United Kingdom Travel Tips
Banks: 09:00 to 17:00, Monday to Friday; some branches open Saturday morning
Post offices: 09:00 to 17:30, Monday to Friday; 09:00 to 12:30, Saturday
Government departments: 09:00 to 17:00, Monday to Friday
Business Centers: 09:00 to 17:00, Monday to Friday
Shops: 09:00 to 17:30, Monday to Saturday; late night shopping Wednesday or Thursday in most cities
The most important and obvious thing to do before travelling to England is to organize some good travel insurance. Although you may be covered medically, depending on whether you are from Europe or a country that has a reciprocal agreement with the UK government, you should also ensure you are covered for other eventualities, such as theft and missed travel connections.
Incidents of violent crime are quite high in England, although tourists are unlikely to happen upon any mishaps as long as they steer clear of city streets late at night and keep clear of dangerous suburbs.
Friday and Saturday evenings in the larger towns tend to become a bit boisterous around closing time– traditionally 23:00– when revelers pour out of establishments and head home.
Crime rates in rural areas are less than in larger cities yet driving conditions aren’t as good in these towns as most country roads are narrow and winding.
Also be careful if travelling on public transport at night, in particular around London Underground stations and bus stations in general, and make sure you use a licensed taxi or mini cab.
Electricity: 230 volts, 50Hz
England is a first-world country and there are no exotic health hazards or diseases to worry about. Tap water is delicious, potable and cool, standards of food hygiene in restaurants are strict and owing to the excellent animal quarantine laws there is no rabies.
Although the National Health Service (NHS)– the government-funded health service– seems to constantly be under fire and lack funding, the system does work and the standard of hospitals and health services in general is good. All visitors to England can receive free emergency treatment after which charges may be incurred depending on which country the visitor originates from. Generally, visitors from the EU and Commonwealth countries will be covered.
There is no substitute for good health insurance, which should cover the traveller for all eventualities, including medical needs, accidents, theft, missed travel connections and repatriation.
The main health hazards with visiting England are coastal areas, the changeable weather for those out hiking, and traffic accidents. Packing your suitcase for all types of weather, even when coming in the summer, is a must if you intend on walking in the country. Those visiting beach resorts and surfing should take extra care as the surf is pretty powerful in places.
English is the main language of England and is spoken everywhere, although you may hear numerous regional accents and other languages when travelling about, such as Chinese, Hindi (Indian), Urdu (Pakistani), and a host of European tongues. London is perhaps the most multicultural capital city in the world where nearly 200 languages are spoken and it can often seem bewildering as to where you have landed up.
England is one of the few countries within the EU to retain its original currency and thus still uses Pounds Sterling (£). There are 100 pence (p) in one pound. Banknotes are readily available in denominations of£5,£10,£20 and£50. Scottish pound notes are also legal tender in England although they are rarely seen. Coins come in denominations of£2,£1, 50p, 20p, 10p, 5p, 2p and 1p. Euro dollars are also accepted at many establishments. There are no restrictions on the import or export of either foreign or local currency into and out of England.
Foreign money can be exchanged for sterling at airports, banks, exchange bureau booths and major hotels; the latter of which tend to have the worst rates. Banks and airports offer the best rates although always take heed of any commission being levied. Having enough cash for a day or two when arriving is a good idea but exchanging lots of currency before arriving here is generally not.
ATMs are everywhere and your home debit card and credit cards can often be used to withdraw on your bank account back home in pounds sterling. This is the best way to obtain money when travelling nowadays as the banks use the commercial exchange rates which ensures you don’t lose out too much when paying the ATM charge. Visa, American Express, Diners Club, and MasterCard are all widely accepted.
Credit cards are accepted by most hotels, shops and restaurants and the so-called ‘Chip and PIN’ method of paying by credit card is now in force all over England. Credit cards are fitted with microchips and users enter their PIN number into a hand-held device for validation. This method of credit card usage is to fight fraud, so a simple signature is now not accepted. Visa and MasterCard are the most common cards in England, although Maestro and American Express cards are also recognized.
Euro Dollars are being accepted more frequently by hotels and retailers in England, despite the UK not succumbing to the Euro, yet. Traveller’s checks are widely accepted in England and visitors are advised to obtain Pounds Sterling traveller’s checks to avoid double exchange fees.
Prohibited items include firearms, drugs and pornography, while the following may be imported into England duty free, provided the visitor is aged 17 years and over and arriving from a non-EU country: 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250g of tobacco; one litre of spirits stronger than 22 per cent, or two litres of sparkling wine; two litres of standard wine; 50g of perfume; and gifts/souvenirs up to the value of£145. Tax-paid goods brought in from EU countries have no limits assigned in quantity.
Tourists from outside the EU may receive a tax refund (VAT) if they leave the country within three months after purchasing the items (VAT is charged at 17.5 per cent on most goods). Be sure to fill out the VAT 407 refund form from the participating store and then have it stamped by customs on the way out of the country. The form will have to be sent back to the store and your credit card will be reimbursed.
The English are a laid-back, down-to-earth bunch. Before stopping someone in the street to ask for directions, a simple ‘excuse me’ followed by a ‘thank you’ when you have been helped will go a long way.
Another misconception is the English being reserved. On the contrary, the English are usually open and friendly toward strangers needing help, although it may be difficult to strike up a deep and meaningful conversation with a local on first meeting them.
Brushing past someone in the street without acknowledging your mistake is considered impolite, as is queue jumping. In addition, if you see someone walking in your direction head on, it is customary for both parties to move slightly so as not to put the other out. When hiking or out in the country walking, it is customary to acknowledge other walkers with a simple ‘hello’.
You will hear the word ‘mate’ a lot when friends are speaking, and even locals to strangers, which is nothing more than a friendly exchange as opposed to a term of kinship.
Most restaurants in England will accept casually-dressed diners and the ones with a dress code will be obvious enough. A dress code means a jacket and tie for gents and smart dress for ladies.
Old-fashioned dining etiquette is something not to be concerned with in England these days. There generally won’t be three knives and three forks in front of you, elbows can be placed on tables and you can drink beer instead of tea. It is still considered rude to eat with your fingers, to talk with your mouth full and speak loudly when dining.
Regards tipping, restaurants usually add a 10 to 15-per cent service charge which is often included in the bill. If there is no service charge a 10 per cent tip is reasonable in London although you shouldn’t feel obliged to tip anywhere if you didn’t receive good service. Taxi drivers generally like to see a 10 per cent tip. When drinking and dining at a bar, tipping is not the one thing and you will stand out if you try this.
Visa and Passports:
The validity of visitor visas varies yet all visitor visas allow the bearer multiple-entry status for the duration of the visa’s validity. When applying for a visa to enter the UK in your home country at a UK embassy or consulate, allow between one and 10 working days, longer for certain regions, such as Asia.
Nationals of EU countries, as well as those from Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Norway and Switzerland, with a valid national ID card will not need a passport to enter England. Those from other countries will need to ensure that their passport is valid for at least six months beyond the exit date of their stay.
Tourist Information Offices:
There are tourist information offices in every town and city in England where free maps and information on attractions are available. The regional tourist board office in London can be found at Britain Visitor Centre, 1 Lower Regent St, London SW1
Phone: +44 181 846 9000 .