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UK information

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From the rolling countryside to the bustling capitals, the UK is a diverse and fascinating place to visit. Each town and city has its own unique features, which you can find out about in the individual guides, however this section is intended to provide information that applies to the UK as a whole.

There is often some confusion about what ‘UK’ actually means and you will regularly hear the term being used interchangeably with ‘Britain’ and ‘England’, but this is incorrect. The UK, meaning the United Kingdom, encompasses England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, while the term Britain only includes England, Scotland and Wales.

And although they are connected, England, Scotland and Wales are separate countries but are mostly governed by parliament in London (however devolution has meant that London parliament is offering some power back to Scotland and Wales). As for Ireland, even though it is one island, it is spilt into Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (sometimes known as Eire), with the Republic of Ireland being an entirely separate country with its own government.

So the following information applies whether you are visiting England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland unless otherwise stated.

Click on the links to jump to specific area of information...

Seasons & Weather
Money
Work & Holidays
Communications
Driving
Pets
Passport & Visa
Regional Breakdown
Safety & Specific Traveller Information
UK Profile
Getting Married

seasons & weather

Seasons image The UK has four main seasons; Winter (December to February), Spring (March to May), Summer (June to August) and Autumn (September to November) and although this gives you a rough idea of what the weather will be like at any time of the year it is by no means accurate. The UK’s weather is often the perfect example of the saying ‘four seasons in one day’ with rain, sunshine, and wind being a distinct possibility any day of the year, with snow likely anywhere from November to March. But the weather is part of the UK’s charm and so whatever time of year you decide to visit they’ll be plenty to see and do.

The best time to visit in terms of the weather is from April to September, when you are likely to see more sunshine than showers. You will also find that the temperature is better ranging from 12„C (53F) - 32„C (89„F) whereas the average temperature for the winter months is around 6„C (48„F).

Another point to remember about the British weather is that the weather is often different depending on where you are, so while it may be a sunny day in one part of the UK, it could be a dull and overcast day in another part.

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money

Money image The currency in the UK is the Pound Sterling (£) and consists of paper notes and coins. The smallest denomination of money you can use in the UK is the one pence piece (1p) and there are a hundred pence in a pound. Other coins available include the 2p, 5p, 10p 20p 50p £1 and £2 coins. There are three main paper notes, the five-pound note (£5), the ten-pound note (£10) and the twenty-pound notes (£20). There are pound notes with a higher value than this but you should be aware that some smaller shops and businesses do not accept them, and taxi drivers and bus drivers are unlikely to take kindly to being presented with one.

Currency can be bought at post offices, banks, bureaux de change and travel agencies. If you prefer to use travellers cheques for their added security then these can be purchased at banks or travel agencies, but you should be aware that they are rarely accepted as payment so they will need to be exchanged for cash before use. At some of these outlets there will also be an extra commission charge for on currency and travellers cheques, so don’t forget to take this into account when changing money.

When you need money, there’s likely to be a cash machine (ATMs) not too far away, and you can use these to withdraw cash with your credit or debit card. However you will need to check with your bank or card company that this service is available to you before you leave.

Credit Cards such as Mastercard and Visa are widely used in the UK, and Diners Card and AmEx are also accepted.

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work & holidays

Work and holidays image The majority of people in the UK work during the week. The normal working week is Monday to Friday 9:00am until 5:30pm and most businesses work to these hours. Shops too will often work to these opening hours, with most also open on a Saturday 9:00am until 5:30pm and some, open on Sundays as well (usually from 10:00am - 4:00pm or 11am - 5:00pm).

However supermarkets are generally open later than this through the week with many out of town shops open until 8:00pm and some open 24 hours a day (except on Saturday night through to Monday morning). Corner shops, Off Licences and convenience stores will also have later opening times, although these will vary from shop to shop. In addition, some shops and shopping centres do have late night opening on certain days of the week but check before you go.

The UK enjoys a number of public holidays and on these days you will find that many shops and business are closed, although certainly not all. The UK public holidays are:

Bank Holiday Date 2004 Date 2005 Date 2006
New Year’s Day January 1st January 3rd
Taken in Lieu
January 2nd
Taken in Lieu
January 2nd (Scotland Only) January 2nd January 4th
Taken in Lieu
January 3rd
Taken in Lieu
St Patrick’s Day (Northern Ireland Only) March 17th March 17th March 17th
Good Friday April 9th March 25th April 14th
Easter Monday April 12th March 28th April 17th
May Bank Holiday May 3rd May 2nd May 1st
Spring Bank Holiday May 31st May 30th May 29th
Battle of the Boyne a.k.a Orangemen's Day (Northern Ireland Only) July 12th July 12th July 12th
Summer Bank Holiday (Scotland Only) August 2nd August 1st August 25th
Summer Bank Holiday (not Scotland) August 30th August 29th August 26th
Christmas Day December 25th December 25th December 25th
Boxing Day December 26th December 26th December 26th
Substitute Bank Holiday in lieu of 26th December 27th    
Substitute Bank Holiday in lieu of 25th December 28th December 28th N/A

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communications

Communications image Post
When you’re in the UK there are many ways to keep in touch with friends and family in other parts of the world as well as in the UK.

