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United States travel guide - Travel S Helper

United States of America

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The United States of America (USA), often known as the United States (U.S.) or America, is a federal republic comprised of fifty states, a federal district, five main self-governing territories, and other possessions. In North America, between Canada and Mexico, 48 of the fifty states and the federal district are continuous. Alaska is located in the extreme northern region of North America, sharing a land border with Canada and separated from Russia by the Bering Strait. Hawaii is an archipelago located in the central Pacific. The territories are dispersed across the Pacific and Caribbean oceans. There are nine time zones covered. The country’s topography, climate, and fauna are all very varied.

The United States is the world’s fourth-largest nation by total size (and fourth-largest by land area) and third-most populated country, covering 3.8 million square miles (9.8 million km2) and home to over 324 million people. It is one of the most ethnically diverse and cosmopolitan countries on the planet, with the world’s biggest immigrant population. Urbanization increased to more than 80% in 2010, resulting in the growth of megaregions. Washington, D.C. is the capital, and New York Metropolis is the biggest city; the other major metropolitan regions, all of which have a population of approximately five million or more, include Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, Dallas, Philadelphia, Houston, Miami, and Atlanta.

Paleo-Indians arrived in North America from Asia at least 15,000 years ago. Colonization by Europeans started in the sixteenth century. The United States was formed by the merger of thirteen British colonies along the East Coast. Numerous conflicts between Great Britain and the colonies in the aftermath of the Seven Years’ War precipitated the start of the American Revolution in 1775. On July 4, 1776, while the colonies were engaged in the American Revolutionary War, delegates from the thirteen colonies approved the Declaration of Independence unanimously. The war concluded in 1783 with Great Britain’s acknowledgment of the United States’ independence. It was the first victorious independence war against a European colonial empire. The present constitution was established in 1788, when it was determined that the Articles of Confederation, ratified in 1781, offered insufficient governmental powers. The first 10 amendments, commonly referred to as the Bill of Rights, were adopted in 1791 and were intended to protect a broad range of basic civil rights.

Throughout the nineteenth century, the United States expanded rapidly throughout North America, displacing American Indian tribes, gaining new territory, and progressively admitting new states until it covered the continent by 1848. The American Civil War in the second part of the nineteenth century resulted in the abolition of legal slavery in the nation. By the turn of the twentieth century, the United States had expanded into the Pacific Ocean, and its economy had soared, owing in large part to the Industrial Revolution. The Spanish–American War and World War I established the country’s military might on a worldwide scale. The US emerged from World War II as a worldwide powerhouse, the first nation to develop nuclear weapons, the first one to deploy them in combat, and a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. It is a founding member of the Organization of American States (UAS) and a number of other regional and international organizations. After the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union disbanded in 1991, the United States became the world’s only superpower.

The United States is a highly developed nation with the biggest economy in the world in terms of nominal GDP. It scores highly on many socioeconomic performance indicators, including average salary, human development, per capita GDP, and per person productivity. While the US economy is considered post-industrial, with a strong emphasis on services and information, the manufacturing sector remains the world’s second biggest. While the United States’ population is just 4.4 percent of the worldwide total, it contributes for almost a quarter of global GDP and nearly a third of global military expenditure, making it the world’s leading military and economic power. Internationally, the United States is a major political and cultural power, as well as a leader in scientific research and technical innovation.

The United States is not the America of television and movies. It is a large, complex and diverse country with distinct regional identities. Because of the great distances, travel between regions can be long and expensive.

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U.S.A - Info Card

Population

331,893,745

Currency

U.S. dollar ($) (USD)

Time zone

UTC−4 to −12, +10, +11

Area

3,796,742 sq mi (9,833,520 km2)

Calling code

+1

Official language

English

U.S.A. | Introduction

Government and politics

The United States is a federal republic. Its main components are the 50 states and the District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.); it also includes several island territories in the Caribbean and Pacific that are strongly – but often not fully – integrated into the Union. Many of these territories lie within the customs and immigration zone of the United States and can therefore be considered part of the United States for practical purposes.

The federal government derives its power from the Constitution, which is the oldest written constitution in continuous use. Under federal law, each state retains its own constitution, government and laws, which gives it considerable autonomy within the federation. State laws may vary in detail, but are broadly quite uniform from state to state.

The president is elected every four years and is both the head of the federal government and the head of state. He and his administration form the executive branch. The bicameral Congress (consisting of the lower House of Representatives and the Senate) is also elected by the people and forms the legislative branch. The Supreme Court is the judicial branch. State governments are similarly organised, with governors, legislature and judiciary.

Since the end of the Civil War, two major political parties have dominated at the state and federal level: the Republicans and the Democrats. Since the 1960s, the Republican Party has become the more right-wing or “conservative” party, while the Democratic Party is generally the more left-wing or “liberal” of the two parties. Although there are minor political parties, the winner-take-all electoral system means that they are rarely successful at any level.

Culture

The United States is made up of many different ethnic groups, and culture varies greatly across the vast territory of the country and even within cities – in a city like New York, dozens if not hundreds of different ethnic groups are represented in a single neighbourhood. Despite these differences, there is a strong sense of national identity and some predominant cultural traits. In general, Americans tend to believe strongly in personal responsibility and that an individual determines their own success or failure, but there are many exceptions and a nation as diverse as the United States has literally thousands of different cultural traditions. Mississippi in the south is culturally very different from Massachusetts in the north.

Religion is very important in the United States. Only 20 % of the American population does not identify with any religion, which is very low compared to other Western nations. About a quarter of Americans are Roman Catholic, half are Protestant, with Protestantism divided into the main sects of Evangelicals and Pentecostals. Jews, Mormons, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and a variety of other religions are much less numerous. Due to the strong religious beliefs of many Americans, many shops and establishments are closed on Sundays, and a number of areas in the South and Midwest prohibit certain acts on Sundays, while some Jewish shops close on Friday evening and Saturday for the Sabbath.

Overall, while the United States is less religious than many other countries, it is more religious than Canada and northern Europe; however, this pattern varies greatly by region, with the Pacific Northwest and New England largely secular and the American South exceptionally Christian, especially evangelical. Differences in religiosity are also largely correlated with politics, so that the Northeast and West Coast are generally progressive and Democratic; most of the South and heavily Mormon states such as Utah, Idaho and Wyoming are very conservative and Republican; and much of the rest of the country (e.g. several Midwestern, Southwestern/Rocky Mountain and South Coast states) is almost evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.

Units of measurement

The United States is the only industrialised country that does not use the metric system. Instead, they use “customary units” (feet, miles, gallons, pounds, etc.), which are largely derived from 18th century English units and sometimes differ from the imperial units that sometimes survive in Britain. Road distances are given in miles and speed limits in miles per hour. One of the most confusing things is that an “ounce” can be either a measure of weight or (like a “fluid ounce”) a measure of volume. The American fluid ounce is also slightly larger than its imperial counterpart, while American gallons, quarts and pints are smaller than their counterparts.

Gasoline and other liquids are generally sold per gallon, quart or fluid ounce (a US gallon is equal to 3.78 litres, so a US quart [a quarter gallon] is slightly less than a litre). Beverages, such as sodas, are sometimes sold by the litre and sometimes by the fluid ounce, with one litre equalling just under 34 ounces. Temperatures are only given in degrees Fahrenheit; 32 degrees (in unspecified units) is freezing cold, not hot! The speedometer on most cars shows both miles and kilometres per hour (handy for travelling in Canada and Mexico), and almost all packaged food and other products are labelled in both systems. Outside of scientific work, medicine and the military, the metric system is rarely used in everyday life, so Americans assume you understand standard American measurements.

There are no government regulations for dress or shoe sizes. There are informal standards that are poorly enforced and the only thing you can rely on is that sizes tend to be consistent within a brand. Therefore, with any brand, trial and error is the order of the day to find out what fits, as you cannot rely on two brands being the same in size. With shoes, trial and error is required for each model, even within the same brand – even if different models have the same nominal size and width, they may differ slightly in actual length and/or width and may also be designed for a different foot shape.

Information for visitors

The US federal government determines foreign policy (including border control), while the states regulate tourism. Therefore, the federal government provides the best information on legal entry requirements, while information on attractions and destinations is provided by state and local tourism offices. Contact information can be found at the entrances to each state. Rest stops at state borders, as well as major airports within a state, usually serve as welcome centres and often offer travel and tourism information and materials, almost all of which are available online. Almost every rest stop has a road map with a clearly visible “You are here” marker. Some also offer free road maps to take home. If you call or write to the state Department of Commerce, they can also send you information.

Time zones

Including the small territories in the Pacific Ocean (some of which are not easily accessible), the United States spans eleven time zones. Only four time zones are used in the 48 contiguous states. Note that time zone boundaries do not always correspond to state boundaries!

  • Eastern Time (UTC-5): Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Michigan except the extreme northwestern counties, Indiana except the southwestern and northwestern corners, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, eastern Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Washington, D.C, Maryland, Delaware, eastern Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida except the western part of the peninsula.
  • Central Time (UTC-6): Wisconsin, Illinois, southwestern and northwestern corners of Indiana, western Kentucky, western and central Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, northern and eastern North Dakota, eastern South Dakota, central and eastern Nebraska, most of Kansas, Oklahoma, most of Texas, part of western Florida (Panhandle).
  • Rocky Mountain Time (UTC-7): southwestern North Dakota, western South Dakota, western Nebraska, parts of Kansas, Montana, parts of Oregon, southern Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, parts of Texas.
  • Pacific Time (UTC-8): Washington, northern Idaho, most of Oregon, California, Nevada.

In addition to these, there are three other time zones with important destinations:

  • Alaska time (UTC-9): Alaska, except Aleutian Islands
  • Hawaii Aleutian Time (UTC-10): Hawaii the Aleutian Islands
  • Atlantic Time (UTC-4): Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands

Most parts of the US observe daylight saving time, but Hawaii and most of Arizona do not.

Geography

The contiguous United States or “Lower 48” (the 48 states except Alaska and Hawaii) is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Gulf of Mexico to the south. Most of the population lives on these three coasts or along the Great Lakes, sometimes referred to as another “coast”. Its only land borders – both quite long – are shared with Canada to the north and Mexico to the south. The United States also shares maritime borders with Russia, Cuba and the Bahamas.

The country has three major mountain ranges. The Appalachians stretch from Canada to the state of Alabama, a few hundred miles west of the Atlantic Ocean. They are the oldest of the three mountain ranges and offer spectacular views and excellent camping. The Rocky Mountains, which are on average the highest mountains in North America, stretch from Alaska to New Mexico. Many areas are designated as national parks and offer opportunities for hiking, camping, skiing and sightseeing. The combined Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountains are the most recent. The Sierras form the ‘backbone’ of California with places like Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park, and then merge into the even younger Cascade Volcanic Range, which has some of the highest points in the country.

The Gulf of Mexico lies southeast of Texas, south of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, and forms the west coast of Florida.

The Great Lakes form much of the border between the eastern United States and Canada. They are more freshwater inland lakes than lakes and were formed by the pressure of glaciers retreating northwards at the end of the last ice age. The five lakes stretch for hundreds of miles and border the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, and their shores range from pristine wilderness areas to industrial cities in the “Rust Belt”. They are the second largest bodies of fresh water in the world, after the polar ice caps.

Weather & Climate

The general climate is temperate, with notable exceptions. Alaska has an arctic tundra, while Hawaii, South Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are tropical. The Great Plains are dry, flat and grassy, merging into arid desert in the far west and the Mediterranean on the California coast.

In winter, the major cities in the north and mid-west of the country can get up to 61 cm of snow in one day, with cold temperatures. Summers are humid but mild. Temperatures sometimes exceed 100°F (38°C) in the Midwest and Great Plains. Some areas of the northern plains can experience cold temperatures of -34°C (-30°F) in winter. Temperatures below -18°C (0°F) sometimes reach southern Oklahoma.

The climate in the south also varies. In summer it is hot and humid, but from October to April the weather can range from 15°C (60°F) to short cold spells of -7°C (20°F).

In the Great Plains and Midwestern states, tornadoes also occur from late spring to early autumn, earlier in the south and later in the north. States along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts can experience hurricanes between June and November. These intense and dangerous storms often avoid the continental United States, but evacuations are often ordered and should be considered.

The Rocky Mountains are cold and snowy. Some parts of the Rocky Mountains receive more than 1,200 cm of snow in a season. Even in summer, temperatures in the mountains are cool and snow can fall almost all year round. Unprepared climbing in the mountains in winter is dangerous and the roads through the mountains can be very icy.

The southwestern deserts are hot and dry in summer, with temperatures often exceeding 100°F (38°C). From July to September, frequent thunderstorms can be expected in the southwest. Winters are mild, and snow is uncommon. Average annual precipitation is low, usually less than 25 cm (10 in).

In the coastal Northwest (Oregon and Washington west of the Cascade Range and the northern part of California west of the Coastal/Cascade Range), cool, wet weather is common most of the year. Summers (July to September) are usually quite dry with low humidity, making it an ideal climate for outdoor activities. In winter, rain is more frequent, snow is rare, especially on the coast, and temperature extremes are rare. Rain falls almost exclusively from late autumn to early spring on the coast. East of the Cascades, the northwest is much drier. Much of the interior of the Northwest is semi-arid to desert, especially in Oregon.

Cities in the northeast and upper south are known for summers with temperatures of 90°C (32°C) or higher, with extremely high humidity, usually above 80%. This can be a dramatic change from the southwest. The high humidity means that the temperature can feel warmer than the actual readings. The northeast also experiences snow, and there is a large snowfall at least once every two years.

Demographics

Population

The U.S. Census Bureau estimated the nation’s population at 323,425,550 as of 25 April 2016, an increase of 1 person (net increase) every 13 seconds, or about 6,646 people per day. The population of the United States has nearly quadrupled in the 20th century, from about 76 million in 1900. As the third most populous nation in the world, after China and India, the United States is the only major industrialised nation where large population increases are projected. In the 1800s, the average woman had 7.04 children; by the 1900s, that number had dropped to 3.56. Since the early 1970s, the birth rate has been below the replacement rate of 2.1, with 1.86 children per woman in 2014. Foreign-born immigration has allowed the US population to continue its rapid growth. The foreign-born population doubled from nearly 20 million in 1990 to more than 40 million in 2010, accounting for one-third of population growth. The foreign-born population reached 45 million in 2015.

The United States has a birth rate of 13 per 1,000, five births below the world average. The population growth rate is positive at 0.7 %, higher than many developed countries. In fiscal year 2012, more than 1 million immigrants (most of whom entered through family reunification) were granted legal residence. Mexico has been the largest source of new residents since the 1965 Immigration Act. China, India and the Philippines have been among the top four countries of origin every year since the 1990s. In 2012, about 11.4 million residents were illegal immigrants. In 2015, 47% of all immigrants are Hispanic, 26% are Asian, 18% are white and 8% are black. The share of Asian immigrants is increasing, while the share of Hispanics is decreasing.

According to a Williams Institute poll, nine million Americans, or about 3.4 per cent of the adult population, identify as gay, bisexual or transgender. A 2012 Gallup poll also found that 3.5 percent of American adults identify as LGBT. The highest percentage came from the District of Columbia (10 per cent) and the lowest from North Dakota (1.7 per cent). In a 2013 survey, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 96.6 percent of Americans identify as straight, while 1.6 percent identify as gay or lesbian and 0.7 percent identify as bisexual.

In 2010, there were approximately 5.2 million people in the US population with Native American or Alaskan ancestry (2.9 million exclusively of that ancestry) and 1.2 million with Hawaiian or Pacific Islander ancestry (0.5 million exclusively). The 2010 census counted more than 19 million people of “other race” who did not identify with any of the five official racial categories, of whom more than 18.5 million (97%) were of Hispanic origin.

The population growth of the Hispanic and Latino populations (the terms are officially interchangeable) is an important demographic trend. The 50.5 million Hispanic Americans are identified by the Census Bureau as a distinct “ethnic group”; 64% of Hispanic Americans are of Mexican origin. Between 2000 and 2010, the nation’s Hispanic population grew by 43 per cent, while the non-Hispanic population grew by only 4.9 per cent. Much of this growth is due to immigration; in 2007, 12.6 per cent of the US population was foreign-born, 54 per cent of whom were Hispanic.

About 82 percent of Americans live in urban areas (including suburbs); almost half of them live in cities with more than 50,000 inhabitants. There are many clusters of cities in the United States called megaregions. The largest is the Great Lakes megacity, followed by the Northeast megacity and Southern California. In 2008, 273 incorporated municipalities had a population of more than 100,000, nine cities had a population of more than one million and four megacities had a population of more than two million (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston). There are 52 metropolitan areas with more than one million inhabitants. Of the 50 fastest growing metropolitan areas, 47 are in the West or South. The San Bernardino, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta and Phoenix metropolitan areas all grew by more than one million people between 2000 and 2008.

Religion

The First Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion and prohibits Congress from making laws relating to its practice. Christianity is by far the most practised religion in the United States, but other religions are also followed. In a 2013 poll, 56 per cent of Americans said religion played a “very important role in their lives” – a figure far higher than any other affluent nation. In a 2009 Gallup poll, 42 per cent of Americans said they go to church about every week; the numbers ranged from a low of 23 per cent in Vermont to a high of 63 per cent in Mississippi.

Like other Western countries, the United States is becoming less and less religious. Irreligiosity is increasing rapidly among Americans under 30. Surveys show that Americans’ general trust in organised religion has declined since the mid to late 1980s and that young Americans in particular are becoming increasingly irreligious. According to a 2012 study, the proportion of Protestants in the US population has fallen to 48 per cent, ending their status as a religious majority category for the first time. Americans who do not belong to any religion have 1.7 children, compared to 2.2 among Christians. The non-denominational are less likely to marry: 37% marry compared to 52% of Christians.

According to a 2014 survey, 70.6 per cent of adults identified themselves as Christians, with Protestant denominations accounting for 46.5 per cent, while Roman Catholicism was the largest single denomination at 20.8 per cent. The total of reported non-Christian religions was 5.9 per cent in 2014. Other religions included Judaism (1.9%), Islam (0.9%), Buddhism (0.7%), Hinduism (0.7%). The survey also reports that 22.8% of Americans identify themselves as agnostic, atheist or simply without religion, an increase from 8.2% in 1990. There are also Unitarian Universalist, Baha’i, Sikh, Jain, Shinto, Confucian, Taoist, Druid, Native American, Wiccan, Humanist and Deist communities.

Protestantism is the largest Christian religious grouping in the United States. Baptists together form the largest branch of Protestantism, and the Southern Baptist Convention is the largest single Protestant denomination. About 26 percent of Americans identify as evangelical Protestants, while 15 percent are traditional Protestants and 7 percent belong to a traditionally black church. Roman Catholicism in the United States has its origins in the Spanish and French colonisation of the Americas and later expanded through Irish, Italian, Polish, German and Hispanic immigration. Rhode Island has the highest percentage of Catholics, at 40% of the total population. Lutheranism in the United States has its origins in immigration from Northern Europe and Germany. North and South Dakota are the only states where a majority of the population is Lutheran. Presbyterianism was brought to North America by Scottish and Ulster immigrants. Although it has spread throughout the United States, it is heavily concentrated on the East Coast. Dutch Reformed congregations were first established in New Amsterdam, New York, before spreading westward. Utah is the only state where Mormonism is the religion of the majority of the population. The Mormon Corridor also extends into parts of Idaho, Nevada and Wyoming.

The “Bible Belt” is an informal term for a region in the southern United States where socially conservative evangelical Protestantism is a significant part of the culture and where Christian church attendance of all denominations is generally higher than the national average. In contrast, religion plays the least important role in New England and the western United States.

Language & Phrasebook

Almost all Americans speak English. Most Americans speak with accents that are recognisable among themselves and with the accent traditionally associated with the Midwest, popularised in the 20th century by American radio, television and cinema. Although many Americans can recognise differences between various accents, the accents most likely to be perceived as distinctive by foreign visitors are those spoken in the South and Texas, the Boston area, the New York area, the upper Midwest and Hawaii.

