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General Info about London, England

Visa Requirements
Citizens of EU member states are free to live and work in the UK without a visa and visitors from the Republic of Ireland don’t even need a passport to enter the country. American, Canadian, Australian, South African and New Zealand nationals are allowed to stay for up to a period of six months without a visa, although they do need one if they plan to work. Visitors from all other countries should contact the British Embassy in their native country for full entry details.

Currency
The currency used in the UK is the Sterling Pound which is divided into 100 pennies. The coins in circulation are 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1 and £2. Notes come in denominations of £5, £10, £20, £50 and £100.

Language
The native language in London is English, although many others are spoken due to the different nationalities that inhabit the English capital.

Climate
The best months throughout the year are from May to September. These months are the best time of year. Spring lasts from Feb to April, although Feb may just as well be winter as it is cold enough. The winter months are generally cold and wet and have shorter daylight hours.

Medical Care
Medical care is free to residents of the UK. If you are from outside England, even if you are a member of an EU member state, you may be required to pay for any medical treatment.

Time Zone
Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).

Opening Hours
Shops generally open between 9.00am and 6.00pm but many now open until 7.00pm on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Up until recently, most shops closed on Sundays but this is no longer the case. Office hours are between 9.00am and 5.00pm from Monday to Friday and banks generally open at 9.30am and close at 3.30pm.

Tourist Office
Tourist offices are widespread throughout London and, as well as those that deal specifically with the city, you will also find centres which deal with information for England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales as well was most major European countries.

The principal offices in London are the British Travel Centre which is located at 12 Regent Street, Piccadilly Circus and the London Tourist Information Centre, branches of which can be found in the four terminals at Heathrow, at Gatwick, Luton and Stansted airports, Harrods, the Tower of London and at Victoria Station.

Tax
A 17.5% sales tax (VAT) is levied on all goods and services in Britain. It does not apply to books or food. By law it must be included in your hotel or restaurant bill. With regards to shopping, this tax can be claimed back on goods taken out of the country by non-nationals but not all stores participate in this 'Retail Export Scheme' so, before purchasing, look for a sign or enquire.

Currency Exchange
Traveller’s cheques are widely accepted and can also be exchanged in banks and bureau de changes. Bureau de Changes tend to open later than banks which is good to take note if you need to change foreign currency/travellers after banks close. Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted but some of the smaller hotels, restaurants and B&Bs may require cash payment.

You can use your credit card or your regular bank card to obtain money from ATMs. Remember, however, that you do pay a charge every time you withdraw cash. ATMs are available throughout the city.

Electricity
Electricity in the UK is 240 volts AC (50Hz).

Telephones
The local area code for London is 020, then the local number which is 8 digits.

If you wish to call abroad from the UK dial 00, followed by the international calling code for the country and then the local number. It is worth noting that you also need to drop the first zero from the local area code when dialling.

Thanks to the world of cinema, most people associate bright red kiosks with London public telephones. Today, however, these are very rare and have been replaced by smoked glass kiosk that usually have the British Telecom (BT) logo. Most take coins and PhoneCards. Cards can be purchased in newsagents, tourist offices, train stations and a variety of other outlets. They come in denominations of £5, £10 or £20. The cheapest time to make international calls is after 8.00pm on weekdays and all day on Saturdays and Sundays.

Post Office
Post offices in Britain are open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5:30pm and from 9:30am to 12.00pm on Saturdays.

Tipping
Tipping in the UK is not compulsory but, as with everywhere else, it is greatly appreciated. If you are happy with the service you should leave some amount, however big or small. In some restaurants a 10%-20% service charge is included in the bill. Where this is the case, you will probably feel less obliged to leave a tip. If you are paying by credit card, the final total is left blank so you can leave a gratuity if you so wish. Taxi drivers and hotel porters are usually paid a small amount for their services.

Public Holidays
It is worth noting what the public holidays are before you travel as the majority of businesses, banks and shops usually shut for the day.

In the UK they are New Years Day (January 1st), Easter (March/April), May Bank Holiday (first Monday in May), Spring Bank Holiday (last Monday in May), Summer Bank Holiday (last Monday in August), Christmas Day (December 25th) and Boxing Day (December 26th).

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