England : Fast Facts

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England : Fast Facts

Area Codes -- The country code for England and Wales is 44. The area code for London is 020; Cardiff's area code is 029.

Business Hours -- With many, many exceptions, business hours are Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm. In general, stores are open Monday through Saturday from 9am to 5:30pm. In country towns, there is usually an early closing day (often Wed or Thurs), when the shops close at 1pm.

Drugstores -- In Britain, they're called "chemists." Every police station in the country has a list of emergency chemists. Dial "0" (zero) and ask the operator for the local police, who will give you the name of one nearest you.

Electricity -- British electricity is 240 volts AC (50 cycles), roughly twice the voltage in North America, which is 115 to 120 volts AC (60 cycles). American plugs don't fit British wall outlets. Always bring suitable transformers and/or adapters -- if you plug an American appliance directly into a European electrical outlet without a transformer, you'll destroy your appliance and possibly start a fire. Tape recorders, VCRs, and other devices with motors intended to revolve at a fixed number of revolutions per minute probably won't work properly even with transformers.

Emergencies -- Dial tel. 999 for police, fire, or ambulance. Give your name, address, and telephone number and state the nature of the emergency.

Legal Aid -- The American Services section of the U.S. Consulate will give you advice if you run into trouble abroad. They can advise you of your rights and will even provide a list of attorneys (for which you'll have to pay if services are used). But they cannot interfere on your behalf in the legal processes of Great Britain. For questions about American citizens who are arrested abroad, including ways of getting money to them, telephone the Citizens Emergency Center of the Office of Special Consulate Services in Washington, D.C. (tel. 202/647-5225).

Liquor Laws -- The legal drinking age is 18. Children younger than 16 aren't allowed in pubs, except in certain rooms, and then only when accompanied by a parent or guardian. Don't drink and drive. Penalties are stiff.

Breaking decades of tradition, England in 2005 abandoned its strict, often draconian, liquor laws, allowing 24-hour alcohol sales in England and Wales. Many pubs no longer close at 11pm, which used to be "last call." Of course, it's up to the publican, but many, if they elect to do so, could stay open day and night. It's not total Nirvana for the pub owners, however. Some counties are stationing undercover officers in pubs to fine staff members who serve liquor to visibly drunk customers, and the problems of drunk drivers on the highway, policemen fear, will only increase.

Mail -- Post offices and sub-post offices are open Monday through Friday from 9am to 5:30pm and Saturday from 9:30am to noon.

Sending an airmail letter to North America costs 54p ($1.05) for 10 grams (.35 oz.), and postcards require a 54p ($1.05) stamp. British mailboxes are painted red and carry a royal coat of arms. All post offices accept parcels for mailing, provided that they are wrapped properly and securely.

Passports -- For Residents of the United States: Whether you're applying in person or by mail, you can download passport applications from the U.S. Department of State website at http://travel.state.gov. To find your regional passport office, either check the U.S. Department of State website or call the toll-free number of the National Passport Information Center (tel. 877/487-2778) for automated information.

For Residents of Canada: Passport applications are available at travel agencies throughout Canada or from the central Passport Office, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Ottawa, ON K1A 0G3 (tel. 800/567-6868; www.ppt.gc.ca).

For Residents of Ireland: You can apply for a 10-year passport at the Passport Office, Setanta Centre, Molesworth Street, Dublin 2 (tel. 01/671-1633; www.irlgov.ie/iveagh). Those younger than 18 and older than 65 must apply for a 12€ 3-year passport. You can also apply at 1A South Mall, Cork (tel. 021/494-4700) or at most main post offices.

For Residents of Australia: You can pick up an application from your local post office or any branch of Passports Australia, but you must schedule an interview at the passport office to present your application materials. Call the Australian Passport Information Service at tel. 131-232 or visit the government website at www.smarttraveler.gov.au.

For Residents of New Zealand: You can pick up a passport application at any New Zealand Passports Office or download it from their website. Contact the Passports Office at tel. 0800/225-050 in New Zealand or 04/474-8100, or log on to www.passports.govt.nz.

Police -- Dial tel. 999 if the matter is serious. Losses, thefts, and other criminal matters should be reported to the police immediately.

Safety -- Stay in well-lit areas and out of questionable neighborhoods, especially at night. In Britain, most of the crime perpetrated against tourists is pick-pocketing and mugging. These attacks usually occur in such cities as London, Birmingham, or Manchester. Most villages are safe.

Taxes -- To encourage energy conservation, the British government levies a 25% tax on gasoline (petrol). There is also a 19.5% national value-added tax (VAT) that is added to all hotel and restaurant bills and is included in the price of many items you purchase. This can be refunded if you shop at stores that participate in the Retail Export Scheme (signs are posted in the window).

In October 1994, Britain imposed a departure tax. Currently it is ţ40 ($76), but it is included in the price of your ticket.

Time -- Britain follows Greenwich Mean Time (5 hr. ahead of Eastern Standard Time), with British summertime lasting (roughly) from the end of March to the end of October. For most of the year, including summer, Britain is 5 hours ahead of the time observed in the eastern United States. Because of different daylight saving time practices in the two nations, there's a brief period (about a week) in autumn when Britain is only 4 hours ahead of New York and a brief period in spring when it's 6 hours ahead of New York.

Tipping -- For cab drivers, add about 10% to 15% to the fare on the meter. However, if the driver loads or unloads your luggage, add something extra.

In hotels, porters receive 75p ($1.45) per bag, even if you have only one small suitcase. Hall porters are tipped only for special services. Maids receive ţ1 ($1.90) per day. In top-ranking hotels, the concierge will often submit a separate bill showing charges for newspapers and other items; if he or she has been particularly helpful, tip extra.

Hotels often add a service charge of 10% to 15% to most bills. In smaller bed-and-breakfasts, the tip is not likely to be included. Therefore, tip people for special services, such as the waiter who serves you breakfast. If several people have served you in a bed-and-breakfast, you may ask that 10% to 15% be added to the bill and divided among the staff.

In both restaurants and nightclubs, a 15% service charge is added to the bill, which is distributed among all the help. To that, add another 3% to 5%, depending on the service. Waiters in deluxe restaurants and nightclubs are accustomed to the extra 5%. Sommeliers (wine stewards) get about ţ1 ($1.90) per bottle of wine served. Tipping in pubs isn't common, but in wine bars, the server usually gets about 75p ($1.45) per round of drinks.

Barbers and hairdressers expect 10% to 15%. Tour guides expect ţ2 ($3.80), though it's not mandatory. Gas station attendants are rarely tipped, and theater ushers don't expect tips.