South Carolina travel guide
About South Carolina
Sultry climes, a captivating history and enticing scenery: welcome to South Carolina y’all.
The ‘Palmetto State’ is blessed with stunning landscapes – from the rolling hills of the Upcountry to the glistening lakes of the midlands – but it’s the coastline that lures most visitors.
Plant your parasol on the sun-drenched shores of Myrtle Beach for classic seaside fun, with boardwalk amusements, boogie boarding and boat tours all up for grabs. The city is also home to the South Carolina Civil War Museum, which tells the story of the conflict through the eyes of the state.
Beaufort on Port Royal Island is easy on the eye thanks to its raft of beautifully restored antebellum homes. But if you’re looking to escape the cities, take a trip to Hilton Head, a narrow barrier island that’s generously clad with beautiful beaches, unspoiled forest and world-class golf courses.
With its lack of skyscrapers and bevy of 19th-century mansions, the coastal metropolis of Charleston is anything but an identikit US city. It’s the site of the country’s first permanent European settlement and today crackles with a stellar dining scene, characterful boutique hotels and Southern charm aplenty.
Away from the coast, South Carolina’s back roads offer visitors the chance to pick juicy peaches, explore rambling plantations and encounter Revolutionary and Civil War sites and re-enactments.
Beyond that take in the terrific museums of the state capital, Columbia, waterski across Lake Murray, or paddle through Congaree National Park’s murky creeks and hardwood forests. And don’t leave without visiting the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where you can hike and bike to your heart’s content.
80,782 sq km (31,190 sq miles).
4.9 million (2015).
60.7 per sq km.
This travel advice also covers American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and United States Virgin Islands.
The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) provides advice about risks of travel to help British nationals make informed decisions. Find out more about FCDO travel advice.
Before you travel
No travel can be guaranteed safe. Read all the advice in this guide as well as support for British nationals abroad which includes:
- advice on preparing for travel abroad and reducing risks
- information for women, LGBT+ and disabled travellers
If you choose to travel, research your destinations and get appropriate travel insurance. Insurance should cover your itinerary, planned activities and expenses in an emergency.
This advice 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 not sure how these requirements apply to you, contact the US embassy or consulate in the UK.
Countries may restrict travel or bring in rules at short notice. Check with your travel company or airline for changes.
If you test positive for COVID-19 while in the USA, you may need to stay where you are until you test negative. You may also need to seek treatment there.
Visit TravelHealthPro (from the UK’s National Travel Health Network and Centre) for general COVID-19 advice for travellers.
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.
Global Entry programme
The US Customs and Border Protection programme Global Entry allows 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.
You will need either an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) visa waiver or a visa to enter or transit the USA as a visitor.
You are not normally eligible for an ESTA visa waiver if you have been in the following countries on or after March 2011:
- North Korea
You cannot apply for an ESTA visa waiver if you have travelled to or been in Cuba after 1 January 2021. You must instead apply for a US visa.
You cannot apply for an ESTA visa waiver if you:
- have been arrested (even if the arrest did not result in a criminal conviction)
- have a criminal record
- have been refused admission into, or have been deported from the USA
- have previously overstayed under an ESTA visa waiver
Check the US State Department website for more information on US visas.
Applying for a visa
Visit the US Embassy for details on how to apply for a visa.
US visa appointments
Visa appointments at the US Embassy in London are limited. Plan your application as far ahead as possible before travel. If you need to travel urgently, you can request an expedited interview through the US Embassy’s appointment service provider.
Visit the US Embassy’s website for more information on visa appointments.
Children and young people
- have a valid visa or ESTA visa waiver on arrival
- be able to provide evidence about the purpose, location and length of their visit if asked by immigration officials
- have written consent from one or both parents if travelling alone, with only one parent, or with someone who is not a parent or legal guardian
The US authorities can stop you entering the country if they have safeguarding concerns about a child. 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 who are under 18 from the USA.
The US Government provides information about children under-18 travelling to the USA. If you have any questions, contact the US Embassy.
There is a high threat of terrorist attack globally affecting UK interests and British nationals, including from groups and individuals who view the UK and British nationals as targets. You should remain 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 how to reduce your risk from terrorism while abroad.
Terrorism in the USA
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 remain aware of your surroundings, keep up to date with local media reports and follow the advice of local authorities. Targets could include:
- crowded areas
- transportation networks
- public events
The US Department of Homeland Security provides current alerts within the USA and its territories.
