The 26th sitting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26) takes place in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November 2021. Up to 140 world leaders and 25,000 conference delegates are expected to attend, many of whom will start to arrive in the city in preparation for the event in the coming weeks.

Those travelling to Glasgow for the conference will need to ensure they have the appropriate immigration documents before they travel. We have set out some different options below.

Who will need a visa?

Individuals coming to Glasgow for COP26 will generally need a valid visa to travel to the UK, unless they are exempt from immigration control or are permitted to enter as a visitor without a visa (e.g. non-visa nationals). 

Delegates who may be exempt from immigration control

Certain delegates travelling to Glasgow may be exempt from immigration control which means that they do not need to apply for prior entry clearance into the UK. Those exempt from immigration control include:

  • heads of state and eligible members of their households;
  • serving government ministers and equivalent on an official visit and their eligible family members;
  • members of certain international organisations.

Further details about who is exempt, including which family members qualify for exemption can be found here. The list of international organisations whose employees may be exempt from the requirement to obtain entry clearance can be found here.

UK Visas & Immigration strongly encourage delegates who are visa nationals but who are exempt from immigration control to apply for an exempt vignette to confirm their status (although it isn't mandatory). The application is free and it is likely to avoid delays when entering the UK . Decisions may take up to 3 weeks, so applications should be made in advance of travel. Further information about the vignette and the application process can be accessed here.

Coming to COP26 as a visitor

Some individuals may want to enter the UK as a visitor in order to attend COP26. Whether or not that is the appropriate category under the immigration rules will depend on their activities during their visit. The list of permitted activities for visitors is available here. Those traveling solely to attend the conference should be able to do so with a visitor visa provided that they comply with the list of permitted activities.

Even as a visitor, visa nationals need to apply in advance for a visa to be able to travel to the UK (assuming an exemption doesn’t apply). Visa nationals should apply for the standard visitor visa and pay the required fee (unless they hold a UNFCCC official acknowledgement of their nomination / visa support letter – see below). Non-visa nationals do not need a visa to visit the UK as a visitor.

Official United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) acknowledgement holders

Those with an official UNFCC acknowledgement of their nomination/ visa support letter can apply for a free COP26 visitor visa using the COP26 attendee route available here.

Coming to work in connection with COP26

Individuals who are not exempt from immigration control and whose activities are not permitted as a visitor, may need to obtain some sort of work visa in advance. There are various options available but specific advice should be sought for those coming to work as the timescales, costs and options vary for each type of visa.

COVID-19 restrictions and travelling to COP26

When travelling to Scotland individuals should check the latest COVID-19 restrictions, including whether or not they have been in a 'red list' country within 10 days of arriving in Scotland. The 'red list' countries are subject to change and Scotland may have different travel rules and COVID-19 restrictions to England from time to time.

Even where an individual is not travelling from, or has not been in a 'red list' country within 10 days of arriving in Scotland, there are still legal requirements to be aware of including in relation to:

  • completing a passenger locator form;
  • COVID-19 testing, and;
  • self-isolation:

These depend on factors such as the person's vaccination status, the type of vaccine they have received and where they have been vaccinated. More information can be found here.

General information on COP26

Those visiting Glasgow for COP26 may want to look at the Get Ready Glasgow website which has useful information for businesses and others on things such as transport options, and COVID-19 measures.

For more details on any of the issues raised in this blog, please get in touch with Elaine McIlroy, Erin McLafferty or your usual Brodies contact.


Erin McLafferty


Gregor Craig-Murphy

Senior Solicitor