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I am flying from the US to Edinburgh, UK. My layover is at Heathrow. Will I need to go through customs and check bags again at Heathrow before I take the next flight?

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    Is it all on one ticket, or two tickets? That'll make a big difference – Gagravarr Jul 24 '14 at 19:02
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    @pnuts BA isn't always the same terminal, though normally is, but it doesn't make any difference at Heathrow. The thing that does is if it's a through ticket (clear immigration + security but not customs via the Flight Connections process) or two ticket (clear immigration, get back, clear customs, landside transfer, re-check) – Gagravarr Jul 24 '14 at 19:52
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    @pnuts That's not unusual in Europe. Most smaller airport's customs office is not staffed all the time. – neo Jul 24 '14 at 20:03
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    @Alex If it's one itinerary, and the airlines have interlining (eg are in the same alliance), then that'll be largely the same as if it were all one ticket. If they're totally different (eg BA onto Virgin) then that changes things – Gagravarr Jul 24 '14 at 21:51
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    It's handy though, as you don't have to collect your bags / clear customs / re-check them, as places like the US tediously make you... – Gagravarr Jul 28 '14 at 22:33
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Promoting some comments to answers - it all depends...

If you are on a single ticket (so a through booking from the US to Edinburgh), then no. Your bag will be checked all the way through from the US to Edinburgh. When you arrive at Heathrow, you will need to clear UK immigration in Heathrow. You'll do that at the departing terminal, having followed the purple Flight Connections signs for the airside transit (if not the same terminal). On arrival into Edinburgh, you will collect your bags, and then clear customs with them in Edinburgh. (Edinburgh should be fine for this, but if you connected onto a flight to a smaller UK airport you might have to use the special phone in the baggage hall to contact Customs if you have something to declare)

If you are on two tickets, but within the same alliance (eg American Airlines onto British Airways, or Delta onto Virgin Atlantic Little Red), then you should be able to ask at checkin for them to check your bags all the way through. Generally speaking, if the two legs are on the same alliance, they'll check it through onto the second leg. You'd then follow the above.

If it's two tickets without an alliance (eg flying in on American Airlines, carrying on with Virgin Atlantic Little Red), then you will be required to clear immigration, collect your bag, and clear customs. After that, you then take the free train or bus to change terminals (as required), then check in for flight #2 and check bags there.

Easy summary - 1 through ticket or 2 tickets but same alliance where you can show both tickets and ask them to check through:

  • Follow flight connections to get to your departure terminal (if different)
  • Go through Immigration (UK connections)
  • Go through Security
  • Fly
  • Collect bags
  • Go through appropriate Customs exit (may need to call them if you have something to declare and there's no-one there)

2 tickets from airlines who won't check through:

  • Follow arrivals, go through Immigration
  • Collect bags
  • Go through Customs
  • Change terminal if needed (train or bus landside)
  • Check in
  • Security
  • Fly
  • Collect bags
  • Exit
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  • Are you sure about this? I have never had my bags transferred for me from an international flight to a domestic one. When the plane lands in Edinburgh, will they send everybody through Customs or will they somehow know the OP hasn't been checked. Will the OP go through Immigration/Passport Control in London or Edinburgh? I am very skeptical. – Malvolio Aug 24 '14 at 15:58
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    US != UK. Arriving in the USA and transferring to a US domestic flight, you must collect bags, clear customs and re-check. Arriving in the UK the main thing they care about is immigration. As stated in the answer, they'll clear immigration in London at their departure terminal if connecting. If you've nothing to declare, and you don't look dodgy, customs is something you walk through without stopping, unlike in America! – Gagravarr Aug 24 '14 at 16:23
  • Well, pleasant as the idea that European customs relies exclusively on profiling is, just last month I was changing planes at Heathrow when my traveling companion showed insufficient obeisance to the security staff, so they delayed us until our flight left. – Malvolio Aug 24 '14 at 17:49
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    @Malvolio Security != Immigration != Customs, they're all different. On a US -> UK domestic, you'd have to go through Immigration (can be long queues for non-EU, generally helpful) and Security (can be long queues, often deliberately slow and useless), but not customs (who you almost never see or interact with, but who sometimes spring out from their hidden office and stop someone they want a chat with) – Gagravarr Aug 25 '14 at 5:45
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    @Gagravarr, you're correct -- I've done similar myself. A few points -- depending when you arrive in Edinburgh it's entirely possible that customs is unmanned and you need to use the phone to declare something. Also the question doesn't specify the length of the layover, if it's overnight (or over 24 hours) I think you may need to collect bags. Finally, I've done the flight in the other direction (many years ago) on airlines not in an alliance but they still checked my bag through to the destination for me as it'd had all been booked via Expedia. I had to check in for the second leg in LHR. – SpaceDog Aug 25 '14 at 11:49

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