Protecting your belongings
Do not leave passports in rental cars, especially in the boot. Gangs may target vehicles of those who appear to be tourists.
Tourists are rarely involved in violent and gun crime, but take care in unfamiliar areas. Avoid walking through quieter 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 happen but are a very small percentage of homicide deaths. Read the US Department of Homeland Security advice on what to do in an active shooter incident.
Research your destination before travelling and follow the advice of local authorities. Crime associated with illegal drugs is a major issue in Mexican states bordering Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas. Some foreign nationals have been victims of crime in the border regions, but there is no evidence to suggest they have been targeted because of their nationality.
Protests are common and can become violent. Follow the instructions of local authorities who may introduce curfews or emergency orders. If you do attend any peaceful protests, you should:
- be mindful of your surroundings
- move away if there are signs of trouble
- follow the instructions of local authorities
Laws and cultural differences
US states may have different laws. Whilst you are in a state, you are subject to both that state’s laws as well as national (federal) law.
Always carry a passport showing that you have permission to enter or remain in the USA.
The national legal age for buying and drinking alcohol is 21 years. Some states have different laws. If you are under-21, check the relevant state laws before drinking or buying alcohol.
Illegal drugs and prison sentences
Possession or trafficking of illegal drugs in the USA can carry a long prison sentence and fine. Check state laws to make sure you comply with the laws on possession and use of controlled substances. The US Department of Justice website provides a list of all controlled substances.
The USA is a very 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.
If you are planning to drive in the USA, see information on driving abroad and check the driving rules in the state(s) you’ll be visiting.
Licences and permits
If you plan on driving in the USA, you may need a 1949 international driving permit (IDP) as well as a full valid driving licence. IDP requirements vary in each state. For more information, you can consult individual states’ Department of Motor Vehicles as well as the American Automobile Association (AAA).
You cannot buy an IDP outside the UK, so get one before you travel. You can buy an IDP in person from some UK post offices – find your nearest post office branch that offers this service. Provisional licences are not accepted.
If you have an older, paper UK driving licence you must take another form of photographic ID, such as your passport. You may need to show an IDP to your insurance company if you’re involved in an accident.
If you’re hiring a vehicle, check requirements with your rental company before you travel.
When travelling by car, you should:
- check weather conditions before a long car journey, particularly in mountainous, isolated or desert areas where services may be limited
- not sleep in your car by the road or in rest areas
- avoid leaving any items on display in your car
- stay on main roads
- use well-lit car parks
If you’re in an accident, ask any other drivers involved to follow you to a public place and call the police.
Petrol stations that do not display the price of fuel usually charge considerably more than the national average. They’re often found close to tourist destinations and airports, including near to Orlando International Airport. Make sure you know the price of fuel before using these services.
Before you travel, check the security measures you’re likely to face at the airport on the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) website. Contact TSA Cares for assistance if you have a medical condition or disability and need assistance.
To monitor airport conditions in the USA, visit the Federal Aviation Administration website.
Extreme weather and natural disasters
Snowstorms during winter can disrupt critical infrastructure, and cause power cuts, or delays and cancellations in major transport hubs. Contact your travel company or airline before you travel.
The Atlantic hurricane season normally runs from June to November. The Pacific hurricane season normally runs from May to November. They can affect coastal regions, Hawaii and Guam. The South Pacific tropical cyclone season normally runs from November to May and can affect American Samoa.
- monitor the progress of approaching storms on the US National Hurricane Center website
- follow instructions from local authorities, including evacuation orders
- visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website for information on preparing for extreme weather and evacuating, and for a list of disaster supplies that will help
- 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
Earthquakes are a risk in:
- American Samoa
- Northern Mariana Islands
- Puerto Rico
- Washington (state)
- US Virgin Islands
To learn more about what to do before, during and after an earthquake, visit the Federal Emergency Management website.
Tornadoes can happen anytime depending on weather conditions. Read advice about what to do during and after a tornado from the US Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Volcanic eruptions in Hawaii
There is continuous volcanic activity on Hawaii’s Big Island. Monitor local media reports and follow the advice of local authorities, including any evacuation orders. Visit the State of Hawaii’s website for information and alerts on volcanic activity. To learn more about what to do before, during and after a volcano, visit the Federal Emergency Management website.
Forest and brush fires (wildfires) are a danger in many dry areas, particularly in canyons, hills and forests. High winds can mean fires spread rapidly.
