Quick Tips for Visiting and Staying in Edinburgh
Quick Tips for Visiting and Staying in Edinburgh, Scotland
by David Wheater of Tours of Edinburgh
This article will be most useful to visitors who are new to Scotland and the UK. It will be particularly valuable to those relocating to the city, or staying for extended periods of time on a work or academic placement.
The UK uses Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) in the winter and British Summer Time (BST) in the summer. BST operates one hour ahead of GMT and is a daylight saving measure so that summer evenings have more light and mornings less. The clocks go forward one hour on the last Sunday in March at 1 a.m. and go back one hour on the last Sunday of October at 2 a.m. The phrase 'spring forward, fall (as in autumn) back' is commonly used to remember this clock change.
Scotland uses the British pound (£) in common with the rest of the UK. A single pound is comprised of 100 pence. Scotland’s biggest three banks distribute their own Scottish bank notes in denominations of £5, £10, £20, £50 and £100, which are usually accepted throughout the UK. It’s worth noting, however, that a few businesses in England, including shops, will not accept Scottish notes. It’s not a problem to use English notes in Scotland.
It’s easy to exchange money in Scotland with exchange bureaus and banks on most high streets. Debit and credit cards - Mastercard, Visa and American Express are accepted almost everywhere.
There are thousands of ATM cash machines all around Edinburgh and you can also take money out (called ‘cashback’) at most large supermarkets in the city when purchasing goods. Most ATM machines are free to use, but some charge up to £1.50 per transaction, which can be avoided by checking the machine before using it.
Value Added Tax (VAT)
VAT is a tax on the purchase price of goods and services which you pay at the time of purchase. The current rate of VAT is 20 per cent.
In shops, the price shown will nearly always include VAT. Certain items such as books, food and children’s clothes are currently excepted. Visitors from non-EU countries can sometimes get a VAT refund on goods they’ve bought in the UK; see www.gov.uk/vat-consumers/taxfree-shopping for more information.
If it’s an emergency, call 999 for an ambulance (police and the fire and rescue services can also be contacted on 999). If you need non-urgent medical advice you can telephone NHS 24, for free, on 111. This is a nationwide telephone service offering nursing advice on symptoms and medical conditions.
The city’s main hospitals are the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh at Little France, which has an Accident and Emergency (A&E) department; the Western General Hospital at Crewe Road South which has a Minor Injuries Clinic; and the Royal Hospital for Sick Children at Sciennes, which also has an Accident and Emergency department.
Black ‘Hackney’ Cabs are licensed by Edinburgh City Council and can take up to five passengers. Most have facilities for disabled passengers.
You can hail a cab from the street when its yellow 'for hire' light is switched on. If you’re taking an important journey, live outside the city, or are travelling at night, it’s advisable to book your taxi in advance over the phone. Some taxi firms only take cash, so check when booking.
Driving in Scotland
You must hold a valid driving licence and be insured to drive in the UK. Most foreign licences are valid in the UK for up to 12 months (please check before arriving). Seat belts are compulsory.
Don’t drink and drive. The drink-driving limit was reduced in Scotland on 5 December 2014. Even small amounts of alcohol can affect your ability to drive safely, so the best advice is to completely avoid alcohol when driving. To find out if you can drive in Great Britain with a non-GB driving licence, visit Gov.UK at www.gov.uk/driving-nongb-licence. (Northern Ireland has its own driving licence system but GB licences are valid there.)
There are no set rules for tipping in Scotland. For good service in restaurants and cafes, it’s customary to tip around 10 per cent. Do watch out, however, as some bars and restaurants automatically add a ‘service charge’ to your bill and you could find yourself tipping twice! Tipping in bars and pubs is not expected. It’s common to tip taxi drivers around 10 per cent if they’ve given you a safe and pleasant journey.
In a formal situation like a job interview, or when meeting new people, it is customary to introduce yourself with your full name and shake hands. In less formal situations, it’s acceptable to say "Hi", "Hello", "Good morning" or "Good afternoon", and ask, "How are you?"
