Plan your Visit
Weights and Measures
Wales is officially metric, in line with the rest of Britain and Europe. Imperial measures are still used for road distances, which are measured in miles.
Imperial pints and gallons are 20 per cent larger that US measures.
During the winter months Wales is on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), which is 5 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time and 10 hours behind Sydney. From late March until late October, the clocks go forward one hour to British Summer Time (BST).
You can check the correct time by contacting the Speaking Clock service dialling 123.
Stamps can be bought at many outlets, including supermarkets and petrol (gas) stations. When writing to a Welsh address, always include the postcode, which can be obtained from Royal Mail. Within Wales, letters and postcards can be sent either first or second class; second-class mail is cheaper and takes a day or two longer. The price of postage depends on the size and weight of your letter.
Main post office branches offer a variety of mail services. In more isolated areas, as well as in larger towns and cities, there are often small branches in newsagents, grocery stores and general information centres. In many villages, the post office is also the only shop.
Post boxes can be found throughout cities, towns and villages in Wales. They may be either freestanding boxes or wall safes, but they are always painted bright red (some special boxes are Gold which means that an Olympic winner is from that area). Collections are usually made twice a day during weekdays (less often on Saturdays and Sundays). The last collection time of the day is marked on the box.
Air letters go by Royal Mail’s airmail service anywhere in the world; the cost depends on the destination. On average, it takes four to six days for destinations outside Europe.
Opening hours in Wales are generally Monday-Saturday from 09:00 until 17.30. Some smaller shops will close on Sundays but in the larger towns and cities you can expect most shops to be open. In Cardiff shops are often open until 20.00 and Mon-Sat - so you have lots of time to hit the stores!
Of course this varies, but the many museums in Wales are open seven days a week until 17:00 and most will remain open on public holidays. Always check online to see when the opening times are.
On public holidays, also known as bank holidays in Wales, banks, offices and some shops, restaurants and attractions close, and transport networks may run a limited number of services. Check to see if any public holidays are occurring before you begin your holiday, there are often fun events around the country that you can enjoy if there are.
Cell phones (known as mobile phones in Wales)
In the US cell phone services are typically CDMA type (Verizon and Sprint), or TDMA or iDEN. In Wales the wireless service is GSM, you will therefore need a GSM cell phone. Some companies in the US do operate a GSM network and so you may already have a world phone, check with your provider first. Your calls will be charged at a premium when using them abroad.
You can purchase a SIM card in Wales which you can top-up with credit. This will also allow you to use the local networks, however you can only do this if your handset is not locked to one network.
You can purchase a GSM phone SIM card in Wales which can be used in the rest of the UK too (England, Scotland and N. Ireland).
Many towns and cities in Wales offer some form of public access to the Internet. If you're staying in a hotel they may include Internet facilities as part of their service, and free Internet access is often available at libraries. Many pubs, cafés and museums also offer free Wi-Fi Internet access.
The voltage in Wales is 220/240AC, 50Hz. Electrical plugs have three rectangular pins and take fuses if 3,5 and 13 amps. You will need an adapter plug to use any electrical items brought from home.
Health and Personal Security
There are police stations across cities, towns and villages that you can go to should you need to.
Unlike in many other countries, the police force in Wales and Britain does not carry guns but there are specially trained Firearms Officers.
If you are lost, ask a policeman or woman – they are courteous, approachable and helpful. Traffic wardens may also be able to help you with directions. If you have been the victim of a robbery or an assault, contact the police by dialling 999 or 101 for non-emergencies. In many towns and cities there are police community support officers, who patrol the streets working alongside the police. They are able to deal with anti-social behaviour, can offer advice on crime prevention and can also help you with directions and information.
Lost and Stolen Property
If you lose something or have anything stolen, you need to report it to the nearest police station as soon as you are able.
A written report from the police is required for you to make a claim on your insurance for theft. There are lost property offices in the main rail and bus stations.
Pharmacists in the UK are highly trained professionals who should be able to assist you in most instances. You can find many community pharmacies in towns and villages in and around the Wales where pharmacists will be able to dispense medication, dispose of out-of-date medication and offer advice on minor ailments and wellbeing.
