UTF-8 is currently standardized as RFC 3629 (UTF-8, a transformation format of ISO 10646).
In summary, a Unicode character's bits are divided into several groups, which are then divided among the lower bit positions inside the UTF-8 bytes.
Characters below 128dec are encoded with a single byte that contains their value: these correspond exactly to the 128 7-bit ASCII characters.
For details, please look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UTF-8
To serve your static HTML pages as UTF, you can tweak Apache configuration files (if you have access to them) thus:
AddType 'text/html; charset=utf-8' html
If you serve your pages as
application/xhtml+xml, then adding the charset is just as easy. An example:
AddType 'application/xhtml+xml; charset=utf-8' xhtml
Unfortunately, Apache default is ISO Latin, which is good only for an inexhaustive subset of the English-speaking world, but not for anyone else. If you allow user-submitted content, such as comments, UTF8 is the way to go.
Server-sent headers take precedence over character sets specified on the page, so if you have access to server configuration via .htaccess, you should avoid using meta tags. Furthermore, if you serve your pages as
application/*, then it's illegal to add such meta tags.
If you don't have access to server configuration, it's time to change your hosting service.