Hugs and kisses are usually reserved for close friends and family. Some people may also greet you with "Alright?" This simply means "How are you?" If you hear someone say "Cheers", they are normally saying “Thank you” or “Goodbye” (unless, of course, it's during a round of drinks!).
If you’ve been invited to someone's house for the first time, it’s polite to take a gift with you such as a bottle of wine, flowers or chocolate.
If you’re ordering food in a pub, you normally have to order it and pay for it at the bar. The food will then be brought to your table. If a friend buys you a drink, it’s normally polite to buy them one back. If you’re with a larger group, they may ‘buy rounds’ which simply means everybody takes it in turn to buy drinks for the whole group.
Smoking in Public
You are not permitted to smoke in ‘enclosed public spaces’ anywhere in Scotland, which includes all restaurants, pubs, bars, hotels and workplaces. For more information about the smoking ban in Scotland visit www.clearingtheairscotland.com.
Post Office Branches, Banks and Shopping
Most Post Office branches are generally open from 9 a.m. till 5.30 p.m. weekdays and from 9 a.m. till 12.30 p.m. on Saturdays and close on Sundays (although some larger ones are now open seven days a week). Please note that there are no postal deliveries after 1 p.m. on a Saturday through until Monday morning. For more information visit www.royalmail.com.
Banks are generally open on weekdays 9 a.m. till 5 p.m. A few branches open on Saturdays and are normally closed on Sundays.
In residential areas, supermarkets are generally open from 7 a.m. till 10 p.m. and some larger stores are open 24 hours. Many of the larger supermarkets offer online shopping and home delivery (Tesco, Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury's and Waitrose), which is often free if you spend over £25.
If you’re on a tight budget, the Aldi and Lidl supermarkets offer excellent value for money. Visit www.aldi.co.uk and www.lidl.co.uk for locations in Edinburgh.
In shops you are expected to pay the price marked on the item. It is not customary to bargain for an item in shops. You can, however, bargain in some street markets and market stalls. Most supermarkets place their best offers at the end of aisles (e.g. ‘BOGOF’: buy-one-get-one-free). Joining a supermarket loyalty scheme can save you money in the long run.
People are strict about queuing in Scotland and you must wait your turn when paying for goods. Shops will charge you for bags (5p), so get into the habit of taking your own. Supermarkets sell ‘bags for life’ which are usually very sturdy.
Opening a Bank Account
There is normally no limit to the amount of money you can bring in to the UK, but there may be restrictions and controls in your own country.
If you are visiting the UK for more than six months you will almost certainly need to set up a bank account. Recurring payments like rent, mortgages, utility bills and other services are usually taken every month from your account by ‘Direct Debit’, so you should set up a bank account as soon as you arrive in Scotland.
Many banks don’t allow accounts to be opened for less than six months. If you’re staying for less than six months you may be able to pay for goods and services with a Visa or Mastercard. When opening an account, you will be asked for proof of address and identification and you may also be required to deposit money to open it.
It’s very easy to change or obtain new currency. Money can be exchanged in bureaux de change, high street banks, Post Office branches and travel agents all across the city.
Registering with a Doctor
The National Health Service (NHS) is the UK’s national healthcare system.
The NHS Scotland is publicly funded and available throughout Scotland. The NHS began in 1948 and was set up to look after people ‘from the cradle to the grave’ and to be free for all at the point of delivery.
If you have temporary permission to live in Scotland you may be able to register with a local doctor (also known as a General Practitioner: ‘GP’) and receive free treatment. You may only receive the full range of treatment in a hospital if you are a permanent resident, or have lived here for a year to qualify for it (this applies even if you’ve lived here before).
If you are taken for treatment in a hospital's accident and emergency (A&E) department, this is normally free of charge to everyone.
