The currency used in the UK is the Sterling pound and it’s divided into one hundred pennies. The coins in circulation are 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p and £1. Notes come in denominations of £1 (coin is now more common and notes have been discontinued in England), £5, £10, £20, £50 and £100. Some Scottish banks including the Royal Bank of Scotland, Bank of Scotland and Clydesdale Bank, do issue their own sterling notes which are legal tender throughout the UK. Occasionally, however, some places in England are reluctant to accept them.
The native language in the UK is English but many people in Wales also speak their own native language known as Welsh. Furthermore, there are also some areas in Scotland where gaelic is spoken but this generally on the remoter islands.
Although it is a relatively small country, the weather varies considerably in the different areas. The west coast is warmer than the east but it is also wetter and it gets colder as you travel north. In general, the winter months are colder and wetter and have shorter daylight hours. Spring can be very cold and doesn’t arrive until March and October is the crossing point for the winter weather. From April to September the weather is at its best and this is also the best time to visit as you are guaranteed that all the tourist attractions are open.
Greenwich Mean Time which is five hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time is the time zone used by the British.
Shops are generally open from 9.00am to 5.30/6.00pm from Monday to Saturday but some close early on either Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon in Scotland and Wales or on Wednesday or Thursday in the smaller English towns. Businesses are open from Monday to Friday between 9.00am and 5.00pm and most banks are open from Monday to Friday between 9.30am to 3.30pm. Again in smaller towns they may well close for lunch between 12.30pm and 1.30pm and close at lunch-time on Friday. The main post offices are open from Monday to Friday between 9.00am and 5.00pm. Finally, pub hours are 11.00am to 11.00pm daily. On Sundays in Scotland, however, they are usually open between 12.30pm and 2.30pm and 6.30pm and 11.00pm. It is worth noting that these hours vary widely from pub to pub and from city to city.
Electricity in the UK is 240 volts AC (50Hz)
A 17.5% sales tax (VAT) is levied on all goods and services in Britain at the moment. 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.
Citizens of EU member states are free to live and work in the UK without a visa and 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. Visitors from all other countries should contact the British Embassy in their area for entry details.
While traveller’s cheques are widely accepted in the cities, they may prove difficult to use in the more remote parts of the country, particularly for cheques worth over £20. If you heading north or to the further flung parts of the UK, 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.
To call the UK from abroad you first dial 00, followed by 44, the local area code and the local number. If you wish to call abroad from the UK again you dial 00, followed by the international calling code for your particular country and then the local number. It is worth noting that you also need to drop the first zero from the local area code for both types of call.
Thanks to the world of cinema, most people associate bright red kiosks with British public telephones. Today, however, these are very rare and have been replaced by smoked glass kiosks which will 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 offices in Britain are open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5:30pm and from 9:30am to noon on Saturdays.
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 fifteen per cent 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.
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 the UK they take place on January 1st, Good Friday, Easter Monday, the first and last Mondays in May, the 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.