Know Before You Go - England
PASSPORT & VISA
United States citizens do not need a tourist visa prior to visiting the United Kingdom.
Tourists too often, and American tourists in particular, put their ignorance on full display by using the names England, Great Britain, and the UK (United Kingdom) interchangeably. These names define very different regions and people groups, and getting them wrong can be quite insulting depending on who you’re talking to. Read more here to learn about the definition of each name.
HEALTH & SAFETY
The UK is generally very safe. That said, always be aware of general crime targeted towards unassuming tourists. More recently, terrorist attacks have targeted large population centers in Europe. This has led to increased security measures, and a call for heightened awareness among travelers, but there is no need to rethink your trip.
Additionally, if you choose to enjoy a Premiere League football match, a top-flight soccer league, beware of rabid fans, also known as hooligans, who typically engage in violent behavior focused on their fandom.
METHODS OF PAYMENT
The pound sterling, the official currency of the UK, has recently been stronger than the US dollar. Prepare to spend a little more than you would back home for similar items. Credit cards are accepted nearly everywhere, though if you find yourself at a locally owned shop outside of a big city, cash is often preferable. Be aware of the various terms used for money. The term pound is most often used, but you’ll also hear the slang term quid used in its place. Both words have the same meaning, referring to the same measure of currency. Further, where fractions of the US dollar are referred to as cents, fractions of pounds are called pence.
Typically, haggling is not accepted in the established shops in the UK. However, if you're unsure, it is more polite to simply show interest in an item but tell the vendor that the price is simply too high. If they offer to come down slightly, that means the price isn't fixed, and you can begin to haggle. It can also be worthwhile to negotiate in a less dramatic way, such as asking for two items for a discounted price.
Tipping is generally expected and recommended in all of the typical circumstances, but may not be as high as is customary in the United States. For example, a tip of 10-15% is generally acceptable at a restaurant, and more may be appropriate if the service was superb.
In large cities, public transportation is fantastic. The tube, while crowded, is easy and cheap when covering large distances across London. I prefer the fresh air and views of London’s iconic double-decker buses. The key to using public transportation in London is the oyster card. These little cards can be purchased once you arrive in the airport, at which time you will also load them with a balance. Simply scan the card on the terminals in the tube station or on the bus, and again once you exit, and your fare will be deducted automatically. If your card runs out of funds, or you want to check your balance, you can refill, or “top-up”, at any kiosk, typically found at any tube station.
WHEN TO GO
Given its tendency for rainy weather, the peak and shoulder tourist seasons in the UK are more condensed than elsewhere. July and August bring the warmest and driest weather, along with the largest crowds. May and June, or September and October, can bring very pleasant temperatures, but increase your chances for a few rain showers. In any season, bring a rain jacket or umbrella, and don’t let a few showers hold you back.
Dress across all of the UK is casual, though if you plan to visit any religious sites it is advisable to wear respectful clothing, covering your shoulders and knees. And don’t forget to pack your rain jacket.
You’re visiting the English, after all, so you shouldn’t need to worry about communicating, right? It is certainly easier here than other countries, but there are many hidden differences that easily cause confusion. Here are just a few that will help you understand what you’re hearing, or ask the right questions.
American English - UK English
Sweatshirt - Jumper
Running Shoe - Trainer
Toilet - Bog
French Fries - Chips
Bus - Coach
Elevator - Lift
Football - Soccer
Trunk (of a car) - Boot
Hood (of a car) - Bonnet
Subway - Underground
Baked potato - Jacket potato
Jam - Jelly
Jello - Jelly
Bar - Pub (but serves food and often serves families with children)
Stoller - Pram
Diaper - Nappy