Practical Matters

There are a range of frequently asked questions on practical matters. Click on the titles below for more detail.



‘UK visas’ is a government unit that runs the UK’s visa service through British diplomatic posts overseas. Click here to check if you need a visa to enter UK and, if so, how to apply for one.

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When travelling from a non-EU country you can bring the following into the UK for your own use without paying UK tax or duty:

  • 200 cigarettes; or 100 cigarillos; or 50 cigars; or 250g of tobacco
  • 2 litres of still table wine
  • 1 litre of spirits or strong liqueurs over 22% volume; or 2 litres of fortified wine (such as port or sherry), sparkling wine or other liqueurs
  • 60cc of perfume
  • 250cc of eau de toilette
  • £145 worth of all other goods including gifts and souvenirs

If you have any more than these allowances you must declare the goods in the Red Channel or use the Red Point phone. If you do not, you are breaking the law and we may prosecute you.

You should also be aware that:

  • If you are under 17 you cannot have the tobacco and alcohol allowances.
  • You are entitled to these allowances only if you travel with the goods and do not sell them.
  • If you bring in something worth more than the limit of £145, you must pay charges on the full value, not just the value above £145.
  • You and anyone you are travelling with cannot pool your individual allowances to bring in an item worth more than the limit. You will have to pay charges on the full value of the item.
  • If you are bringing back any duty-free or tax-free goods you bought when you left the UK, these count as part of your allowance.

If you also have tobacco or alcohol goods that you bought in an EU country (other than tobacco products over the limit for imports from that country) you will not have to pay any more duty or tax on these so long as:

  • they are for your own use; and
  • you can show, if we ask you to, that you have paid duty and tax in an EU country, for example by producing the receipt.

Air Transfers. If you arrive by air and are transferring to a flight to another EU country, at the transfer point you need only declare goods in your hand baggage. You do not declare your hold baggage until you collect it at your final destination.

The same usually applies if you are transferring to a UK domestic flight. But in some cases we must clear both your hand luggage and hold baggage at the transfer airport. The airline will tell you when this is necessary.

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To protect health and the environment, Some goods are prohibited (banned completely) from being brought into the UK, and others are restricted (meaning you cannot import them without authority such as a licence):

Prohibited Goods

  • Unlicensed drugs, such as heroin, morphine, cocaine, amphetamines, barbiturates, LSD and cannabis. Though cannabis now a Class C drug in the UK, bringing it into the UK is still illegal and may result in seizure and prosecution.
  • Offensive weapons, such as flick knives, butterfly knives, push daggers, belt-buckle knives, death stars, swordsticks, knives disguised as everyday objects, knuckledusters, blowpipes, spring-operated telescopic truncheons, and some martial arts equipment.
  • Indecent and obscene material featuring children, such as books, magazines, films, videotapes, laser discs and software.
  • Pornographic material other than that which depicts the type of consensual sexual activity between adults which can be legally purchased in the UK.
  • Counterfeit and pirated goods and goods that infringe patents when brought into the UK from outside the UK (such as watches, clocks and CDs, and any goods with false marks of their origin).
  • Meat, dairy and other animal products (such as fish, shellfish, eggs and honey) from outside the EU, except:
    • powdered infant milk, infant food and special foods required for medical reasons which do not need to be refrigerated and are proprietary branded products, with packaging intact unless in current use;
    • meat, milk, eggs, honey, fish and their products for your own consumption from Andorra, Norway, San Marino, the Canary Islands and the Channel Islands;
    • meat, milk and their products for your own consumption from Faroe Islands, Greenland, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland, with a combined total weight of not more than 5kg per person;
    • from some other countries you are allowed to bring in up to 1kg of food not containing meat or milk derivatives eg fish, eggs and honey. For advice call the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), 08459 335577 or visit DEFRA.