Many African Americans and some other Americans also speak African American Vernacular English (AAVE), whose grammar and vocabulary are somewhat different from the styles of American English that are usually considered standard. AAVE has had a major influence on general American slang and colloquialisms in particular. Never assume that a person who is black speaks AAVE, especially since many African or Caribbean immigrants or their descendants do not speak this language, and also be aware that many African Americans can switch effortlessly from AAVE to Standard American English. Spanglish – a mixture of Spanish and English – is also common in many areas with large Hispanic populations, and switching between Spanglish and Standard American English is equally common.

Visitors are generally expected to speak and understand English. Although many Americans learn a foreign language in school (usually Spanish and then French), it is safe to assume that the average citizen has not progressed beyond the basics. Popular tourist spots often have signs and information in other languages. Americans have a long history of immigration and are very accommodating of foreign accents and will sometimes go out of their way to help you by speaking with a standard accent.

American English is somewhat different from the English spoken in other parts of the English-speaking world. These differences are mostly minor and relate mainly to small differences in spelling as well as pronunciation. See the article on English language varieties for a detailed discussion.

Spanish is the first language of Puerto Rico and a large minority of mainlanders (with the fifth largest Spanish-speaking population in the world). Spanish speakers in the United States are often first- or second-generation Puerto Ricans or Latin American immigrants. As a result, spoken Spanish is almost invariably a Latin American dialect. Spanish is the second main language in many parts of the United States, such as California, the Southwest, Texas, Florida and the metropolitan areas of Chicago and New York. Many of these areas have Spanish-language radio and television stations with local, national and Mexican programming. Most federal government publications and some state and local publications are available in Spanish. Many facilities and government agencies in major business and tourist areas have Spanish-speaking staff on duty, and it is possible with some difficulty to speak only Spanish in major cities and tourist attractions.

French is the primary second language in rural areas near the Quebec border, in some parts of Louisiana and among some African immigrants, but it is not widely spoken elsewhere. In South Florida, Haitian immigrants primarily speak Haitian Creole, a distinct language derived from French, although a significant number also speak French.

As a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement, some products now have trilingual packaging (English, Spanish and French) and are sold throughout the trading bloc, including household products and small electrical appliances. However, the vast majority of consumer goods are labelled in English only, meaning that a rudimentary knowledge of English is required to shop.

Hawaiian is the native language of Hawaii and Hawaiian Pidgin, a mixture of English, Hawaiian, Portuguese, Cantonese and several other languages, is also spoken by many native Hawaiians. However, English is the most widely spoken language in Hawaii, and Japanese is also widely spoken.

Cantonese and Mandarin are common in the various Chinatowns in the larger cities. Smaller immigrant groups sometimes form their own pockets of common language, including Russian, Italian, Greek, Arabic, Tagalog, Korean and Vietnamese. Chicago, for example, has the second largest ethnic Polish population in the world after Warsaw (although most Poles in the Chicago area were born in the United States and speak only English). The Amish, who have lived in Pennsylvania and Ohio for generations, speak a German dialect.

Some Native Americans speak their respective mother tongues, especially on reservations in the West. But despite efforts to revive them, many Native American languages are threatened with extinction and first-language speakers are rare. Navajo speakers in Arizona and New Mexico are an exception to this rule, but a clear majority also speak and understand English.

In summary, unless you are sure you are in an area that has only recently been inhabited by immigrants, it is a big challenge to travel to the US without knowing English.

American Sign Language, or ASL, is the dominant sign language in the United States. When events are interpreted, they are interpreted in ASL. Users of French Sign Language and other related languages may find ASL understandable because they use much of the same vocabulary, but users of Japanese Sign Language, British Sign Language or Auslan will not. Closed captioning on television is widespread, but far from universal. Many theatres offer FM loops or other aids to listening, but subtitles and interpreters are less common.

For blind people, many signs and advertisements include Braille transcriptions of printed English. Large chain restaurants, museums and parks may have menus and guides in Braille, but you will probably have to ask for them.

Internet & Communications

By phone

National calls

The country code for the United States is +1. The area code for long-distance calls (local area code) is also “1”, so US telephone numbers are often written as an eleven-digit number: “1-nnn-nnn-nnn”. The rest of the phone number consists of ten digits: a three-digit area code and a seven-digit number. In the past, area codes were defined geographically, but today they are assigned according to population rather than location (within a state). So you can expect to find many area codes in large cities and only one or two in a largely rural state. It is often not possible to tell from the area code or number whether it is a mobile or a landline (and sometimes even the location).

From a mobile phone, making a national call is easy: always dial ten numbers without the “1”.

From a landline, you can usually dial a local number with ten digits. New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco require eleven digits. In places where a new area code is superimposed on another, you should dial a ten-digit number, while in areas where there is only one area code, you usually need seven digits. If a number is written or given without an area code, you can usually dial it that way locally, but ten-digit dialling should also work. For long-distance and toll-free calls, always dial eleven digits.

National calls to area codes 800, 888, 877, 866, 855 and 844 are free. From landlines, they must be dialled with the full 11-digit pattern. With a few exceptions (e.g. Canada or, rarely, Mexico), they cannot be reached from abroad. (VoIP users may be able to get around this restriction by calling through a gateway in the US.) ) The 900 code is used for chargeable services (e.g. “adult entertainment”). This also applies to local seven-digit numbers beginning with 976 (or 970 in some locations).

International calls

To dial a number abroad, the international dialling code is 011 (“+” also works on a mobile phone).

Canada, the US territories, Bermuda and 17 Caribbean countries are part of the North American numbering plan and have the same country code (“1”) as the US. Calls between these countries are made using only the full 11-digit number, but almost all are charged at international rates. Calls between the U.S. and its territories can be more expensive than calls to the 48 contiguous states and Washington, D.C., or even calls between the U.S. mainland and Canada (which are generally charged at a higher rate than domestic calls but lower than other international calls). In Alaska and Hawaii, depending on the network operator and tariff plan, there may also be a surcharge for domestic calls.

Telephones and directories

The once ubiquitous payphone is now much harder to find. The most likely places are in or near shops and restaurants, entrances to shopping centres and bus stops. In big cities, they can be hard to find outside transport stations and hotels. Most of them work with coins (quarters, dimes and nickels) and do not accept paper tickets. Prices are usually $0.50 for the first three minutes and $0.25 for each additional minute. For an online directory of pay phones, visit Pay Phone Directory. Calls to 9-1-1 to report an emergency and to area codes 800, 888, 877, 866, 855 and 844 (which are free) are free from pay phones. Some commercial toll-free numbers block incoming calls from US payphones, as these calls cost the called party an additional 60 cents.

Telephone books contain two lists (often divided into two books): the white pages list telephone numbers alphabetically by surname, the yellow pages list businesses by category (e.g. “taxis”). Many private landlines and all mobile phones are not listed. Directory enquiries can also be requested (for an additional charge) by calling 4-1-1 (for local numbers) or area code 1-555-1212 (for other areas). If 4-1-1 does not work, try 555-1212, area code-555-1212 or area code-1-555-1212Free directory enquiries (with advertising) is available: call 1-800-FREE-411 (1-800-3733-411) or visit free411.com or 411.info. Regional phone company websites (usually AT&T, Verizon or CenturyLink; also Frontier in Connecticut and West Virginia, and FairPoint in northern New England) also provide directory information. For best results, use the website of the company that operates in the area you are interested in (e.g. AT&T for most of California and Verizon for the Northeast).

Phone cards for long-distance calls are available in most shops. They are usually intended for certain types of calls (e.g. domestic calls or calls to certain countries). Credit can often be added over the phone using a credit or debit card, but foreign bank cards may be declined. Calls from public phones using the freephone numbers printed on the cards may be more expensive. There may also be an effective charge per connection as well as per minute; some cards also have hidden weekly or monthly charges that reduce the value.

Mobile phones

The four largest mobile networks in the United States are AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile. They cover virtually all urban and suburban areas as well as many rural areas of the country, with each network having its strengths and weaknesses.

There is no surcharge for calls to a mobile phone (calls to mobile phones are charged in the same way as calls to landlines) and mobile phones do not pay a surcharge for national long-distance calls. However, the mobile phones themselves are charged for each use, outgoing or incoming. In other words, a call to/from a mobile phone has the same cost for that mobile phone, whether it is local, national long distance or free. With rates starting at $25/month, you can use hundreds of minutes of talk time. You will be charged for a missed call (or “missed call”) as you will be charged from the time the number is dialled.

If you want to have a mobile phone in the US while you travel, you have several options:

  • Using your phone from home is not as easy as in some other countries, as 850 and 1900 MHz frequencies are used in the USA (as well as in Canada and many Latin American countries), instead of the 900 and 1800 MHz used elsewhere. If you have a three- or four-band phone (which includes many modern phones), you should have no problems; otherwise, this option will not work for you. You also need to pay attention to whether your phone is GSM/UMTS (used by AT&T and T-Mobile; common in Europe) or CDMA (used by Verizon and Sprint).
    • Roaming service (using your home phone number by simply calling over a US network) is expensive and depends on the networks your home provider has contracts with and your own provider’s charges. Internet data rates are ubiquitous in the US, but the normally high prices become exorbitant once roaming charges are added.
      • Canadian cellphones can roam for $1.50/minute or more, though plans vary; prepaid users may not roam at all. A fourth small operator, Wind Mobile, is an exception: a $39 plan (about $45 prepaid after taxes) covers unlimited calls, international messaging and 5GB of data in the US with no speed limit on standard T-Mobile and AT&T cellular frequencies.
      • Homelessness is also a problem for Americans who live, work or travel in areas near the Canadian and Mexican borders. Roaming on non-US networks is just as costly for Americans. For example, if you are visiting Detroit, there are some places near the border where Windsor’s signal is stronger, which means your phone will connect to the Canadian network unless you turn off roaming. You will end up with unexpected roaming charges for voice or data on a future bill.
    • Buying a SIM card is a better way to use your personal phone. By installing the SIM card in your phone, you have a local US prepaid phone number without a contract, hundreds of minutes of calls and large amounts of data. Prices are cheaper for longer stays, but the convenience of cheap calls and data makes it a great option for any visitor.

SIM cards are available in some electronics shops and hypermarkets. You must ensure that your phone is not locked and that it is compatible with the SIM card and network frequencies. Read the terms and conditions carefully as some tariffs are actually monthly recurring contracts and not one-off prepaid tariffs.

Providers selling prepaid SIM cards include AT&T’s GoPhone, Cricket (owned by AT&T), Straight Talk’s Bring Your Own Phone and T-Mobile.

  • Buying prepaid minutes and a basic mobile phone is the next best thing. You can find them in some grocery shops, most electronics, office supply and convenience stores, and of course online. A basic phone (without internet access) and 60 to 100 minutes of time can be purchased for less than $50. In addition to the minutes, some prepaid services charge a monthly fee (e.g. $20/month) or a fee for the days the phone is actually used (e.g. $1.25/day). Prepaid and no-contract mobile phone services are available from many prepaid carriers, e.g. Boost MobileCricketStraight TalkTracFone and Virgin Mobile USA, and to a limited extent from the major carriers: AT&T’s GoPhone, T-Mobile and Verizon Prepaid Wireless.
  • Renting a phone costs about $3 per day and can be done in the shops at most major airports. Depending on the length of your stay and the amount of calls or data you want to use, it may be cheaper or easier to use a prepaid SIM card or phone.
  • Signing up for a phone plan, which most Americans do, is something only visitors planning a long-term stay should consider. Unless they have been living in the US for several months, international visitors do not have a credit score recognised by US service providers and therefore cannot sign up for these plans (although some providers will allow you to get one for a deposit, usually at least $500). The contracts usually require a 24-month commitment (termination fees can be as high as $300!) to a specific monthly plan, and in return they subsidise the cost of the phone (so basic phones are “free” and smartphones “cost” only $50-$200).

By mail

Addressing your mail with a correctly formatted address will speed it on its way through the United States Postal Service (USPS, not to be confused with the UPS abbreviation for private carrier). The most important thing is the postal code (ZIP Code); you can look up ZIP Codes and correct address formats online. Postcodes were originally 5 digits; later a hyphen and 4 more digits were added, which are recommended but still optional and more commonly used by businesses than individuals.

Addresses should be written in three or four lines, similar to the format used in Australia and Canada:

Name of the recipient
House number and street name
(If required) Suite, flat or building number.
City or town, two-digit state abbreviation, postcode.

or, as an example :

Barack Obama
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20500-0001

There are recommended abbreviations for state names and terms (e.g., street = ST, avenue = AVE); the USPS address and ZIP code search automatically uses these. The USPS also recommends that addresses be written only in capital letters and without punctuation (except for the hyphen in the postal code and the dashes and slashes in some house numbers), but the automatic sorting machines accept capital letters and even italics just as well.

International postcards and first class letters (up to 1 ounce/28.5 grams) cost $1.15. (The reduced rate to Canada and Mexico has been phased out. (The reduced rate to Canada and Mexico has expired.) All places with a postcode are considered domestic, including all 50 states, US possessions, Micronesia (FSM), Marshall Islands, overseas military bases, ships (APO or FPO) and diplomatic posts (APO or DPO). Domestic postcards cost $.34 and regular letters up to one ounce cost $.47. “Forever” stamps are available for the first ounce of domestic and overseas postage and protect against future increases. Sending thick or stiff mail or non-standard shapes will increase postage costs.

Poste Restante, the receipt of items at a post office rather than at a private address, is called “general delivery”. This service is free of charge. You must show identification, such as a passport, to collect your mail. Your mail does not have to be addressed by name to a specific post office – just use “GENERAL DELIVERY” on the second line.

The last four digits of the postcode for general delivery are always “9999”. If the city is large enough to have several post offices, only one of them (usually in the centre of the city) will allow general delivery. For example, if you live in the Green Lake area of Seattle (a few miles north of downtown), you will not be able to pick up your mail at the Green Lake Post Office and will have to drive downtown to do so. However, if you live in an independent suburb outside a major city with only one government post office, you can have your mail sent there. Another option is to rent a post office box.

FedEx and UPS also offer the hold for pickup option and have offices in major cities in the US. Although they are usually more expensive, these services can be a better option for receiving an important item from abroad.

Internet

Given the ubiquity of private internet access, internet cafés are rare outside major cities and tourist areas. They do have some options, however, except perhaps in the most rural areas. Accessible Wi-Fi networks, however, are widespread.

Wireless

The most useful Wi-Fi points are in cafés, fast food chains and bookshops, but you may need to buy something first. Some cities also offer free Wi-Fi in their city centres. Try to use only public networks. Using a private network (even without a password) is illegal unless authorised (although enforcement is almost non-existent) and can also allow criminals to track your browsing behaviour and thus defraud you. Traffic on public networks can also be recorded.

There are a few less obvious places where Wi-Fi is available:

  • Public libraries – Free wifi is almost always available, but you will need to get a connection at the information desk. The network can even be available around the clock, so even if the library is closed, you can sit outside and surf.
  • Hotels – Chain hotels usually have them in rooms and common areas; small independent hotels vary. An overpriced option in high-end hotels, but included as standard in most limited-service economy chains.
  • Colleges and universities – may have networks in their libraries and student centres that are open to non-students. Some have networks that are accessible across the campus, including off-campus.
  • Airports – even small regional ones – offer Wi-Fi. But it can be expensive.
  • Paid Wi-Fi channels – give you access to many hotspots, e.g. Boingo, for a small fee.

Mobile broadband via a USB modem is also an option. Service providers include Verizon Wireless and Virgin Mobile (which uses the Sprint network). Be sure to check a coverage map before buying, as each company has large areas with poor or no coverage. Also, these plans have data limits that can easily be exceeded without knowing it! Avoid watching videos on a mobile network.

Public PC terminals

Internet cafés still exist in some major cities (e.g. New York and Los Angeles). Airports and shopping malls offer internet access kiosks for very fast use, although these are generally disappearing. Access usually costs $1 for 1-2 minutes of web time. Any public computer is likely to block access to unwanted sites and record your internet use.

You can also consider:

  • Public libraries – these have PCs with broadband for public use (but in some areas you need a library card). Ask at the information desk for more information.
  • Copy shops – they have computers available to the public (for a fee). FedEx Office (formerly Kinkos) (+1-800-463-3339/+1-800-GOFEDEX; when prompted by the voice menu, say “FedEx Office” or press “64”), for example, is open 24 hours a day and operates nationwide. Some are also commercial mailrooms (e.g. The UPS Store) and offer fax services.
  • Clever hotels have “business centres” equipped with computers, printers, photocopiers and fax machines that you can use for a fee.
  • Electronics shops – the computers on display are often connected to the internet. A quick email is tolerated with a smile, six hours of Warcraft is not. The Apple Store is particularly generous and allows browsing without the intention to buy; however, some websites, such as Facebook, are blocked.
  • University libraries – while private universities may restrict access to their students and faculty, public university libraries are usually required by law to be open to the public (at least for books) and may also have one or two computers for public use.

Economy

The United States has a mixed capitalist economy driven by abundant natural resources and high productivity. According to the International Monetary Fund, the US gross domestic product of $16.8 trillion is equivalent to 24 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product at market rates and over 19 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product at purchasing power parity (PPP).

US nominal GDP is estimated at $17.528 trillion in 2014. From 1983 to 2008, real average annual GDP growth in the US was 3.3%, compared to a weighted average of 2.3% for the rest of the G7. The country ranks ninth in the world in nominal GDP per capita and sixth in GDP per capita in purchasing power parity terms. The U.S. dollar is the world’s most important reserve currency.

The United States is the largest importer of goods and the second largest exporter, although exports per capita are relatively low. In 2010, the total US trade deficit was $635 billion. Canada, China, Mexico, Japan and Germany are its largest trading partners. In 2010, petroleum was the top import, while transportation equipment was the country’s top export. Japan is the largest foreign holder of US government bonds. The largest holders of US debt are US entities, including federal government and Federal Reserve accounts, which hold the bulk of the debt.

In 2009, the private sector accounted for an estimated 86.4% of the economy, while the federal government accounted for 4.3% and state and local governments (including federal transfers) accounted for the remaining 9.3%. Employment at all levels of government outnumbers manufacturing by 1.7 to 1. Although its economy has reached a post-industrial level of development and the service sector accounts for 67.8 % of GDP, the United States remains an industrial power. The largest industry by gross sales is wholesale and retail trade, and by net sales is manufacturing. In the franchise business model, McDonald’s and Subway are the two best-known brands in the world. Coca-Cola is the best-known soft drink company in the world.

Chemicals is the largest manufacturing sector. The United States is the world’s largest producer of petroleum and also the second largest importer. It is the world’s largest producer of electrical and nuclear energy, as well as natural gas liquids, sulphur, phosphates and salt. The National Mining Association provides data on coal and minerals, including beryllium, copper, lead, magnesium, zinc and titanium.

Agriculture accounts for barely 1% of GDP, but the United States is the world’s largest producer of corn and soybeans. The National Agricultural Statistics Service maintains agricultural statistics for commodities such as peanuts, oats, rye, wheat, rice, cotton, corn, barley, hay, sunflowers and oilseeds. In addition, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides livestock statistics for beef, poultry, pork and dairy products. The country is the leading developer and producer of genetically modified foods and produces half of the world’s biotech crops.

Consumer spending accounted for 68% of the US economy in 2015. In August 2010, the US labour force consisted of 154.1 million people. Government is the largest employment sector with 21.2 million people. The largest private employment sector is health care and social assistance with 16.4 million people. About 12% of workers are unionised, compared to 30% in Western Europe. The World Bank ranks the US first in hiring and firing workers. The US also ranks in the top three in the Global Competitiveness Report. The welfare state is more modest and income redistribution through state action is less important than in European countries.

The United States is the only advanced economy that does not guarantee paid leave to its workers and one of the few countries in the world where paid family leave is not a legal right, the others being Papua New Guinea, Suriname and Liberia. However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 74 per cent of full-time workers in the US receive paid sick leave, while only 24 per cent of part-time workers receive the same benefits. Although federal law does not currently mandate sick leave, it is a common benefit for government employees and full-time corporate workers. In 2009, the United States had the third highest labour productivity per person in the world, behind Luxembourg and Norway. It ranked fourth in productivity per hour, behind those two countries and the Netherlands.