If you're feeling unwell a pharmacist will be able to help you decide whether or not you need to see a healthcare professional. You can buy a wide range of over-the-counter drugs in Wales. Many medicines, however, are available only with a doctor’s prescription so if you are likely to need medication, either bring it with you or ask your usual doctor to write out the name of the drug you need. You will be charged a cost for the drug.
Some pharmacies are open until midnight. You can call 111 the non-emergency number, a 24-hour helpline or, for emergencies, go to a hospital A&E (accident and emergency also known as casualty). A list of local services in Wales is available online.
In an Emergency
You can dial 999 to reach the police, fire and ambulance departments. Along the coastline of Wales you can also dial 999 to get in touch with the voluntary coastguard rescue service, The Royal National Lifeboat Institution.
Calls are free from any public or private phone, calls should only be made to the 999 service in real emergencies.
VAT and Tax-free Shopping
VAT is a 20% sales tax charged on most goods and services sold in Wales and Britain – exceptions are food, books and children’s clothes.
Visitors from outside the EU who stay less than three months may be eligible to claim this tax back.
When shopping, ask the retailer for a VAT 407 form. It’s important to note not all shops will participate in the scheme and some may have a minimum purchase price (often around £75). They may ask for proof you are eligible so bring a passport or national identity card.
To get your money back, show the VAT form, the goods and your receipts to customs at the point when you depart. Customs will approve your form if everything is in order. You then take the approved form to get paid.
For more information, visit the official customs website here.
Tipping is not expected in Wales the way it is in the US and Canada. Workers don't officially have to rely on their tips to live and all staff in Wales must be paid at least the National Minimum Wage. Employers are also banned from topping up wages with tips from customers. Although it's not necessary to tip, it's always greatly appreciated and will be greeted with that endearing British politeness.
Tipping taxi drivers: In Wales it is quite normal to tip taxi drivers and it's customary to round the total fare up to the nearest pound. If you choose to tip your taxi driver because they help you with your luggage or have delivered excellent service, a 10-15 per cent tip is a nice gesture.
Tipping when you order food: Although you don't need to tip a delivery person when they drop off your food, an extra pound or two will always be appreciated. If you're in a restaurant a service charge is sometimes added to your total bill, which you are expected to pay. If nothing is added and you are happy with the service you've received, a tip of around 10-15 per cent is standard. Many restaurants automatically add a service charge to the bill, so do check before leaving a tip.
Tipping while staying at a hotel: If a porter takes luggage to your room for you, it is customary to tip them approximately £2. If you decide to order room service you can leave a tip at your own discretion.
Wales’s currency is the pound sterling (£), which is divided into 100 pence (p).
There are lots of bureaux de change in Wales – often located inside:
• travel agents
• Post Offices
• major train stations.
It's worth shopping around to get the best deal and remember to ask how much commission is charged.
Credit and Debit Cards
Credit cards, debit cards and contactless payment types are widely used throughout Wales and are the easiest way to pay for things. Visa and Mastercard are the most common type of cards, while American Express and Diners Club cards are less commonly accepted but still facilitated.
Some small shops, guesthouses, markets and cafés may not accept cards or may have a minimum spend (usually around £5), so always check in advance of your purchase. Cards that are accepted are usually displayed in the windows so you can check before you enter.
You can use ATM machines in Wales to withdraw cash, you will probably also incur a currency exchange fee if you use an ATM to draw money out - just check with your bank for details before you leave your country.
Bureaux de Change
Private bureaux de change are conveniently located around many high streets in Wales and they often have more flexible opening hours than banks. Rates of exchange vary and commission charges can be high, so it is always worth shopping around.
Marks & Spencer (one of the most popular and well-recognised department stores in the UK) has bureaux de change in more than 110 of its stores across the UK. They charge no commission on foreign currency travellers’ cheques and only 1 per cent on sterling travellers’ cheques. Many post offices across the UK also offer bureaux de change services.
Banks and ATMs
As a security measure let your bank know that you're travelling overseas. Although there are many banks in large towns and cities across Wales, it's unlikely you'll have to visit one - unless your usual bank is represented in the UK.
If you run out of funds, it is possible to have money wired from your country to the nearest British bank. North American visitors can get cash dispatched through Western Union to a bank or post office. Remember to take along your passport as proof of identity.
There are many cash dispensers and ATM machines across Wales that you can use and almost every bank has a cash dispenser. ATMs can also be found in supermarkets, post offices and train stations.