American Express -- There's an office at 69 George St., in Edinburgh (tel. 0131/718-2505); hours are Monday through Friday from 9am to 5:30pm and Saturday from 9am to 4pm. Another office is at 115 Hope St. in Glasgow, (tel. 0141/225-2905); it's open Monday to Friday from 8:30am to 5:30pm, Saturday from 9am to noon (9am-4pm June-July).
Area Codes -- The country code for Britain is 44. The area code for Edinburgh is 0131; for Glasgow, 0141.
Business Hours -- With many, many exceptions, business hours are Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm. In general, stores are open Monday to Saturday from 9am to 5:30pm. In country towns, there is usually an early closing day (often on Wed or Thurs), when the shops close at 1pm.
Drug Laws -- Great Britain is becoming increasingly severe in enforcing drug laws. People arrested for possession of even tiny quantities of marijuana have been deported, forced to pay stiff fines, or sentenced to jail for 2 to 7 years. Possession of such drugs as heroin and cocaine carries even more stringent penalties.
Drugstores -- In Britain, they're called "chemists." Every police station in the country has a list of emergency chemists. Dial "0" (zero) and ask the operator for the local police, who will give you the name of one nearest you.
Electricity -- British electricity is 240 volts AC (50 cycles), roughly twice the voltage in North America, which is 115 to 120 volts AC (60 cycles). American plugs don't fit British wall outlets. Bring suitable transformers and/or adapters -- if you plug an American appliance directly into a European electrical outlet without a transformer, you'll destroy your appliance and possibly start a fire. Tape recorders, VCRs, and other devices with motors intended to revolve at a fixed number of revolutions per minute probably won't work properly even with transformers.
Embassies & Consulates -- All embassies are in London. There's a U.S. Consulate in Edinburgh at 3 Regent Terrace (tel. 0131/556-8315; www.usembassy.org.uk/scotland), open Monday to Friday from 1 to 5:30pm. The Canadian High Commission is at 50 Lothian Rd. (tel. 0131/473-6320; http://canada.embassyhomepage.com), open Monday to Friday from 8am to 4pm. Australia has a consulate at Capital House, 2 Festival Sq. (tel. 0131/228 4771; www.uk.embassy.gov.au), open Tuesday noon to 4pm, Wednesday 1 to 4pm, and Thursday 10am to 1pm.
Emergencies -- For police, fire, or ambulance, dial tel. 999. Give your name, address, phone number, and the nature of the emergency. Misuse of the 999 service will result in a heavy fine (cardiac arrest, yes; dented fender, no).
Gasoline (Petrol) -- In Scotland, pumps dispense in liters, not gallons. Gasoline is very expensive. Expect to pay around 1£ per liter (subject to change, of course). The British Imperial gallon is about 20% more in volume than the gallon as measured in the United States. One British gallon is about 4.5 liters. Most gas stations in Scotland are self-service, and most of them also accept major credit cards.
Holidays -- The following holidays are celebrated in Scotland: New Year's (Jan 1-2), Good Friday and Easter Monday, May Day (May 1), spring bank holiday (last Mon in May), summer bank holiday (first Mon in Aug), Christmas Day (Dec 25), and Boxing Day (Dec 26).
Legal Aid -- Your consulate, embassy, or high commission will give you advice if you run into trouble. They can advise you of your rights and even provide a list of attorneys (for which you'll have to pay if services are used), but they can't interfere on your behalf in the legal processes of Great Britain. For questions about American citizens arrested abroad, including ways of getting money to them, call the Citizens Emergency Center of the Office of Special Consulate Services, in Washington, D.C. (tel. 202/647-5225). Other nationals can go to their nearest consulate or embassy.
Liquor Laws -- The legal drinking age is 18. Children 15 and under aren't allowed in pubs, except in certain rooms, and then only when accompanied by a parent or guardian. Don't drink and drive; the penalties are stiff. Basically, you can get a drink from 11am to 11pm, but this can vary widely, depending on the discretion of the local tavern owner. Certain licensed premises can have hours extended in some areas up to 4am, on a "local need" basis. Not all pubs are open on Sunday; those that are generally stay open from noon to 3pm and 7 to 10:30 or 11pm. Restaurants are allowed to serve liquor during these hours, but only to people who are dining on the premises. The law allows 30 minutes for "drinking-up time." A meal, incidentally, is defined as "substantial refreshment." And you have to eat and drink sitting down. In hotels, liquor may be served from 11am to 11pm to both guests and nonguests; after 11pm, only guests may be served.
Mail -- Post offices and sub post offices are open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5:30pm and Saturday from 9:30am to noon. British mailboxes are painted red and carry a royal coat of arms. All post offices accept parcels for mailing, provided they are wrapped properly and securely.
