Have you recently been granted refugee status? If so, this is probably a big moment for you and you will surely be feeling a sense of relief. 

There is quite a lot to sort out in your life and to help with that we have a guide that outlines how you can access housing, benefits, education, training and employment after you have been granted 

But you might have some broader questions as well, like whether you can leave the country and whether it is safe for you to travel abroad particularly as an LGBTQI+ person.  

Our Trustee, Ucman Scher, is a former refugee and has travelled extensively to over 75 countries and blogs under BrownBoyTravels. He has kindly provided some information about his personal experiences of travelling after being granted refugee status. You can find more of Ucman’s travel tips and tricks on his blog, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube channel.

Photograph of man standing outside smiling with village in background

**Before we proceed, please be aware that this article is based on real life experience and should not be taken as legal advice. For all legal matters, please consult a lawyer or relevant professional.** 

What is refugee travel and why is it any different from non-refugee travel? 

Travelling as a person with refugee status is quite a different experience from regular travel because the rules that apply to air travel and crossing borders are different. A good example is the Schengen Area. While anyone else with a Schengen visa can travel freely within the zone, each country applies a different requirement for people with refugee status. Safety is also a concern as is the risk of losing your documentation abroad.  

Are people with refugee status allowed to travel? 

Yes and no. The most common misconception is that once you have refugee status you are supposed to stay in the same country, work, build your life and that’s pretty much it. I call it the guilt of pleasure. Just because you have been granted asylum status doesn’t mean you should deny yourself any pleasures of life, and travelling is one of the best of them. You can travel to broaden your horizons and gain new experiences. In my case it really helped me heal trauma. Learning about other cultures, and meeting new, kind people all over the world has helped me see  life from a different perspective. 

The only exception is travelling to your home country. This is a serious issue and your asylum can be revoked on return. More importantly you shouldn’t travel there since your life might be in  danger in your home country. 

What documentation do you need to travel as a person with refugee status? 

As part of your asylum application, the Home Office will have taken your national passport away. However you can apply for and travel with a Refugee travel document that the Home Office can issue. You will need someone to verify/certify the application.  

You should always keep your BRP  on you at all times, you need it to re-enter the country.  

I have a refugee travel document, should I book my tickets and get ready to fly now? 

Not quite yet! We still have some more preparation to do before that flight. If you receive benefits, you should check the conditions of your benefits before and if the travel is essential, you must notify the job centre and get permission from your benefits case handler to travel as an exception.  

The next big item on the to-do list is checking whether you require a visa to enter your chosen destination.  

What is the process of obtaining visas as a refugee?  

This is the most difficult part of your plans, and  the most annoying part of travelling. Like I mentioned before,  every single country in the EU and Schengen Area has different rules for people travelling with refugee status and you must check the embassy or consulate website for each country before you plan your travels. 

Finding out if and how you need a visa is also a little bit of a painful process, as you must go beyond the  British citizens’ page on the embassy or consulate website. For some countries, it will be quite clear.  Other times it will be quite ambiguous, and in some cases, there might not be any information. If this is the case, you can go to Ministry of Foreign Affairs website and look for the information there. If it is not available on their website, you will have to write to or call the embassy to find out the necessary information. 

I would also highly recommend keeping the embassy link or written communication with you when you go to the airport. For example, when I tried to visit Iceland there was an issue with my visa status. According to the Icelandic consulate in London, I did not need a visa, but the airline and the border agency of Iceland insisted that I did. I was not allowed into the plane and had to come back to London. I then waited for the consulate to open the next morning and got written permission to board the next flight, for a trip I had arranged for my birthday with my friends. All these problems slightly spoiled the occasion, but sadly this is the reality of travelling as a person with refugee status.  

Other practical tips: 

  • Always arrive early at the airport because you will need to prove that you do not require a visa or that you have obtained a visa, and in most cases, the airline staff is none the wiser. I would recommend again to keep all written communication or the website link to relevant consulate with you.  
  • When you are coming back the UK, you must use the ‘other country’ queue to re-enter the country and you should have your BRP with you. 
  • Some countries do not accept refugee travel documents as a valid form of travel document. In these cases, you might not be able to even transit through these countries. A lot of countries in the Middle East fall into this category. Please always check before booking your ticket. 

 General safety tips: 

1- Don’t tell anyone that you have refugee status unless you trust them completely. Romantic liaisons abroad shouldn’t fall into the trusted category, I’m afraid. 

2- Keep your travel document and BRP safe at all times, I’d go as far as saying, keep it dearer than your life. It is the most important item whilst you are travelling. If you lose it, you will have to apply for a new visa (not just the refugee travel document) and doing so in a foreign land can be costly and quite a headache with all the paperwork and documentation. I would recommend keeping it in a safe and having a coloured copy of it on you at all times, to avoid taking it around with you. 

3- You should also be aware that you are not a British Citizen and the British consulates do not offer protection to people with refugee status as such; in short you are on your own. Do not do anything illegal or get into any trouble, this would put you in a very vulnerable situation. The most common reason people have issues abroad is because they use recreational drugs. Obey the law and be responsible and you’ll be perfectly fine.  

I have never had to contact a British embassy abroad so unfortunately I cannot tell you how long it would take to get your documentation in order or how helpful they are in case of legal trouble. If you have some experience, please do reach out to me with your experience, I’m always glad to hear other people’s experiences. 

Is there any other advice you’d like to give?  

All of the information above might seem daunting but once you arrive at your destination, it will be worth it. Travelling will help you with so many things. I always say, Eat, travel and be merry!