Restricted Goods

  • Firearms, explosives and ammunition, including electric shock devices (such as stun guns) and gas canisters. For advice call Customs National Advice Service, 0845 010 9000.
  • Live animals must normally have a British import (rabies) licence and must be quarantined. But dogs or cats that meet the conditions of the Pet Passport Scheme can be imported without quarantine. Live birds, including pets, must normally have a British health import licence. For advice call DEFRA Animal Health, 020 7904 6000.
  • Endangered species, including birds and plants, whether alive or dead; also such things as fur, ivory or leather (or goods made from them) that have been taken from endangered species. For advice call DEFRA Global Wildlife, 0117 372 8749.
  • Certain plants and their produce, including trees, shrubs, potatoes, certain fruit, bulbs and seeds. For advice call DEFRA Plant Health, 08459 335577.
  • Radio transmitters such as CB radios that are not approved for use in the UK. For advice call The Radiocommunications Agency, 020 7211 0463.

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For further information and advice for bringing pets into the UK including the latest update on the Pets Travel Scheme, please click here. or phone +44 (0)870 241 1710

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100 Operator (free advice on domestic services)

155 International Operator (free advise on international services)

118 500 Directory Enquiries (can supply phone numbers for individuals and businesses in Britain if given name and location)

118 505 International Directory Enquiries (as above but for overseas individuals/businesses)

999 Emergency Services (police, fire, ambulance)

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British Summer Time in 2006. Clocks went forward an hour at 0100hrs 26 March 2006 and go back 1 hour at 0100hrs on 29 October 2006. The time for the remainder of the year is Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).

Public Holidays in England and Wales 2006 (2007 dates in ( ))

New Year's Day - 2 January (1 January 2007)
Good Friday - 14 April (6 April 2007)
Easter Monday - 17 April (9 April 2007)
May Day - 1 May (7 May 2007)
Spring Bank Holiday - 29 May (28 May 2007)
Summer Bank Holiday - 28 August (27 August 2007)
Christmas Day - 25 December (25 December 2007)
Boxing Day - 26 December (26 December 2007)

School Holidays
The main summer holiday is from mid-July to early September. Children also have two weeks holiday at Christmas and at Easter, plus a week in mid-October and in mid-February. Exact dates vary between each education authority.

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It is an offence for a licensee, or his employee or agent, in licensed premises to sell alcoholic liquor to a person under 18 or to allow a person under 18 to consume alcohol on the premises; or for any person to knowingly buy or attempt to buy alcohol for consumption by a person under the age of 18. It is also an offence for any person under the age of 18 to buy or attempt to buy alcoholic liquor or to consume alcohol on licensed premises.

There are some specific exceptions. It is not an offence to sell to or buy for a 16 or 17 year old, beer, wine, porter, cider or perry for his/her personal consumption with a table-meal in licensed premises, provided the table-meal is not taken in the bar area but in a part of the premises set apart for the service of meals. Nor is it an offence for the 16 or 17 year old to buy such alcohol for his own consumption or that of another 16 or 17 year old with a table-meal.

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All visitors residing outside of the European Union are entitled to claim back the Value Added Tax (VAT) on any purchases made. VAT within the UK is charged at 17.5%. VAT is charged on most goods bought in shops so obtaining relief from VAT can make quite a saving. VAT on services (e.g. in hotels, restaurants or car hire) cannot be reclaimed, although business travellers may be able to claim back certain elements of VAT, such as accommodation costs.

Please note that not all shops operate the Retail Export Scheme (look for the Tax Free Shopping sign displayed in shop windows) and those that do often set a minimum purchase level. It is also likely that you will be charged an administration fee by the retailer or refund company for making a refund of VAT. This will be deducted from your refund and will be either a percentage of the purchase price or a flat rate amount.

How to claim back VAT

  • Shop where you see the TAX FREE SHOPPING sign and ask for a tax refund form.
  • When leaving a country or the European Union, simply show your purchases, receipts and passport to Customs officials and have the form stamped (it is advisable to contact the airline/shipping company in advance in the case of purchases that cannot be taken as hand baggage).
  • There are several options for collecting the refund: immediate cash at a cash refund office (including airports and the Britain and London Visitor Centre, 1 Regent Street, London), the direct crediting of a chosen credit card of a UK bank account, a bank cheque sent to a chosen address or, for certain countries, a cash refund when you return home.