If you want to send letters or postcards, you will probably need to go to a post office. Here you can purchase the correct amount of postage to send your mail. If you know how much postage you need, stamps can also be purchased at newsagents, supermarkets and other outlets, however if you get the postage wrong your mail may not reach its destination.

If you are sending post within the UK you will also need to buy postage before you send it. Stamps are available for first class postage, which should get your post to its destination the next day, and second class, which takes slightly longer.

For more information on sending mail try the post office website.

Telephone
Getting in touch by telephone is another way to communicate with loved ones. To call abroad from England you will need to dial 00 then your country’s three (or four) digit international access code, then the area code (without the first 0) and then the phone number. If you are unsure of the international access code you need, look in a phone directory or click here to search for international access codes.

If you are calling somewhere within the UK you will need to dial the area code and then the number. And if you are calling somewhere nearby then you may just need to dial the phone number, but if in doubt always use the area code as well. If you have problems making a call within the UK, dial 100 from any mainline phone.

There’s likely to be a phone available in your accommodation, but do check the call rates before you make you call. You can also use public phones to make your calls, these can be found dotted around towns and cities, some inside hotels, supermarkets, train stations and other public service buildings, while others can be found in booths on the street.

Most public phones only take coin payments however the newer phones will accept a credit card payment for your call. To pay for your calls you can also use a prepaid phone card, these are available for the post office as well as a variety of shops, just follow the instructions on the back of the card.

You may also be able to use your mobile phone (cell phone) to make calls from the UK, however check with your phone company that this facility is available to you before you leave. But as a general rule you should be able to use your phone in the UK, if it is from Europe or Australia but not if it is from the USA or Japan, unless it had been specially enabled (i.e. a tri-band phone).

Internet
If you prefer to communicate through electronic means then you can, via the Internet. Your accommodation may have Internet facilities, so check with them first. If not, you can use an Internet café or local library to access the Internet and send emails, the local Tourist Information Centre should be able tell you where to find them. It is likely that you will have to pay to use these facilities and cost is usually based on the amount of time you plan to spend using the computer.

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driving

Driving image To drive in the UK you will need to be at least 17 years of age and have a valid driving licence. However to hire a car you will probably need to be over 23 and have at least one year’s worth of driving experience, although this varies between car hire companies.

Probably the most important thing to remember is that in the UK people drive on the left, and you will find that the majority of cars in the UK seat the driver on the right. This may take some getting used to so do take some time to get used to it before you go on any major journeys.

There are four main rules of the road you should adhere to in the UK:
  • When driving in the UK you and your passengers must wear a seat belt;
  • Drivers should not use their mobile phone when driving (unless using a hands free kit);
  • You must not drink too much alcohol and then drive (you are only allowed to drink a small amount, but to be totally safe, do not drink and drive); and
  • You must obey the speed limits
For cars, these are:

30mph (miles per hour) in a built up area
60 mph on a single carriageway
70 mph on a Dual carriageway and
70 mph on a motorway

Some roads are equipped with speed cameras to catch people who are driving over the speed limit, while other roads are occasionally patrolled by the police. If you are caught exceeding the speed limit you will are likely to receive a fine and are at risk of receiving a ban from driving.

For the definitive guide to the rules of driving in the UK you should get a copy of the Highway Code.

The UK rarely uses toll roads, and only has one toll motorway, the M6. If you do not wish to pay the toll you can still use the M6, however paying the toll allows you to bypass the congested parts of this road. You will also find that certain bridges and tunnels require a toll to use them, these include Dartford Bridge near London, Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol, the Mersey Tunnels near Liverpool and the Humber Bridge near Hull.

Another point to remember when driving in the UK is that when a road sign indicates a distance, this is miles rather than kilometres.

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pets

Pets image If you want to bring your cat or dog to the UK with you, there are two main ways to do it. The first is to apply for an import licence from DEFRA (the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs) and then place your pet in quarantine for six months; the other way is to enrol your cat or dog in the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS). Many countries in Europe as well as the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and other countries around the world are part of this scheme, which allows you to bring in your pet into the UK without the length quarantine period.

