Country guides Europe
The electrical current in the UK is 240 volts, 50Hz. Flat, three-pin plugs are standard.
English is the official language, though visitors will be astonished by the variety of regional accents.
The currency is the British Pound (GBP), which is divided into 100 pence. ATMs are available in almost all towns and Visa, MasterCard and American Express are widely accepted. Foreign currency can be exchanged at bureaux de change and large hotels, however better exchange rates are likely to be found at banks.
Tips of 10 to 15 percent are expected in restaurants and upmarket hotels in the UK if a service charge hasn't been included. Hotel service staff receive an optional amount, while taxi drivers are usually given 10 to 15 percent of the fare. Tipping bartenders isn't expected, and tipping for other services is discretionary.
There are no specific health risks associated with travel to the UK and food and water can be considered safe. The British National Health Service is excellent, while a number of countries have reciprocal health agreements with the UK including Australia, New Zealand and EU countries. Visitors from other countries such as Canada, South Africa and the United States are advised to take out comprehensive travel insurance.
It is generally safe to travel throughout the UK.
Handshaking is customary when introduced to someone new. Smoking is banned in all enclosed public spaces, including pubs, restaurants and public transport. Queue barging is frowned upon and there is strict etiquette on escalators: stand on the right, walk on the left. Visitors may find Londoners more rushed and less friendly than locals in other parts of the country, particularly on London transport where tourists are often the only people who talk.
The four countries of the United Kingdom, although culturally and historically different, generally keep to the same business practices. Politeness and punctuality are key to good business relations and initial meetings are often conducted formally and impersonally, becoming more open and social as things progress. Business cards are exchanged at introductions, and dress is formal with dark suits preferred. Business hours are generally 8am to 5pm Monday to Friday with an hour taken at lunch.
The communication style can be difficult to adjust to: the British people respect politeness to a point that often obscures their ability to say exactly what they mean. As a result, travelling business people may need to learn to 'read between the lines' and to take cues from tone of voice and facial expression. Humour is also an integral part of the British system of communication, and is used to diffuse a tense situation and to cultivate relationships. Never assume that an attempt at humour undermines a person's ability to do their job, or discredits the importance they attach to a deal or negotiation. Furthermore, don't be fooled into thinking that the British propensity for irony and sarcasm equates with an informal work environment.
Be tactful during meetings, avoid becoming emotional and illustrate your experience with the subject at-hand. Performance and initiative are looked upon favourably, whereas academic pretension is given far less credence. Meetings are often used as platforms for debate, rather than moments of confirmation, so don't be surprised if not much progress is made. Be sure to respect and appeal to all parties involved as the British have recently begun to take a far flatter approach to management and the responsibility of decision-making. And if things go well, purchase a pint or two for your clients or colleagues; though gifts are borderline inappropriate, a round of drinks will rarely be refused.
When arriving from a non-EU country, travellers can bring the following goods into the UK tax or duty free: 200 cigarettes, 100 cigarillos, 50 cigars or 250g of tobacco, 4 litres of still table wine, 16 litres of beer, 1 litre of spirits or strong liqueurs or 2 litres of fortified wine, sparkling wine or other alcoholic beverages of less than 22 per cent volume, £340 worth of all other goods including perfume and souvenirs.
When travelling from another EU country to the UK visitors do not have to pay tax or duty on goods purchased in said EU country provided tax was included in the purchase price, the items are for personal use and have been transported to the UK by the visitor, and do not exceed 3,200 cigarettes, 400 cigarillos, 200 cigars, 3kg of smoking tobacco, 110 litres of beer, 10 litres of spirits, 90 litres of wine and 20 litres of fortified wine. Note that although Gibraltar is part of the EU, it is outside the Community Customs territory and allowances for outside the EU therefore apply. In the case of Cyprus, only goods under the effective control of the Government of the Republic of Cyprus are treated as EU imports.
The international country dialling code for the UK is +44. Mobile phone coverage is extensive and free wifi is widely available in pubs and coffee shops.
Passport & Visa
If a visa is not required, travellers should hold a return or onward ticket, or proof of funds for the duration of stay. Passports must be valid for the period of intended stay in the UK; nationals of the EU require a passport valid on arrival. It is highly recommended that passports have at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources. For visitors who are visa exempt up to a maximum stay of 6 months, the period of stay will be determined by the Immigration Officer on arrival.
US travellers must hold a passport that is valid for the duration of their stay; a visa is not required for stays of up to six months.
Passports must be valid for at least the expected duration of the stay. No visa is required for stays of six months or less.
Passports must be valid for at least six months after the departure date. No visa is required for stays of six months or less.
South Africans require a valid passport and a visa for entry or transit through the UK. South African temporary passports are not recognised.
Under the Common Travel Area agreement, citizens from the UK and Ireland are not required to pass through passport control. They can travel between both countries without a valid passport if they can prove they are a valid UK or Irish national.
New Zealand nationals must hold a valid passport, but no visa is required for stays of up to 6 months.
United Kingdom Tourism Website: www.visitbritain.com999/112 (General)
Embassies / consulates in other countries
British Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 588 6500.
British High Commission, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 237 1530.
British High Commission, Canberra, Australia: +61 2 6270 6666.
British High Commission, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 421 7500.
British Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 205 3700.
British High Commission, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 4 924 2888.
Embassies / consulates in United Kingdom
United States Embassy, London: +44 20 7499 9000.
Canadian High Commission, London: +44 20 7004 6000.
Australian High Commission, London: +44 20 7379 4334.
South African High Commission, London: +44 20 7451 7299.
Irish Embassy, London: +44 20 7235 2171.
New Zealand High Commission, London: +44 20 7930 8422.