The global recession of 2008-2012 has significantly affected the United States, whose economic performance remains below its potential, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The consequences are high unemployment (which has declined but is still above pre-recession levels), low consumer confidence, a continued decline in property values and an increase in foreclosures and personal bankruptcies, an escalating sovereign debt crisis, inflation and rising oil and food prices. What remains is a record proportion of long-term unemployed, a continued decline in household incomes, and rising taxes and the federal budget.

Income, poverty and wealth

Americans have the highest average household and wage earner income among OECD countries and had the second highest median household income in 2007. According to the Census Bureau, the median household income in 2014 was $53,657. Despite making up only 4.4% of the world’s population, Americans collectively own 41.6% of the world’s total wealth, and Americans make up about half of the world’s millionaires. The Global Food Security Index ranked the US first in food affordability and overall food security in March 2013. Americans have, on average, more than twice as much living space per home and person as residents of the European Union and more than any EU nation. In 2013, the United Nations Development Programme ranked the United States 5th out of 187 countries on its Human Development Index and 28th on its Inequality-Adjusted HDI (IHDI).

The gap between productivity and median income has widened since the 1970s. However, the gap between total compensation and productivity is not as large because social benefits such as health insurance have increased. While inflation-adjusted (“real”) household income rose almost every year from 1947 to 1999, it has stagnated since then and even declined recently. According to the Congressional Research Service, immigration to the US increased over the same period, while the incomes of the bottom 90 per cent of taxpayers stagnated and have been declining since 2000. The increase in the share of the top 1 per cent in total annual income, which more than doubled from 9 per cent in 1976 to 20 per cent in 2011, has had a significant impact on income inequality and has resulted in the US having one of the widest income distributions among OECD countries. Post-recession income gains have been very uneven, with 95% of income gains between 2009 and 2012 accruing to the top 1%. The extent and relevance of income inequality is controversial.

Wealth, like income and taxes, is highly concentrated; the richest 10% of the adult population own 72% of the country’s household wealth, while the bottom half claim only 2%. Between June 2007 and November 2008, the global recession led to a worldwide collapse in asset prices. Assets held by Americans lost about a quarter of their value. Since peaking in the second quarter of 2007, household wealth has declined by $14 trillion, but has since increased by $14 trillion from its 2006 level. At the end of 2014, household debt was $11.8 trillion, down from $13.8 trillion at the end of 2008.

In January 2014, there were approximately 578,424 homeless and unsheltered people in the United States, nearly two-thirds of whom were in an emergency shelter or transitional housing programme. In 2011, 16.7 million children lived in food-insecure households, about 35 per cent more than in 2007, although only 1.1 per cent of US children, or 845,000, had their food intake reduced or their eating habits disrupted at any time during the year, and most cases were not chronic. According to a 2014 Census Bureau report, one in five young adults now lives in poverty, up from one in seven in 1980.

Things To Know Before Traveling To U.S.A.

Dress code

Today, clothing in the United States is more casual. Jeans and T-shirts are always acceptable as everyday wear, as are shorts in good weather. Trainers are common; flip-flops and sandals are also popular in warm weather. In winter, in the northern states, boots are often worn.

In the workplace, business casual dress (trousers, simple collared shirt without a tie and non-sporty shoes) is now the norm in many companies. More traditional industries (e.g. finance, law and insurance) still require a suit and tie, while others (e.g. computer software) are even more casual and allow jeans and even shorts.

If you are going to an upscale restaurant or entertainment venue, nice trousers, a collared shirt and smart shoes are appropriate almost everywhere. Men’s ties are rarely necessary, but jackets are sometimes required in very upscale restaurants in big cities (these restaurants almost always have jackets for rent).

At the beach or pool, men prefer loose-fitting swimming costumes or board shorts; women wear bikinis or one-piece swimming costumes. Nude bathing is generally unacceptable and usually illegal, except at some private beaches or resorts; topless swimming by women is also generally unacceptable by most people and is also illegal in some states.

In general, Americans accept religious clothing such as yarmulkes, hijabs and burkas without comment.

Religious services

The percentage of religious adherents in the United States is higher than in many Western countries, and visitors wishing to attend a church service will have no difficulty finding a place of worship, even in small towns. A typical medium-sized city in the US is likely to have one or more Catholic congregations, several Protestant churches (the most common being Baptist, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist and Episcopalian/Anglican) and other places of worship depending on the demographics of the area (such as synagogues or mosques).

Most Christian churches in the United States practice the “open table”, which means that they invite you to participate in worship and some or all of the rituals, even if you are not a member of their faith. Some churches, and some whole denominations, welcome LGBT people.

Some of them also host free or paid lunches after church and you are always welcome to have lunch and meet the locals.

News and media

Print media are no longer as ubiquitous as they were before the internet, but they are not dead yet. Almost every medium-sized city (and many small towns) has a daily newspaper that covers local and often national news. In larger metropolitan areas, there are usually several newspapers, each with its own editorial line and slant, but all generally providing quality coverage. (There are a few exceptions, called “tabloids” after their most common print format; they can be recognised by their exaggerated and sensational headlines).

The national newspaper is the New York Times ($2.50 per day, $6 on Sundays); although ostensibly a local newspaper for New York City, it is read daily throughout most of the country for its coverage of national and international issues. For financial news, the Wall Street Journal (also based in New York, $2) is also highly regarded and widely read. For a more casual but still informative format, USA Today ($2) is published five days a week; it is the largest-circulation print newspaper in the country. Many hotels offer free copies of the local paper or USA Today; ask at reception. Other widely read newspapers include the Los Angeles Times (known for its West Coast coverage) and the Washington Post (whose political coverage of the capital is exemplary). News magazines such as Time are published weekly and offer more in-depth coverage.

Large metropolitan areas also have a full range of television stations; small towns may have only two or three local stations, especially if they are within the broadcast radius of a major city. The major broadcast networks are ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and PBS (taxpayer-funded public broadcasting). You will rarely travel to places where you need an antenna, as almost the entire country is wired. This opens up a whole range of viewing options, from CNN for news to The Weather Channel to ESPN for sports, not to mention the myriad of entertainment channels. The number of channels varies by cable provider and location, so most hotels provide a list of channels. Most cable systems also have a programme guide available through the cable box.

The radio market is much more fragmented than the television market; in large cities there are dozens of stations on both the AM and FM bands. The AM band is mostly used for talk formats because of its lower fidelity; music stations are almost exclusively on the FM band. The most popular music formats are Country Music, Top 40 (current hits) and Adult Contemporary Music (a mix of soft rock, easy listening and the softer side of modern pop). Many rental cars are equipped with SiriusXM satellite radio, which offers hundreds of music, comedy, news and sports channels without the need to find new stations as you drive around the country.

Entry Requirements For U.S.A.

The United States has exceptionally burdensome and complicated visa requirements. Read carefully before visiting, especially if you need to apply for a visa, and contact the Bureau of Consular Affairs. Travellers have been denied entry for many, often trivial, reasons.

Planning and documentation before arrival

Entry without visa

Citizens of the 38 countries in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), as well as Canadians, Mexicans living on the border (border crossing card holders) and Bermudians (British national passport holders (overseas)) do not need a visa to enter the United States. Canadians and Bermudians are normally allowed to visit the country for up to six months. Permanent residents of Canada are not eligible for the visa waiver unless they are also citizens of a country participating in the Visa Waiver Program or one of the separate provisions for some other countries.

The Visa Waiver Program allows for visa-free stays of up to 90 days; it applies to citizens of the following countries: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Taiwan (with indication of identity card number).

Citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau may enter, reside, study and work in the United States indefinitely with a valid passport.

Citizens of U.S. overseas territories such as Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa are considered U.S. citizens and therefore do not need a passport to travel or live in the U.S. (unless they are entering from non-U.S. territories).

Bahamian citizens can only apply for visa-free entry at US Customs pre-clearance offices in the Bahamas. However, for persons over 14 years of age, a valid police clearance certificate issued within the last six months is required. Any attempt to enter via another port of entry requires a valid visa.

Citizens of the Cayman Islands, if they intend to travel directly to the US from there, may obtain a one-time entry visa waiver for approximately $25 prior to departure. A valid police clearance certificate issued within the last three months is required for persons over 13 years of age. If you are trying to enter from another country, you will need a valid visa.

Although there are exceptions, such as traffic violations, civil offences (such as littering, noise disturbance, disturbing the peace), purely political offences (such as non-violent demonstrations in countries where they are not allowed) and offences committed before the age of 16, a criminal record can remove any right to visa-free travel to the US. All persons with criminal records, including Canadians and Bermudians, should seek advice from a US embassy on whether they should be granted a visa.

Requirements for the Visa Waiver Program (VWP)

Visa restrictions: Due to terrorism concerns, travelers who have previously visited Iran, Sudan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Libya or Yemen cannot enter the VWP under the new rules adopted in 2015 and must apply for a visa to visit the United States.

The programme is only open to travellers who are in the United States for tourism or business purposes. You may not come to the United States to pursue education, work or be a journalist; if you do, you must apply for the appropriate visa in advance, regardless of the duration of your trip to the United States.

The 90-day period is not extendable. A short trip to Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean does not qualify you for an additional 90 days upon your return to the US. An extended absence in a neighbouring country may reset the limit, especially if your first trip to the United States was short. Be careful if you are transiting the US on a trip longer than 90 days.

If a person has a criminal record, has previously been denied entry or has previously been denied a visa to the U.S., they cannot participate in the VWP. People who fall into these categories must apply for a U.S. visa instead.

To participate in the Visa Waiver Programme by air or sea, an online form must be completed and $14 paid, preferably 72 hours before arrival. This form is called the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA). The ESTA authorisation is valid for multiple trips and is valid for two years (unless your passport expires before then). This requirement is not necessary if you are entering by land.

All passports must be biometric. If your passport is old and was issued before biometric passports were available, you must apply for a new passport to travel to the United States under the VWP.

Entry under the VWP by air or sea requires travel on a signatory airline. All scheduled commercial flights to the US are accepted, but if you are taking a chartered flight or vessel, you should check the status of the airline as you may need a visa. If you are travelling to the United States on your own plane or yacht, you will need to apply for a tourist visa in advance.

Travellers entering by air or sea must also have a return or onward ticket from the United States. This requirement is not necessary for residents of Canada, Mexico, Bermuda or the Caribbean. If you are travelling by land, there is a $7.00 border crossing fee.

Entry under the VWP does not allow you to change your immigration status and if you are refused entry, the decision cannot be appealed and you are immediately placed on the first flight.

Applying for a visa

U.S. visa/residency status overview

  • B-1: Business visitor
  • B-2: Tourist (“visitor for pleasure”)
  • C-1: Passage
  • F-1: University student
  • H-1B / L-1: Use
  • J-1: Exchange Programme / Postdoctoral Researcher
  • M-1: Student in vocational training
  • O-1 / P-1 : Sportsman / Performer
  • WB: Visa Waiver Program, Business; cannot be extended beyond 90 days.

WT: Visa Waiver Program, Tourist; cannot be extended beyond 90 days.

For the rest of the world, the visa application fee is $160 (as of April 2012) for non-petition visas and $190 for petition visas; this fee is waived in very limited circumstances, namely for those applying for certain visitor exchange visas.

Depending on your nationality and the category of visa you are applying for, you will have to pay an additional fee (between $7 and $200) which is only charged when the visa is issued. This fee is called a reciprocity fee and is charged by the United States to match the fees charged by other countries to US citizens.

The Immigration and Nationality Act states that all persons applying to enter the United States as nonimmigrants are presumed to be immigrants until they rebut this presumption by demonstrating a “compelling attachment” to their home country and sufficient evidence that the visit will be temporary. When the US denies a visa application, it is usually because the applicant does not have enough compelling ties to their home country to convince the consular officer that the person will not seek to stay longer than expected. Applicants must prove that they are indeed entitled to the visa they are applying for. In-person interviews (where the officer must be satisfied that you are not a “potential immigrant”) at the nearest US embassy or consulate are required for almost all nationalities, and wait times for interview slots and visa processing can be several months.

Remember that the Embassy is closed on both US holidays and holidays in your home country. Therefore, you should consider both holidays when setting dates to apply for a visa. In addition, travellers should start planning their trip well in advance, as the application process can take up to six months.

Do not assume anything. Check with the U.S. Department of State or the U.S. Consulate nearest you for the required documentation. If your country participates in the Visa Waiver Program, note that if you have been denied a visa for any reason, including lack of proper documentation, you are no longer eligible for the program and must apply for a visa for each subsequent visit to the United States.

For technical and scientific fields of work or study, the processing of the non-immigrant visa application can take up to 70 days, depending on nationality, as it can take up to 8 weeks for the authorities in Washington to grant approval. This is especially true for military and dual-use fields, which are listed in a so-called technical alert list.

A visa is not a guarantee of entry; it only allows you to go to a port of entry and apply for entry. Your visa is usually not tied to the length of stay allowed; for example, a 10-year visa does not allow you to stay for 10 years. Instead, you can enter on the last day of your visa’s validity and may stay as a tourist for up to 180 days, for example.

Applying for an incorrect or improper visa can lead to serious problems, including the possibility of never obtaining a U.S. visa again (especially in cases of fraud). Consider consulting a U.S. immigration lawyer, especially if you plan to stay longer or do something other than business or tourism. This includes concerts or relocation, but also journalism.

Travelling to US possessions overseas

Slightly different rules apply to US possessions overseas. For more details, see the article for the respective destination.

In short, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands have the same entry requirements as the 50 states. However, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands apply the visa waiver programme to a few more countries.

American Samoa does not fall under federal immigration jurisdiction and has its own entry requirements.

Arrival in the United States

Immigration

Since May 2013, non-US or Canadian citizens arriving by air no longer have to fill out a paper I-94 form. Instead, all travellers’ records are stored electronically by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and can be accessed here. There are two separate channels: one for US citizens, Canadian citizens and returning US permanent residents and one for all other travellers.

Visitors arriving by land must always complete the I-94 form on paper and return the attached portion of their passport when they leave the country.

If you are not a citizen or resident of the United States, you will be briefly interviewed at immigration. You must be prepared to show the officials that your purpose is not immigration (unless you have an appropriate visa for that purpose). Also be prepared to show your reasons for entering the United States. For business, this could be a letter of invitation from a company you are visiting or the registration details of a conference you are attending. For tourists, you may need to prove that you have funds or that you have already paid for most of your travel arrangements (e.g. accommodation, transport within the US, tours, meals). Proof of further travel may be required.

If you do not fully comply with what is asked of you, e.g. if you do not want to continue the transport, you may be sent for further questioning. At this stage, your belongings may be searched and your documents, letters or diaries read. If you look like a likely immigrant (for example, if you are carrying work documents, photographs you normally keep at home, excessive luggage or pets) or if you cannot convince the officers that you intend to comply with the terms of your declared entry permit, you will be refused entry and deported. If your country participates in the Visa Waiver Program, please note that if you are refused entry, you will no longer be eligible for the program and will need to apply for a visa for any further visit to the United States.

Once they have decided to admit you, your fingerprints will be taken and a digital photo will be taken. Entry will be refused if any of these procedures are rejected.

At some airports, Canadian and VWP nationals can use the Automated Passport Control (APC) kiosks to register their passport and biometric data. Family members travelling together can do this all at once. VWP citizens must have ESTA authorisation and have entered the United States at least once since 2008. If successful, the traveller will receive a receipt and proceed to the designated CBP office to continue the inspection process. No pre-registration or application fee is required for this process. Nationals of the United States and other select countries may participate in GlobalEntry. Global Entry also allows select passengers to use a designated kiosk for the inspection process. Unlike the APC programme, Global Entry requires a pre-application, background check, interview and $100 fee, but allows the passenger to avoid intensive interviews after visiting a kiosk for up to five years. Canadian citizens and permanent residents can participate in a similar programme called NEXUS, which has a lower application fee ($50) and also offers expedited clearance and all the privileges of Global Entry, but requires you to be interviewed by both US and Canadian immigration officials before it is approved.

As in most countries, customs officials take any form of security threat with humour; even the most casual joke suggesting that you pose a threat can lead to a lengthy interrogation at best.

Customs office

The officer interviewing you about immigration matters may also ask you what you are bringing into the United States.

Each household (i.e. family members living and travelling together) must complete a Customs Declaration Form. US, Canadian or VWP nationals can do this electronically at the kiosks located just outside the CBP passport checkpoints. All other nationals must complete it manually – flight staff will provide this form or it can be downloaded here, printed and brought with you. Whether you have anything to declare or not, customs officials may still search or x-ray your baggage. Most of the time they won’t. Most of the time they won’t. A more thorough search of bags rarely takes place, so you don’t have to deal with ominous latex gloves.

Do not attempt to bring in items from countries on which the US has imposed economic sanctions (currently Cuba, Iran, Syria and Sudan) as these will be confiscated by customs if discovered – unmarked cigars in particular are suspected to be from Cuba and will also be taken. It is also forbidden to bring in meat or raw fruit or vegetables (with some exceptions for Canadian produce, which is only grown in season and overland), but you are allowed to bring in cooked non-meat products such as bread and most pre-packaged foods (biscuits, cheese, tea, coffee, etc.). All food and plant products brought into the country must be declared, even if they are not restricted! As in Australia and New Zealand, all food and plant products entering the country must be physically inspected by the US Department of Agriculture – if necessary, you will be directed to their inspection area after clearing customs. For simple, unrestricted items, such as pre-packaged non-meat products, the inspection process rarely takes more than a minute. Failure to declare agricultural products can result in a fine or even criminal prosecution if the USDA believes you are intentionally trying to import illegal food or plants. However, first-time offenders usually get off with a warning for unintentional omission if the products are ultimately permitted.

In addition to your personal effects returned to you, you are allowed to import individual gifts worth up to $100 each. If you are 21 years of age or older, you may also bring in limited quantities of tobacco products and alcohol duty-free:

  • Up to 200 cigarettes (one carton) or 50 non-Cuban cigars or up to 2 kg of loose tobacco products such as snuff (or a proportionate combination thereof).
  • Up to one litre of alcohol. Unlike other countries, the one-litre limit applies regardless of alcohol content: a fifth of scotch at 40 per cent alcohol by volume or a standard bottle (750 ml) of wine at 14 per cent alcohol by volume are both within the allowable limit, but a six-pack of 12-oz beer at 5 per cent alcohol by volume is over 2 litres and exceeds the duty-free limit.

If you are just over the permitted alcohol content (e.g. a six-pack of beer or a second bottle of wine), most customs officials will let the wine and beer through if you have made a full and correct declaration. If you exceed this amount, or if you exceed the limit for spirits, you will probably have to pay duties and taxes, the amount of which depends partly on the state you are entering and the country the goods come from (duties from Canada, for example, are minimal due to NAFTA). Customs officials are not so lenient with tobacco products, so expect to pay if you cross even one cigarette!

A reasonable amount of perfume or cologne may also be imported as long as the brand is not subject to a “U.S. trademark restriction”. There is no limit to the amount of money you can bring into or out of the United States. However, if you are bringing $10,000 or more (or the foreign currency equivalent) per household (total amount of all family members travelling with you), you must declare the money on your customs form and will be given a special form to complete; failure to declare will result in a fine and possible confiscation of the money. Cheques, bonds and other financial instruments must also be declared. ATM/debit cards linked to non-US bank accounts holding the amount mentioned do not have to be declared (although your bank may impose certain withdrawal restrictions and fees for accessing this money in the US).

The US possessions of American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the US Virgin Islands are not under federal customs jurisdiction and each have their own requirements. Customs inspection is required when travelling between these territories and the rest of the United States. There are some (usually major) differences in customs exemptions for US citizens returning from these destinations.

Forward connections

You must clear immigration and customs at your first point of entry, even if you have subsequent domestic flights. Since you had access to your checked baggage at customs, you will have to go through security again before your connecting flight. Almost all major hubs have special arrangements for travellers with connecting flights, such as a conveyor belt directly behind customs where you can drop off your baggage already marked for transfer to your final destination. Some hubs, such as JFK, use a more cumbersome system that requires you to present your ID and boarding pass at a “Connecting Flights” check-in counter. At airports with separate domestic and international terminals (e.g. Boston), you must go to another terminal and drop off your baggage before going through security.

