The UK's public transport system is well developed, and you'll have no problems exploring what the UK has to offer as a commuter. Follow these tricks, tips and ideas to make the most of the transport networks available.
Travelling across the UK is made easily accessible by an extensive railway network. While you may need a car for those further afield destinations, if you want to visit one of the main cities or towns of Britain, then travelling by train is probably the most convenient and quickest form of transport.
Make sure you organise your travel plans well in advance – there are fantastic savings to be made on tickets bought at least a month in advance. You'll find that rail tickets purchased on the day or a few days before can be exorbitant.
Take care when booking train journeys as many tickets are non-transferable if you change your mind on the day or time of travel. Different journeys will also be run by different train operators. Always make sure you fully understand what type of ticket you have purchased, and assume that the cheaper the ticket, the less flexible it will be if you want to change it later.
Cameron McKean recommends the Britrail train passes as "really useful when you first arrive."
An invaluable tip is to buy an Oyster card.
Travelling by public transport will also give you a great insight into the cultural differences between the UK and home. Joshua Sewell couldn't help noticing that "people tend to stick to themselves a lot more on trains."
Irma Surjadi also found to her frustration "the fact that in most public transport i.e. trains, tubes, buses, etc, passengers never want to seem to move to the middle or to the back of the transport and instead choose to clutter the entrance and exit way." You’ll be amazed at how quickly you get used to these minor irritations though, and you’ll become a seasoned public transport commuter soon enough.
By far the cheapest and easiest way to get around London is by public transport – either bus, train or London Underground (otherwise known as the 'tube').
If you’re going to regularly use London's public transport, an invaluable tip is to buy an Oyster card to swipe on yellow electronic ticket points across the transport network. Visitors to London swear by the Oyster card as the best and most affordable way to travel since it can save over 50% on individual paper tickets. Scott Maud even recommends that "you buy an Oyster card at the airport".
But remember to check that you can use it across your entire journey. Some rail operators don't yet accept Oyster, while the type of ticket you choose (pay-as-you-go or fixed-term 'travelcard' basis) could affect which networks you're allowed to travel on. Transport for London (TfL) provides details of ticket options, prices, maps and journey planners.
London's tube system has six main 'zones' which appear in concentric circles, and three further zones in the northwest. Central London is zone 1 (the middle circle), and the further away you travel from central London, the higher numbered the zones get. Travel is cheaper the further away from the centre you are, but you need to pay for every zone you travel through, regardless of where you get off and on. Download a London Underground map to see all stations and zones.
Be careful of using the tube map too literally. As New Zealander Lauren Walker says: "The tube map is not an accurate display of distance and location", although it will give you a fairly good idea of London's layout. Journey times between tube stops can vary from 1-2mins in central London and 2-4mins further out. To get a better idea of how long your journey will take, use TfL's Journey Planner.
Tube trains tend to run very frequently, every 2-5 minutes depending on what line you are using. The service is reliable although if you can, avoid rush hour (7.30-9.30am and 5.00–6.30pm) when everyone is travelling to and from work. Delays are more likely during rush hour, and it's not uncommon to be squashed-in feeling like you're cattle.
Stand on the right when using escalators.
Be aware that the tube doesn't run 24 hours a day. If you're going out late at night, you will have to get a night bus or taxi home, otherwise you can catch the last tube between 11.30pm and 1.00am.
Useful tips when taking the tube:
London has an extensive bus network, all of which accepts the Oyster card. Unlike the tube some bus routes run all night, albeit less regularly. To ensure the bus picks you up from the bus stop, raise your hand to flag it down as you see it approaching.
The old-style double decker buses, a familiar British icon known as Routemasters which you could jump on and off from, are no longer in use. Their replacement, the bendy bus, has several doors to get on. If you have a valid Oyster card you can use any of the doors and swipe your card on a yellow Oyster point. If you need to buy a ticket, buy one at the bus stop machine or ask the driver. Board all other models of bus from the front.
While taxis are by no means a cheap way to get around London, late at night they can be a lifesaver and are often the quickest, easiest and safest way to get home. Virginia van der Meer definitely wishes she'd known "how mini cabs work" before arriving to the UK, so here's an overview of the three types of taxis to be aware of.
Hackney Carriages, known as 'black cabs' (which confusingly aren't always black), are the ultimate British icon and regarded as the safest, most reliable form. Black cab drivers are famous for the Knowledge – a rigorous test that can take up to four years to pass to ensure all drivers know their way around the city. The cabs run on a meter so you're guaranteed a fixed rate but they can be expensive. On the plus side, they are all fully licensed.
Black cabs are the only taxi that you can legally hail from the street. If the orange light is showing, it means they are free so just stick your hand out and they'll stop for you.
There are two types of mini cabs – those which are licensed and those that aren't. Licensed cabs operate out of an office, and will have some form of license clearly displayed on the windscreen. Do not get in a taxi before verifying that it is licensed. There are plenty of people masquerading as a taxi service who have no license or qualification – they may be offering you a cheaper rate but there is no way to verify their experience or track them if something goes wrong.
Tipping cab drivers is at your own discretion, although 10% is about right.
A car is probably the most convenient form of transport outside of London. But thanks to an extensive public transport network, if you’re going to live in London, you are unlikely to have much need for one.
If you hold a valid Australian or New Zealand driving licence, or International Driving Permit, you can drive in the UK in the vehicles covered by your licence for up to 12 months. You can then exchange it for a British licence for up to five years from the date of entry into Great Britain. Contact the DVLA, the government agency that handles drivers' licences, or the Northern Ireland Licensing Authority as appropriate.
If you are thinking of using a car in London, be warned that it can be very expensive to even run a car. Most London boroughs have residents' parking, so if you want to park your car outside your house, you could pay an annual fee for the privilege.
During the working week, there's a fee to drive into central London between 7.00am – 6.00pm, known as the Congestion Charge (CC). The CC zone's boundaries and proposed extensions are a cause of great debate, so it's worth keeping up-to-date on the charging zone in case of changes.
Once inside the centre of London, expect it to be very expensive – and difficult – to park. Where you're free to park, look out for the Pay – Display machines and take lots of change with you. Prime areas will charge you as much as £1 for 15 minutes.
See My UK Move's Travel advice for an overview of other modes of transport you could take to explore the UK.