Exchange System websites.
For more detail about wildfires in California, visit the CAL FIRE website .
There is continuous volcanic activity on Hawaii’s Big Island. British nationals in the area should monitor local media reports and follow the advice of local authorities, including any evacuation orders. For further updates see the State of Hawaii’s website. To learn more about what to do before, during and after a volcano, visit the Federal Emergency Management website.
Large numbers of British nationals travel successfully and safely in and around the Arctic each year. The Arctic is, however, a vast region, comprising the northerly areas of Alaska (USA), Canada, Finland, Greenland (Denmark), Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden. If you’re considering visiting the Arctic, read the specific travel advice for each of these countries and consider carefully the potential remoteness of certain destinations from search and rescue, evacuation and medical facilities. Independent travellers are particularly advised to develop contingency arrangements for emergency back-up.
The most popular way of visiting the Arctic is by ship. As some areas of the Arctic - specifically the more northerly and remote regions - can be uncharted and ice-covered, you should check the previous operational experience of cruise and other operators offering travel in the region. You should also consider the on-board medical facilities of cruise ships and talk to cruise operators as appropriate, particularly if you have a pre-existing medical condition.
The eight Arctic states take their international search and rescue obligations very seriously, and have recently signed a binding agreement on search and rescue co-operation in the Arctic. However, in the highest latitude regions of the Arctic, cruise ships may be operating in relative isolation from other vessels and/or inhabited areas. You should be aware that in these regions, search and rescue response will often need to be despatched from many hundreds of miles away, and assistance to stranded vessels may take several days to arrive, particularly in bad weather. Search and rescue assets are also likely to offer only basic transport and basic medical care, and are unlikely to be capable of advanced life-support. Responsible cruise operators should happily provide additional information relevant to the circumstances of the cruise they are offering, and address any concerns you may have.
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the FCDO in London on 020 7008 5000 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCDO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCDO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCDO travel advice
If you’re looking for a previous version of the FCDO travel advice, visit the National Archives website. Versions prior to 2 September 2020 will be archived as FCO travel advice. If you can’t find the page you’re looking for there, send the Travel Advice Team a request.
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry, or contact us on Twitter or Facebook. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.