London Essential Information Guide


Within the UK , the standard voltage is 230/240V AC, 50Hz. All the plugs have three square pins. All travellers who wish to recharge your phones, cameras, etc. please do 1 thing: Bring an adaptor!


In case if you need the police, fire brigade or ambulance in an emergency, dial 999. Europeans can dial 112 as usual.

Legal Matters

Experience legal difficulties in London ? Pay a visit to any one of the Citizens Advice Bureaux or contact the Community Legal Services Directory (Tel: 0845 608 1122).

Driving Offences

Drinking can be fun but don’t reach the blood-alcohol level of 35mg/100mL if you need to drive afterwards. Don’t drink before driving is the best way to stay out of troubles.


All the usual drug dangers apply and there have been several high-profile deaths associated with ecstasy, the purity of which is often dubious. Cannabis has recently been reclassified as a Class C drug, which means possessing small quantities will not result in the user being arrested. However, there are still stiff penalties for dealing and handling large amounts of the drug. No other drugs have been reassessed, and be warned that other drugs are treated much more seriously.


In general you rarely have to cough up on the spot for an offence. The exceptions are trains, the tube and buses, where people who can’t produce a valid ticket for the journey when asked to by an inspector can be fined there and then – £5 on buses and £10 on trains and the tube. No excuses are accepted.
At the time of writing, the British government was in the process of giving police new powers to impose on-the-spot fines for antisocial behaviour. These run from £40 for being drunk and disorderly, buying alcohol for under-18s or throwing fireworks in the street, to £80 for making false 999 calls or wasting police time.

Medical Services

Reciprocal arrangements with the UK allow residents of Australia, nationals of New Zealand, and residents and nationals of several other countries to receive free emergency medical treatment and subsidised dental care through the National Health Service (NHS; +44 (0)845 4647). They can use hospital emergency departments, GPs and dentists. Visitors of 12 months or longer, with the proper documentation, will receive care under the NHS by registering with a specific practice near their residence.
EU nationals can obtain free emergency treatment on presentation of a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Travel insurance, however, is advisable as it offers greater flexibility over where and how you’re treated and covers expenses for an ambulance and repatriation that won’t be picked up by the NHS.


The following hospitals have 24-hour accident and emergency departments:

Charing Cross Hospital
Tel: +44 (0) 20 8846 1234
Fulham Palace Rd W6; tube Hammersmith.

Chelsea & Westminster Hospital
Tel: +44 (0) 20 8746 8000
369 Fulham Rd SW10; tube South Kensington , then bus No 14 or 211.

Guy’s Hospital
Tel: +44 (0)20 7955 5000
St Thomas St SE1; tube London Bridge.

Homerton Hospital
Tel: +44 (0)20 8919 5555
Homerton Row E9; rail Homerton.

Royal Free Hospital
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7794 0500
Pond St NW3; tube Belsize Park.

Royal London Hospital
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7377 7000
Whitechapel Rd E1; tube Whitechapel.

University College Hospital
Tel: +44 (0)20 7387 9300;
Grafton Way WC1; tube Euston Square.

Dental Services

To find an emergency dentist phone the Dental Emergency Care Service (Tel: +44 (0)20 7955 2186) between 0845 and 1530 Monday to Friday, or call into Eastman Dental Hospital (Tel: +44 (0)20 7915 1000; 256 Gray’s Inn Rd WC1; tube King’s Cross).

Metric System

People in London use both the metric and imperial systems interchangeably. To convert kilometres to miles, multiply by 0.62; to convert metres to feet, multiply by 3.28. To convert kilos to pounds, multiply by 2.2.


