Transport and Driving in the United Kingdom
Expats moving to the United Kingdom will find it fairly easy to travel nationally. Extensive train and long-distance bus networks make travelling between major destinations straightforward, and the growth of low-cost airlines in Europe has made flying a viable option.
While owning a car is not essential for expats, those that do will find that the condition of the roads and infrastructure is excellent, and that getting around the United Kingdom by car can be a real pleasure.
Public transport in the United Kingdom
Trains are the most popular mode of transport in the United Kingdom. National Rail operates the railway network that covers England, Scotland and Wales, and Northern Ireland Railways is in charge of the train network in Northern Ireland.
While National Rail oversees the railways on mainland Britain, expats will find that there are a lot of different companies offering train services as a result of privatisation.
Despite some criticism about network delays and overcrowding during peak hours, expats living in the United Kingdom will find that travelling by train is a fast, enjoyable way to get around and see the country.
Trains are also the best option for intercity travel as stations are located in all of the UK’s large cities, including London, Manchester, Birmingham and Edinburgh.
Train tickets can be purchased at any train station or online and are usually the same price regardless of which train operator commuters use. However, cheaper tickets may carry restrictions and some services stop at more places or take a longer route to get to their final destination.
Expats can also save money on train fares by booking tickets in advance or using a discount card such as a Young Persons Rail Card (for those under 26) or the Senior Rail Card (for those over 60). Fares are also generally cheaper if commuters travel during off-peak hours.
For those who travel by train regularly, it's worth investing in a season ticket which is valid for anything from seven days up to a year. Prices of a season ticket depend on the routes travelled.
The frequency of trains varies according to service, service provider and the particular route one is travelling on. Trains from London to Manchester leave approximately every 30 minutes.
Buses and coaches
Long-distance buses in the United Kingdom are commonly referred to as coaches. Travelling by bus will usually take longer than the equivalent journey on a train, on account of traffic. Llike trains in the United Kingdom, long-distance buses tend to take passengers right into the centre of town.
The main bus service provider in the UK is called National Express and serves all major destinations in the UK. Megabus is an alternative service provider that covers a limited number of the major cities, but it's inexpensive and popular among students .
Travelling by bus is fairly comfortable and services are rarely fully booked. The main benefit of travelling by bus in the United Kingdom is cost. Bus fares are often less than half of what one would pay for the equivalent train journey, especially if booked in advance or on a special offer. Tickets can either be bought online or at bus terminals.
The frequency of long-distance bus services depends on how busy a route is. Buses on routes such as from London to Oxford leave every hour. However, for longer journeys, commuters can expect buses to leave every two or three hours.
Domestic flights in the United Kingdom
With the growth of low-cost airlines in Europe, it has become possible for people to fly to and from all of the UK’s major cities.
Major airports can be found in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness, Cardiff and Belfast.
Flight prices fluctuate all the time but are usually reasonable when booked in advance and domestic carriers such as Easy Jet and Ryanair often run special offers.
While flying is the fastest way of travelling across the UK, expats should note that because most airports are located on the outskirts of a city they'll probably have to take a bus or train to the city centre after arriving at their destination. This, teamed with the fact that passengers need to check in 90 minutes ahead of time for domestic flights, means that in reality it could be faster to travel by train.
Cycling in the United Kingdom
The standard of infrastructure for cyclists in the United Kingdom is variable and depends on location.
London has a network of more than 10,000 bicycles that can be hired for the day and returned to any one of 700 docking stations across the city. Oxford and Cambridge are also very bicycle-friendly.
Most cities in the UK have designated cycle lanes, which are sometimes ignored by drivers. On major roads one may find split-pavements shared by pedestrians and cyclists. Bicycle parking is available in most cities and is often free of charge. Bikes are only permitted on certain train services.
Taxis in the United Kingdom
Taxis are readily available in the United Kingdom. There are two types: metered black cabs can be hailed in the street and are found in all larger towns and cities, while minicabs need to be pre-booked online or over the phone.
Taxis in the United Kingdom can be expensive and should be reserved for travelling short distances within the city centre, travelling late at night or with a group of friends.
When using a taxi in the United Kingdom, expats should always check that the driver’s taxi licence number is displayed on the dashboard and that the meter displays the correct rate.
Driving in the United Kingdom
Owning a car isn't a necessity for expats living in the UK. In fact, it will be of little benefit to those who spend most of their time in one city, which likely has comprehensive public transport. However, having a car can be useful when it comes to getting around the country and for exploring the countryside.
Unlike the rest of Europe, the UK drives on the left hand side of the road. Most cars in the UK are manual transmission, so expats who plan on hiring a car will need to specifically request an automatic vehicle.
The standard of roads and signage in the United Kingdom is excellent and there are very few toll roads. Driving standards in the UK are good and the country’s roads are considered to be amongst the safest in Europe.
Parking can be expensive and difficult to find, especially in London, which has a daily congestion charge in place. Petrol is heavily taxed in the UK, and expats from the Middle East and the USA will find prices higher than at home.
Traffic can be a problem, especially during rush hour, and a number of cities in the United Kingdom have Park and Ride schemes to try alleviate congestion. These car parks are mostly located at the edge of a city, with cheap buses provided to transport commuters to the city centre, and the schemes are a great option in major cities as it saves on the cost of parking fees and petrol and saves time.
Speed limits on the motorways are 70mph (115km/h). In more built up areas, the speed limit is 30 mph (50km/h). Speed cameras are widespread on the roads in the UK and drivers caught going 10mph (16km/h) over the speed limit will receive a hefty fine.