These baggage check-in procedures only apply if your baggage has been checked through to your final destination (as opposed to your first port of entry into the United States). If not, you must go to the terminal of your next flight and check in as usual.

Departure from the United States

Do you think you will overstay?
Overstaying passport control or violating entry requirements (e.g. working with a B1/B2 status) will automatically void your visa. In addition, it will be extremely difficult for you to re-enter the United States and you may also be banned from entering the country for at least three years, if not permanently. If you have overstayed your visa waiver period, you will need a visa for all future visits. If you overstay for compelling reasons such as a medical emergency or flight delay or cancellation, you must inform immigration of your situation to avoid the above penalties.

Unlike most countries, the U.S. does not have formal passport control on departure, especially for air and sea travellers. Therefore, your airline or shipping company will document your departure and report it to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). CBP will then update your immigration file. Foreign nationals who entered the U.S. by air or sea and departed by air or sea after mid-2013 do not need to take any further action.

If you fall into one of the following categories, you may need to take additional steps to actively prove that you left the United States on time:

  1. You entered the U.S. before mid-2013, by any means (when the paper I-94 card was still issued to foreign nationals): Give the I-94 card to airline staff at check-in or to the Canadian or Mexican immigration officer if you are leaving by land.
  2. You entered the USA by land or private vehicle (paper I-94 cards are still issued here): Give the I-94 card to the airline staff at check-in or to the Canadian or Mexican immigration officer when leaving the country by land.
  3. left the USA by land or private vehicle: Keep all evidence that you were outside the US before your authorised stay expires.

Be sure to remember to bring the necessary documents with you on your next visits to prove that you left legally. U.S. Customs and Border Protection has information on what to do if your receipt is not collected.

If you intend to travel overland to Canada or Mexico for pleasure and return within 30 days or the authorised length of stay (whichever is shorter), you may re-enter the United States provided you have not yet surrendered an I-94 card issued before travelling to Canada or Mexico. You can also do this if you entered the US on a one-time visa or if the visa you entered the US on has expired. However, you will only be admitted for the remainder of the original period; the time limit for leaving the United States will not be extended if you simply depart for another location in North America. If you return the I-94 during your pleasure trip, you will have to reapply for entry into the United States (which means a new visa for one-time visa holders) and undergo the usual interviews that foreign nationals are subjected to in order to verify that they do not intend to immigrate, work or do anything else not authorised by the visa.

So try to avoid re-entering the US a few days, weeks or months after a visit. Even if you don’t technically stay too long, planning multiple visits to the US shortly after entering can be interpreted by immigration authorities as “intent to immigrate” and get you into trouble.

How To Travel To U.S.A.

Get In - By air

The United States is home to some of the world’s most popular airlines. After the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 and the resulting decline in air travel, there was a large-scale consolidation across the industry and the United States is now home to some of the largest airlines in the world. Most visitors from outside Canada and Mexico arrive in the United States by air. Although many medium-sized domestic cities have international airports, flights to most of them are limited, and most travellers enter the United States through one of the major ports of entry along the coast. Atlanta, New York (Newark and JFK), Los Angeles, Chicago (O’Hare) and Miami International Airports are the five main points of entry into the United States by air.

  • From the East, New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Charlotte, Boston, Washington, D.C., Orlando and Miami are the main access points from Europe and other transatlantic departure points. All major East Coast airports are served by some major European cities. Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle, although not in the East, also have a good number of flights from major European cities.
  • From the West, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Honolulu are the main access points from Asia, Oceania and other trans-Pacific departure points. Las Vegas, Portland (Oregon) and San Diego also offer some international flight options. Of course, if you arrive in Honolulu, you will need to take another flight to the mainland. Foreign airlines are not allowed to carry passengers to/from Hawaii or Alaska and the other 48 states (except for refuelling and transit). Chicago, while not on the West Coast, remains a major access point to Asia, with non-stop flights from Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing and Seoul, and direct flights from Singapore. Qantas flies to Dallas/Fort Worth and Honolulu non-stop from Sydney, in addition to daily services to Los Angeles and San Francisco from Sydney and Melbourne, and to New York from Sydney. Although New York is on the East Coast, there are also good connections to East and Southeast Asia, with non-stop flights from Tokyo, Seoul, Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Taipei, as well as direct flights from Manila and Singapore. There are flights to Boston and Washington, D.C. from some Asian destinations.
  • From the north, Chicago, New York, Detroit and Minneapolis have a good number of flights from major Asian and Canadian cities. There are flights from Toronto to many cities in the East and Midwest; flights from Toronto to the US are generally considered ‘domestic’ as Toronto-Pearson Airport has pre-clearance facilities at the US border (i.e. travellers to the US clear US Immigration and Customs in Toronto and arrive in the US at a domestic terminal).
  • From the south, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, New York City and Los Angeles are the main points of entry from Latin America and the Caribbean, but especially from South America. Dallas, Atlanta and Charlotte are also major international gateways. From Mexico, many major US airports offer non-stop service to Cancun, Guadalajara, Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta and Mexico City, with non-stop service to other Mexican cities from Los Angeles and Houston. Direct flights to/from Cuba are available on a limited charter basis from Miami only to those authorised or approved by the Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) to trade with the “enemy”, and tickets for these flights are only available through certain travel agencies (mainly in Miami) authorised by OFAC to sell tickets. In December 2014, Presidents Obama and Raul Castro reached an agreement to normalise diplomatic and trade relations between the two countries, ending a 55-year trade embargo. Plans are underway to implement the normalisation of relations and trade, which could include direct flights from Miami and other US cities to Cuba. Airlines still need to clarify implementation rules with their legal teams, plan routes and get approval from the US and Cuban governments. Others may wait to see how it is implemented before planning.
  • On the other side of the world, New Delhi, India, has non-stop flights to New York (via JFK and Newark airports) and to Chicago. Mumbai has non-stop flights to New York (JFK and Newark). You can also fly to New York (JFK) from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan and the United Arab Emirates. Qatar and Saudi Arabia fly to Washington, DC, and South African Airways flies to New York (JFK) and Washington, DC (Dulles). Los Angeles and Houston both offer non-stop flights to Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Miami is served by Qatar.

The United States requires full entry requirements, including for international transit. If you normally need a visa to visit the US and cannot avoid transit, you will need at least a C-1 transit visa.

Customs and immigration clearance is completed at your first stop in the United States, not at your final destination, even if you have an onward flight. Allow at least three hours at your first stop in the United States. If baggage was checked at the airport of origin to your final destination, it should ALWAYS be collected at the first US stop and taken to customs for inspection. After passing through customs and immigration, there is usually a check-in counter or conveyor belt where passengers can recheck their baggage before proceeding to the international arrivals area where the non-travelling public can greet and meet the returning passengers. All international arriving passengers must pass through TSA security to board the next flight.

The baggage allowance for flights to and from the US is usually calculated using the piece system in addition to the weight system, even for foreign airlines. This means that you are allowed to check in a limited number of pieces of luggage, with each piece not exceeding certain linear dimensions (calculated by adding the length, width and height of the pieces of luggage). The exact allowances and restrictions on weight, linear dimensions and number of pieces of baggage allowed depend on the airline you are travelling with, your point of departure (if arriving in the US) or destination (if departing) and the class of service you are travelling in.

Upon arrival, after collecting your luggage, you can go to the exit. Most airports have a wall of “courtesy phones” near the exit with descriptions and prices of motels in the area. You can call these motels for free and request a room and a shuttle will pick you up at the airport. It is very convenient and mostly free (but you are supposed to tip the driver).

Airport security

Security procedures for commercial flights departing from anywhere in the United States are constantly evolving. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) now requires all passengers to remove their shoes and outerwear and have their personal belongings X-rayed. Full-body scanners using millimetre wave or X-ray technology are becoming more common and are now the norm at most US airports. It is possible to decline a full-body scan and opt for a search, but you may have to wait a few minutes for an officer to be available to conduct the search. If you opt for a search, the TSA officer will offer to conduct it in private, and you also have the right to request that it be conducted by an officer of the same gender, but usually no clothing other than shoes and belts will be removed (you can ask the officer beforehand), although the officer may feel some private areas through your clothing. Randomly selected passengers may also be selected for additional checks. This may include an ‘enhanced search’. Do not assume that you are in trouble or suspected of being in trouble just because you are subjected to these checks.

If you want to lock your checked baggage, the TSA requires that you use special locks with the TSA Travel Sentry locking system. These locks can be opened by TSA agents with a master key if they want to inspect the contents of your suitcase. If your lock is not a TSA approved lock, the TSA will break the lock and you will not be entitled to compensation for any damages.

Pre-release

Passengers whose journey originates from major Canadian airports and who use US or Canadian airlines have the advantage of being able to complete US immigration procedures (passport control and customs) at their Canadian port of exit. For most flights originating in Canada, they are treated as US domestic flights, but only because customs clearance has taken place at the Canadian airport. As a result, once Canadian passengers arrive at the US port of entry, instead of walking up or down a segregated corridor, they walk to the gate where they see the display of restaurants and shops in the domestic terminal on their way to baggage claim. It should be noted that most Canadian airlines are housed in the US domestic terminals or concourses of most airports. Because of this arrangement, some otherwise domestic airports (such as LaGuardia Airport in New York) that do not have customs and immigration facilities also serve international flights from Canadian airports with pre-clearance facilities.

Travellers on flights between the US and Canada operated by foreign carriers such as Philippine Airlines and Cathay Pacific, as well as travellers arriving from smaller Canadian airports that do not have pre-clearance facilities, must still go through traditional immigration procedures upon arrival at their first stop in the US; a Canadian transit visa may also be required if passengers are accommodated in a holding area for the duration of the transit.

Some airports in Canada, including Vancouver International Airport, Terminal 1 at Toronto-Pearson Airport and Montréal-Trudeau Airport, do not usually require transit passengers from abroad to clear Canadian Customs and Immigration before going through US pre-clearance procedures. But even if you do pass through these airports, make sure your paperwork is in order so you can enter Canada: If you cannot enter the US on the same day you go through pre-clearance, or if you and/or your luggage are not checked in by your airline to at least your first destination in the US, you must report to Canadian Customs; a Canadian transit or temporary resident visa may be required. Also note that this provision does not apply in reverse, which means that you will have to go through Canadian Customs and Immigration on your outbound flight.

Pre-clearance facilities are available at most major Canadian airports (Toronto-Pearson, Montreal-Trudeau, Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier, Vancouver, Calgary, etc.), Queen Beatrix International Airport in Aruba, Grand Bahama and Lynden Pindling International airports in the Bahamas, Bermuda International Airport in Bermuda, and Dublin and Shannon International airports in Ireland.

Passengers on British Airways flights from London to New York City transiting via Dublin or Shannon, Ireland, can benefit from US passport control and pre-clearance in Dublin or Shannon. Upon arrival in the United States, they will be treated as domestic passengers.

Get In - By car

Visa restrictions: All persons wishing to enter the United States by land must be in possession of a valid passport, NEXUS, FAST, Global Entry, SENTRI card or passport, laser visa or “enhanced driver’s licence” (issued by some US states and some Canadian provinces).

Traffic drives on the right-hand side of the road (as in Canada and Mexico), except in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where left-hand traffic is common on the small Caribbean islands.

If you are entering under the Visa Waiver Programme, you must pay a US$6 fee in cash at the port of entry. There is no fee if you simply re-enter the country and already have the visa waiver receipt in your passport.

The US-Canada and US-Mexico borders are two of the most frequently crossed borders, with millions of border crossings per day. The average wait time is 30 minutes, but some of the busiest border crossings can experience significant delays of 1 to 2 hours at peak times (weekends, holidays). Current wait times (updated hourly) can be found on the US Customs website. The US-Mexico border is a lucrative area for drug trafficking. Vehicles crossing the border may be x-rayed or searched by a drug-sniffing dog. If there is any suspicion, your vehicle may be searched. As this is very common, do not expect border officials to be patient.

Since metric units are used in Canada and Mexico, while conventional units are used in the United States, you should note that after the border, road signs are in miles and miles per hour. If you are driving a car from Canada or Mexico, remember that a speed limit of 55 mph is equivalent to 88 km/h in the United States.

Get In - By bus

Greyhound offers a comprehensive and affordable cross-border service from Canada and Mexico across its network. Some routes, such as Toronto to Buffalo, run hourly. Megabus U.S. also offers several daily trips from Toronto (which is also a hub for Megabus Canada) to New York City via Buffalo for just $1.

Bus passengers are often checked more strictly by US customs officials than car or train passengers.

Get In - With the boat

Before the Second World War, most travellers and immigrants from abroad came to the United States by boat. Today, this is no longer the case, as most enter by air.

It can be difficult to enter the United States by sea, except on a registered cruise ship. The most common entry points for private boats are Los Angeles and surrounding areas, Florida and the eastern coastal states.

There are a few passenger ferries between Canada and the United States, mainly between British Columbia and Washington State or Alaska.

Cunard offers a transatlantic cruise between the UK and New York.

Get In - By train

Amtrak offers international connections from the Canadian cities of Vancouver (Amtrak Cascades offers two trips per day to Seattle), Toronto (Maple Leaf once daily to New York via Niagara Falls) and Montreal (Adirondack once daily to New York via Albany).

For international trains from Montreal and Toronto, immigration formalities are done at the border; this takes much longer than on the bus, so the bus is often both cheaper and faster than the train.

Travellers from Vancouver go through US immigration and customs clearance at Pacific Central Station before boarding the train, similar to air travel. Allow enough time to complete the necessary checks before departure.

From Mexico, the nearest Amtrak stations are in San Diego (Pacific Surfliner with several departures from San Diego to San Luis Obispo) and El Paso (Sunset Limited and Texas Eagle once daily between Los Angeles and San Antonio). In San Antonio, the Texas Eagle continues north to Chicago and the Sunset Limited continues east to New Orleans). Trains do not cross the border into Mexico, so travellers must take public transport or a taxi to the border. There are no continuing trains south on the Mexican side of the border.

Get In - On foot

In urban areas, there are many border crossings that can be crossed by pedestrians. Border crossings such as those in or near Niagara Falls, Detroit, Tijuana, Nogales and El Paso are popular with people who want to spend a day on the other side of the border. In some cases, this can be ideal for day trippers, as driving across the border can mean a much longer wait.

How To Travel Around U.S.A.

Due to the size of the United States and the distance between major cities, air travel is the dominant mode of travel for short-term travellers. If you have time, travelling by car, bus or train can be interesting.

In some provinces, you can get information about traffic and public transport by dialling 511 on your phone.

Get Around - By air

Air travel is the fastest and often the most convenient means of long-distance travel in the United States. A coast-to-coast trip takes about six hours east to west and five hours west to east (depending on winds), compared to several days for ground transportation. Most major US cities are served by one or two airports; many smaller cities also have passenger air service, although you may have to diversions through a major central airport to get there. Depending on your point of departure, it may be more economical to drive and fly to a nearby major city or, alternatively, fly to a major city near your destination and rent a car.

Unlike many other countries, the United States has never had a state-owned national airline. The structure of US airlines has changed dramatically over the past decade due to bankruptcies and mergers. The largest airlines are the three remaining major legacy airlines (American AirlinesDelta and United) and two of the country’s low-cost carriers, Southwest and JetBlueAlaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines are traditional regional carriers, while smaller carriers such as SpiritFrontierAllegiantVirgin AmericaDynamic International Airways and Sun Country are trying to make a name for themselves. There are also a number of smaller regional airlines that are subsidiaries of the larger airlines and can be booked through their parent companies.

The major airlines compete with each other on the main routes, and travellers willing to book two weeks or more in advance can get good deals. However, most smaller destinations are only served by one or two regional airlines, and prices can be high. However, the line between low-cost carriers and mainline carriers is getting thinner in terms of prices and service. It is often possible to travel on national or regional airlines at a similar or even lower price than on the no-service carriers, as long as you don’t buy more than one seat, hand luggage and soft drinks. But ironically, budget airlines can sometimes offer more amenities than the major carriers, such as in-flight entertainment, even on a short-haul flight, or free checked baggage in their ticket prices! On Southwest Airlines, for example, passengers can check up to two pieces of luggage in the basic fare.

The major airlines also offer first class, which provides a larger seat, free food and drink and better service. Round-trip fares can exceed a thousand dollars even for short flights, so the extra cost is not worth it for the vast majority of travellers. (Most First Class travellers get their seats through a free frequent flyer upgrade or similar benefit.) ) You may also be offered an upgrade at a much lower price at check-in or at the airport if seats are available. Depending on the cost of a last-minute upgrade, the savings on checked baggage fees alone can be a worthwhile option (you’ll also get priority boarding, a bigger seat, more legroom, free food and drinks).

On certain transcontinental flights operated by American (“Flagship Service“), Delta (“BusinessElite Transcontinental“), JetBlue (“Mint”) and United (“BusinessFirst p.s. “), where international-style business class (with lie-flat seats and upgraded meals) is available, American’s Flagship Service also offers the equivalent of international first class in a very private 1-1 configuration. Transcontinental upgrade service is generally only available between New York-JFK and Los Angeles/San Francisco, although Delta offers it on some flights to Seattle. Flights between the East Coast and Hawaii, as well as all flights between the mainland and the US Pacific Territories (Guam, CNMI, etc…), generally feature International Business Class.

Security

Security at US airports is expensive, especially during holiday periods. Allow plenty of time and pack as lightly as possible. Adults must present an approved photo ID.

There are restrictions on liquids (including gels, aerosols, creams and pastes) in hand baggage. Liquids must be in individual containers no larger than 100 ml (3.4 oz.). All containers must be placed in a single plastic zippered bag with a capacity of 946 ml (1 quart) or less. Only one such bag is permitted per passenger, regardless of the amount of liquid. Liquids exceeding these limits will be confiscated. Medication (including saline solution for contact lenses) and infant and children’s food (formula, breast milk and infant juice) are exempt but subject to additional controls; inform TSA officials if you are carrying these items, store them separately from your other liquids and, if possible, label them clearly in advance.

When arriving from an international destination, ALL passengers must go through security to continue their flight after clearing Immigration and Customs. This means that all liquids and prohibited items (as per TSA regulations) purchased at a duty-free shop or taken as carry-on baggage from a foreign airport must be placed back in checked baggage after leaving the customs area and before being checked again. At most airports, there is a check-in counter or conveyor belt outside the customs area for transit passengers to recheck their baggage. Items cannot be repacked or rearranged in the baggage claim area prior to customs inspection.

By private plane

The cost of chartering the smallest private jet starts at around US$4,000 per flight hour, with costs significantly higher for longer-range aircraft and lower for smaller propeller-driven aircraft. Although private flights are far from cheap, a family of four or more can often fly together at a similar or even cheaper cost than a first-class commercial flight, especially to smaller airports where scheduled commercial flights are the most expensive and private flights the cheapest. It may be cheaper to fly internationally first class as a family of four, but this is rarely the case except when travelling from Western Europe.

Air Charter is the rental of a private aircraft for a single trip. Jet Cards are prepaid cards that entitle you to a certain number of flight hours in a specific aircraft. Since all expenses are paid in advance on the card, you don’t have to worry about downtime, return flights, landing fees, etc.

Many small-town airports on America’s borders welcome small private planes; places like Ogdensburg, Watertown and Massena, which have only a couple of scheduled domestic Essential Air Service flights a day, fill the rest of their time with general aviation. Give them an hour or two head start to get the border officials to welcome the small private plane from exotic, foreign Brockville, and you’ve provided the excuse they needed to add “International Airport” to their name.

Get Around - By train

Due to the popularity of the aeroplane and the private car, the passenger train system in the United States is a shadow of what it was in the 1920s, and although the United States still has the longest rail system in the world, it is now mainly used for freight. With the exception of some densely populated corridors (especially in the Northeast, where there are high-speed trains), passenger trains in the United States are surprisingly rare, slow and relatively expensive. The national rail system, Amtrak (+1-800-USA-RAIL), serves many cities and offers exceptional sightseeing opportunities, but is not particularly efficient for intercity travel and is often as expensive as flying. In urban areas, Amtrak can be very efficient and convenient, but delays are common in rural areas. Plan ahead to ensure train travel between your destinations is available and/or convenient. There are discounts of 15% for students and seniors and a 30-day U.S. Rail Pass for international travellers only. If you plan to buy a regular ticket within a week of your trip, it is worth checking the website for “weekly offers”, which are sometimes substantial. Travellers from Europe and East Asia should note that there is no dedicated high-speed rail network in the U.S. and driving is often faster than taking the train for long distances.