Despite being a member of the EU, the UK has not signed up to the euro and has retained the pound sterling as its unit of currency. One pound sterling is made up of 100 pence (pronounced ‘pee’, colloquially). Notes come in denominations of £5, £10, £20 and £50, while coins are 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1 and £2.
The pound is a stable and generally strong currency. In summer 2003 it stood at US$1.57, A$2.46, €1.44, C$2.21 and NZ$2.75.
ATMs are a way of life in London , as the huge queues by them on Saturday nights in the West End attest. There is no area in London unserved by them, and they accept cards from any bank in the world that is tied into the Visa, MasterCard, Cirrus or Maestro systems, as well as some other more obscure ones. After a national campaign, most banks now allow their card holders to withdraw money from other banks’ ATMs without charge, and vice versa. However, those without UK high-street bank cards should be warned that there is nearly always a transaction surcharge for cash withdrawals. You should contact your bank to find out how much this is before using ATMs too freely.
You can change money in most high-street banks and some travel agent chains, as well as at the numerous bureaux de change throughout the city. Compare rates and watch for the commission that is not always mentioned. The trick is to ask how many pounds you’ll receive in all before committing – you’ll lose nothing by shopping around. Credit and debit cards are accepted almost universally in London , from restaurants and bars to shops and even some taxis. American Express and Diner’s Club are less widely used than Visa and MasterCard, while most Londoners simply live off their Switch debit cards that can also be used to get ‘cash back’ from supermarkets, which saves making a trip to an ATM if you are low on cash.


British Telecom’s (BT’s) famous red phone boxes survive in conservation areas only (notably Westminster ), while some private phone companies have painted theirs black and installed them around Piccadilly and Charing Cross . More common these days are the glass cubicles with phones that accept coins, phonecards and/or credit cards.
The following are some important telephone numbers and codes:
International dialling code 00
Local and national directory enquiries 118 500
International directory enquiries 118 505
Local and national operator 100
International operator 155
Reverse-charge/collect calls 155
Timeline (Speaking Clock) 123
Weathercall (Greater London) 09068 500 401
Be advised that some of the numbers above are charged calls. Some special phone codes worth knowing include:
Toll-free 0500/0800
Local call rate applies 0845
National call rate applies 0870
Premium rate applies (from 60p per minute) 09

Calling London

London’s area code is 020 followed by an eight-digit number beginning with 7 or 8. You only need to dial the 020 when you are calling London from elsewhere in the UK . To call London from abroad, dial your country’s international access code, then 44 (the UK ‘s country code), then 20 (dropping the initial 0) followed by the eight-digit phone number.

BT Local & National Call Rates

Local calls are charged by time alone; regional and national calls are charged by both time and distance. Daytime rates apply from 0800 to 1800 Monday to Friday; the cheap rate applies from 1800 to 0800 Monday to Friday; and the cheap weekend rate applies from midnight Friday to midnight Sunday. The last two rates offer substantial savings.
Calls to local and national directory enquiries cost 11p per minute from public phones (minimum deposit of 20p) and 40p from private phones.

International Calls and Rates

International direct dialling (IDD) calls to almost anywhere can be made from nearly all public telephones. To call someone outside the UK dial 00, then the country code, then the area code (you usually drop the initial zero if there is one) and then the number. For example, to ring Melbourne , where the area code is 03 and the code for Australia is 61, you would dial 00-61-3-1234 5678. To reach Boston , where the area code is 617 and the code for the USA is 1, dial 00-1-617-123 4567.
Direct dialling is cheaper than making a reverse-charge (collect) call through the international operator (Tel: 155). International directory enquiries (Tel: 118 505) cost a whopping £1.50 per minute from private phones.

Totally London Low Cost Phone card

Save up to 75% on mobile roaming and hotel call rates. Our prepaid phonecard is easy to use and you can even sign up before you arrive in London . Benefit from great discounts, with calls to the US and Europe from as little as 2p a minute.
Register now for a Totally London phone card.

