Prices in England can seem high because of the exchange rate. London remains one of the most expensive cities in the world. But for every yin there's a yang, and travelers can get breaks: staying in bed-and-breakfasts, or renting a city apartment brings down lodging costs, and national museums are free.
Prices throughout this guide are given for adults. Substantially reduced fees—generally referred to as "concessions" throughout Great Britain—are almost always available for children, students, and senior citizens.
Banks have limited amounts of foreign currencies on hand, and it may take as long as a week to order. If you're planning to exchange funds before leaving home, don't wait until the last minute.
ATMs and Banks
Make sure before leaving home that your credit and debit cards have been programmed for ATM use abroad—ATMs in England and Wales accept PINs of four or fewer digits only. If you know your PIN as a word, learn the numerical equivalent, since most keypads in England show numbers only, not letters. Most ATMs are on both the Cirrus and Plus networks. ATMs are available at most main-street banks, large supermarkets such as Sainsbury's and Tesco, some Tube stops in London, and many rail stations. Major banks include Barclays, HSBC, and NatWest.
Your own bank will probably charge a fee for using ATMs abroad (unless you use your bank's British partner); the foreign bank you use may also charge a fee. Nevertheless, you'll usually get a better rate of exchange at an ATM than you will at a currency-exchange office or even when changing money in a bank. And extracting funds as you need them is a safer option than carrying around a large amount of cash.
The Discover card isn’t accepted throughout Britain. Other major credit cards, except Diners Club and American Express, are accepted virtually everywhere in Britain; however, you're expected to know and use your pin number for all transactions—even for credit cards, so it's a good idea to do some quick memorization for whichever card you intend to use in England.
Keep in mind that most European credit cards store information in microchips, rather than magnetic strips. Although some banks in the United States, such as Chase and Wells Fargo, are starting to adapt this system, you may find some places in England that can't process your credit card. It's a good idea to carry enough cash to cover small purchases.
Inform your credit-card company before you travel, especially if you're going abroad and don't travel internationally very often. Otherwise, the credit-card company might put a hold on your card owing to unusual activity. Record all your credit-card numbers in a safe place. Both MasterCard and Visa have general numbers you can call (collect if you're abroad) if your card is lost, but you're better off calling the number of your issuing bank, since MasterCard and Visa usually just transfer you to your bank; your bank's number is usually printed on your card.
If you plan to use your credit card for cash advances, you'll need to apply for a PIN at least two weeks before your trip. Although it's usually cheaper (and safer) to use a credit card abroad for large purchases (so you can cancel payments or be reimbursed if there's a problem), note that some credit-card companies and the banks that issue them add substantial percentages to all foreign transactions, whether they're in a foreign currency or not. Check on these fees before traveling.
Reporting Lost Cards
American Express (336/393–1111 collect from abroad. www.americanexpress.com.)
Diners Club (514/881–3735 collect from abroad. www.dinersclubus.com.)
MasterCard (636/722–7111 collect from abroad. www.mastercard.com.)
Visa (800/847–2911 collect from abroad. usa.visa.com.)
Currency and Exchange
The unit of currency in Great Britain is the pound sterling (£), divided into 100 pence (p). The bills (called notes in Britain) are 50, 20, 10, and 5 pounds. Coins are £2, £1, 50p, 20p, 10p, 5p, 2p, and 1p. If you’re traveling beyond England and Wales, note that Scotland and the Channel Islands have their own bills, and the Channel Islands their own coins, too. Scottish bills are accepted (often reluctantly) in the rest of Britain, but you can’t use Channel Islands currency outside the islands.
At the time of this writing, the exchange rate was about U.S. $1.52 to £1.
British post offices exchange currency with no fee, and at decent rates.
Even if a currency-exchange booth has a sign promising no commission, rest assured that there's some kind of huge, hidden fee. And as for rates, you're almost always better off getting foreign currency at an ATM or exchanging money at a bank.
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