Amtrak offers many amenities and services that other modes of transportation lack. Amtrak’s routes traverse some of America’s most beautiful regions. Travellers with limited time may not find the train convenient simply because the country is large, and this “size” is particularly evident in many scenic areas. However, for those with enough time, travelling by train offers an unparalleled view of the United States without the hassles and long-term inconveniences of a rental car or the hassles of flying. Some of the more scenic routes include the California Zephyr, which runs from Emeryville in California’s Bay Area to Chicago, and the Empire Builder, which runs from Chicago to Seattle or Portland. Both offer a special lounge car with floor-to-ceiling windows and double-decker coaches.

During the usual US holiday periods, some long-distance trains (outside the Northeast) can sell out weeks or even months in advance. So it pays to book early if you plan to use long-distance trains. Booking early also means that you will generally get lower fares on all trains, as these tend to go up when trains are full. On the other hand, same-day bookings are usually easy, and depending on the terms of the fare you purchase, you may be able to change your travel plans on the same day at no cost.

Independent of Amtrak, many major cities offer very reliable commuter trains that carry passengers to and from the suburbs or other relatively nearby areas. Since most Americans use a car to get around the suburbs, some commuter rail stations have park-and-ride lots where you can leave your car for the day to use commuter rail to get to a city’s downtown, where traffic and parking problems can make it more difficult to use a car. Rates for parking at commuter rail stations vary (some facilities are operated by third parties). Some commuter rail systems and services do not operate on weekends and holidays, so it is best to check the system’s website to plan ahead. Buy your tickets before you board the train as you can either pay a much higher fare or receive a hefty fine.

Get Around - With the boat

America has the largest network of inland waterways of any country in the world. It is entirely possible to travel within the United States by boat. Your choice of watercraft ranges from self-propelled canoes and kayaks to elaborate houseboats and river cruises.

Rivers and canals have played a key role in the country’s development, and a boat trip across them offers a unique perspective on the nation and unique landscapes. Here are some examples of waterways open for boating and/or scheduled cruises:

  • The New York State Canal System operates four canals with a total of 524 miles of waterways open for recreational and commercial use. The most famous of these canals is the Erie Canal, which begins near Albany and runs west to Buffalo. The Hudson River can be used to travel from New York to the Great Lakes and beyond. Side trips can be made to the Finger Lakes in Western New York or to Lake Champlain and Vermont. Small boats, including canoes and kayaks, are welcome on these canals.
  • The St Lawrence Seaway is now the main port of entry for large vessels in North America. Recreational boaters are welcome, but the Seaway is designed for very large vessels and a minimum length of 6 metres applies. The Seaway begins in eastern Canada and extends to the Great Lakes.
  • The Mississippi River There are two navigation routes between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. The Mississippi provides north-south access through the interior of the United States to the Gulf of Mexico and connects to all major inland waterways, including the Missouri and Ohio Rivers.

Every year, many newcomers and beginners successfully navigate these waterways. Remember that any kind of boating requires some preparation and planning. In general, the Coast Guard and the canal and maritime authorities are eager to help boaters. They may also give instructions that you must follow immediately. For example, small boats on canals may have to give way to larger boats, and weather conditions may require you to stop or change your route.

In the northwest, you can take the Alaska Marine Highway System ferries from Bellingham, Washington, all the way along Alaska’s southern coast to Dutch Harbor-Unalaska. As an added bonus, you can enjoy the beautiful mountain and archipelago scenery. Plus, much of Alaska is accessible off the beaten path by boat.

Get Around - By car

America’s love of the automobile is legendary, and most Americans use a car to get around their city and travel to nearby cities in their state or region. Travelling in the United States without a car can be difficult, but not impossible.

In general, American cities were built for the automobile. Renting or bringing your own car is therefore generally a very good idea. This is true even in very large cities like Los Angeles, Atlanta and Miami, where public transport is very limited and a car is the most convenient way to get around. (The exceptions are New York City, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., where owning a car is not only unnecessary but also inadvisable). In most medium-sized American cities, everything is scattered and public transport is scarce. Taxis are often available, but if you’re not at the airport, you may have to call one and wait half an hour or so for a pickup, and make similar arrangements for the return trip. While most Americans will be happy to give you directions, don’t be surprised if many are unfamiliar with public transport.

Car rentals usually cost between $20 and $100 per day for a basic limousine, depending on the type of car and location, with some discounts for week-long rentals. Most car rental companies have offices in the city centres of major cities, as well as offices at major airports. Not all companies allow you to pick up a car in one city and drop it off in another (those that do almost always charge extra for the privilege); check with the rental company when you make your reservation. Most Americans who rent a car are covered for loss or damage to the rental car either through their credit card or through their own private car insurance. If you do not have proper damage insurance, you may have to pay the full cost of the car if it is destroyed in an accident. Taking out third party and comprehensive insurance can increase the rental price by up to $30 per day, in some cases doubling it.

Petrol stations usually sell regional and national maps. Online maps with directions are available on several websites, including MapQuest and Google Maps. Drivers can get directions by calling 1-800-Free411 (1-800-3733411) and receiving them via text message. GPS navigation devices can be purchased for about $100, and car rental agencies often rent GPS devices for a small fee. Many smartphones are now equipped with GPS navigation software that provides detailed directions. Even states that prohibit the use of mobile phones by drivers often allow the use of GPS features as long as the driver does not collect data while driving (check local laws in the places where you are travelling).

Unlike most of the world, the United States still uses the imperial system of measurement, which means that road signs are in miles and miles per hour and fuel is sold in gallons. Most American cars usually display both the imperial and metric systems, as they are also manufactured for the Canadian and Mexican markets. However, if your car’s speedometer doesn’t show both, make sure you know the appropriate conversion (1 mile is about 1.6 km) and read the owner’s manual to find out how to convert the units. The road signs are also not up to international standards, but if you understand English they should be self-explanatory.

The national highway system consists of interstates, i.e. controlled divided highways without grade crossings, the older US highway systems, which may be limited to one lane in each direction, and state highways. All of these roads are generally well maintained by their respective states. While the former usually only connect the larger cities in each state, US highways and state roads allow you to reach many interesting places off the beaten track if you are not afraid to stop at traffic lights and meet pedestrians. Most sections of the highways are free, but there are some that require a fee.

Great American Journey

The idea of long-distance travel by car has a romantic appeal; many Americans will tell you that you can only see the “real” America by car. With little public transport in most American cities, the time lost travelling between two cities by car rather than flying can be offset by the convenience of driving within cities once you arrive. In addition, many of the country’s great natural attractions, such as the Grand Canyon, are almost impossible to reach without a car. If you have the time, a classic American road trip is very easy to do with a rental car (see below). Just remember that this type of trip can mean long days behind the wheel due to the distances involved, so make sure you are comfortable in the car you use. A coast-to-coast trip with multiple drivers and minimal stops takes at least five days (four and a half if you have a good bladder).

Driving laws

Driving laws are primarily a matter of state legislation and are enforced by state and local police. Fortunately, the widespread adoption of the Uniform Vehicle Code and federal regulation of traffic signs under the Highway Safety Act means that most driving laws do not vary much from state to state. All states publish an official driver’s manual that summarises the state’s driving laws in plain English. These manuals are usually available on the Internet and at many government offices. The AAA publishes a “AAA/CAA Digest of Motor Laws”, now available free online, which covers, among other things, some of the differences in the traffic laws of all US states and Canadian provinces.

International visitors who are 18 years and older are usually allowed to drive with their foreign driving licence for up to one year, depending on national law. Non-English driver’s licences must be accompanied by an International Driving Permit (IDP) or a certified translation. People staying in the US for more than one year must obtain a driver’s licence from the state in which they are staying, although exceptions sometimes apply depending on the state (for example, some states waive this requirement for people on student visas). Written and practical driving tests are usually required, although some Canadian and European licence holders may be exempt.

Americans drive in left-hand drive vehicles on the right and overtake on the left, as in Canada and Mexico. White lines separate traffic going in the same direction and yellow lines separate oncoming traffic. Red lights and stop signs are always obeyed in almost all jurisdictions in the USA. At all intersections, vehicles must stop behind the thick white line painted across the road and must not block pedestrian crossings. Turning right at a red light (after you have come to a stop and yielded the right of way to cross traffic) is legal in all states, although there are exceptions (e.g. in New York and where signs or signals specifically prohibit it). You must stop your vehicle immediately when you hear the siren of a police car, ambulance or fire engine to allow them to pass.

Speed limits vary depending on the area you are driving in. Most American drivers tend to drive calmly and safely in the sprawling suburban residential areas where the majority of Americans live. However, highways around central areas of major cities are often clogged with a significant percentage of “tailgated” drivers who exceed speed limits, make unsafe lane changes, or follow other cars too close (known as “tailgating”). Compliance with the posted speed limits is somewhat unpredictable and varies significantly from state to state. If you keep up with other drivers, you will usually avoid an annoying ticket. Watch out for small towns along high-speed rural roads (and medium-speed suburban roads); the lower speed limits you find when driving through these towns are strictly enforced.

Get Around - By bus

Intercity buses are widespread in the United States, and although they are not available everywhere, there are at least three daily routes in every state. Connections between nearby major cities are extremely frequent (for example, in July 2012, on a weekday off-peak, there were 82 buses a day, operated by seven operators, in both directions between Boston and New York, an average of almost one every 10 minutes). Many passengers use the bus when other modes of transport are not readily available, as buses often connect many small towns with regional cities. Disadvantaged and elderly people may use these bus routes as travelling by car is difficult or unaffordable for some. Buses are generally considered an “underclass” means of transport, but they are generally reliable, safe and affordable.

Greyhound Bus Lines (+1-800-229-9424) and several affiliated brands such as BoltBusLucky StreakNeOnCruceros USA and Valley Transit (in southeast Texas) have the majority of bus service in the United States. Discounts are available for travellers who buy their tickets 7 to 14 days before the date of travel. Greyhound buses generally run in 5-7 hour segments. At this time, all passengers must leave the bus for it to be serviced, even if it is the middle of the night. Continuing passengers will board before the passengers who have just boarded. There are no reservations on Greyhound buses. All seats are on a first-come, first-served basis, except in some cities where you can pay $5 for a priority seat.

Coach USA operates a variety of commuter routes, airport shuttles, casino shuttles and university connection services under several names, including Megabus, its intercity brand that competes with Greyhound. Megabus operates mainly in the Midwest and eastern half of the country between the hubs of Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, New Orleans, New York, Washington DC and several other cities around and between the hubs, as well as connections to Montreal and Toronto in Canada. There are also some connections between Los Angeles and San Francisco and Las Vegas, as well as another connection between San Francisco and Reno in the West, which do not connect with other connections in the Midwest and East Coast.

The so-called Chinatown buses are small independent companies that offer roadside departures for a standard cash fare that is often much lower than other operators. These routes operate mainly in the Northeast between Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC and Baltimore. Some continue from the Northeast to destinations in the Midwest and South. Others run between California, Nevada and Arizona on the West Coast. For more information, see the respective city guides and GoToBus.com.

Hispanic bus companies tend to have the largest buses in the country. Many are subsidiaries or branches of Mexican bus companies that provide cross-border service beyond the border areas, as far north as Chicago, east to Atlanta and south to Mexico City. Services between hubs in Texas and the Midwest, including Chicago, the Southeast and Mexico are provided by Tornado BusEl ExpresoOmnibus Mexicanos and Groupo Senda. Flights to and from Florida are offered by Chile’s JetSet, Argentina’s RedCoach and Cuban-American La Cubana. In California and the Southwest, operators include FuturaNetTufesaInterCalifornias and El Paso-Los Angeles Limousines, which offer tickets from $1.

The second largest association is Trailways, which consists of 70 different independent franchisees who jointly operate the “Trailways” brand as a franchise. Most of them only offer charter bus services and not scheduled services on fixed routes. The main Trailways subsidiaries offering scheduled services are Trailways of New YorkMartz TrailwaysSusquehanna Trailways and Burlington Trailways.

The Federal Highway Administration certifies all bus operators, although it has difficulty controlling the large number of services. Neighbourhood buses (Chinatown buses and internet buses) are more dangerous than others, but still much safer than driving a private vehicle.

There are many other small Trailways subsidiaries and small non-affiliated companies that provide bus services throughout the country. Some are operated by local governments as public transport, while others are operated by private, for-profit companies, with buses running within the same state or across state lines.

Get Around - By motorhome (RV)

Motorhomes – large, sometimes bus-sized vehicles with sleeping accommodations – are the quintessentially American way to travel the country. Some campers like the convenience of being able to go wherever they want in their RV and enjoy the camaraderie that RV parks provide. Others don’t like the hassle and maintenance problems that come with motorhoming. And don’t even think about driving a motorhome in a major metropolis like New York. Nevertheless, renting a motorhome is an option to consider if you plan to do a lot of driving in the United States and are comfortable with a large vehicle.

Get Around - Hitchhiking

The excitement and exhilaration of a cross-country ride is heightened when you travel by motorbike. Harley-Davidson is America’s leading motorbike brand, and Harley operates a motorbike rental programme for people who are licensed and able to ride a full-size motorbike. In some areas of the country, you can also rent other types of motorbikes, such as sport, touring and dual-purpose bikes. For those who have no experience with motorbikes, Harley and other dealers offer beginner’s courses. Helmets are not mandatory in all states, but are always a good idea. The practice of riding between the lines of slower cars, also known as “lane sharing” or “lane splitting”, is illegal except in California, where it is tolerated and widespread. Solo motorcyclists may legally use high occupancy vehicle lanes or carpool lanes during their hours of operation.

The American enthusiasm for motorbikes has given rise to a motorbike subculture. Motorbike clubs are exclusive clubs for members dedicated to riding a particular brand of motorbike within a highly structured club hierarchy. Riding clubs may or may not be organised around a particular brand of motorbike and offer open membership to anyone interested in motorcycling. Motorbike rallies, like the one in Sturgis, South Dakota, are large gatherings of riders from all over the country. Many riders are not affiliated with any clubs and ride alone or with friends. In general, motorcycling is considered a hobby rather than a practical means of transportation; this means, for example, that most American motorcyclists prefer not to ride in bad weather. Whatever you choose, and whatever brand of motorbike you prefer, motorcycling can be an exciting way to see the country.

Destinations in U.S.A.

Regions in U.S.A.

The United States consists of 50 states plus the city of Washington, D.C., a federal district and the nation’s capital. The country also has a few territories, including the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Below is a rough grouping of these states into regions, from the Atlantic to the Pacific:

  • New England (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont)
    Home to gabled churches, rustic antiques and steeped in American history, New England offers beaches, spectacular seafood, rugged mountains, frequent winter snows and some of the oldest towns in the country – all in an area small enough to visit (hastily) in a week.
  • Mid-Atlantic (Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C.)
    Stretching from New York City north to Washington, D.C., the Mid-Atlantic is home to some of the most densely populated cities in the country, as well as historic sites, rolling mountains, New Jersey’s Pine Barrens, the Lehigh Valley and seaside resorts such as Long Island Beaches and the Jersey Shore.
  • South (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia).
    The South is famous for its hospitality, traditional cuisine and musical traditions of blues, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, bluegrass and country. This lush, largely subtropical region includes cool, green mountains, agricultural plantations and vast cypress swamps.
  • Florida
    North Florida looks like the rest of the South, but the resorts of Orlando, the retirement communities, tropical Caribbean Miami, the Everglades and 1,200 miles of sandy beaches are not.
  • Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Wisconsin)
    The Midwest is home to farmland, forests, quaint towns, industrial cities and the Great Lakes, the largest freshwater lake system in the world, which forms the northern coast of the United States. Known for their simplicity and hospitality, the people of the Midwest are a welcoming people.
  • Texas
    The second largest state is like a country unto itself (as it once was), with strong cultural influences from its Spanish and Mexican past. The terrain ranges from the swamps of the southeast to the plains and cotton farms of the southern plains to the sandy beaches of south Texas and the mountains and deserts of far west Texas.
  • Great Plains (North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma).
    Travel west through these so-called flat states, from the edge of the eastern forests to the prairies and High Plains, a vast expanse of steppe (shortgrass prairies) almost as desolate as in the days of the Frontier, but still filled with pockets of strange and varied history.
  • Rocky Mountains (Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming)
    The spectacular snow-capped Rockies offer hiking, rafting and excellent skiing, but also deserts and a few large cities.
  • Southwest (Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah)
    This region, heavily influenced by Spanish and Mexican culture as well as Native American remnants, is home to some of the country’s most spectacular natural attractions and thriving artistic communities. Although the region’s deserts are mostly empty, there are some large cities.
  • California
    Like the Southwest, California has a history of Spanish and Mexican rule and is heavily influenced by these civilisations, with a large import of Asian culture, especially cuisine. California offers world-class cities, deserts, rainforests, snow-capped mountains and beautiful beaches. Northern California (anchored by the San Francisco Bay Area) and Southern California (anchored by Los Angeles and also including Orange County, San Diego and others) are culturally distinct.
  • Pacific Northwest (Washington, Oregon)
    The pleasantly mild Pacific Northwest offers outdoor activities and cosmopolitan cities. Terrain ranges from spectacular rainforests to scenic mountains and volcanoes to beautiful coastlines, sage-covered steppes and deserts.
  • Alaska
    Only one-fifth the size of the rest of the United States, Alaska extends into the Arctic and offers mountainous wilderness, including North America’s highest mountain, Denali, and an Alaska Native culture unique to the United States.
  • Hawaii
    A volcanic archipelago in the tropical Pacific Ocean, 2,000 miles southwest of California (the nearest state), Hawaii is a holiday paradise.

Politically, the United States is a federation of states, each with its own rights and powers (hence the name), with laws varying slightly from state to state.

The United States also administers a patchwork of non-state territories around the world, of which Puerto Rico is by far the largest. Other territories include the U.S. Virgin Islands, also in the Caribbean, as well as Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, Wake Island and islands without permanent residents such as the Midway Islands in Oceania. As these islands are very different from the 50 states from the traveller’s point of view, they are covered in separate articles. Although there are legal categories for their relationship to the US mainland, these are generally sui generis for each of them and do not affect travellers to any great extent. Where relevant, these issues are dealt with in the individual articles for each territory.

Cities in U.S.A.

There are more than 10,000 cities, towns and villages in the United States.

  • Washington, D.C. – the nation’s capital, filled with great museums and monuments, as well as multicultural communities.
  • Boston – known for its colonial history, passion for sports and college students.
  • Chicago – the heart of the Midwest and transport hub of the nation, with huge skyscrapers and other architectural gems.
  • Los Angeles – home to the film industry, music artists and surfers, with a mild and pleasant climate, great natural beauty, from mountains to beaches, and endless freeways.
  • Miami – attracts sun-seeking northerners and is home to a rich and vibrant Caribbean culture influenced by Latin American culture.
  • New Orleans – “The Big Easy” is the birthplace of jazz and is known for its picturesque French Quarter and the annual Mardi Gras celebration.
  • New York – the nation’s largest city, home to financial services and media, with world-class cuisine, art, architecture and shopping.
  • San Francisco – the city by the bay, with the Golden Gate Bridge, bustling neighborhoods and spectacular fogs.
  • Seattle – rich in museums, monuments and recreational opportunities and five different climates within 200 miles; also visit the Space Needle.

Other destinations in U.S.A.

These are some of the most important and well-known destinations outside the big cities.