- monitor local media and weather reports
- follow the advice of local authorities, including any evacuation orders
- be careful in areas recently affected by wildfires, as there may be mudslides during heavy rainfall
For more detail about wildfires in California, visit the CAL FIRE website.
Most British nationals travel safely around the Arctic each year. However, consular assistance and support to British nationals is limited by the capacity of national and local authorities. Make sure you have appropriate travel insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment or potential repatriation.
Before you visit:
- consider the remote nature of certain destinations and access to medical facilities, search and rescue and evacuation options
- have emergency plans in place, particularly if you are an independent traveller
Sea travel in the Arctic
Most people visit the Arctic by ship. Some areas of the Arctic are uncharted and ice-covered. Before you travel:
- check the experience and credentials of operators offering travel in the region
- consider the on-board medical facilities and discuss any pre-existing medical conditions with the cruise operator
Search and rescue
In the highest latitude regions of the Arctic, cruise ships may be isolated from other vessels or populated areas. Be aware that:
- search and rescue response may be very far away
- assistance to stranded vessels may take several days to arrive, particularly in bad weather
- search and rescue teams will only offer basic transport and medical care; they are unlikely to be able to offer advanced life support
Before you travel check that:
- your destination can provide the healthcare you may need
- you have appropriate travel insurance for local treatment or unexpected medical evacuation
This is particularly important if you have a health condition or are pregnant.
Emergency medical number
Dial 911 and ask for an ambulance.
Contact your insurance or medical assistance company promptly if you’re referred to a medical facility for treatment.
Vaccinations and health risks
At least 8 weeks before your trip check:
- the latest information on health risks and what vaccinations you need for the USA (or the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam and Northern Mariana Islands) on TravelHealthPro (from the UK’s National Travel Health Network and Centre)
- where to get vaccines and whether you have to pay on the NHS travel vaccinations page
Altitude sickness is a risk in parts of the USA. More information about altitude sickness is available from TravelHealthPro (from the UK’s National Travel Health Network and Centre).
Take steps to avoid bites from mosquitoes and ticks – read guidance on TravelHealthPro. There are occasional outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases.
Zika virus is a risk in:
- Texas (Cameron County and Hidalgo County only)
- Puerto Rico
- US Virgin Islands
- American Samoa
The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or bought in the UK can be different in other countries.
You cannot take some prescription drugs into the USA. The US Food and Drug Administration provides information and advice on bringing medicines into the USA.
UK prescriptions are not valid in the USA. To get pharmacy drugs, you need a prescription from a US provider (available from an urgent care facility, emergency room or a doctor).
TravelHealthPro explains best practice when travelling with medicines.
The NHS has information on whether you can take your medicine abroad.
Healthcare facilities in the USA
Medical treatment is expensive and there are no special arrangements for British visitors.
Some hospitals ask non-US residents to pay a deposit when admitted. Send any requests for funds to your travel insurance provider first; only pay the hospital if you’re advised to do so by your travel insurance company. Your medical care won’t be affected while your claim is processed.
Medical facilities in American Samoa are basic and you may need medical evacuation by air ambulance to Hawaii, New Zealand or Australia.
Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.
COVID-19 healthcare in the USA
Isolation requirements will depend on the guidance in the state where you are. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has guidance on how to protect yourself and others.
Travel and mental health
The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) cannot provide tailored advice for individual trips. Read this travel advice and carry out your own research before deciding whether to travel.
Emergency services in the USA
Telephone: 911 (ambulance, fire, police)
Contact your travel provider and insurer
Contact your travel provider and your insurer if you are involved in a serious incident or emergency abroad. They will tell you if they can help and what you need to do.
Refunds and changes to travel
For refunds or changes to travel, contact your travel provider. You may also be able to make a claim through insurance. However, insurers usually require you to talk to your travel provider first.
Find out more about changing or cancelling travel plans, including:
- where to get advice if you are in a dispute with a provider
- how to access previous versions of travel advice to support a claim
Support from FCDO
FCDO has guidance on staying safe and what to do if you need help or support abroad, including:
- finding lawyers
- dealing with a death in the USA
- being arrested in the USA
- getting help if you’re a victim of crime
- what to do if you’re in hospital
- if you are affected by a crisis, such as a terrorist attack
Help abroad in an emergency
If you are abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy or consulate in the USA.
You can also contact FCDO online.
FCDO in London
You can call FCDO in London if you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad.
Telephone: 020 7008 5000 (24 hours)