Doing Business in The United Kingdom



The UK Business Climate

The United Kingdom of Great Britain includes England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. While once part of the European Union (EU), with Brexit, the recent decision made by the UK to leave the EU, the region will no longer be subject to the trade regulations imposed by the EU. However, the UK remains one of Australia's key partners when it comes to international business. London is a major financial centre for most of Europe and the world at large, so businesses in financial sectors tend to do well here.


Cultural Considerations

In many ways, doing business in the UK is a lot like doing business in Australia. However, it is important to note that UK culture is more conservative than Australian, so business activities tend to be much more formal. While in some organisations, "smart-casual" is becoming more acceptable, a suit is still the most widely accepted business attire.

As the UK is made up of several different countries, referring to them all as British or English is likely not to be received well. Reserve these terms for those from England only. Those from Scotland should be referred to as Scottish, not Scotch, which refers to whisky. Those from Wales are Welsh, and those from Northern Ireland are Northern Irish, not simply Irish, as that refers to people from the Republic of Ireland, which is not part of the UK.

In the UK, punctuality is highly valued, as are business relationships. Show up to meetings on time, and expect to engage in informational communications about your business before being granted a formal meeting. Be patient in building relationships rather than trying to rush to negotiations. UK nationals tend to value their privacy, so it takes some time for them to warm up to the idea of new relationships.

People from the UK tend to be very polite. It is considered inappropriate to complain publicly or to discuss politics, religion, or personal finance in company. You may have to read between the lines and make inferences in order to obtain negative, but constructive, criticism. When you are speaking, aim to be clear and direct, without being rude or overly critical, to ensure that there is no risk of misinterpretation of underlying messages.


Visiting the United Kingdom

Normal business hours in the UK run from 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Shops usually share the same hours but include half days at the weekend. In major cities, some supermarkets are open 24 hours a day. The UK is 9 hours behind Australia's eastern time zone in summer, and 11 hours behind in winter.

The official currency of the UK is the pound sterling. Money is available as notes for larger denominations and coins for smaller. ATMs are widely available and accept most major credit cards. Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted among retail locations, restaurants and hotels, although some businesses charge a transaction fee.

The climate in the UK tends to be mild and cool, although it can get quite cold in winter, with temperatures averaging about 7 degrees. In summer, the average temperature is about 19 degrees. Because of the UK's location in the Atlantic Ocean, the air tends to be moist throughout the year, and rain and clouds are common year round.

Electricity in the UK runs at 220 volts, 50Hz. Outlets usually take 13-amp square-pin plugs, so an adapter is necessary.


Visa Requirements

The visa requirements for Australians travelling to the UK for business vary depending on the type of work and duration of the visit, so it is important to check if you will need a visa well before you travel. Typically, if your business visit will last less than six months, you will not need a visa, but you will require one for longer stays. Any traveller visiting the UK must carry a valid passport.


Travel Guide

London's primary international airports are Heathrow and Gatwick, although smaller airports Luton, City and Stansted also take some international flights. Coming from Australia, it is usually easiest and most economical to fly into one of the two major airports. To get to other areas of the UK, domestic flights are available from all of London's airports. Train travel is also quite popular on the National Rail system. Traffic can sometimes be very congested in London, so be sure to allow plenty of time getting to and from the airports.

The London Underground, also known as "The Tube," is one of the easiest ways to get around the city. You can pay your fares with cash at the stations, or you can purchase an Oyster card, which you can pre-load with funds and pay as you go for your train fares. The Oyster card can also be used for city bus fares, as these no longer accept cash payments.

Taxis are another popular way to get around, although they can be a bit pricey. Travellers are advised to stick with black cabs, as the drivers are highly trained and know their way around the city. Some, but not all, black cabs accept credit cards, so be sure to have some cash handy. Fares are calculated by a metre.

Cars are available for hire as well, but keep in mind that road signs in the UK are measured in miles, not kilometres. In the UK, drivers drive on the left side of the road as we do in Australia. It is important to note that, especially in major cities, parking is often hard to come by and can be quite expensive.

In the UK, many restaurants add a 12.5-percent service charge, so tipping is not required. However, you are free to leave a tip if you feel the service was exemplary, typically no more than 10 percent of your bill. If the service was sub-par, you may request that the service charge be removed. Tipping is not expected for drinks at bars. For taxis, about 10 percent is customary.

As the UK is a popular destination for tourists, hotels and restaurants are readily available at a wide variety of price points.


Tourist Attractions

London alone is filled with enjoyable tourist attractions, including Buckingham Palace, the London Eye observation wheel, and Westminster Abbey. In Scotland, visitors can enjoy Edinburgh Castle and Loch Lomond. Options are available throughout the UK to satisfy a wide range of interests, so do some research before you travel to find attractions that suit your fancy.