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Essential Information

From practicalities like how to get a visa, where to change traveller's cheques and what to do to see a doctor, to fundamentals like what the time is and where you can buy a drink, here's a rundown of essential London need-to-know information.

Essential Information

Visas


Citizens of EU countries and Switzerland do not need a visa to visit or work in the UK. Citizens of the USA, Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand only require a valid passport for a visit of up to six months in duration and must show they are able to support themselves during the visit and intend to return. Citizens of most other countries will require a visa. A work permit is also required for all non-EU visitors intending to seek employment.
 
To apply for a visa or to check your status contact the British Embassy, High Commission or Consulate in your own country. The immigration department of the Home Office handles queries about immigration, visas and work permits from Commonwealth countries. 
 
List of Embassies
 
For further information contact the Immigration and Nationality Bureau, Lunar House, 40 Wellesley Road, Croydon  London, CR9 2BY, 0870 606 7766. Open Monday to Thursday from 9:00 to 16:45 | Friday from 9:00 to 16:30.
Essential Information

Health

Emergency Services

To contact the police, fire or ambulance services dial 999 free from any public or private telephone. In case of accident most major hospitals have 24-hour Accident and Emergency (A&E) departments.
 
List of A&E Departments
List of Hospitals
 
Free emergency treatment is open to:
 
- European Union nationals
- Nationals of non-EU European countries upon production of a passport
- UK residents of over 12 months
- Permanent UK residents
- Students and trainees whose course requires them to spend over 12 weeks in employment in their first year
- Students living in the UK for more than six months may be accepted as residents
- Political refugees and others who have sought refuge in the UK
 
There are no NHS charges for the following:
 
- Treatment in Accident and Emergency departments
- Certain district nursing, midwifery or health visiting
- Emergency ambulance transport
- Diagnosis and treatment of certain communicable diseases including STDs.
- Family planning services
- Compulsory psychiatric treatment
 
Everyday Health

As well as British citizens, residents (e.g. overseas students) and people with a UK work permit can all visit a General Practitioner free of charge. Anybody else can still visit a GP but will have to pay. Ask at your hotel for details of nearby doctors. 
 
NHS Direct

NHS Direct is a confidential 24-hour telephone helpline. By calling 0845 4647, callers can speak to a nurse for advice at any time of the day or night.
Essential Information

Late Night Pharmacies and Dentists


London has a handful of late-night pharmacies for those unexpected emergencies. If you're stuck try...
 
Boots, 75 Queensway, Bayswater, W2
020 7229 9266
Mon to Sat 09:00 - 22:00, Sun 10:00 - 22:00
Nearest Station: Bayswater / Queensway Tube
 

Zafash, 233-5 Old Brompton Road, SW5
020 7373 2798
Londonís only 24-hour pharmacy is open daily.
Nearest Station: Earlís Court Tube
 
Bliss Chemists, 5-6 Marble Arch, W1
020 7723 6116
Daily 9:00 - 00:00
Nearest Station: Marble Arch Tube 
 
More Chemists
 
For dental treatment check out this list of London's best, some of whom offer a 24-hour emergency service. 
 
More Dentists
Essential Information

Time


London runs on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) which is used as the basis for all 24 of the world's time zones. Each time zone is 15 degrees of longitude, the distance the sun appears to move in an hour. One Earth rotation is­ a 24-hour day, it is the basic unit for calculating time.
 
Most countries used their own capital as the zero counting point until 1884, when a conference in Washington agreed that Greenwich should be officially marked as the zero meridian.
 
The Greenwich meridian is marked on the ground in the Greenwich Observatory courtyard in south-east London. If you stand astride the line one foot will be in the Eastern Hemisphere and the other will be in the West.
 
In Europe the clocks go forward to Daylight Saving Time from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October.
Essential Information

Opening Hours


Museums and attractions are usually open from Tuesday to Sunday, or from Monday to Saturday. The majority open at 10:00 and close at 18:00 but the times may vary.  Many are now staying open late at least once a week. Almost all museums and attractions will close on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, but many are likely to stay open on other Public Holidays.
 
Shops and offices are open Monday to Friday from 09:00 to 18:00. The vast majority of shops are open on Saturdays from about 10:00 to 19:00. Shops in the centre of town are usually open on Sundays as well from about 12:00 to 17:00. Late night shopping is usually Thursdays when the major shops don't close until 20:00 or 21:00. Most supermarkets are now open until 20:00 or later in the week, and until 16:00 or 17:00 on Sundays.
Essential Information

Licensing Laws


Britainís pubs are usually open from about 11:00 to 23:00 every day, except Sunday when they are usually required to close at 22:30. In November 2005 a change in the rather antiquated licensing laws for England and Wales meant that pubs and bars could apply for late or even 24-hour licenses. Most areas of London now boast drinking establishments that are open into the early hours of the morning. Central London, in particular, is teeming with late-night drinking venues, with clubs, bars and pubs competing for custom.
 
The early closing hours are a hangover from the governmentís concern during World War I that the war effort was being hampered by drunkenness....
Essential Information

Money


The British currency is still pounds Sterling. There are 100 pence in each pound. Notes come in denominations of £5, £10, £20 and £50. Scottish bank notes are also legal tender.  Coins come in denominations of £2, £1, 50p, 20p, 10p, 5p, 2p and 1p.
 
Changing Money

Money and travellers cheques can be exchanged at banks, bureaux de change offices, hotels and post offices. Watch out for excessive rates and commission. Always ask what the commission is first and refuse to pay over two percent. Post offices usually offer free commission but their rate may not be as competitive. 
 
Banks typically open Monday to Friday 09:30 Ė 17:00 and some branches are open until midday on Saturdays. All banks are closed on public holidays, so check your dates carefully.  In many cases, it is cheaper to use a credit or debit card in a cash machine (see below) than to change money at a Bureaux de Change.
 
Bureaux de Change
 
Post Offices
 
Cash Machines

By far and away the most convenient way to get your hands on money in London is by using one of the thousands of cash machines (or ATMs as they are known in the US) found all over the city. They are situated inside and outside all high street banks, in supermarkets, shops, railway and bus stations and even Ė rather dangerously Ė in some pubs and bars. Be warned though, cash machines not situated in or outside banks often charge £1.50-£2 per transaction. There are plenty that donít.
 
They allow cash withdrawals on all major credit cards and Maestro debit cards. If you are using foreign bank cards your bank will charge you, so you should check how much this will be and the approximate exchange rate before you leave.
 
Credit Cards

Credit cards can be used in most of the cityís restaurants, shops, hotels, bars and nightclubs. Cash advances on your Visa and Mastercard can be obtained from most banks.  Many supermarkets and large stores offer cash-back services. 
 
When you are using your card in a shop you are no longer able to simply sign, you must enter your PIN number. So, it's worth familiarising yourself with your PIN before you travel.
 
Reporting Lost or Stolen Credit Cards

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