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General Info about Northern Ireland

Currency
The currency used in Northern Ireland is the Sterling pound and it’s divided into one hundred pennies. The coins in circulation are 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1, £2 and £5 and notes are in denominations of £5, £10, £20, £50 and £100.

Language
The native language spoken is English.

Climate
It’s extremely difficult to generalise when talking about the weather in Northern Ireland. Even the professional forecasters don’t get it right most of the time. The one thing that can be said without any doubt is that the country has the most changeable climate you are ever likely to encounter. Sunny one second, torrential rain the next or blizzard like weather in one area and in the next town or village, which might be no more than a couple of kilometres away, they probably haven’t seen one snowflake.

But, because this is a general overview, here goes. The coldest months are January and February which bring widespread frost throughout the country as well as snow on occasion. Snow is not that common but when it does arrive, the entire place literally comes to a standstill. The warmest months are July and August but they are by no means hot. Average temperatures usually range between 16 and 20 degrees although recent summers have scored well into the 20s.

Basically what you need to do when packing for a trip to Northern Ireland is bring something to cover all eventualities. A rain-coat is essential, you are guaranteed to need it at least once during your stay as well as a couple of warm sweaters irregardless of the time of year you visit. Realistically the weather in Ireland is neither a reason to visit nor a reason to stay away. In fact if you have a strong sense of humour, the changeability of the weather can become quite amusing after a while - and remember you are only visiting.

Time Zone
Northern Ireland operates on Greenwich Mean Time from the last Sunday in October to the last Sunday in March. For the rest of the year it observes daylight saving time which places it one hour ahead of GMT.

Opening Hours
In general, shops are open between 9.00am and 6.00pm from Monday to Saturday. In the bigger towns and cities, however, they also open from midday until 6.00pm on Sundays as well as opening late on Thursdays until 8.00 pm or 9.00pm. It is also worth noting that some smaller country towns also take a half-day when shops close at 1.00pm but this is an age-old tradition which is not at all common anymore. Office hours are open from 9.00am until 5.00/5.30pm from Monday to Friday but many are closed during lunch time which can be for one hour any time between midday and two o’clock.

Electricity
Electrical Current is standard 220v A.C.

Tax
In Northern Ireland the value added tax (VAT) ranges from 0% on food to 17% in restaurants to 21% on certain goods including clothing and electrical equipment. For non-EU residents, however, the good news is that you can get the tax back on any item for which you pay over £200. This is only applicable in shops which display the ‘Cashback’ sticker so if you don’t see one it is worth asking. In order to avail of this incentive, you need to obtain a Europe Tax-Free Shopping Cheque when you purchase the item. When you are leaving the country, you present both the item and the cheque at customs, the officials will stamp it for you and you can then cash your cheque at any of the booths with the Tax-Free logo and Cash Refund sign. In some cases you may receive your refund by post and this can take anything between six and eight weeks to come through. All refunds are only applicable to those leaving the country within three months of purchase.

Visa Requirements
Citizens of EU member states are free to live and work in the UK without a visa. Visitors from the Republic of Ireland do not 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. All you will need is an up to date passport which is valid until after the date on which you plan to leave the country. Visitors from all other countries should contact the British Embassy in their area for entry details.

Tourist Office
The headquarters of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board is located in Belfast at 59 North Street and it opens between 9.00am and 7.00pm from Monday to Friday in July and August, 9.00am and 5.15pm on Saturdays and 12.00pm and 4.00pm on Sundays and between 9.00am and 5.15pm from Monday to Saturday at all other times of the year. There are also over thirty tourist information centres scattered throughout Northern Ireland, the majority of which are open all year round.

Currency Exchange
While traveller’s cheques are widely accepted in larger towns and cities, they may prove difficult to use in the more remote parts of the country, particularly for cheques worth over £20. If you heading to further flung destinations, you should obtain cash before you go. Banks are generally open from Monday to Friday, some also open on Saturday mornings. Bureau de Changes tend to open later than banks but these are only to be found in the larger towns.

Visa and Mastercard are also accepted but some of the smaller hotels, restaurants and B & Bs in the north will probably want cash payment. You can also use your credit card to obtain money from an ATM if you have the pin. Remember, however, that you do pay a charge every time you withdraw cash. ATMs are available throughout the country.

Telephones
The country code for the United Kingdom is 44 so if you are calling from abroad you need to dial 00, followed by 44, the local area code which has been recently changed to 028 for all of Northern Ireland and the local number. The same instructions apply when you are making an international call from within the country. It is also worth nothing that you need to drop the zero from the local area code when dialling from within Northern Ireland. A list of regional codes and International direct dialling codes can be found in the front pages of any telephone directory.

There are plenty of public telephones dotted throughout most cities and towns. You will usually find a cardphone and a coin phone side by side. Cards in 10, 20, 50 and 100 unit denominations can be purchased in Telecentres, post offices and shops. As well as the aforementioned, prepaid calling cards are now extremely popular with visitors to Northern Ireland. These can be used on any type of phone, are available in all newsagents and convenience shops and offer excellent value for international calls. It is worth shopping around, however, as there are numerous different types and the value you get for your money differs greatly from one to another.

Tipping
Quite a few restaurants and hotels in Northern Ireland are now adding a service charge of between 12 and 15% to their bill and where this is the case you should not feel obliged to leave a tip. If you feel that the service merits something extra, however, 5% is sufficient. Where the service charge is not included, a tip of between 10 and 15% is adequate. Remember at no time is tipping compulsory; it is entirely at your own discretion.

Public Holidays
It is worth noting what the public holidays are before you travel to a country as the majority of businesses, banks and shops usually shut for the day. In England they take place on January 1st, March 17th, Good Friday and Easter Monday, the first and last Monday in May, July 12th, last Monday in August and December 25th and 26th. It is a good idea to check the particular area too as certain towns and cities also shut down during special events.

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