In an emergency, dial 999 or 112 from any phone.
These calls are free of charge and are answered by an emergency service worker who will ask you what service(s) you need (police, fire, ambulance, coastguard or mountain rescue) and where you are.
You can also call 999 or 112 from any mobile phone, even if you have not activated roaming. As in all other countries, calling this number without good reason is a serious offence, with the semi-official criterion being a serious and immediate threat to life or safety. When placing an emergency call, provide as much information as possible about your location (and the location of the incident requiring attention); official emergency call boxes usually have a sign indicating this location, but it is also possible to provide the name of a street or building. In addition, the operator may ask you for additional information that will allow the emergency to be categorised in order to prioritise the response.
Non-emergency calls to the police should be directed to 101 and non-emergency calls for medical services should be directed to 111.
Telephone information (advice numbers) are offered by a number of operators, with 118 500 being British Telecom’s service, while other operators such as 118 118 offer additional services such as ‘business advice’ and information about events. Unlike in other countries, these services cannot do a reverse lookup (name from number).
The country code for the UK is 44. To call the UK from abroad, dial your international dialling code (00 from most European countries, 011 from the USA and Canada or “+” from any mobile phone) followed by the UK dialling code and the subscriber number. If the number you are calling is preceded by a 0 at the beginning of the area code, this 0 must be omitted when calling from abroad. To call another country from the UK, dial 00 followed by the foreign country code, area code and subscriber number.
When calling a UK landline number from another UK number, dial the area code (starting with 0) and the subscriber number. When calling from a landline to another landline in the same area, you can usually omit the area code, although omitting the area code is illegal in some parts of the UK.
When calling UK mobile phones from anywhere in the UK, all digits must be dialled by all callers.
If the building you are in has its own internal telephone system, the number of an outside line will be “9” (rather than the “0” that normally connects you to reception in the UK, as in many other countries).
Area codes in the UK have no set pattern, with London numbers starting with 020 (with 0208 and 0207 replacing the old 0181 and 0171).
Phone boxes are widespread, especially in train stations, airports, etc. You can also find them on the street in phone boxes, especially in the red ones, but there are different models of booths. Payphones usually accept cash (minimum 60p – BT, although some private booths may charge more); change is not returned, but you can choose to continue paying until the next call. Some newer payphones accept credit and debit cards and even allow you to send emails and surf the internet. Phone cards have largely been phased out, although a variety of prepaid phone cards can be bought from kiosks to make cheap international calls. Some BT phone boxes now accept euros.
An easier and often cheaper alternative for international calls is to use a direct dial service. These services can offer cheaper rates than the standard providers when called from a landline and do not require you to buy a card or set up an account. You simply dial a dial-in number (e.g. area code 0844 or 0871) and the revenue share of the call price is paid for the subsequent international call.
Whether you are calling someone in the UK or abroad, it can be important to know whether the phone number you are calling is a landline or mobile phone, as most operators have different rates for both modes in a given country.
Mobile phones are widely available. The main networks are Vodafone, 3, O2, T-Mobile and Orange (T-Mobile and Orange are jointly managed by EE) and all use 3G services as well as GPRS (except 3). GPRS and 3G data services are available, mostly at a price per megabyte. GPRS coverage (voice, text, basic internet) is very well developed and covers 99% of the population, 3G coverage (MMS, video, internet etc.) is also very good in the UK (depending on the network) but can be lacking in rural areas. T-Mobile and Orange are both managed by EE, so these two networks share each other’s signal.
Calls you receive on your mobile phone are free, except for roaming calls; charges are only made for calls you initiate.
There are pay-as-you-go (prepaid) tariffs. It is possible to top up the phone with a top-up card or pay cash via a top-up terminal; there is no contract and no bill. Some operators also offer packages that combine text, calls and/or data at affordable rates. These packages can be provided with your first top-up or deducted from your credit.
If you have an unlocked GSM-compatible mobile phone (most dual- and tri-band phones are GSM-compatible), you can buy a SIM card at various electrical or phone shops, supermarkets or online. Please note that prices vary widely, from £5 (with £10 call credit) at Tesco Online (available in Tesco supermarkets) to £30 (with £2.50 credit) at Vodafone (available in all mobile phone shops). If you don’t have an unlocked phone, you can often find phone and SIM deals at great prices. At the time of writing you can get a very basic mobile phone with a SIM card for £18 at Tesco, but note that it will be a locked phone and will not work with other SIM cards.
The UK has extensive mobile coverage – 99% of the mainland is covered. Many cities also have 3G coverage.
Call costs can vary significantly depending on when you call, where you call from and where you call to. Calls from hotel rooms can be extremely expensive due to additional hotel charges; check beforehand and consider using the lobby phone booths instead. Calls from phone boxes and landline phones to mobile phones can also be expensive; if you have a choice, call the other party’s landline. Beware of calls to value-added services, which can be very expensive. Text messages from mobile phones cost around 10p per message and picture or MMS messages cost around 45p (20p on some networks).
Calls between landlines are usually charged at a uniform national rate. Some providers charge a higher rate for Jersey, Alderney, Guernsey, Sark and the Isle of Man.