For more information contact the take a look at DEFRA’s website.


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passport & visa

Passport and Visa image When travelling to the UK you will need to have a valid passport, or if you are travelling from Europe a national id card, which shows your identity and your nationality may be sufficient. Without this piece of documentation you are unlikely to be allowed into the UK.

The other important travel document you may need is a visa, and it is always best to check what documents you need with your local British Embassy before travelling to the UK.

However the general rules are that if you are from Australia, Canada, Hong Kong SAR, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea and the USA, you do not need a visa to visit the UK as long as you stay for less than 6 months and do not work while you are in the UK. And if you are from an EEA (European Economic Area) country, you are allowed to enter the country to visit, live or work as you wish.


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regional breakdown

Regional breakdown image The UK consists of four countries – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. England is the biggest of these, with Scotland being two-thirds its size and Wales and Northern Ireland being the two smallest countries of the four.

England has a border to the north with Scotland, and a border to the west with Wales and no physical connection with Northern Ireland, which lies to the north west of England. But is surround by the North Sea, the English Channel and the Atlantic Ocean.

Each country in the UK can be broken down into counties, Northern Ireland has six, Wales has nine, Scotland has 33 and England has 39 traditional counties.


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safety & specific traveller information

Saftey and Specific traveller information image Although the UK is a safe place for tourists to visit, you should keep in mind some standard safety precautions for example:
- keep your eye on your purse or wallet
- be extra vigilant in crowded areas
- avoid poorly lit areas on your own
- make sure you are using reputable taxi companies, car hire companies etc
- Do not leave valuables on show in your vehicle or hotel accommodation and so on..

Women travellers
Women wanting to travel in the UK should find it a welcoming country to visit. As long as the above safety precautions are followed you should feel free to explore what the UK has to offer on your own or in a group.

Gay & Lesbian travellers
Although the UK has some vibrant gay scenes around the country, for example Manchester, London and Brighton, you may find that not everywhere is as welcoming, a while you may not come across any outright hostility you may experience some disapproving looks.

Older travellers
If you are over 55 (usually over 60 for men), you may find that you are eligible for discounts on attractions, activities and travel in the UK, although you will probably need to bring some proof of age with you to get the discounts.

Disabled Travellers
From October 2004 it is illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities in the UK, according to the Disability Discrimination Act. This means that many buildings are being converted, or built with disabled people in mind. However, the UK is full of historic streets, which can be narrow or cobbled, and buildings that will take time to convert or provide alternatives, but the situation is certainly improving for tourists with disabilities. However it is a good idea to check with your accommodation and the places you want to visit, what facilities they have for disabled people before you visit.

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uk profile

UK profile image Population: Around 60 million
Capital City: London
Time: Greenwich Mean Time but for British Summer time the clocks go forward 1 hour at the end of March and go back 1 hour at the end of October.
Language: English (although Welsh is sometimes spoken in Wales)
Monarchy or Republic: Monarchy with Queen Elizabeth II as the current head of state.
Religion: The majority of the population is Christian, however there are significant proportions of the population that practice Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Islam and Judaism.
Voltage/Plugs: 240 v AC, 50HZ. A 13 amp rectangular blade plug (square with three prongs) is required for appliances. To use appliances from abroad you will need an adapter plug.
Weights and Measures: Although there is a transition towards metric weights and measures, you will find many are displayed in imperial units i.e. pints, inches, pounds & ounces, yards, gallons.
Tipping: In restaurants a tip of around 10% is expected, unless the service was particularly bad or a service charge is automatically added.
Taxi drivers will also expect a tip; again 10% should be sufficient.
Water: On the whole it is fine to drink water straight from the tap in the UK, signs will tell you when this is not appropriate.


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getting married

Getting married in the UK image To get married in the UK you will need to be at least 16 years of age. If you are over 16 but under 18 years old you will need to get a consent letter from your parents or legal guardian and if you are not a resident in the UK this will have to be witnessed by an authorised person i.e. Commissioner for Oaths, a Consular Officer or a notary member of the public such as a lawyer, Justice of the Peace, police officer and so on.

Weddings in the UK can be either civil or religious but must take place in authorised premises by an authorised person (i.e. priest, vicar, registrar and so on…).

If you are coming from abroad to get married another important point to remember is that you will probably need to fulfil a residency requirement before you can marry. The amount of time needed varies depending on which country you plan to marry in (Scotland does not have a residency requirement) and whether you plan have a civil or religious ceremony.
If you want to get married in the UK contact the registrar of the registration district in which you plan to marry for further information.


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