Newspapers & Magazines -- Each major Scottish city publishes its own newspaper. All news agents (newsstands) carry the major London papers as well. In summer, you can generally pick up a copy of the International Herald Tribune, published in Paris, along with the European editions of USA Today, Time, and Newsweek.
Police -- The best source of help and advice in emergencies is the police. For non-life-threatening situations, dial "0" (zero) and ask for the police, or 999 for emergencies. If the local police can't assist, they'll have the address of a person who can. Losses, thefts, and other crimes should be reported immediately.
Smoking -- In 2006, smoking was banned in public places, such as pubs, restaurants, workplaces, and public transportation. Ignoring the ban will cost violators 50£.
Taxes -- There's no local sales tax. However, Great Britain imposes a standard value-added tax (VAT) of 17.5%. Hotel rates and meals in restaurants are taxed 17.5%; the extra charge will show up on your bill unless otherwise stated. This can be refunded if you shop at stores that participate in the Retail Export Scheme (signs are posted in the window).
Britain imposes a departure tax of £40 on short-haul flights or £80 for longer international flights, including those to the United States. Economy-class passengers pay £10 for short-haul flights or £40 for most international flights. This tax is accounted for in your ticket.
There is also a 25% tax on gasoline ("petrol").
Telephones To call the United Kingdom from North America, dial 011 (international code), 44 (Britain's country code), the local area codes (usually three or four digits and found in every phone number we've given in this book), and the seven-digit local phone number. The local area codes found throughout this book all begin with "0"; you drop the "0" if you're calling from outside Britain, but you need to dial it along with the area code if you're calling from another city or town within Britain. For calls within the same city or town, the local number is all you need.
For directory assistance in London, dial tel. 142; for the rest of Britain, 192.
There are three types of public pay phones: those taking only coins, those accepting only phone cards (called Cardphones), and those taking phone cards and credit cards alike. At coin-operated phones, insert your coins before dialing. The minimum charge is 10p.
Phone cards are available in four values -- £2, £4, £10, and £20 -- and are reusable until the total value has expired. Cards can be purchased from newsstands and post offices. Finally, the credit-call pay phone operates on credit cards -- Access (MasterCard), Visa, American Express, and Diners Club -- and is most common at airports and large railway stations.
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. Or call through one of the following long-distance access codes: AT&T USA Direct (tel. 1800/CALL-ATT [225-5288]), Canada Direct (tel. 0800/890-016), Australia (tel. 0800/890-061), and New Zealand (tel. 0800/890-064). These are the common country codes: USA and Canada, 1; Australia, 61; New Zealand, 64; and South Africa, 27.
For calling collect or if you need an international operator, dial tel. 155.
Caller beware: Some hotels routinely add outrageous surcharges onto phone calls made from your room. Inquire before you call! It'll be a lot cheaper to use your own calling card number or to find a pay phone.
Time -- The United Kingdom follows Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), which is 5 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time, with British summertime lasting (roughly) from the end of March to the end of October. For most of the year, including summer, Britain is 5 hours ahead of the time observed in the eastern United States. Because of different daylight-saving-time practices in the two nations, there's a brief period (about a week) in autumn when Britain is only 4 hours ahead of New York, and a brief period in spring when it's 6 hours ahead.
Tipping For cab drivers, add about 10% to 15% to the fare as shown on the meter. If the driver personally unloads or loads your luggage, add 50p per bag.
Hotel porters get 75p per bag even if you have only one small suitcase. Hall porters are tipped only for special services. Maids receive £1 per day. In top-ranked hotels, the concierge often submits a separate bill, showing charges for newspapers and the like; if he or she has been particularly helpful, tip extra.
Hotels often add a service charge of 10% to 15% to bills. In smaller B&Bs, the tip isn't likely to be included. Therefore, tip for special services, such as the waiter who serves you breakfast. If several people have served you in a B&B, a 10% to 15% charge will be added to the bill and divided among the staff.
In restaurants and nightclubs, a 15% service charge is added to the bill. To that, add another 3% to 5%, depending on the quality of the service. Waiters in deluxe restaurants and clubs are accustomed to the extra 5%, which means you end up tipping 20%. If that seems excessive, remember that the initial service charge reflected in the fixed price is distributed among all the help. Sommeliers (wine stewards) get about £1 per bottle of wine served. Tipping in pubs is not common, although in cocktail bars the waiter or barmaid usually gets about £1 per round of drinks.
Barbers and hairdressers expect 10% to 15%. Tour guides expect £2, but it's not mandatory. Petrol station attendants are rarely tipped. Theater ushers also don't expect tips.
Toilets -- Public toilets are clean and often have an attendant. Hotels can be used, but they discourage nonguests. Garages (filling stations) don't always have facilities for the use of customers. There's no need to tip, except to a hotel attendant.
Water -- Tap water is considered safe to drink throughout Scotland.
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.