  • Denali National Park – a remote national park with the highest peak in North America.
  • Grand Canyon – the longest and most visited canyon in the world
  • Mesa Verde National Park – well-preserved cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Pueblos.
  • Mount Rushmore – the iconic monument to four former presidents carved into a cliff.
  • Niagara Falls – the huge waterfalls on the border with Canada
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park – a national park located in the southern Appalachians.
  • Walt Disney World – the most popular holiday destination in the world.
  • Yellowstone National Park – the first national park in the United States, home to Old Faithful Geyser.
  • Yosemite National Park, home of El Capitan and the famous giant sequoias.

Accommodation & Hotels in U.S.A.

The motel is by far the most common form of accommodation in rural areas of the United States and along many highways. Most motels offering cheap rooms to motorists are clean and inexpensive and have limited amenities: telephone, television, bed, bathroom. Motel 6 (1-800-466-8356) is a national chain with cheap rates ($30 to $70, depending on the city). Super 8 Motels (1-800-800-8000) also offers cheap accommodation nationwide. Reservations are usually not required, which is convenient because you don’t have to break up a long car trip at random; you can just drive until you’re tired and then find a room. However, some are used by adults who want to book a night for sexual or illicit activities, and many are in undesirable areas.

Business and extended-stay hotels are becoming more common throughout the country. They can be found in small towns in the Midwest or in urban areas close to the coast. They tend to be more expensive than motels, but not as expensive as full-service hotels, with prices ranging from $70 to $170. Although these hotels may appear to be the size of a motel at first glance, they can offer the amenities of larger hotels. Examples include Courtyard by Marriott, Fairfield Inns and Residence Inns by Marriott; Hampton Inn and Hilton Garden Inn by Hilton; Holiday Inn Express by Holiday Inn; Four Points by Sheraton and Hyatt Place by Starwood.

Some extended-stay hotels cater to business travellers or extended-stay families (who often relocate due to business decisions). These hotels often have kitchens in most rooms, host afternoon social events (usually poolside) and serve a continental breakfast. These “suite” hotels are similar to the serviced flats found in other countries, although the term “serviced flats” is not commonly used in American English.

Hotels are available in most cities and generally offer more service and amenities than motels. Rooms generally cost between $80 and $300 per night, but most major cities have very large, prestigious and expensive hotels that offer luxurious suites larger than some flats. Check-in and check-out times are almost always between 11am and 12pm and between 2pm and 4pm. Some hotels in the US do not accept people under 21 unless they are accompanied by older adults. Many US cities now have “hotspots” in the suburbs with high-end hotels aimed at affluent business travellers. These hotels often offer all the amenities of their downtown cousins (and more), but at less exorbitant prices.

In many rural areas, especially on the coasts and in New England, there are bed and breakfasts (B&Bs). B&Bs are usually located in houses or converted buildings with fewer than a dozen units and offer home-like accommodation, with free breakfast (of varying quality and complexity). Prices for B&Bs range from $50 to $200 per night, with some places being significantly more expensive. They can be a nice change from the impersonality of chain hotels and motels. Unlike in Europe, most American bed and breakfasts are not signposted; you have to book in advance and get directions.

The two best-known hotel guides covering the USA are the AAA (formerly the American Automobile Association; usually pronounced “Triple-A”) TourBooks, available to members and affiliated car clubs worldwide at local AAA offices, and the Mobil Travel Guide, available at bookstores. There are several online hotel booking sites; note that many of these sites add a small commission to the room rate, so it may be cheaper to book directly with the hotel. On the other hand, some hotels charge more for rooms booked or purchased through agents and brokers than for rooms booked “on the sly”, so it is worth checking both.

There are also youth hostels all over the United States. Most are affiliated with the American Youth Hostel Association (a member of Hostelling International). The quality of the hostels varies greatly, but at $8-24 per night, the prices are unbeatable. Despite the name, AYH membership is open to people of all ages. There are also non-AYH hostels, especially in larger cities. Note that hostels cluster in more touristy areas, so don’t assume that every medium-sized city has a hostel.

Camping can also be a very cheap accommodation option, especially in good weather. The downside of camping is that most campsites are outside urban areas, so it’s not really an option for big city travel. There is an extensive state park system (+1-800-365-2267), and most states and many counties also have their own park systems. Most state and national campgrounds are of excellent quality and offer beautiful natural surroundings. Expect to pay between $7 and $20 per car at the gate. Kampgroundsof America (KOA) has a chain of commercial campgrounds across the country that are much less charming than their public sector counterparts, but are equipped with RV hookups and amenities like laundry facilities. There are countless independent private campgrounds with different features.

Some unusual accommodation options are available in certain areas or by prior arrangement. For example, you could stay on a houseboat on Lake Tahoe or on the Erie Canal. You can also stay in a tree house in Oregon. More conventional accommodation can be found in college or university dormitories, some of which rent rooms to travellers during the summer. Finally, you can rent a furnished house by the day in many tourist areas as well as in larger cities.

Things To See in U.S.A.

The United States is extraordinarily diverse when it comes to attractions. There is always something to see; even when you think you have seen everything a place has to offer, the next destination is only a drive away.

The Great American Road Trip is the most traditional way to see a variety of sights; just get in the car and drive along the highways, stopping at convenient roadside hotels and restaurants when needed, and stopping at all the interesting tourist traps along the way until you reach your destination.

Indescribably beautiful landscapes, history that reads like a screenplay, entertainment that can last for days, and some of the most beautiful architecture in the world: whatever your pleasure, you’ll find it almost anywhere in the United States.

Natural landscape

From the spectacular glaciers of Alaska to the forested and eroded peaks of the Appalachians, from the desert landscapes of the Southwest to the vast waters of the Great Lakes, few other countries offer such a wide variety of natural landscapes as the United States.

America’s national parks are a great place to start. Yellowstone National Park was the world’s first true national park and remains one of the most famous, but there are 57 others. The Grand Canyon is probably the most spectacular canyon in the world; Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks are both home to the tallest living organisms in the world; Glacier National Park is a great place to see huge sheets of ice; Canyonlands National Park could easily be mistaken for Mars; and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers abundant wildlife amid beautifully forested mountains. National parks are not just for sightseeing; each one also offers many outdoor activities.

But national parks are just the beginning. The National Park Service also manages National Monuments, National Memorials, National Historic Sites, National Seashores, National Heritage Areas… the list is long. And each state has its own state parks, which can be just as interesting as the federal versions. Most of these destinations, whether federal or state, have an entrance fee, but all of it goes towards the maintenance and operation of the parks, and the rewards are well worth it.

But these are not your only options. Many of America’s natural treasures can be seen without walking through the front doors. The world-famous Niagara Falls straddle the border between Canada and the United States; on the American side, you can experience the rush first-hand and feel the power that formed the Niagara Gorge. The “purple majesty” of the Rocky Mountains can be seen for hundreds of miles in every direction, while the serene coastal regions of the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic have relaxed Americans for generations. And although very different, Hawaii and Alaska are perhaps the two most scenic states; they don’t just have attractions – they are attractions.

Historical attractions

Americans often have the mistaken impression that their country has little history. The United States has an enormous wealth of historical attractions, more than enough to fill months of history-oriented tours.

The prehistory of the continent can indeed be somewhat difficult to explore, as most Indian tribes did not establish permanent settlements. But especially in the West, you will find beautiful cliff dwellings in places like Mesa Verde, as well as almost ubiquitous rock paintings. The Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., is another great place to learn about American culture before the arrival of European settlers.

As the first part of the country to be settled by Europeans, the New England, Mid-Atlantic and Southern states have more than their share of sites from early American history. The first successful British colony on the continent was Jamestown, Virginia, although the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts is more present in people’s minds.

In the eighteenth century, important trading centres developed in Philadelphia and Boston. As the colonies grew in size, wealth and self-confidence, relations with Britain became increasingly strained, culminating in the Boston Tea Party and the Revolutionary War that followed.

There are a large number of historical sites associated with the American Civil War, the most destructive conflict on American soil.

Monuments and architecture

Americans have never been shy about engineering feats, and many of them are among the country’s biggest tourist attractions.

Washington, D.C., as the nation’s capital, has more monuments and statues than you can see in a day, but be sure to visit the Washington Monument (the world’s tallest obelisk), the imposing Lincoln Memorial and the incredibly moving Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The city’s architecture is also an attraction: the Capitol and the White House are two of the country’s most iconic buildings and often serve to represent the entire nation to the world.

Indeed, a number of American cities have world-class skylines, and perhaps none more so than the concrete canyons of Manhattan, New York City. There, a new World Trade Center tower has sprung up on the site of the fallen Twin Towers, while the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building still stand as tall as they have for nearly a century. Chicago, where the skyscraper was invented, can no longer claim the tallest building in the country, but still has a large number of very tall buildings. Other skylines worth seeing are San Francisco (with the Golden Gate Bridge), Seattle (with the Space Needle), Miami and Pittsburgh.

Some human constructions, however, transcend the skyline and become iconic symbols in their own right. The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the Statue of Liberty in Manhattan, the Hollywood Sign in Los Angeles and even the fountains of the Bellagio Casino in Las Vegas draw visitors to their respective cities. Even the incredible Mount Rushmore, far from any major city, still attracts two million visitors each year.

Museums and galleries

In the US, there’s a museum for just about everything. From toys to priceless artefacts, from show legends to dinosaur bones, almost every city in the country has a museum worth visiting.

The largest concentrations of these museums are, of course, in the largest cities, but none compares to Washington, D.C., home of the Smithsonian Institution. With nearly twenty independent museums, most of which are located on the National Mall, the Smithsonian is the leading curator of American history and achievement. The most popular museums are the National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of American History and the National Museum of Natural History, but any of them is a great way to spend an afternoon, and it’s completely free.

New York City also has an excellent selection of world-class museums, including the Guggenheim Museum, the American Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum and the Ellis Island Immigration Museum.

You could spend weeks exploring the cultural institutions of D.C. and the Big Apple, but here’s a small selection of the other great museums you’d miss:

  • Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh – Pittsburgh
  • Indianapolis Children’s Museum – Indianapolis, Indiana
  • Exploratorium – San Francisco
  • The Henry Ford Center – Dearborn, Michigan
  • Hollywood Walk of Fame – Los Angeles
  • Monterey Bay Aquarium – Monterey, California
  • Museum of Science and Industry – Chicago
  • Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame – Springfield, Massachusetts
  • National Aquarium of Baltimore – Baltimore, Maryland
  • National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum – Cooperstown, New York
  • National Museum of Nuclear Science and History – Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • Philadelphia Museum of Art – Philadelphia
  • Pro Football Hall of Fame – Canton, Ohio
  • Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum – Cleveland, Ohio
  • San Diego Zoo – San Diego, California
  • Strong’s National Gaming Museum – Rochester, New York

Routes

Here are a handful of itineraries covering the regions of the United States:

  • Appalachian Trail – a hiking trail along the spine of the Appalachian Mountains from Georgia to Maine.
  • Braddock Expedition – traces the route of British General Edward Braddock (and a younger George Washington) during the French and Indian War, from Alexandria, Virginia, through Cumberland, Maryland, to the Monongahela River near Pittsburgh.
  • El Camino Real (the Royal Road) is a historic route that connects the 21 Spanish missions in Alta California (now the state of California) and offers a fascinating insight into California’s history.
  • Interstate 5 – the main interstate highway along the West Coast, running from the Mexican border with California to the Canadian border with Washington State, passing through major West Coast cities and three state capitals.
  • The Jazz Track – a national tour of the most important clubs in jazz history and current jazz shows.
  • Lewis and Clark Trail – retrace the northwest route of the great American explorers along the Missouri River.
  • Oregon Trail – the path taken by western settlers from Missouri to Oregon in the mid-19th century.
  • Route 66: Discover the iconic historic route from Chicago to Los Angeles.
  • Santa Fe Trail – a historic settlement route of the Southwest from Missouri to Santa Fe.
  • Touring Shaker country – takes you to one current and eight former Shaker religious communities in the Mid-Atlantic, New England and Midwest regions of the United States.
  • U.S. Highway 1 – which runs along the east coast from Maine to Florida.

Things To Do in U.S.A.

Art and music

Medium to large cities often attract concerts with large ticket prices, especially in large outdoor amphitheatres. Smaller cities sometimes host concerts in parks with local or older bands. Other options include music festivals like Street Scene in San Diego or South by Southwest in Austin. Classical music concerts take place throughout the year and are performed by semi-professional and professional symphonies. Boston, for example, occasionally hosts free concerts in Public Park. Many cities and regions have unique sounds. Nashville is known as “Music City” because of the large number of country artists who live in the city. It is home to the Grand Ole Opry, one of the most famous concert stages in the country. Country music is popular throughout the United States, but is particularly concentrated in the South and rural West. Seattle is the birthplace of grunge rock. Many of the most popular bands are based in Los Angeles due to the large entertainment industry and concentration of record companies.

America is considered the spiritual home of the musical, and many of the world’s most famous musicals were performed on Broadway in New York at some point. No trip to New York would be complete without seeing at least one Broadway musical. For those who prefer classical music, the United States is also home to one of the largest opera companies in the world, the Metropolitan Opera of New York. Other well-known opera houses include the San Francisco Opera in San Francisco and the Lyric Opera of Chicago in Chicago.

In addition to traditional music concerts, the Brass Band Festival is a typically American experience. These events take place almost every weekend between September and Thanksgiving throughout the country and from March to June in California. Check local event directories and newspapers for details. The Bands of America Grand National Championship, held every autumn in Indianapolis, is also notable. If you want to see the crème de la crème, get tickets to the “finals” where the ten best bands in the festival compete for the title of champion. This event now takes place at the Lucas Oil Stadium. Street or parade bands and field or performance bands exist in almost every high school and university in the United States.

Sport

In the United States, there is a professional league for virtually every sport, and duffle fighting is no exception. America’s passion for sports has few rivals in the world, with leagues that have the highest crowds per game (NFL) and overall (MLB) and other leagues that are the best and most popular in their respective sports. Watching a game is a great way to meet and interact with locals. Here are some of the most popular leagues:

  • MLB. Major League Baseball is very popular and the sport of baseball is often referred to as “America’s pastime” (it is one of the most played sports in the country). The league has 30 teams (29 in the United States and 1 in Canada). The season runs from April to September, with playoff games in October. With 30 teams playing 162 games per season and the cheapest seats usually costing $10-20, this is probably the best sporting event to watch as an international traveller. There are also several hundred minor league teams scattered across the United States; while the quality of the games is lower, the prices are lower (or even free in some leagues).
  • NBA. The National Basketball Association is the world’s leading men’s basketball league with 30 teams (29 in the United States and one in Canada). The season runs from November to April, with playoffs in May-June.
  • NFL. The National Football League, with 32 teams (all in the contiguous United States, if you don’t count the few games in London (UK) or Toronto or the Pro Bowl in Hawaii), is the world’s leading organiser of American football, a sport that has almost nothing to do with what many other countries call football [association] (Americans know the sport as football). It evolved from rugby (before that sport was split into league and union) and still has some similarities to its English cousin. It is extremely popular, and the day of the championship game, called the Super Bowl, is an unofficial bank holidays. The season runs from September to December, with playoffs in January culminating in the Super Bowl in February.
  • NHL. The National Hockey League is the leading hockey league in the world with 30 teams (23 in the United States and 7 in Canada). Just over 50% of the players are Canadian and 25% are American, but the league has players from many other parts of the world, particularly the Nordic countries (especially Sweden and Finland), Russia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Originally the northern markets, recent expansions have meant that every major region is covered with an NHL team. The season runs from October to April, followed by the playoffs leading to the Stanley Cup Final in June.
  • INDYCAR. INDYCAR began as the original form of American motorsport in 1911 with the first Indianapolis 500. Since then, INDYCAR has developed into North America’s leading open-wheel racing series. Competition in INDYCAR is known to be tighter, faster and much more dangerous than in NASCAR. Unlike NASCAR, which is contested almost exclusively on ovals, the INDYCAR championship is contested on a variety of tracks, from city streets to road courses to ovals such as the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana, which hosts a prestigious race, the Indianapolis 500, where speeds can reach 240 mph! INDYCAR holds races throughout the United States, as well as in Brazil and Canada, from March to October.
  • NASCAR. Considered by many to be a “regional sport” confined to the rural South, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) seems to have shaken off these misconceptions in recent years and become a major spectator sport across the country. While most tracks are still located in the Mid-Atlantic and Southern states, NASCAR holds races across the country, starting with its signature event, the Daytona 500, in mid-February and ending in late November.
  • MLS. Major League Soccer, which currently has 20 teams (17 in the US and three in Canada) and will grow to 22 in 2017 and at least 23 in 2018 (with all new teams in the US), is the latest attempt to revive American interest in football. Although MLS is not as popular with the media, it is still popularly watched and enjoyed. Foreign travellers can find particularly vibrant and familiar fan experiences in several cities, including Washington, Chicago, Houston, Kansas City, Portland and Seattle. MLS is also becoming a favourite destination for top players from European leagues at the end of their careers, such as Didier Drogba, Kaka and David Villa.

One of the few unique features of the American sports landscape compared to other nations is the extent to which sports are linked to educational institutions. In many parts of the country, college sports (whether local teams or those of a major state university), especially football and men’s basketball, enjoy a following that rivals or exceeds that of major professional teams (indeed, eight of the ten largest stadiums in the world – all of which hold more than 100,000 spectators – are reserved for US college football teams, and the largest arena in the country designed specifically for basketball hosts a college team). The main governing body for US college sports is the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which has more than 1,000 member institutions, including almost all of the country’s best-known colleges and universities. The college football season runs roughly from 1 September to mid-December, with post-season games continuing until early January. The regular college basketball season begins in mid-November and runs through late February or early March, followed by conference tournaments and then national postseason tournaments, which run through early April. The NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament, known as “March Madness” (a registered trademark of the NCAA), is particularly well attended, even by casual athletes. Rowing fans should visit the Harvard-Yale Regatta, a 4-mile race held annually in Connecticut between the Harvard University and Yale University rowing teams.

In the United States, the connection between sport and education does not stop at colleges and universities. Many communities take great pride in their high school sports teams, and especially in smaller communities, these teams are an important part of the local culture. During the school year (August to May), a high school game can be a great (and inexpensive) way to meet the locals and experience the area in a way that many visitors do not. The most popular sports are generally football and men’s basketball (and to a lesser extent women’s basketball), as well as hockey in New England and the upper Midwest. In some regions, a particular high school sport enjoys a high cultural status. This is the case with football in Texas, basketball in Indiana, hockey in Minnesota and wrestling in Iowa.

The United States is home to many of the world’s most famous golf courses. Perhaps the most famous is Augusta National Golf Club, where membership is by invitation only and is a very exclusive privilege. Augusta National Golf Club hosts the Masters, one of the most prestigious professional golf tournaments in the world and one of the four major men’s golf tournaments. The United States also hosts two of the other three major men’s golf tournaments, the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship, which are held annually at various U.S. golf courses. Golf is popular as both a participation sport and a spectator sport, and the United States is home to several major professional tours:

  • PGA Tour. The premier men’s tour in the world, although the European Tour is very close in terms of level of competition, but not in terms of prize money. Tournaments are held throughout the United States, with stops in Canada and Mexico, as well as the Open Championship in the United Kingdom (one of the four “Major Championships”).
  • LPGA Tour. Undeniably the best women’s tour in the world. Most events (including three of the five major championships) are still held in the United States, but the tour now also has major championships in Great Britain and France, as well as regular stops in the Bahamas, Canada, Mexico, Australia and several Asian countries.
  • PGA Tour Champions. This tour is organised by the PGA Tour and is intended for golfers aged 50 and over. As a rule, all the stars on the PGA Tour and many of the stars on other world tours play on this tour between the ages of about 50 and 65, unless they are unable to do so for health reasons. One of the five major championships on this tour is held in Great Britain and one regular event is held in Canada; the rest of the tour is held in the United States.

The United States is home to many tennis tournaments on the ATP and WTA Tours, with the US Open being the most prestigious of these tournaments and considered one of the four Grand Slams. The US Open is held every year from late August to early September at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York City.

The rodeo celebrates the traditions of the Old West, especially in Texas and the Great Plains.

