Uruguay travel guide
A peaceful, laidback destination with a long history of liberalism (Uruguay was the first country to fully legalize marijuana) this pint-sized nation finds itself squeezed between Brazil and Argentina, and is often overshadowed by its heavyweight neighbours. However, as Uruguay has come to appreciate its subtle charms and small-scale attractions, so too have travellers.
Veer off the Gringo Trail and into Uruguay, and you will be pleasantly surprised. Considering its size, the country boasts an astonishing variety of diversions. Its windswept Atlantic coastline features dunes, lagoons and perfect surf; visitors can hop between hip beach resorts, clustered around the chic Punta del Este, abscond to sleepy fishing villages or take wildlife excursions to see penguins, sea lions and whales. The interior is equally rewarding. Journey up the Rio de la Plata and discover charming colonial towns, thermal springs and working haciendas, which offer an authentic taste of traditional gaucho life.
The jewel in Uruguay’s crown, though, is the capital, Montevideo. Punching well above its weight culturally and economically, this buzzing metropolis is classified as a Beta World City and is considered the most gay-friendly city in Latin America. Montevideo is a handsome place of stunning architecture, breezy promenades and sandy beaches. It’s also home to the world’s longest carnival, a heady six-week street party that puts other South American cities to shame.
Sleepy Colonia del Sacramento is another gem. Situated on the banks of the Rio de la Plata, opposite Buenos Aires, this amorous city offers enchanting cobbled streets, leafy plazas and 18th-century Portuguese architecture. It’s unflappably laidback, but for something even cooler head to Cabo Polonio, an off-grid eco-resort founded by hippies and fishermen, where the stresses of modern life ebb away and there’s time to appreciate nature and likeminded people.
All things considered, Uruguay should be treated like one of its famous beefsteaks; take your time over it, savour it and when you’re done, come back for more. You’ll never get your fill.
176,215 sq km (68,037 sq miles).
3,444,071 (UN estimate 2016).
19 per sq km.
President Tabaré Vázquez since 2015.
President Tabaré Vázquez since 2015.
Last updated: 21 September 2019
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Around 20,000 British nationals visit Uruguay every year. Most visits are trouble-free.
Most criminal incidents occur in Montevideo, where opportunistic street crime is on the rise. Take care of your personal belongings at all times and be aware of your surroundings. Take particular care in and around the downtown and port areas. Don’t walk through these areas alone or at night; consider taking a taxi if necessary.
Carry a photocopy of your passport and keep the original document in a safe place.
There’s a zero tolerance limit for driving under the influence of alcohol.
Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in Uruguay, attacks can’t be ruled out. See Terrorism
You can contact the emergency services by calling 911.
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
Safety and security
Street crime like bag snatching and pick-pocketing occurs in Montevideo. Muggings and robberies (sometimes armed) also take place. Keep valuables, spare cash and spare credit cards in a safe. Take care when withdrawing money from ATMs and where possible use machines that are not on the street (eg, shopping centres or banks). Avoid carrying large amounts of cash or wearing expensive jewellery. Consider carrying cash and bankcards in separate pockets and only take with you the money you need at the time.
Cars left on the streets at night in Montevideo are regularly broken into. Try to park in a paid car park or a well-lit and busy area. Always remember to lock your car and avoid leaving valuables, luggage, personal documents and cash in the vehicle. Don’t drive with bags or other valuables visible inside your vehicle, especially not on the front seat. There have been instances of windows being smashed and valuables grabbed when waiting at traffic lights and junctions.
Try to keep away from isolated or poorly lit areas at night and avoid walking downtown or in the port area alone.
While crime rates are generally lower in other parts of Uruguay, you should remain alert and take sensible precautions.
If you need to report a crime you must go to the nearest police station. You can also start to file a police report online. You must then sign it off at a police station within 48 hours of submitting it online.
If you’re planning to drive, you’ll need a valid UK licence or an International Driving Permit to hire a car. You should take out full insurance. You must wear a seatbelt by law in the front and back seats and have a first aid kit in your car. Children under the age of 12 must also be seated in a child seat or booster seat. There’s a zero tolerance limit for driving under the influence of alcohol. Transport Police often breathalyse drivers.