Note: Visitors leaving Britain for a final destination within the EU are not eligible to receive VAT refunds under the scheme. Eligible travellers buying goods under this scheme must be leaving the EU with the goods before the end of the third month following that in which the goods were purchased. For example, goods purchased on 31 March would have to be exported by 30 June.

There are now several companies operating VAT refund schemes for non-EU visitors. See, for example, Global Refund at or Premier Tax Free

For detailed information, see VAT Refunds for Visitors at

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Many tourist attractions and public spaces are accessible to wheelchair users and many more hotels and restaurants accommodate those with disabilities and their carers. Special discounts may be available at attractions, shows and concerts; phone the appropriate box office in advance. Useful contacts are:

Holiday Care/Tourism for All Holidays Ltd. Holiday Care holds a database of over 1,000 hotels, self-catering properties, bed and breakfast establishments and farms which have been inspected and assigned an access category. Holiday Care can also book your accommodation for you. Information packs on a range of services for disabled visitors are available. Tel: +44 (0)845 124 9971 (Mon & Tues 9-5; Wed to Fri 9-1) E-mail (Information): Web:

Artsline. This organisation provides information for disabled people about access to the arts in London. Their comprehensive database covers cinemas, galleries, museums, tourist attractions, theatres and other venues. Tel: +44 (0)20 7388 2227 Email: Web:

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Insurance. You are strongly advised to take out adequate insurance cover before travelling to Britain. Your travel agent will be able to suggest a suitable policy.

Inoculations. You do not need an International Certificate of Vaccination. But you should check if one is needed on re-entry into your own country.

Bringing Medicine into the UK. If you want to bring medicine into the UK, first check that it is licensed for use. Always carry medicines in a correctly labelled container as issued by the pharmacist. Otherwise, bring a letter from your doctor or a personal health record card giving details of the drug prescribed, in case it is queried by Customs or you require additional supplies. Remember that some medicines available over-the-counter in other countries may be controlled in Britain, and vice versa. For further information please contact HM Customs and Excise Advice Centre, Tel: +44 (0) 20 8929 0152; website: HM Customs and Excise

Emergency Treatment

Charges for medical treatment. Overseas visitors who become ill while in Britain are only eligible for free emergency treatment in the Accident and Emergency departments of National Health Service hospitals. If you are admitted to hospital as an in-patient, even from an accident and emergency department, or referred to an out-patient clinic, you will be asked to pay unless:

  • you are in receipt of a UK state retirement pension;
  • you are a national or resident of the European Economic Area;
  • you are a refugee or stateless person living in the European Economic Area or the dependant or survivor of such a person, regardless of your own nationality.

Nationals or residents of countries which have reciprocal health care agreements with the UK are also exempt from charges. The following countries have such agreements in place: Bulgaria, Czech and Slovak Republics, Hungary, Malta, New Zealand, Russia, former Soviet Union states - Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, former Yugoslavia - Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia, and residents of Anguilla, Australia, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Channel Islands, Falkland Islands, Isle of Man, Montserrat, Poland, Romania, St Helena, Turks and Caicos Islands.

Exemption from charges applies only to treatment needed during the visit. You are strongly advised to take out adequate insurance cover before travelling to Britain. Your travel agent will be able to suggest a suitable policy.

Obtaining treatment. If you are unwell during your visit to Britain, firstly consult a pharmacist (also known as chemists). They will advise on treatments available over-the-counter (ie, available without a doctor's prescription). Chains of pharmacists include Boots and Superdrug.

NHS walk-in centres. These offer healthcare advice, information and treatment for minor injuries and illnesses. No appointment is needed and assessments are carried out by experienced NHS nurses. They're open and available to anyone who can normally access NHS services. They are located in the main cities of Wessex. They are open to overseas visitors but a charge may be made.

Emergencies. Keep a written record on your person of any medical condition affecting you and the generic names (not just the trade names) of any medication you are taking. In the event of an emergency, dial 999 for an ambulance.