Festivals and fairs

  • Memorial Day – Commemorates the ultimate sacrifice of America’s war dead. It should not be confused with Veterans Day (11 November), which commemorates the service of American veterans, living and deceased. It is also the unofficial start of summer – expect heavy traffic at popular destinations, including national and theme parks.
  • Independence Day (“Fourth of July” or “Fourth of July”) – Celebrates America’s independence from Great Britain. This day is usually celebrated with parades, festivals, concerts, outdoor cookouts and barbecues, and fireworks. Almost every city has some kind of party to celebrate the day. In larger cities, there are often several events. Washington, D.C. celebrates the day on the Mall with a parade and fireworks against the Washington Monument.
  • Labour Day – In the United States, Labour Day is not celebrated on 1 May but on the first Monday in September. Labor Day marks the end of the summer social season. Some places, such as Cincinnati, hold parties to celebrate this day.

Other major holidays, such as Thanksgiving Day, are largely marked by private celebrations, but they are not devoid of activity either. On Thanksgiving Day, popular parades take place in New York City and Chicago, races are held in Detroit and many other cities, and many other smaller events fill the landscape, including, of course, a re-enactment of the original Thanksgiving dinner in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Many cities and/or counties hold fairs with rides, games and other attractions to commemorate the founding of a city or county. All 50 states have one or more state fairs. Originally, these were contests and exhibitions to promote agriculture and livestock; today they also include displays of industrial products, concerts, and rides and games.

Nature

There are many national parks in the United States, especially in the vast interior, offering many opportunities to enjoy your favourite outdoor activities, including recreational shooting, mountain biking, hiking, bird watching, prospecting and horseback riding. In the more urban areas, some national parks are focused on historic sites.

  • The National Trails System includes twenty-one National Scenic Trails and National Historic Trails, as well as over 1,000 shorter National Recreation Trails, totalling over 50,000 miles. While all of these trails are open for hiking, most are also open for mountain biking, horseback riding and camping, and some are even open for mountain bikes and cars.

Food & Drinks in U.S.A.

Food in United States

The diversity of restaurants in the United States is remarkable. In a big city like New York, it is possible to find a restaurant from almost any country in the world. In addition to the usual selection of independent restaurants, the United States has a uniquely bewildering array of fast food chains and casual dining restaurants; even if you think you know American fast food from the international branches of the chains, the variety nationwide is immense.

Ethnic cuisine from other parts of the world is often adapted to American tastes and/or prepared with locally available ingredients. This is particularly true of Asian cuisine, especially Chinese (see below).

Many restaurants, especially those serving fast food or breakfast, do not serve alcohol, and many others serve only beer and wine. Portion sizes tend to be huge, regardless of the style of restaurant, although this trend has eased recently as customers have become more health-conscious. Many restaurants now offer multiple serving options, although this is not always obvious. When ordering, ask if portion selection is available. It is very common to take home ‘leftovers’ and it is a great way to get two meals for the price of one. At the end of your meal, ask for a takeaway box if you haven’t finished your plate.

In much of America, home-cooked food is significantly better than restaurant food. This is especially true in rural areas and small towns. If you have the opportunity to attend a take-out dinner or potluck, don’t miss it.

Types of restaurants

In big cities, there are many examples of every kind of restaurant you can imagine, from small, inexpensive neighbourhood eateries to extravagant full-service restaurants with long wine lists and prices to match. Most medium-sized cities and suburbs also offer a decent selection. In the “upscale” restaurants, the former jacket and tie requirement for men is relaxed. If in doubt, ask the restaurant.

Fast food restaurants such as McDonald’s, Subway and Burger King are ubiquitous, but the variety of these types of restaurants in the United States is staggering: hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, fried chicken, barbecue meat and ice cream only scratch the surface. Alcoholic beverages are not served in these restaurants; “soda” (often called “pop” in the Midwest to western New York and western Pennsylvania, or generally “cola” in the South) or other non-alcoholic beverages are the norm. Don’t be surprised if you order a soda, are handed a paper cup and have to fill it yourself at the soda fountain (refills are often free). The quality of the food varies, but due to the strictly limited menu, it is generally good, especially during the day. Restaurants are generally clean and bright, and service is limited but friendly. Tipping is not expected, but you must clear your table after eating. Some restaurants, called “drive-ins”, serve you right in your car. Most fast-food restaurants offer “drive-through” service, which allows you to place an order from the restaurant’s menu, which is posted on the side of a lane, then pay and have your meal (packaged to go) delivered to a separate side window before you drive to your next destination.

Takeout is very common in larger cities for meals that may take a little longer to prepare than at a fast food restaurant. Place an order by phone or online and then go to the restaurant to pick it up and take it away. In some cities, it is easier to have a pizza or Chinese food delivered than to go to a restaurant. Pizza and Chinese food are particularly ubiquitous in the United States; cities with populations as small as 5,000 usually have at least one pizzeria and one Chinese restaurant for takeout or delivery, often more than one. The major national pizza chains are Pizza Hut (mostly takeout restaurants that also offer takeout and delivery), Domino’s (no takeout), Papa John’s (also no takeout) and Little Caesars (mostly takeout, but some offer delivery). Die-hard pizza fans usually prefer local pizzerias to large national chains; many of these restaurants also offer takeout and delivery.

Fast-casual restaurants offer a fast-food style (no waiter, no alcohol), but the meals are usually fresher and healthier. The food takes a little longer to prepare – and costs a few dollars more – than in fast food restaurants, but it’s usually worth it. Notable examples are Chipotle (Tex-Mex), Noodles and Company, Panera Bread (a bakery that also serves soups and sandwiches), Five Guys (burgers) and Freddies Burgers.

Diners are typically American and have remained popular since their heyday in the 1940s and 1950s. They are usually individually owned and operated, open 24 hours a day and located along major highways, although they also pop up in larger cities and suburbs. They offer a wide range of hearty meals, often including a soup or salad, bread, a drink and dessert. They are typically popular for breakfast in the morning, after work at the factory or after the bars close. Chain restaurants include Denny’s, Norm’s and (in the south) Waffle House.

No collection of American restaurants would be complete without mentioning the truck stop. You will only come across these places if you are travelling by car or bus on an interstate trip. They are located on the interstate highways and cater to truckers. They have diesel fuel, separate parking for “big trucks” and showers for drivers who sleep in their cabs. These legendary restaurants serve what passes for “home cooking” on the road: hot roast beef sandwiches, meatloaf, fried chicken and of course the ubiquitous club sandwich or burgers and fries – expect big portions! The three main chains are Pilot/Flying J, TA/Petro and Love’s. They usually have 24-hour restaurants, including kid-friendly restaurants. They usually have 24-hour restaurants with all-you-can-eat buffets and big breakfasts, often served in pans. You are more likely to find such a restaurant in a TA or Petro (most truck stops also have national fast food outlets). Truckers know how to eat: if there are lots of trucks outside, it will be good.

Chain sit-down restaurants are a step above Diners and Truckstops in terms of quality and price, but those with a discerning palate are likely to be disappointed. Some specialise in one type of food (e.g. seafood) or a particular national cuisine, while others offer a wider range. Some are known exclusively for breakfast, such as IHOP (originally International House of Pancakes), which serves it all day in addition to other meals. Larger chains include Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Applebee’s and T.G.I. Friday’s. Alcohol is usually served in these restaurants.

In larger cities, there are one or more fine-dining establishments, the quality of which can range from “overpriced” to “exquisite”. Some establishments have a dress code; if a jacket or tie is required, it is sometimes possible to borrow one.

Some bars function as restaurants and serve food late into the night. Bars, including their dining rooms, must not be open to persons under 21 years of age.

Soft drinks come with lots of ice. You can ask for no ice and the drink will probably be quite cold. Water is usually served cold and with ice unless you ask otherwise. It is typically not carbonated; if you want carbonated water, ask for “sparkling water”. Bottled water, carbonated or non-carbonated, costs at least $1 to $2. Table-service restaurants often bring free ice-cold tap water even before you take your drink order. Bottled water is assumed in fast food restaurants unless you specify “ice water” or “tap water”. Coffee, tea and soft drinks are sometimes refilled at no extra charge, but you should ask if this is not specifically stated.

Types of services

Many restaurants are not open for breakfast. Those that do (especially fast food and diners) serve eggs, toast, pancakes, cereal, coffee, etc. Most restaurants stop serving breakfast between 10 and 11 am, but some, especially restaurants, serve it all day. Instead of eating breakfast at a restaurant, you can buy breakfast foods such as donuts, muffins, fruit, coffee and packaged drinks at almost any gas station, coffee shop or convenience store (such as 7-Eleven, Circle K or AM/PM).

Continental breakfast is a term used mainly by hotels and motels to describe a cold breakfast consisting of cereals, bread, muffins, fruit, etc. Milk, fruit juice, hot coffee and tea are the usual drinks. There is usually a toaster for the bread. This is a quick and cheap way to get food in the morning.

Lunch can be a great way to get food from a restaurant where dinner is out of your price range.

Dinner, the main meal. Depending on the culture, region and personal preference, it is usually eaten between 5 and 9 pm. Most restaurants accept your leftovers in boxes (usually called “take-out boxes”). It is advisable to book in advance if it is a popular, upscale restaurant or if you are dining with a large group.

Buffets are usually a cheap way to get a large amount of food. For a one-off flat fee, you can eat as many portions of the food on offer as you like. However, because the food can sit in the heat for hours, the quality can suffer. Usually, buffets serve American or Chinese food.

Many restaurants serve Sunday brunch from morning to early afternoon, with breakfast and lunch dishes. Often there is a buffet. As with most other meals, quality and price can vary depending on the restaurant.

Types of food

Typical American foods found in most restaurants or at large gatherings include hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, ice cream and cake. While many types of food remain unchanged in the United States, there are a few distinct regional variations. Most notable is the South, where traditional local dishes include grits (ground corn porridge), collard greens (a cooked vegetable often seasoned with ham and a little vinegar), sweetened iced tea, barbecue (which is not unique to this region, but is the best and most common), catfish (fried and served with a layer of breadcrumbs), maize bread, okra, red beans and gumbo (a stew of seafood or sausage, rice, okra and sometimes tomatoes).

BarbecueBBQ or Barbeque is a delicious American speciality. At its best, it involves pork or beef ribs, brisket or pork shoulder that are slowly smoked over wood. The ribs are served whole, halved or cut into individual ribs, the brisket is usually thinly sliced and the shoulder can be pulled or chopped. Sauces with varying degrees of heat can be served on the plate or as a side dish. There are also unique regional styles of barbecue, the best of which are generally found in the South. The most distinctive styles come from Kansas City, Texas, Tennessee and North Carolina. California and Maryland have a style that emphasises beef grilled in an outdoor pit or brick oven. However, barbecue in some form can be found all over the country. Barbecue meat can be served with a variety of side dishes, including chilli, corn on the cob, coleslaw and potato salad. Barbecue restaurants are unpretentious and the best dishes are often served in very casual venues. Expect plastic utensils, picnic tables and sandwiches on cheap white bread. Barbecue on the menu of an upscale chain or non-specialist restaurant may be less authentic. Ribs and chicken are almost always eaten with fingers; pork and brisket are eaten with a fork or in a sandwich. Some Americans (but never Southerners) use the term “barbecue” as a synonym for “cookout”: a party where chicken, hamburgers and hot dogs are grilled (rather than smoked) outdoors. These parties may be fun, but they do not represent American barbecue cuisine.

Thanks to a rich immigrant tradition, there is a wide variety of ethnic food in America; everything from Ethiopian to Laotian cuisine is available in big cities with large immigrant populations.

Italian cuisine is perhaps the most widespread of the ethnic cuisines in America, although it has often taken a different direction from Italian cuisine in Italy. All but the smallest villages have at least one restaurant specialising in pizza, and many have pasta restaurants as well. While the more upscale restaurants certainly offer more authentic dishes, it should be noted that the pizza commonly sold in the United States differs significantly from the Italian original, with New York and Chicago in particular having their own nationally famous styles of pizza not found in Italy. There are also restaurants that specialise in German or French cuisine, but in much smaller numbers. Nevertheless, the hot dog, whose origins go back to German sausages, has become an integral part of the American culinary landscape.

Chinese food is widely available and adapted to American tastes. Authentic Chinese food can be found in restaurants in Chinatowns, but also in communities with large Chinese populations. Japanese sushiVietnamese and Thai dishes have also been adapted for the American market in recent years. Fusion cuisine combines Asian ingredients and techniques with more traditional American presentations. Indian eateries can be found in most major American cities.

Mexican/Spanish/Tex-Mex cuisine is very popular, but again in a localised version. The dishes are a combination of beans, rice, cheese and spicy beef or chicken with round flat breads called tortillas and are usually served with a spicy tomato salsa, sour cream and an avocado-based dip called guacamole. Small, authentic Mexican taquerias are easy to find in California and the Southwest, and increasingly in cities across the country.

Middle Eastern and Greek foods are also becoming increasingly popular in the United States. Gyro (known in Europe as “kebab”, “shawarma”, “gyros” or “souvlaki”) is a popular Greek sandwich on flatbread, topped with lettuce, tomatoes and a tzatziki sauce made from yoghurt and cucumber. Hummus (a chickpea-based dip/spread) and baklava pastries are often available in supermarkets, as is a growing selection of high-quality pita products.

The Jewish community in America has undoubtedly left a lasting mark on the culinary scene: Bagels and pastrami are very popular among Americans. The most famous shops are in New York City, but they can also be found in other major cities across the country.

Vegetarian food is easy to find in large metropolitan areas. As the number of vegetarians in the US grows, so does the number of restaurants catering to them. Most major cities and college towns have vegetarian restaurants that serve exclusively or primarily vegetarian dishes. In smaller towns, you may have to look through the menus of several restaurants before you find a vegetarian main course, or you may have to make up a meal of side dishes. Waiters can help you answer questions about meat content, but be clear about your personal definition of vegetarianism, as dishes containing fish, chicken, eggs or even small amounts of beef or pork may be considered vegetarian. This is especially common with vegetable side dishes in the southern states. Meatless breakfast dishes, such as pancakes or eggs, are readily available in restaurants. Vegans are also on the rise: many restaurants in big cities offer vegan options, and more and more places are being set up specifically for vegans.

People who eat a low-fat or low-calorie diet should be quite well off in the United States, as awareness of the importance of calories has increased since the 1970s. Fast food restaurants also offer low-calorie dishes and provide calorie and fat tables on request.

Awareness of food allergies varies. Packaged products (e.g. in grocery shops) must be labelled if they contain milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat or soy. Packaged foods must also list their ingredients, which may include non-specific information such as “spices”, “seasonings” or “added colours”. In contrast, non-prepackaged foods, even if served in a package or container – which includes restaurants, kiosks, bakeries and fresh produce in grocery shops – generally do not have to list allergens (although laws vary from state to state). Still, some restaurants do label allergens and are even proud to cater to people with food allergies, but it’s still your responsibility to protect yourself. Fast food chains and casual restaurants are often a safe bet because they know about food allergies and offer consistent ingredients and methods. In sit-down restaurants, inform your waiter (and possibly a manager or chef), ask questions, and if your waiter is unsure about something, ask them to double-check or insist on speaking to a chef. The recent popularity of gluten-free foods as a healthy diet (even for people without allergies or sensitivities) has led to a large number of gluten-free foods being marketed. However, as some of these products are ‘trendy’, they may not be sufficiently gluten-free for people with coeliac disease or wheat allergies.

For backpackers or people on a very limited budget, American supermarkets offer a seemingly endless variety of pre-packaged/pre-processed foods that are either ready or almost ready to eat, e.g. breakfast cereals, ramen noodles, canned soups, frozen meals, etc.

There are many “corner shops” in large cities. These small convenience stores offer a variety of snacks, drinks and packaged foods. Unlike most convenience stores, their products are sold at relatively low prices (especially by urban standards) and can provide snacks or even (nutritionally incomplete) meals for a budget of no more than $5 per day.

Label

It is generally inappropriate to sit at a table that is already occupied by other diners, even if it has open seating; Americans prefer this level of privacy when dining. Exceptions are cafeteria-style restaurants with long tables, crowded cafés and informal restaurants where you might ask a stranger if you can share a table, and some inexpensive Chinese restaurants where the staff will ask you to share a table. However, striking up a conversation in this situation may or may not be welcome.

Table manners vary greatly, but are typically European. It is impolite to suck or make other noises while eating, as well as to speak loudly (even on the phone). It is quite common to wait to eat until everyone at the table has been served. Cloth napkins should be placed on your lap, you can do the same with paper napkins or place them on the table. You won’t be offended if you don’t finish your meal, and most restaurants will wrap up the leftovers to take away, or provide you with a box (sometimes euphemistically called a “doggy bag”, implying that the leftovers are for your pet). If you want to do this, ask the waiter to take the leftovers “to go”; this term is understood almost everywhere and causes no embarrassment. Some restaurants offer an “all-you-can-eat” buffet or other service; you are not allowed to take portions from this type of meal or you will have to pay extra.

Many fast foods (sandwiches, burgers, pizzas, tacos, etc.) are designed to be eaten by hand (known as “finger food”); a few foods are almost always eaten by hand (French fries, barbecue ribs, chicken on the bone), even in moderately good restaurants. In case you are not sure: Eating with a fork and knife is unlikely to offend anyone; eating with a fork and knife in your hand, on the other hand, will, as it is considered “uncivilised” and rude.

If you are invited to a meal in a private home, you can ask if you can bring something to eat, e.g. a dessert, a side dish, wine or beer, or in the case of an outdoor barbecue, something useful like ice cream or plastic cups or plates. The host will often refuse, especially if you are a traveller. If you are not asked to join the meal, it is a good idea to bring a small gift for the host (often called a hostess gift). A bottle of wine, a box of sweets or fresh cut flowers are the most common. You should not expect this gift, if it is food, to be given with the meal; the host has already chosen the components of the meal. Gifts of money, prepared food or very personal items (e.g. toiletries) are not appropriate.

An exception is the take-out or potluck, where each guest (or group/family) brings a dish to share with everyone else; these shared dishes make up the entire meal. Dishes are usually grouped (e.g. salads, main courses or casseroles, side dishes, desserts); you should ask the host if there is anything in particular they would like you to bring. The ideal dishes for a potluck should be served in a large pot, bowl or dish and are usually served buffet style, so salads, casseroles and appetisers are important. These types of meals usually offer a wide variety of well-prepared dishes and can be the best way to experience authentic American cuisine – and your own foreign speciality can be the main attraction!

Smoking

There is no nationwide smoking ban, so whether or not smoking is allowed in a bar, restaurant or other covered public space varies from state to state and even within a state. In most cases, smoking is prohibited. If there is a “no smoking” sign, lighting a cigarette can result in ejection, a fine or even arrest, in addition to unpleasant looks.

Smoking has acquired a social stigma – even where it is allowed. You should ask those around you if they object before lighting up. Many states have laws about smoking near public entrances: Look for signs indicating a minimum distance from the door, although these are not always enforced. If you find an ashtray or a cigarette butt, it is generally safe to smoke there.

Drinks in United States

Americans’ drinking habits are as varied as the backgrounds of the many residents. In the cities, there is everything from the local “shot and a beer” bar to the upscale “martini bar”; urban bars and nightclubs often serve simple food or nothing at all. In the suburbs, alcohol is mainly served in restaurants rather than bars. And in rural areas, the line between “bar” and “restaurant” is often blurred to the point of meaninglessness; with few places to eat nearby, residents go to the same place for meals and nightlife. A few states have “dry counties”, places where it is illegal to sell alcohol for local consumption; these places are mostly in rural areas.

Laws

The minimum drinking age is 21 throughout the United States, except in most remote territories (where it is 18). Enforcement of this rule varies, but if you are under 40 (or appear to be) you may be asked to show photo ID. Recently, some retailers have started requiring ID for all transactions. Some retailers do not accept foreign driver’s licences (except those from Canada and possibly Australia, as these licences have barcodes that can be read by US ID readers), so it is strongly recommended that you have your passport ready when purchasing alcohol. In some states, people under 21 are not even allowed to be in a bar or liquor shop.

The sale of alcohol is usually prohibited after 2am, but there are cities where bars are open later or even all night. In some states, most shops are only allowed to sell beer and wine; hard liquor is sold in specialty shops. Some “dry counties” – mainly in the southern states – ban some or all types of alcohol in public places; private clubs (with nominal contributions) are often set up to get around this ban. Sunday sales are restricted in some areas.