Find out more: Health Rights Information Scotland at www.nhsinform.co.uk/rights/publications/leaflets/ has excellent leaflets for workers and students coming to Scotland.
To find a doctor, dentist or pharmacy near you, visit NHS Scotland at www.nhs24.com/findlocal and simply enter your postcode.
Please note that eligibility requirements for treatment can change, so please check your current situation before you leave home. It is also highly desirable to take out suitable medical and travel insurance before arriving in the UK.
Registering With a Dentist
Finding and registering with a local dentist is normally very straightforward. You may also qualify to receive free treatment on the NHS. To find out more about registering with a dentist and treatment costs, visit Scottish Dental at www.scottishdental.org/?o=1922.
Places in council-run nursery schools and playgroups are normally only available to residents who have been resident long enough to pay council tax. There are also plenty of privately run nurseries and registered childminders. To find a nursery in Edinburgh, visit www.scottishnurseries.com.
Parents are required by law to enrol their school-age children (5-16 years) full-time in school. You can normally only enrol a child once they’re resident in Edinburgh. Your children must also have the required visas.
To enrol your child, you will need at least the following:
• Birth certificate
• Passport and visa
• Proof of residency (tenancy agreement or utility bill)
• Evidence of the relationship between you and your child (e.g. your name on their birth certificate).
For more information on enrolling your child in school in Scotland, visit Scotland.Gov.UK at www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2010/11/10093528/2.
Buying a Mobile Phone
Edinburgh landlines start with the area ‘STD’ code 0131. You do not need to use the 0131 STD code if you’re making a local call by landline. For example, 0131 123 4567 simply becomes 123 4567. The country code for the UK is 44. For more information visit Rampant Scotland at www.rampantscotland.com/know/blknow_phone.htm.
Mobile phone coverage is generally excellent in the major Scottish cities. It can be a bit more unreliable in the Highlands and Islands. There are lots of companies offering mobile phones and contracts including Carphone Warehouse, Three, Vodafone, o2, Apple, Virgin Media, Tesco and other major supermarkets. It’s also worth searching online for good deals.
There are normally two types of mobile phone deals:
Pay-as-you-go: with PAYG deals, you either purchase a free SIM Card to use in an existing phone, or purchase a new phone with a SIM Card which you can ‘top-up’ with credit, as and when you need it. Pay-as-you-go rates usually work out to be more expensive than monthly contracts, but they are good for people who don’t make many calls and don’t want to be tied into a formal contract.
Pay monthly: with monthly contract deals you are normally offered a free phone in return for signing up to a fixed term contract of either 12, 18 or 24 months (contracts longer than 24 months are now banned). The actual monthly payments will depend on the number of call minutes, texts and internet access you require. To qualify for a monthly contract you will need a UK bank account, proof of residency and possibly to pass the retailer's credit check. For the best deals it pays to shop around, especially amongst the larger supermarkets.
Electricity and Appliances
The electrical supply in the UK is 240 volts at 50 cycles. Plugs have three pins.
If you are bringing appliances which operate at a different voltage, you can purchase specially made adaptors/transformers. Please be very careful to ensure you buy the correct adaptor and unplug your appliances when they’re not in use. It is probably wiser and safer to purchase your own appliances in Scotland to remove any concerns about compatibility.
The legal drinking age in Scotland is 18, however, some clubs operate an ‘over 21 only’ policy. Most clubs (and a few pubs) will ask to see photographic identification to prove your age before allowing you in.
As in any city, anywhere in the world, always go out with friends, don’t leave your drinks unattended, be careful with your belongings and moderate your alcohol intake.
Scotland is a very friendly nation and very welcoming to visitors from overseas. Here are a few essential etiquette tips:
If you’re meeting someone for the first time, it’s customary (especially in formal occasions) to reach out with your right hand and shake their right hand. You should apply firm pressure and shake their hand a few times. Please, however, don’t grip so tight that you hurt their hand. It doesn’t matter who offers their hand first.
