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United Kingdom Travel Information

The Basics

Time

GMT (GMT +1, Apr - Oct)

Electricity

The electrical current in the UK is 230 volts, 50Hz. Flat three-pin plugs are standard.

Language

English is the official language, though visitors will be astonished by the variety of regional accents.

Travel Health

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; emergency treatment is free to visitors, but charges are made for routine medical care. A number of countries have reciprocal health agreements with the UK including Australia, New Zealand and EU countries. Visitors from other countries (including Canada, South Africa and the US) are advised to take out comprehensive medical insurance.

Tipping

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. Taxi drivers are usually given 10 to 15 percent of the fare. Tipping for other services is discretionary.

Safety Information

It is generally safe to travel throughout the UK, although travellers are advised to take special care of their personal belongings in central London, where pick-pocketing is often reported and muggings are fairly common. Northern Ireland still occasionally experiences unrest in the form of protests and riots, but tourists are not targeted and so long as political marches are avoided there should be no risk.

There is some risk of international terrorism in the UK and security has been increased at transport hubs throughout the country. Security at all UK airports has been tightened and increased restrictions on hand luggage have been introduced.

Local Customs

Handshaking is customary when introduced to someone new. Smoking is banned in all enclosed public spaces, including pubs and restaurants, and on public transport. The ban is also in effect in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. There is strict etiquette on escalators: stand on the right, walk on the left. Visitors may find Londoners more rushed and less friendly than Brits in other parts of the country, particularly on London transport, where tourists are generally the only people who talk.

Business

The four countries of the United Kingdom, although culturally and historically different, generally keep to the same practices in business. 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. 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 businessmen 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.

During meetings, be tactful, 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.

Communications

The international country dialling code for UK is +44. The outgoing code is 00, or 048 for Northern Ireland, followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 001 for the United States). There are a wide range of city/area codes in use. Mobile phones work throughout the country; the network operators use GSM 1800 networks, which may not be compatible with some dual-band US cell phones. Internet cafes are available in all major towns and cities, train stations and airports.

Duty Free

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 3200 cigarettes, 400 cigarillos, 200 cigars, 3 kg 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.

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