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The standard electrical voltage in Britain is 240 v AC, 50HZ. A three square pronged adapter plug and/or electric converter for appliances is required.

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Kilometres/Miles. 1.609 kilometres to every mile. 0.621 miles to every kilometre

Litres/Gallons. 4.546 litres to every gallon. 0.220 gallons to every litre

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Using cash, the minimum fee for making a domestic call is 30p. Local and national calls are charged at 30p for the first 15 minutes, then 10p for each 7 minutes & 30 seconds thereafter. Using Credit or Debit Cards the minimum fee for local and national calls is 95p (includes 75p connection charge).

The minimum fee for international calls, calls to premium rate numbers, calls to mobile phones or calls made via the Operator is £1.20p (includes a £1 connection charge).

Most payphones accept 10p, 20p, 50p & £1 coins. Some payphones accept £2 coins. Calls are charged to the nearest 10p. Only unused coins are returned so it is advisable to avoid using 50p, £1 or £2 coins for short calls. Some payphones accept 50c, 1 Euro and 2 Euro coins. Euro coins can only be used for directly dialled calls. The exchange rate is 1 Euro = 60p. Payphones operate and display in £ Sterling.

Payment options available: Payment options when using a pay phone are: cash ; Major Credit Cards (£1 connection fee); Country Calling Cards (available at many outlets worldwide)

For more information visit

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The British weather is changeable. Bring a number of layers including a waterproof coat or jacket, and an umbrella.

Autumn (September - November). Very warm days and very cold days are possible. Temperatures fluctuae between about 7 to 14 degrees Centigrade. It is likely to be much warmer in September than in November.

Winter (December - early March). Winter gives the shortest and coldest days with about 7-8 daylight hours. Temperatures fluctuate between 1 to 5 degrees Centigrade.

Spring (March - May). There can be fine sunny weather. It can also be cold and wet. Temperatures fluctuate between 6 to 11 degrees Centigrade. May can have very warm days - up to about 18 degrees Centigrade.

Summer (June - August). Most days in summer are warm, but evenings can be cool. Temperatures average around 14 - 20 degrees Centigrade, with up to around 28 degrees Centigrade on some days.

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British Monetary system. British money is based on the decimal system; there are one hundred pence to each pound sterling (£). Notes are issued to the value of £50, £20, £10 and £5. Scotland, The Channel Islands and the Isle of Man have some different coins and notes from the mainland but the monetary system is the same. Coins are issued to the value of £2, £1, 50p, 20p, 10p, 5p, 2p, and 1p.

Credit Cards. Any credit card that bears the Visa, MasterCard or American Express 'badge' will be widely accepted in Britain. Visitors with other cards should ask in advance or see if that badge is on display where they wish to use it. Please note that retailers now have the option to charge more for goods and services bought by credit card; they are obliged to display a clear indication that differentiated pricing applies.

How much money can I bring? You may bring in and take out bank notes, travellers' cheques, letters of credit etc in any currency and up to any amount. There is no restriction on the amount of travellers' cheques changed.

Bank opening hours. Generally, weekday opening hours are 0930 to 1630. Opening hours are decided by the individual banks and may differ considerably from branch to branch depending on the location. Many branches have 24-hour banking lobbies where a range of services can be obtained through machines. Visitors from overseas should check with their own bank whether they will be able to gain access to these facilities.

As a general rule, any cash machine that displays the Visa badge can be used by Plus cardholders and those displaying the MasterCard badge can be used by Cirrus cardholders)

Tipping. Tipping in the UK is not always appropriate. If you feel the service was good and you want to show your appreciation, customary practice is:

Hotels. Most hotel bills include a service charge, usually 10-12%. Where a service charge is not included in a hotel restaurant, it is customary to give 10-15% of the restaurant bill and for rooms an optional amount to room staff.

Restaurants. Some restaurant bills include a service charge; where a service charge is not included it is customary to leave a tip of 10-15% of the bill. Some restaurants now include a suggested tip in the bill total.

Taxis. 10-15% of the fare

Porterage. Discretionary

Hairdressers. Discretionary

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