Other Discount Call Cards

It’s also possible to undercut BT international call rates by buying a special card (usually denominated £5, £10 or £20) with a PIN that you use from any phone, even a home phone, by dialling a special access number. There are dozens of cards available – with bizarre names such as Alpha, Omega, Banana Call, First National and Swiftlink – available from newsagents and grocers. To decide which is best you really have to compare the rate each offers for the particular country you want – posters with the rates of the various companies are often displayed in shop doors or windows


Wherever you are in the world, the time on your watch is measured in relation to the time at Greenwich in London – Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). British Summer Time, the UK ‘s form of daylight-saving time, muddies the water so that even London is ahead of GMT from late March to late October.
To give you an idea, San Francisco is usually eight hours and New York five hours behind GMT, while Sydney is 10 hours ahead of GMT. Phone the international operator on 155 to find out the exact difference.

Tourist Information

London is a major travel centre, so along with information on London , tourist offices can help with England , Scotland , Wales , Ireland and most countries worldwide.

Tourist Information Centres (TICs)

London ‘s main TIC is the Britain and London Visitor Centre (BLVC).
1 Lower Regent St, SW1
Tube: Piccadilly Circus
Tel: +44 (0)8701 566 366 (08701 LONDON)
Contact by email (you will need to log-in/register with visitlondon.com)
Opening hours: Mon 9.30am-6.30pm, Tues – Fri 9am – 6.30pm, Sat (October – May) 10am-4pm, Sat (June – Sept) 9am-5pm, Sun 10am-4pm.

BLVC is operated by VisitBritain and is a one-stop shop for visitors to London and Britain . The centre provides free information, travel and destination advice and itinerary planning from the highly trained information staff in at least eight different languages. Visitors can redeem their London Pass vouchers and purchase Transport for London Travelcards . BLVC also offers a range of commercial services such as a travel agent, ticket agent, currency exchange (including VAT refunds) and a souvenir shop. Visitors to the centre can also access the Web in the internet lounge.

A few London boroughs and neighbourhoods have their own TICs. These include:

Bexley Hall Place TIC
Bourne Road, Bexley , Kent , DA5 1PQ
Tel: +44 (0)1322 558676 Fax: +44 (0)1322 522921
Website: www.bexley.gov.uk
Email: hallplaceshop@tiscali.co.uk
Open: Mon-Sat 10am-4pm, Sun 11am-4.30pm.
Winter opening times operate from 1 October: Tue-Sat 10am-4.15pm. Closed Sun-Mon.

Bexley Hall Place TIC
Bourne Road, Bexley , Kent , DA5 1PQ
Tel: +44 (0)1322 558676 Fax: +44 (0)1322 522921
Website: www.bexley.gov.uk
Email: hallplaceshop@tiscali.co.uk
Open: Mon-Sat 10am-4pm, Sun 11am-4.30pm.
Winter opening times operate from 1 October: Tue-Sat 10am-4.15pm. Closed Sun-Mon.

Croydon TIC
Croydon Clocktower, Katharine Street , Croydon , CR9 1ET
Tel: +44 (0)20 8253 1009 Fax: +44 (0)20 8253 1008
Website: www.croydononline.org
Email: tic@croydon.gov.uk
Open: Mon, Tues, Wed & Fri 9am-6pm, Thu 9.30am-6pm, Sat 9am-5pm, Sun 2pm-5pm.

Greenwich TIC Pepys House, 2 Cutty Sark Gardens , Greenwich , SE10 9LW Tel: +44 (0)870 608 2000 Fax: +44 (0)20 8853 4607 Website: www.greenwich.gov.uk Email: tic@greenwich.gov.uk Open: Daily 10am-5pm.

Harrow TIC
Civic Centre, Station Road , Harrow , HA1 2XF
Tel: +44 (0)20 8424 1102 Fax: +44 (0)20 8424 1134 Website: www.harrow.gov.uk
Email: info@harrow.gov.uk
Open: Mon-Fri 9am-5pm. Sat & Sun closed.

Hillingdon TIC
Central Library, 14-15 High Street , Uxbridge UB8 1HD
Tel: +44 (0)1895 250706 Fax: +44 (0)1895 239794
Website: www.hillingdon.gov.uk
Email: libraryinfoteam@hillingdongrid.org
Open: Mon, Tue & Thu 9.30am-8pm, Wed 9.30am-5.30pm, Fri 10am-5.30pm, Sat 9.30am-4pm.

