London’s calling… or the whole country is. And they speak English! So what do else do you need to know before you travel there? Well… a lot! So read this quick and handy guide to make sure you have the best trip!
How long can I stay without a visa?
If you’re from an English-speaking country, no visa is required for the UK, and visitors can stay up to six months. If you’re not sure if you need a visa, check here. Please note that your passport expiration date MUST be after the date of your intended return if you are a U.S. citizen. Always check the latest regulations before you travel just to be sure. Many countries are moving over to the stricter requirement of your passport being good for at least six months after departure, so it’s best to always ensure your passport is up-to-date….
You’ll need one blank page in your passport for the entry stamp which they will add at customs.
What’s the local currency? Do they take credit cards?
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.
How do I get around?
Whether you are traveling to England alone or as part of a tour, it is likely that you will want to take a ride in one of the famous London black cabs. Just know that they have all changed over time, as have the shiny red double decker buses, though the old style is making a comeback. The cabs are now squarer and come in multiple colors. Your best bet if you are in central London for longer than a few days is to get an Oyster Card as it’s cheaper and all you have to do is swipe it to get on all the buses and the Tube (what they call the subway). If you don’t have an Oyster Card, you’ll have to buy a ticket for most of the buses or the Tube, and at many stops, carry change to do so.
Also, prepare to enjoy walking in London! It’s a very big walking/public transport city so take advantage of getting this exercise every day. Note that if you have physical issues getting around that there are many apartment buildings (flats) and even some public places (including some Tube stations) that don’t have handicapped access or elevators, though the country is modernizing slowly.
Trains to cities all over the UK are common and easy to use, and there is something truly delightful about taking a train to Bath or to Glasgow and seeing the English countryside; this can be a welcome addition to a trip.