When meeting people for the first time, it’s polite to give them a warm and welcoming smile, which will normally be reciprocated.
Kisses and Embracing
Kissing and embracing is not as common in Scotland as in other countries around the world. It’s normally only reserved for family and close friends.
When meeting up and talking, people in the UK make eye contact with each other. There are no exceptions. If you try and avoid eye contact you will be seen as either excessively shy or insincere. When you are talking to someone you should maintain eye contact throughout the conversation. This will help to engender confidence and trust in you and what you are saying.
Please be aware, however, that it is considered rude to stare at people you don’t know, whether that’s on the bus or passing them in the street.
In a work or academic environment, most people are fairly informal and expect to be called by their first name. Some people in authority may prefer you to be more formal with them and you should get a cue for this from the way they introduce themselves; e.g. “Dr Smith” or “Professor McLeish”. If ever in doubt, simply ask how they would prefer to be addressed.
It’s considered polite to arrive on time both in your personal and work life. If you are running late for any reason phone your host or employer and let them know why you are running late and when you expect to arrive.
Social customs around meal times can vary significantly around the world. If you’ve been invited to dinner at someone’s house, it’s customary to let your host sit down and start their meal, before you start yours.
If the arrangement of cutlery confuses you, it’s best to start from the outside and work in. Dessert spoons will normally be placed at the top of your setting.
If you would like more of something it’s customary to wait until asked. It’s also polite to help pass bowls around so everybody gets a proper helping. It’s considered good manners to finish what’s on your plate and to compliment your host for their cooking – even if it wasn’t quite to your liking!
To indicate you’ve finished your meal, place your knife and fork together, pointing upwards, in the middle of your plate.
When everybody has finished their meal it’s polite to ask your host if you can help to clear away and wash up the dishes. Most of the time your offer will be declined, which you should just accept.
If you have strict dietary requirements, or there are foods you dislike, it’s important to let your host know as far in advance of the meal as possible.
Although smoking is fairly common in Scotland, the law prohibits smokers from smoking in public places. This includes, amongst other places, restaurants, bars, shops, cinemas, offices, hospitals, work vehicles and sports centres. For further information please visit Clearing the Air Scotland at www.clearingtheairscotland.com/index.html.
Scotland is a very safe and friendly country with low levels of crime. The following precautions are simply common sense and would apply to any busy city in the world.
Do not carry large amounts of cash and do not keep your PIN numbers next to your bank cards. Don’t carry your passport or other personal documents around with you.
Try to blend in and don’t attract unnecessary attention to yourself.
Don’t walk home alone late at night. Plan ahead for getting home. Stick to busy roads that are well lit and don’t hesitate to hail down a licensed black cab if you feel uncomfortable in any way (store the number of a licensed local taxi firm on your mobile phone).
Don’t leave your belongings unattended at any time and try to ensure someone always knows where you are going and when you are expected to arrive.
If you find yourself in an emergency situation you can call the police, the fire service or an ambulance by dialling 999. For non-emergencies you can also report a crime to your local police station on the non-emergency number, 101.
For more information about staying safe in the UK, visit the British Council Safety Guide at www.educationuk.org/global/articles/safety/.
Referring to Scotland or the UK as ‘England’
While the Scots, Welsh, Irish and the English live in close harmony together, it’s important to remember that each country has its own separate identity, history and culture.
If you refer to a Scotsman as being ‘English’, or the UK as being ‘England’ this is deeply disrespectful and may cause offence - but we will forgive you, as we're a friendly bunch.
A note about the use of the word 'Scotch'. The word 'Scotch' to describe people is now very rarely used in Scotland. It's only really used to describe specific products such as 'Scotch pies' or 'Scotch whisky', etc. In words and phrases relating to the people of Scotland, the use of 'Scots' or 'Scottish' is now generally much preferred.
If you'd like to join me on a special walking Tour of Edinburgh, you can Email me or telephone me directly on 07400 705 357.