Know Before You Go: England

Know Before You Go: England

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Unlike the rest of Europe, the UK has refused to go over to the euro, because their currency, Great British Pounds, is so strong. They accept euros at some shops, but you get your change in pounds. You will get money out of an ATM in pounds, and you will often be charged a foreign transaction fee of about three percent by your bank, whether you get cash out or use a credit card. This dirty little secret can add up, so make sure you budget for it. Note that some credit cards have no foreign transaction fees.

If you want your debit/credit cards to work in England, or any foreign country, call your bank before you leave! Many times, we have had tour guests calling back to their home country because their transactions were declined. It’s a fraud concern for the banks, so they are all pretty careful.

Everywhere will take your credit card, but in England they also have a special protection called “chip and pin” which we really don’t use in the States — a transaction can be refused if you don’t have an embedded chip on the card as well as your pin code entered. In that case, you may have to use a credit card, so I would keep at least two on hand as well as checking with your bank in advance. As a safety precaution, many restaurants bring a machine to your table so your card is never out of your sight.


Tipping is less ubiquitous in London than it is in America, but is more customary than it is in many other places, and there are some important rules to bear in mind. Taxi drivers should be tipped by rounding up the fare slightly. In restaurants, 10% is a standard tip, and increasingly 12.5% is added on automatically as a service charge; it is not necessary to tip in addition to this. Tips are not expected in pubs but are appreciated when ordering food – just add 10% or so to the bill.

Travel Documents

Citizens of most nations, including the United States, receive a visa waiver upon arrival in Britain. You do not usually need any documents other than your passport, but you will have to complete an application form and provide personal information to customs officials. This includes the address of the place where you will be staying while in the United Kingdom. Be prepared to answer questions about your travel plans, your employment and your ability to fund your trip. There is a small chance that you will have to prove your ability to fund your visit, for example, by showing customs officials a bank statement. If you are a citizen of a nation that is not a part of the visa waiver program or if you are visiting for any reason other than tourism, you must already have an appropriate visa when you arrive. You can only apply for visas from outside the U.K.


If you plan to bring any electrical items to England, you need a plug adapter and a voltage converter. Without a voltage converter, you risk damage to your electrical gadgets or appliances because the electrical current is higher in England. The standard phone connections in England are different, too, but adapters are available. One of the best places to find these items is the airport.

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