Driving standards are poor and traffic is disorganised. Drivers often change lane and make unexpected turns without indicating and use hazard lights to stop in the middle of a lane to run an errand or pick/drop someone off rather than park. Motorbikes often go the wrong way down one way streets so always look both ways when crossing junctions. Stop signs, traffic lights and speed limits are sometimes ignored. You must use dipped headlights during the day. Take extra care when driving at night.
The main toll roads from Colonia del Sacramento to Montevideo and Punta del Este are in good condition and well marked. However serious road traffic accidents are common. Poor road layout and excess speed are frequent causes.
The standard of roads in the rest of Uruguay varies. Some roads may suddenly deteriorate, with potholes and uneven road surfaces requiring extra care, especially in bad weather.
More information about transport regulations (in Spanish only) can be found on the Montevideo municipality website.
The main bus terminal for long distance journeys is Tres Cruces. The bus station has visible security patrols but you should keep a close eye on your belongings and be aware of your surroundings.
The main airport is Carrasco International Airport on the outskirts of Montevideo.
The FCO can’t offer advice on the safety of individual airlines. However, the International Air Transport Association publishes a list of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices. This list is not exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list does not necessarily mean that it is unsafe.
A list of recent incidents and accidents can be found on the website of the Aviation Safety Network.
Some beaches in Uruguay have lifeguards during the summer season. Take care when swimming in the rivers and the Atlantic Ocean taking into account currents, rocks and sand banks that have sudden descents. Beaches with lifeguards display red, amber and green flags depending on the weather conditions and a red flag with green cross when they detect conditions that present potential health risks to the population. You shouldn’t go into the water when either red flag is flying.
Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in Uruguay, attacks can’t be ruled out.
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.
The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
British passport holders visiting for up to 90 days don’t need a visa. For information on how to extend your stay or take up residency in Uruguay visit Dirección Nacional de Migración (in Spanish). For other information on entry regulations and living in Uruguay contact the nearest Uruguayan Embassy.
Your passport should be valid for at least the proposed duration of your stay. No additional period of validity beyond this is required.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents are accepted for entry, airside transit and exit from Uruguay. The validity requirements are the same as for full validity British passports. If you plan to travel to Argentina or the US you will need a visa in your ETD. You must contact the nearest Embassies of those countries in order to apply.
Strict customs controls prohibit visitors from importing animal and dairy products, fruit and vegetables. All baggage is x-rayed on arrival and may be searched.
Travelling with children
There are various requirements for travelling out of Uruguay with British or dual national children under the age of 18 who live in Uruguay. The Ministry of Interior’s website has more information, or you can contact a law firm with expertise in this subject.
Local laws and customs
Uruguay has legalised the sale of marijuana by registered pharmacies for recreational use. However, this is only available to Uruguayan nationals in possession of a licence. Tourists aren’t allowed to buy marijuana.
Uruguay was the first South American country to recognise same-sex civil unions. Same-sex marriage has been legal since 2013 and anti-discrimination laws have existed since 2003. It is common to see same-sex couples together in public, and incidents of hostility or discrimination against LGBT visitors are rare. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.
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 is 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’re abroad.
The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or purchased in the UK can be different in other countries. If you’re travelling with prescription or over-the-counter medicine, read this guidance from NaTHNaC on best practice when travelling with medicines. For further information on the legal status of a specific medicine, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
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).
The sun can be extremely strong and UV levels are higher than in the UK.
Medical and dental treatment is expensive in Uruguay. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.
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 are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
Presidency normally issues statements with warnings, precautions and updated information. The Uruguayan organisation which coordinates this type of crisis is SINAE; you may wish to follow them on Twitter for the latest updates (in Spanish) @sinae_oficial.
Forest fires can break out during the summer months (December to March) in dry areas. Make sure you extinguish cigarettes and fires appropriately. There are occasional large storms that can last 2-3 days and cause severe damage. Severe weather warnings are issued by the Uruguayan Institute of Meteorology. Their Twitter channel (in Spanish) is @MeteorologiaUy.
Credit cards are widely accepted in most major towns. UK cash cards can be used in most ATMs in Montevideo and Punta del Este, but there may be a charge for taking money out.
The Uruguayan Ministry of Tourism & Sport has introduced a series of tax benefits for tourists who pay for certain items (eg eating out, car hire) using a foreign credit card. You can find more details on the Tourism Ministry website.
Travel advice help and support
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 Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (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 FCO 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 FCO 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 FCO travel advice
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. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.