The currency is the pound, which is divided into 100 pence. Foreign currency can be exchanged at bureaux de change and large hotels, however, better exchange rates are likely to be found at banks. Travellers cheques are accepted in all areas frequented by tourists; they are best taken in Pounds Sterling to avoid additional charges.
Cash, credit, and ATMs
Many foreign banks allow you to withdraw money from ATM machines, located in all towns, with a credit card or cash card.
The most common credit/cash cards are:
- American Express
Visitors with other cards should check with their credit card companies in advance.
Most banks in larger cities are connected to an international money network, usually CIRRUS (another international money network is plus). If you are carrying more than one credit/debit card, it is best to carry one from the Cirrus network and one from the Plus network; most cash machines honor one or the other, but not necessarily both. The network is indicated on the back of your credit/debit card. Please also write down the international phone number for your credit card company and your card number and store this information separately from your card, so you can notify the issuing company in case it gets lost or stolen.
What to pack
As always with international travel, it is recommended that you travel light. Day to day, you can dress casual for class but you will need one business outfit for program visits.
Luggage requirements for all airlines have become very strict. You should check with your particular airline regarding its luggage restrictions. All airlines are strictly enforcing luggage rules; penalties for oversized or overweight luggage can be steep. Be warned that airlines have the authority to refuse to carry luggage that does not meet their regulations.
Getting around London
London has a comprehensive bus and underground transport system. The Underground system, known as the “tube,” has 273 stations, each clearly marked with the Underground logo. Trains run every day from about 5:30 a.m. until just after midnight, but a few sections of lines have irregular service. Check when the last train leaves if you are relying on it after 11:30 p.m.
Remember: fewer trains run on Sundays.
The 12 underground lines are color-coded and maps called Journey Planners are posted at every station. Maps of the central section also are displayed in the trains. The map shows how to change lines to travel from where you are to any station on the Underground system.
There are three types of routes:
- Single-branch routes, such as the Victoria and Jubilee
- Multiple-branch routes, such as the Northern line
- Cyclical routes, such as the Circle line, which loops continuously around central London
You can purchase individual tickets for tube and bus trips. However, it is much more convenient (and economical) to purchase a weekly or monthly travelcard. Detailed pricing information is available at the “Transport for London” website. You can also order travelcards online through the Oyster system. Be sure to purchase a travelcard valid for movement between travel zones 1 and 2 (since you travel in both zones on a daily basis to move from the residence to the classroom). You can also purchase your oyster card once you reach the Queen Mary campus.
There are public pay phones on campus which you may use to make phone calls.
The international country dialing code for U.K. is +44. The outgoing code is 00, followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 001 for the U.S.). Mobile phones work throughout the country; the network operators use GSM networks, which may not be compatible with some U.S. cell phones. Internet cafes are available throughout London, and in the train stations and airports.
You might want to consider purchasing a telephone calling card. AT&T, Sprint, and MCI have direct access numbers that you can use and the call is then billed collect or to a calling card. You should obtain the access number and any necessary information from your long distance company. Be sure to check the prices for this service as they vary greatly from company to company.
It is typically in the 70s and, as in every season in England, come prepared for rain!
It is generally safe to travel throughout the U.K., although you should always be cautious while traveling.
Here are some precautions we advise:
- Take special care of your personal belongings in central London, where pick-pocketing is often reported.
- Keep your valuables securely concealed. If you carry a purse or a briefcase, never let it out of your sight—particularly in restaurants, theaters, and movie houses, where bags have been known to vanish from between the feet of the owners.
- When traveling, especially at night, travel in a group. Stick to well-lit streets with plenty of traffic. Avoid traveling the tube late at night, especially alone. If you have no companions, try to find an occupied car—preferably one with more than one group of people or take a taxi.