Directory assistance: www.bt.com or [tel] 118-500. Local calls start with 020. The main toll-free prefixes are 0800, 0808, and 0500. Numbers starting with 07 are usually for mobile phones and will be charged at a higher rate. Numbers starting with 09 are premium-rate calls that will usually be very expensive (around £1.50 per min.) and may not even work from abroad.
Many attractions, hotel companies, and services have cynically changed their standard phone numbers to profit-generating ones that charge for every minute you call them. Sometimes, these are not reachable from outside the United Kingdom or Internet calling. If you find you cannot reach a number in this book, try from London, or use the website.
When dialing a number in this book from abroad, precede it with your country’s international prefix (in the U.S. and Canada, it’s 011), add the U.K.’s country code (44) and drop the first zero in the number. Many British companies are cheap and don’t offer toll-free numbers. You often can’t reach 0845, 0870, and 0871 numbers (charged at 10p a minute or less) from abroad, and when you can, you’re charged more; if you have to call one from abroad, use the Web instead to get information. 0845 numbers are charged at a local rate; 0870 at a national rate. The 0845 prefix enables companies to make a profit for every call received. As you can imagine, this profiteering leads to putting customers on hold.
To make an international call from Britain, dial the international access code (00), then the country code, then the area code, and finally the local number. If you call a toll-free number located back home, you’ll still pay international rates for it.
The majority of London’s rapidly vanishing payphones are operated by BT (British Telecom), and they are costly. The minimum charge is 60p (nothing under a 10p coin accepted, and phones don’t give change), and then you’ll be charged in 10p increments. Some payphones accept credit cards at a premium: £1.20 to start and 20p per minute for local and domestic. Full charge breakdowns by country and call duration are at British Telecom (www.payphones.bt.com/publicpayphones). Stick to payphones on the street if you can, since phones at many pubs and hotels legally jigger their phones to charge at a higher rate.
When calling from a mobile phone, dial the full number including area code.
Phonecards are often the most economical method for both international and national calls. They are available in several values, and are reusable until the total value has expired. Cards can be purchased from newsstands and small retailers citywide, and offer call rates of a few pence per minute to English-speaking countries such as Australia and the United States.
Many hotels routinely add outrageous surcharges onto phone calls made from your room. It’s usually much cheaper to purchase a phonecard.
Anytime you call a mobile phone in Britain, the fee will be higher than calling a land line, although there is no fee to receive a call or text.
Apart from renting a phone (not recommended to the casual visitor), many tourists simply enable their international roaming feature. That works, but your provider will bleed you. You’ll pay as much as $2.50 per minute, even if someone from home calls you, and data is a killer. Even package plans tend to be stingy with time and data allowances and you’ll exceed them without warning.
The best solution, if you do have an unlocked quad- or tri-band phone that uses the GSM system, is to pop into any mobile phone shop or newsstand and buy a cheap pay-as-you-talk phone number from a mobile phone store. You pay about £5 for a SIM card, which you stick in your phone, and then you buy vouchers to load your account with as much money as you think you’ll use up (no refunds). That will give you a British number, which you can e-mail to everyone back home, that charges local rates (10p–40p per min.) and a deal on data that might allow 1GB in a month for about £5—much, much cheaper than roaming. Just call your provider before you leave home to “unlock” your phone (out-of-contract and last-generation phones are better candidates), so that the British SIM card will function in it. That service is usually free. U.K. mobile providers with pay-as-you-talk deals, all comparable, include: Vodafone (www.vodafone.com), O2 (www.o2.co.uk), Lebara (www.lebara.co.uk), EE/T-Mobile (www.ee.co.uk), and Virgin Mobile (www.virginmobile.com). Annoyingly, purchased SIMs come with automatic child content locks, and gay and lesbian travelers will find some of their special interest sites blocked. To remove the censorship, go to a mobile phone store run by your SIM provider (Vodafone, EE, and O2 are easiest to find) to prove you’re an adult. Bring your hotel’s details since you must supply a U.K. address.
Even if you are not permitted to unlock your phone, you can always use its Wi-Fi features for Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp, and the like.
Internet & Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi flows freely at the majority of pubs, cafes, museums, and nearly all hotels. Usually, you will have to fill in an email address to activate it, but often it’s a data collection ploy and you can write dummy information. Virgin Media (www.virginmedia.com/wifi) provides Wi-Fi in many Tube stations but not between them. Visitors can buy passes for £2 (1 day), £5 (1 week), or £15 (1 month). Savvy smartphone users will find it cheap and practical to switch off 3G altogether and use available Wi-Fi in combination with Skype (www.skype.com) for voice calls, WhatsApp (www.whatsapp.com) for texts and voice messages, and Voxer (www.voxer.com) for voice messages.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.