Money, where to get help, and when and where to tip
You’ll find plenty of useful information here including what plug adaptor to bring, where to exchange money to useful numbers to use in an emergency.
Currency - Sterling: Notes, pounds and pence
Britain’s national currency is pound sterling (symbol: £), which is sub-divided into 100 pence (symbol: p). Notes come in denominations of £50, £20, £10 and £5, and coins in £2, £1, 50p, 20p, 10p, 5p, 2p and 1p.
Where to get your money
You can get British currency in banks, travel agents, post offices and bureaux de change (found on high streets, airports and at major railway stations).
Rates of exchange vary at different bureaux de change so it’s always worth shopping around. Travelex have branches throughout Britain, while Marks & Spencer (a popular department stores in Britain) has bureaux de change in over 100 of its stores. Many Post Offices also offer bureaux de change services.
Scotland and Northern Ireland issue their own pound sterling notes – they look different but have the same value as English notes. You can use English and Scottish money (apart from the Scottish £1 note) anywhere in the UK, but Northern Irish cash can only be used in Northern Ireland.
When and where to tip
Tipping is not expected in Britain like it is in some other countries. Workers do not have to rely on tips to live and all staff must be paid at least the National Minimum Wage. It’s not necessary to tip but it’s polite to do so if you’ve had good service. And it’s always appreciated.
Who to tip
It’s normal to tip taxi drivers and it’s customary to round the fare up to the nearest pound. If you choose to tip your taxi driver, a 10-15 percent tip is a nice gesture.
In restaurants, an optional service charge is sometimes added to your total bill (this will be noted on your bill). You can choose whether to pay it or not. If nothing is added and you are happy with the service, a standard tip of between 10-15 is well received.
In hotels, if a porter takes luggage to your room for you, it is customary to tip them approximately £2. If you order room service during your stay, you can leave a tip at your own discretion.
If you are in any doubt, a tip around of 10 percent is always be appreciated.
Credit, debit and contactless payment cards are widely used throughout Britain. Visa and Mastercard are the most common type, while American Express and Diners Club are only sometimes accepted.
Some small shops, markets and cafes may not accept card payments or may stipulate a minimum spend. Accepted cards are usually displayed in the windows so check first, or ask the owner whether they take card payments, beforehand.
You can withdraw cash from ATM (automatic teller machines) commonly called ‘cash points’ from all over Britain and Northern Ireland. Almost every bank has a cash machine while many more can be found in supermarkets, petrol stations, train stations and high streets. Some charge a small fee for cash withdrawals. You should note that foreign cards will incur a currency exchange fee to withdraw money. Check with your bank for details before you travel.
As a security measure, let your bank know you are travelling overseas.
If you run out of funds, it’s possible to have money wired from your country to the nearest British bank. Branches of Travelex and American Express will also do this for you. North American visitors can get cash dispatched through Western Union to a bank or Post Office - you’ll need your passport as proof of identity.
During the winter months (between late October and late March), Britain operates on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), which is around five hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time and 10 hours behind Sydney.
During the summer months, the clocks go forward one hour to British Summer Time (BST).
You can normally find the time easily enough, but if you’re really caught short, then you can dial the Speaking Clock on 123 (but there’s usually a charge for this).
Shop opening hours
Opening hours can vary depending on the attraction, shop or restaurant you want to visit, however many businesses are open between the core hours of 9am and 5pm, Monday to Saturday. You can usually find details of opening times on the website of each business. Larger cities tend to have later closing times and more staff than smaller places. And Sunday opening hours are reduced to six hours for shops, usually between 10 and and 6pm.
On public holidays, also known as bank holidays, banks, offices and some shops, restaurants and attractions close, and transport services are limited. Check to see if there are any public holidays planned before you begin your holiday – there tends to be all sorts of fun events lined up for this time all over Britain for you to enjoy.
Phone and internet access
While many of the iconic red telephone boxes are no longer in use, there are still some public telephones you can use across Britain. You can locate one using the Yell website. You can pay for calls using coins or a bank card, and the minimum cost is 60p.
Internet and WiFi
Most towns and cities offer some form of public access to the internet, whether that’s hotel WiFi or complimentary internet access at a café. WiFi is often available at libraries, pubs, museums and even during some longer-distance train journeys.
Britain and Northern Ireland uses the 900 or 1800 GSM system, so visitors from the United States (where the system is 800 or 1900 MHz band) will need to get a tri or quad-band set. Contact your service provider for more details.
Depending on your network provider, you may be charged for the calls you make and receive, as well as any texts you send and internet you use. It’s perhaps easier and cheaper buy a British SIM card and top it up with credit. This will allow you to use the local mobile networks, though you can only do this if your phone is not locked to a specific network.
Health and security
Dial 999 to reach the police, fire and ambulance departments in an emergency. Along coastal areas, this number will also put you in touch with Britain’s coastguard rescue service, the RNLI. Use 101 when you need to contact the police for matters that do not require an immediate response, for example your car has been stolen or you’d like to give information about a crime you have witnessed. If you would like advice on minor injuries and illnesses that aren’t life threatening, call 111, the national non-emergency medical number - there is usually a bit of a wait for a call back.
Police men and women (affectionately called bobbies) were once a common sight patrolling the streets, but less so now. They can deal with anti-social behaviour, provide directions, and information.
You can find often police stations in cities, towns and some villages.
Pharmacists in Britain are highly trained professionals who can offer advice on minor ailments and well-being as well as dispense medication where necessary.
You can find pharmacies all around Britain and Northern Ireland, including well-known brands including brands like Boots and Lloyds Pharmacy. You can also buy over-the-counter drugs as well as other healthcare and beauty products.
What to bring
The voltage in Britain is 220/240 AC, 50Hz and electrical plugs (plug type G) have three rectangular pins and take fuses of 3, 5, and 13 amps. For any electrical equipment brought into Britain, you’ll probably need an adaptor. Most hotels will have two-pronged European-style sockets for shavers only.
If you’re not fluent in English, it might be worth making sure you have a translation app on your phone. These handy apps can translate words and phrases using text, voice commands and can even translate text in photographs. Newer Apple devices come with a Translate app as standard, while Android users can download Google Translate.
What to wear
The weather in Britain can be quite temperamental, so no matter what time of year you visit, it’s a good idea to bring something warm. It’s also worth packing a waterproof jacket – it can rain a lot in some locations. If you’re planning to do a lot of walking or hiking, a good, sturdy pair of walking shoes is an essential piece of kit.
Travelling with pets
With over 50% of households owning pets, Britain and Northern Ireland is very pet friendly.
You can bring your pet cats and dogs on holiday with you to Britain if they have been microchipped, have a pet passport or health certificate and are vaccinated against rabies. The rules are different for other animals. You can find out more about bringing pets to Britain on the GOV.UK website.
Bringing goods into UK Customs
You can bring some goods into Britain without having to pay tax or duty, if they’re for your own use or you’re planning to give them as a gift. Others you will have to ‘declare’ at the airport. You can find more on the GOV.UK website.