Hounslow TIC
The Treaty Centre, High Street , Hounslow TW3 1ES
Tel: +44 (0)845 456 2929 Fax: +44 (0)845 456 2904
Website: www.hounslow.info
Email: tic@cip.org.uk
Open: Mon, Tue & Thu 9.30am-8pm, Wed, Fri & Sat 9.30am-5.30pm. Sun 11.30am-4pm.

Kingston TIC
Market House, Market Place , Kingston upon Thames , KT1 1JS
Tel: +44 (0)20 8547 5592 Fax: +44 (0)20 8547 5594
Website: www.kingston.gov.uk
Email: tourist.information@rbk.kingston.gov.uk
Open: Mon-Fri 10am-5pm, Sat 9am-4pm, Sun closed.

Lewisham TIC
Lewisham Library, 199 -201 Lewisham High Street, SE13 6LG
Tel: +44 (0)20 8297 8317 Fax: +44 (0)20 8297 9241
Website: www.lewisham.gov.uk
Email: tic@lewisham.gov.uk
Open: Mon 10am-5pm, Tue-Sat 9am-5pm, Sun closed.

Richmond TIC
Old Town Hall , Whittaker Avenue , Richmond , TW9 1TP
Tel: +44 (0)20 8940 9125 Fax: +44 (0)20 8332 0802
Website: www.visitrichmond.co.uk
Email: info@visitrichmond.co.uk
Open: Mon-Sat 10am-5pm , May-Sep Sun 10.30am-1.30pm.

Southwark TIC
Vinopolis, 1 Bank End , SE1 9BU
Tel: +44 (0)20 7357 9168 Fax +44 (0)20 7357 9042
Website: www.visitsouthwark.com
Email: tourisminfo@southwark.gov.uk
Open: Tue-Sun 10am-6pm , Mon closed.

Swanley TIC
Swanley Library & Information Centre, London Road, BR8 7AE
Tel: +44 (0)1322 614660 Fax: +44 (0)1322 666154
Email: touristinfo@swanley.org.uk
Open: Mon-Thur 9.30am-5.30pm , Fri 9.30am-6pm , Sat 9am-4pm , Sun closed.

Twickenham TIC
The Atrium, Civic Centre, York Street , Twickenham , TW1 3BZ
Tel: +44 (0)20 8891 7272 Fax: +44 (0)20 8891 7738
Website: www.visitrichmond.co.uk
Email: info@visitrichmond.co.uk
Open: Mon-Thu 9am-5.15pm , Fri 9am-5pm , Sat & Sun closed.

Waterloo TIC
Arrivals Hall, Waterloo International Terminal, SE1 7LT
Tel: +44 (0)20 7620 1550
Email: london.visitorcentre@iceplc.com
Open: Daily 8.30am-10pm approx.


Even if you’re unskilled you’ll almost certainly find work in London , but you will have to be prepared to work long hours at menial jobs for relatively low pay. The trouble is, though, that without skills it’s difficult to find a job that pays well enough to save money. You should be able to break even but will probably be better off saving in your home country.

Traditionally, unskilled visitors have worked in pubs and restaurants and as nannies. Both jobs often provide live-in accommodation, but the hours are long, the work exhausting and the pay not so good. A minimum wage (£5.15 per hour) was introduced in April 1999, but if you’re working under the table no-one’s obliged to pay you even that, although you will not have to pay taxes. Before you accept a job, make sure you’re clear about the terms and conditions, especially how many (and which) hours you will be expected to work.

Accountants, health professionals, journalists, computer programmers, lawyers, teachers, bankers and clerical workers with computer experience stand a better chance of finding well-paid work. Even so, you’ll probably need to have saved some money to tide you over while you search. Don’t forget copies of your qualifications, references (which will probably be checked) and a CV (résumé).