If the source and destination codes are the same, the area code can be omitted when calling from a landline. Note that local calls are usually not free unless the person you are staying with has a special contract with their landline provider. The following table relates the first digits dialled to the call types so that you can avoid some of the pitfalls mentioned above:
|Composite numbers||Call type|
|01||Call a landline number.|
|02||Call a landline number.|
|03xx||A non-geographic number charged at the same rate as 01 or 02.|
|0500||Free calls from landlines and public payphones; 10p to 25p/min from mobiles. *|
|070||Call a personal number. These are very expensive.|
|073xx to 075xx||Call to a mobile phone.|
|076||Call a pager. They are usually expensive.|
|077xx to 079xx||Call to a mobile phone.|
|0800 and 0808||Free calls from landlines and public payphones; 10p to 25p/min from mobiles. *|
|0842, 0843 and 0844||Variable rate from 1p to 15p/min from landlines; 20p to 45p/min from mobiles.|
|0845||From 3p to 10p/min from landlines; 15p to 35p/min from mobiles.|
|0870||From 5p to 10p/min from landlines (usable in inclusive minutes with some providers); 15p to 35p/min from mobiles.|
|0871, 0872 and 0873||Variable throughput from 10p to 20p/min from landlines; 25p to 45p/min from mobiles.|
|09xx||Calls at a special rate – up to €1.50/minute.|
Internet cafés can be found in towns and villages; check the Yellow Pages. All public libraries in the UK offer access, often called the “People’s Network”, which is usually free or inexpensive, although time is rationed. Some hotels and hostels also offer internet access via their cable TV system or Wi-Fi, though prices are quite high.
A number of dial-up internet providers do not charge – they are paid by the telephone company; the cost of local calls is time-based. GoNuts4Free is an example of this.
There are a few Wi-Fi hotspots, although purpose-built, publicly accessible wireless connections are not yet widespread outside central London. Most McDonald’s restaurants in the UK now offer free Wi-Fi. Many cafés offer paid Wi-Fi services. The maximum price for Wi-Fi access across the UK is £1 for half an hour. Many café chains charge more without offering any added value. There is also an extensive BT Wi-Fi network that costs £4 for an hour and £39 for a month.
Most of the UK is covered by UMTS/HSDPA 3G, which allows download speeds of up to 7.2 Mbit/s, and GPRS coverage is also extensive. 3G data services must be able to be transferred seamlessly over UK networks, or you can purchase a prepaid SIM card for which you can buy credit, as with mobile phones. T-Mobile shops, for example, give you a free SIM card that you can top up as often as you like. Access costs £2 per day, £7 per week. 4G LTE is also being rolled out in major UK cities. Note that there are no 3G connections in Orkney, only GPRS.
The Royal Mail has a long history. Post boxes are still the traditional red colour (although Victorian green and gold ‘Penfold’ boxes survive in some areas, and a historically important blue box in Windsor). Mail can also be dropped off at post offices.
The Royal Mail has introduced a system whereby the price of mail in the UK is determined by size and weight. Size charts can be found in all post offices. Remember to follow them when sending a large envelope, parcel or package.
Stamps for the United Kingdom (including the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man) cost 55p/64p (1st/2nd class for envelopes up to size C5 that are less than 5 mm thick and weigh less than 100 g).
Stamps for the cost of international mail :
International Economy (formerly known as Surface Mail): 90p (postcards and small letters up to 20g, for destinations outside Europe only), £2.40 for a large letter up to 100g.
International Standard (formerly known as Airmail): £1.05 (postcards and letters up to 20g for destinations within Europe), £1.33 (postcards and small letters up to 20g for destinations outside Europe). Between £2.45 and £3.30 for large letters up to 100g.
Correct prices as of November 2016.
Stamps can be bought in supermarkets, kiosks and tourist shops. First-class domestic mail usually arrives the next day; second-class mail can take several days. Signs on all letterboxes indicate the last pick-up time at that location (usually around 5.30 p.m. on weekdays and 12.00 p.m. on Saturdays) and subsequent weekday pick-ups, which are available in many places at a central letterbox or sorting office. Delivery also takes place six mornings a week, from Monday to Saturday. There is usually no mail on Sundays and public holidays.
If you want to send something heavy, or if you want to send a larger letter or parcel to the UK, you will need to have it weighed and/or measured at the post office. The postal workers are very helpful, but avoid the lunchtime rush at 12.00-13.30, when the queue is often long and waiting times are more than 30 minutes.
Another interesting lead is to investigate the period in which the letterboxes were built, as some of them may be very old. The “R” stands for Rex/Regina and the first letter is the initial of the monarch who reigned at the time of casting. For example, a box made after 1952 would bear the initials “E II R” (Elizabeth Regina II or better known as Queen Elizabeth II). Finding a box with the initials “VR” (Queen Victoria, before 1901) is possible, but quite a feat.
UK addresses generally follow the format below:
Name of the beneficiary
Street/PO Box number
Location (if required)
City (in capital letters)
Note that British postcodes are alphanumeric.