Teachers should contact the individual London borough councils, which have separate education departments, although some schools recruit directly. To work as a trained nurse or midwife you have to register (£56) with the United Kingdom Nursing & Midwifery Council, a long process that can take up to three months. Write to the Overseas Registration Department, UKNMC, 23 Portland Place , London W1N 4JT , or phone Tel: +44 (020) 7333 9333. If you aren’t registered then you can still work as an auxiliary nurse.

The free TNT Magazine is a good starting point for jobs and agencies aimed at travellers. For au pair and nanny work buy the quaintly titled The Lady. Also check the Evening Standard, the national newspapers and government-operated Jobcentres, which are scattered throughout London and listed under ‘Employment Services’ in the phone directory. Whatever your skills, it’s worth registering with a few temporary agencies.

If you play a musical instrument or have other artistic talents, you could try working the streets. Busking is fairly common in London . It is now legal to perform in certain train and Underground stations provided the busker secures a licence (£20 per year) from Transport for London , which requires an audition. Buskers are assigned a marked pitch, where they can perform at specified times. The borough councils are also moving to license buskers at top tourist attractions and popular areas like Covent Garden and Leicester Square . You will still be able to play elsewhere, but those areas will be off-limits to anyone without a permit.


As an official employee, you’ll find income tax and National Insurance are automatically deducted from your weekly pay packet. However, the deductions will be calculated on the assumption that you’re working for the entire financial year (which runs from 6 April to 5 April). If you don’t work as long as that, you may be eligible for a refund. Contact the Board of Inland Revenue (Tel: +44 (020) 7667 4001; Bush House, SW Wing, Strand WC2) or use one of the agencies that advertise in TNT Magazine (but check their fee or percentage charge first).

Work Permits

EU nationals don’t need a work permit to work in London but everyone else does. If the main purpose of your visit is to work, you have to be sponsored by a British company. However, if you’re a citizen of a Commonwealth country and aged between 17 and 27, you may apply for a Working Holiday Entry Certificate, which allows you to spend up to two years in the UK and take work that is ‘incidental’ to a holiday. You’re not allowed to engage in business, pursue a career or provide services as a professional sportsperson or entertainer. You must apply to your country’s British consulate or high commission before departure – Working Holiday Entry Certificates are not granted on arrival in Britain.

It is not possible to switch from being a visitor to a working holidaymaker, nor can you claim back any time spent out of the UK during the two-year period. When you apply, you must satisfy the authorities that you have the means to pay for a return or onward journey and that you will be able to maintain yourself without recourse to public funds.

If you’re a Commonwealth citizen and have a parent born in the UK , you may be eligible for a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode, which means you can live and work in Britain free of immigration control.

If you’re a Commonwealth citizen with a grandparent born in the UK , or if the grandparent was born before 31 March 1922 in what is now the Republic of Ireland , you may qualify for a UK Ancestry Employment Certificate, which means you can work in the UK full time for up to four years.

Students from the USA who are at least 18 years old and studying full time at a college or university can get a Blue Card permit allowing them to work in the UK for six months. It costs US$250 and is available through the British UniversitiesNorth America Club (BUNAC; Tel: 203 264 0901; wib@bunacusa.com; PO Box 430 ; Southbury CT 06488). Once in the UK , BUNAC can help Blue Card holders find jobs, accommodation and so on. BUNAC also runs programmes for Australians, Canadians and New Zealanders but you must apply before leaving home.

If you have any queries once you’re in the UK , contact the Home Office’s Immigration & Nationality Directorate.

Internet Cafes in London
The internet has for some time been an intergral part of most of our lives for some time now, so access to the internet is for many of us vital.

Fortunately The London Backpackers provides free internet access between 9am and 10pm , and if you require a longer session Hendon has 2 internet cafes within a 2 minute walk.

Taking a wider view of things London like any major cities contains many internet cafes, most of which are very reasonably priced. There are so many that it is not worth listing, but any tourist area will provide a selection.


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