Most cities prohibit outdoor drinking, although enforcement varies. Even if it is allowed, a visible bottle (rather than one in a small pocket) is either illegal or attracts police attention. Drunk and disorderly” is prohibited. Drink driving is very strictly policed. A blood alcohol level of .08% is considered “under the influence” and many states consider .05% “impaired”. If you are under 21, most states have set limits of .00-0.02%. Aliens are usually deported, even those with permanent residency. It is also illegal to have an open container of alcohol anywhere other than in the boot of a car, which can result in a hefty fine. If you find yourself in a situation where you have had a little more to drink than expected and you are not sure if you can drive, there are quite a few taxis in medium and large cities. Many automobile clubs offer hotlines to find a way home.

The sale of raw milk for human consumption is illegal in some states and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prohibits the sale or distribution of raw milk between states.

Drinks

Beer and wine are the main non-distilled alcoholic beverages, whisky is the main strong alcohol (i.e. a distilled beverage). Cider”, without further specification, is simply an unfiltered variety of apple juice. Hard cider is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented apples. Although it was consumed with enthusiasm two centuries ago, its popularity is only now being revived after decades of oblivion.

Beer accounts for about half of the alcohol consumed in the United States. The nationally known pale lagers (which are cheap and mediocre) are still the most widely consumed, despite the emergence of other types of beer in the 1990s. Microbreweries, which specialise in small-batch, high-quality beers made using traditional methods, are providing much-needed variety. Microbreweries, also known as ‘craft beers’, are often inventive and experimental; some are excellent examples of classic beer styles, while others push the boundaries and develop new and unique flavours. Most are the work of individual regional breweries, although a few achieve national distribution. Some bars and restaurants offer microbrews, others do not, seemingly at random. Brewpubs combine microbrewery and bar, serving high-quality beers made on site. Vermont offers the most microbrews per capita in the country, followed by Oregon, Montana, Colorado and Maine, while Washington State produces 77 per cent of the total US hop crop, a key ingredient for beer production.

The wine is available in the full range of quality. American wines are mainly labelled by grape variety. The specificity of the labelling gives a rough indication of the quality. The colour alone (“red”, “white”, “rosé” or “rose”) indicates the lowest grade. At the top, regions are labelled by state (e.g. “California”), an area of a state (e.g. “Central Coast”), a county or other small region (e.g. “Willamette Valley”) or a specific vineyard (e.g. “Dry Creek Vineyard”).

The cheapest wine usually comes in a plastic bag in a box. The “fortified wines”, also called “bum wine”, are the complete opposite of the European high-end port, sherry or Madeira.

All 50 states have some form of viticulture, but 90 per cent of US wines – including the most famous from Napa Valley – come from California. Oregon’s Willamette Valley and Washington’s wines represent good value for money because they are less well known. MichiganColorado’s Wine Country and New York’s Finger Lakes produce German-style white wines that have won international competitions. The Llano Estacado region in Texas is also known for its wines.

Sparkling wines are available by the bottle in upscale restaurants and are sometimes served by the glass. The best Californian sparkling wines are comparable to the great French Champagnes, but they are not often sold in supermarkets outside California.

Most bars, with the exception of urban wine bars, serve worthless wine. Wine is taken very seriously by some restaurants, but as with all other alcoholic drinks in restaurants, expect to pay up to four times the liquor price for a bottle.

Hard liquor (i.e. spirits) is usually drunk with mixers, but can also be served “on the rocks” (with ice) or “straight” (unmixed, without ice, also called “neat”). Whisky, the traditional choice, remains popular despite the increasing popularity of vodka and other clear spirits. Whiskey is distilled from many different types of grain. The main types are rye (made mainly from rye, a relative of wheat), malt (made mainly from barley) and bourbon (made mainly from corn).

Nightlife

American nightclubs offer the usual range of different music scenes, from discos serving top-40 dance music to obscure clubs serving tiny snippets of obscure musical genres. Country music dance clubs, or honky tonks, are quite numerous in the South and West, especially in rural areas and away from the coasts, but you can find one or two in almost every town. Gay/lesbian nightclubs are also in almost every medium to large city.

During happy hour, a period of 30 minutes to three hours, usually between 5pm and 8pm, there are significant discounts on certain drinks. Ladies’ nights, where women receive a discount or other financial incentives, are becoming more common.

Until 1977, the only state in the United States where gambling was legalised was Nevada. The state has allowed gambling since the 1930s, giving rise to resort cities like Las Vegas and Reno. Nicknamed “Sin City”, Las Vegas in particular has transformed into a gambling haven for adults, offering many other after-hours activities such as amusement parks, nightclubs, strip clubs, shows, bars and four-star restaurants. Since then, gambling has spread outside Nevada to a variety of American cities such as Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Biloxi, Mississippi, as well as on riverboats, ocean cruises and Indian reservations. State lotteries and “scratch games” are another popular form of legalised gambling. However, online gambling and sports betting across state lines remain illegal in the United States.

Soft drinks

The United States has one of the largest varieties of soft drinks (non-alcoholic carbonated drinks with high sugar content, as opposed to “hard” alcoholic drinks) and the best-known brands originate in this country. While Pepsi and Coca-Cola are sold (almost) everywhere in the world, some flavours are hardly known outside North America. Root beer, for example, is a non-alcoholic drink that contains various aromatic roots; while the taste is foreign to most Europeans who are not used to it, it is one of the first things Americans tend to miss when they are abroad for an extended period of time. Sparkling water is not commonly consumed by Americans and is considered more of a “European” curiosity, but it is available in most shops.

Tap water is safe to drink, but is often avoided for its taste because of its chlorine content, which varies by region and can be very high. Regardless of what people say, bottled water is generally no better than regular tap water, apart from the chlorine problem mentioned above. Restaurants in some parts of the country, such as the South but not others, will often give you at least a refill, if not an unlimited refill, of the soft drink of your choice, and tap water is almost always served for free if you ask for it. Americans like to put lots of ice in their drinks. So unless you specifically ask for “no ice” (and sometimes even then), you will get plenty of ice with all your soft drinks, including water.

Money & Shopping in U.S.A.

Official currency

The official currency of the United States is the US dollar ($), divided into 100 cents (¢, but often written in decimal dollars). Foreign currencies are almost never accepted, although some large hotel chains may accept travellers’ cheques in other currencies. Most establishments near the Canadian border accept Canadian currency, though usually at poor exchange rates; some large shops may accept Canadian currency up to 100 miles (160 km) from the border. The Mexican peso can also be used (again at poor exchange rates) in border towns such as El Paso and Laredo, but rarely outside the immediate area.

The dollar is sometimes colloquially referred to as a “buck”, so that “5 bucks” means 5 dollars. Common US banknotes are the $1, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 notes. The $2 note is still produced but is almost never in circulation. Notes over $100 have not been produced since the 1960s and are withdrawn from circulation when found. The $100 and sometimes $50 notes are too valuable for small transactions and can be rejected. All $1 and $2 notes, as well as older notes of other denominations, are greenish and printed with black and green ink (hence the nickname “greenbacks”). The newer versions of the $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 notes are slightly more colourful. All notes are the same size. The notes never expire, and multiple designs of each note can be circulated together, but older designs that lack modern anti-counterfeiting features may (rarely) be rejected by some retailers.

The standard coins are the penny (1¢, copper-coloured), the large nickel (5¢, silver-coloured), the small dime (10¢, silver-coloured) and the sharp-edged quarter (25¢, silver-coloured). These coins only have their value written in words, not numbers: “one cent”, “five cents”, “one dime” and “quarter”. As far as value is concerned, size is irrelevant: The dime is the smallest coin, followed by the penny, nickel and quarter. Half-dollar coins (50¢, silver) and dollar coins ($1, silver or gold) exist but are not common. Vending machines generally accept only nickels, dimes and quarters, and $1 and $5 notes, although some accept $1 coins; larger machines, such as those for buses or stamps, may accept $10 or even $20 notes. Although Canadian coins are similar in size, the machines usually reject them. People, on the other hand, usually don’t notice (or care) about a few small Canadian coins mixed in with American coins, especially in the northern parts of the country. As with most currencies, the coins are usually not exchangeable abroad, and UNICEF has donation boxes at the airports so you can get rid of them for a good cause before you fly overseas.

Currency exchange and banking

Exchange offices are rare outside the city centres of major coastal and border towns and international airports. Some banks offer a money exchange service. Many bureaux de change at major US airports are operated by Travelex or International Currency Exchange (ICE). Due to the high expense of exchange rates and transaction fees, it is often best to purchase US dollars in your home country before travelling.

Opening a bank account in the United States is a fairly simple process and there are no restrictions on foreigners having a bank account in the United States. The “big four” retail banks are ChaseBank of AmericaWells Fargo and Citibank. The other big banks are US Bank and PNC. Many areas of the country, such as Hawaii, are underserved by the big retail banks and dominated by local banks.

ATMs can process foreign bank cards or credit cards with the Visa/Plus or MasterCard/Cirrus logos. They usually dispense $20 notes and charge about $2 to $4 for cards issued by other banks. Smaller ATMs located in restaurants, petrol stations, etc. often charge higher fees (up to $5). These fees are in addition to the fees charged by your card issuer. Some ATMs (e.g. at Sheetz petrol stations and in government buildings such as courthouses) are free. Like everywhere else in the world, there is a risk that these machines have skimmers installed that can steal your credit card details.

Another option is to withdraw cash (usually up to $40-60 more than the cost of your goods) when you shop with your debit card at a supermarket, convenience store (Jackson’s, 7 Eleven, AM-PM, Shell, etc.) or a large discount store like Walmart, Costco or Target. Shops almost never charge a fee for this service, but the bank that issued your card may do so.

Credit and debit cards

Major credit cards such as Visa and MasterCard (and their associated debit cards) are widely used and accepted. Almost all major retailers accept credit cards for transactions of any size, including those of a dollar or two. However, some smaller and independent shops specify a minimum amount (usually between $2 and $5, but may legally charge up to a minimum of $10) for credit card use, as these transactions cost them about $0.30-0.50 (this is also common in bars when opening a bill). Almost all restaurants, hotels and shops accept credit and debit cards; those that do not have a sign saying “CASH ONLY”. Other cards such as American Express and Discover are also accepted, but not as frequently. Many retailers have a window sticker or counter sign with the logos of the four major US credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, AmEx and Discover.

Few high-end shops in major cities have window displays for foreign cards like JCB and China UnionPay. However, both JCB and China UnionPay have an alliance with Discover, so they can be used at all retailers that accept Discover cards.

For larger purchases, it is common for US retailers to ask for photo identification. Shops may also ask for photo identification for cards issued abroad. In certain circumstances, credit/debit cards are the only way to make a transaction. So if you don’t have one, you can buy a prepaid card or a gift card with the Visa, MasterCard or AmEx logo at many shops, but you may need to show ID before the card is activated.

Transaction authorisation is done by signature on a paper receipt or computer pad, although many retailers forgo signatures for small purchases. The US is in the process of implementing the “chip-and-PIN” EMV credit card authorisation system used abroad. However, don’t expect to find many compatible card readers. Many retailers continue to swipe cards, and even where there is a chip card reader, the retailer may block the slot into which the chip is to be inserted. After the switch to chip machines, retailers will in most cases continue to require a signature on a receipt or computer keyboard rather than using a PIN (as chip technology is mandatory).

Gas station dispensers, some vending machines on public transport and other types of vending machines are often equipped with credit/debit card readers. Many gas station dispensers and some ATMs that accept credit cards require the postcode of the card’s billing address in the US, which effectively prevents them from accepting foreign cards (they are unable to recognise a foreign card and switch to PIN authentication). At gas stations, you can use a foreign card by paying the attendant inside. If you live in Canada and use a card with the MasterCard logo, you can use it at any U.S. gas pump that asks for a postcode by entering the digits of your postcode (letters and spaces are ignored) and adding two zeros to the end. When using a debit card, some petrol stations will place a hold on your account for a certain amount (a notice will be posted at the pump, usually $75) and the amount charged will then be updated once you have filled up (however, there is often a delay of 1 to 2 days between the “hold” being lifted and the amount charged being updated).

Gift cards

Any major commercial establishment (e.g. a shop, a restaurant, an online service) with a nationwide, regional, national or online presence offers consumers its own gift card to use at any of its outlets across the country or at its online shop. Despite the word “gift” in gift card, you can actually buy and use these cards for yourself. A gift card for a particular establishment can be purchased at any branch of that establishment. Supermarkets and drugstores also offer a variety of gift cards from different shops, restaurants and other services.

If you have bought them or friends have given them to you, you can use the gift card of a particular shop or restaurant at any of its branches in the country or at its online shop for any amount. If the balance on the gift card is not sufficient, you can use other means of payment to cover the balance (e.g. cash, credit card or a second store-specific gift card). The Gift Card also includes instructions on how to check the balance online. Gift Cards are unlikely to work at shops outside the United States, but if you are in the United States, you can still use the Gift Card to make purchases at a merchant’s online shop in the United States.

VISA, Mastercard and American Express gift cards are also sold and can be used in the same way as most other regular debit and credit cards in the US.

Value added tax

There is no general national sales tax (such as VAT or GST), although national taxes are levied on certain products, including fuels (petrol and diesel). Therefore, there is nothing to be refunded by customs officials when leaving the United States.

However, most states impose a retail sales tax of between 3 and 10 per cent (typically 4 to 6 per cent). A few states do not have a state sales tax, but allow municipalities and communities to levy sales taxes. In some places, sales taxes are levied at both the state and local levels, the latter sometimes based on districts established to ensure high revenues (e.g. a special tax in the airport sector). Most states also levy significant taxes on alcohol and cigarettes. Because of this wide variation in rates and what is taxable, taxes are almost never included in the prices shown (exceptions: Fuel, alcohol consumed on site, and food stalls or food trucks). Instead, they are calculated at the time of payment; be prepared for the total amount to be higher than indicated on the price tags! In most states, food and various other “necessities” (such as clothing) are generally exempt from sales tax, but almost all other retail transactions, including restaurant meals, are subject to sales tax.

Many cities also levy sales taxes, and some cities have tax zones near airports and business districts to take advantage of travellers. As a result, sales tax can vary by up to 2% within a few miles. While sales tax can be a nuisance, regional price differences usually have a greater impact on the traveller’s wallet than the savings from finding a destination with low or no sales tax.

Places to shop

America is the birthplace of the modern enclosed mall as well as the open-air mall. In addition, American suburbs have miles of small malls or long rows of small shops with shared parking, usually built along a main thoroughfare. Large cities still have central shopping districts that can be accessed by public transport, but pedestrian-friendly shopping streets are rare and usually small. Most medium-sized suburban cities have at least one shopping centre with one or more large shops, as well as restaurants and retail outlets. There are also one or more strip malls with shopping centres, car dealerships and offices.

The United States pioneered the factory outlet and the factory outlet centre, a shopping centre consisting mainly of factory outlet stores. Factory outlet centres are located along major interstate highways outside most American cities.

US retailers tend to have some of the longest opening hours in the world, with chains like Walmart and 7-Eleven often having shops open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Department stores and other large retailers are usually open from 10am to 9pm most days, and possibly from 8am to 11pm during the winter holidays. Discount stores, while not open 24/7, tend to stay open longer than traditional department stores; when they do close, it is usually between 10pm and midnight. Most supermarkets stay open late into the evening, usually until at least 9pm, and a significant number stay open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Sunday opening hours tend to be somewhat shorter; a small number of municipalities mandate late openings, early closings or even complete closure on this day (sometimes depending on the type of retailer). The United States does not regulate the timing of sales promotions like other countries. US retailers often announce sales on all major holidays and in between to attract customers or get rid of merchandise.

American retail shops are huge compared to retail shops in other countries and are a shopper’s dream. As such, they usually offer a wide range of items. Department stores typically sell clothing, shoes, furniture, perfume and jewellery. Supermarkets sell fruit and vegetables, meat, fish, paper products, canned goods, milk, cigarettes and (where local and national laws allow) alcoholic beverages (usually beer, in many places also wine and/or spirits). More and more discount stores offer either a grocery section or a complete supermarket, including Walmart (although they were not the first to introduce this concept) and Target. In poor neighbourhoods or along highways, convenience stores often exist alongside petrol stations, offering a small assortment of ready meals, drinks, sundries and cigarettes, at prices that are not competitive with supermarkets.

Unlike many other countries, the USA does not have large markets that are open every day. Instead, there are farmers’ markets in cities and suburbs where producers sell fruits and vegetables directly to consumers. These events usually take place once a week and only from late spring to the summer months on a specific street or car park. Some farmers’ markets operate year-round and take place once or twice a month during the winter months.

If you see a driveway full of items on Friday afternoon, Saturday and/or Sunday, it is probably a garage sale. On weekends, it is not uncommon to see families selling household items they no longer need in their driveway, garage or yard. Estate sales are similar to garage sales, the difference being that they are selling anything left behind by someone who has recently passed away or someone who is moving far away, perhaps overseas, and needs to liquidate everything. Therefore, estate sales usually have more items than garage sales. Other similar sales may take place in a church building or car park, where community members gather unneeded items from their homes in one place to sell together. The money generated from these sales usually goes to the church (e.g. for capital improvements) or to a mission or project it supports. Imagine a person’s trash can be your treasure. Along busy roads, you may see A-frame signs or other billboards attached to utility poles to direct traffic to the location of the yard or estate sale. Bargaining is expected and encouraged.

Flea markets (called “swap meets” in western states) consist of dozens or even hundreds of vendors offering all kinds of goods, usually at low prices. They are sometimes held in convention centres, stadiums, old outdoor cinemas, fairgrounds or large car parks in suburbs. Some flea markets are very specialised and cater to collectors of a certain kind, others simply sell all kinds of items. Here, too, haggling is the order of the day.

Second-hand shops are retail outlets run by charities such as Goodwill Industries, the Salvation Army, St Vincent de Paul and various local churches and charities. They accept unwanted or no longer needed household items as donations and resell them at a profit to fund the general running costs of the shop and the (charitable) projects they are involved in. Other more expensive and valuable items, such as antiques, coins, collectibles, jewellery, newer software and hardware, tools, etc. are separated and sold separately at online auctions on their websites. Other second-hand shops may be computer recyclers who only accept unwanted, obsolete and/or damaged computer equipment for recycling. They tend to test and/or refurbish anything that is not obsolete (between 5 and 10 years old) but is in working order to offer them for sale at a fraction of the price of a new computer bought at a big box store.

The Americans didn’t invent the auction, but they certainly perfected it. The fast, singing cadence of a country auctioneer selling everything from farm animals to collectible furniture is a special experience, even if you have no intention of buying anything. In the big cities, you can see paintings, antiques and works of art sell for millions in minutes at Christie’s or Sotheby’s auction rooms.

Large U.S. retail chains

According to Deloitte, the largest fashion retailer in the United States and worldwide is Macy’s, Inc. with more than 800 mid-priced Macy’s department stores in 45 states, Puerto Rico and Guam, and a smaller number of upscale Bloomingdale’s shops. Nordstrom is another upscale department stores’ that can also be found in most states. Mid-range shops include Kohl’s, Sears, The Gap and JCPenney, while lower-end shops are dominated by Marshalls, TJ Maxx and Old Navy. Large shops tend to be located in suburban areas, often in shopping centres, although a few can be found in inner cities or small rural towns.

General discount shops like Walmart, Target and Kmart are ubiquitous. Many discount stores not only sell clothes and small items, but also have a small grocery section or a complete supermarket; in fact, Walmart is both the largest grocer and the largest chain shop in the country. The three largest supermarket chains are Kroger (which includes Dillon’s, Fry’s, Bakers and Fred Meyer, among others), Safeway (which includes Albertsons and Haggen in the US) and SuperValu, but they operate under older regional names in many states (e.g. Vons and Ralphs in California, Fred Meyer in Oregon and Cub in Minnesota). There are smaller regional supermarkets, such as Wegmans on the East Coast and H-E-B in Texas. A number of American suburbs have upscale markets, such as Whole Foods, that specialise in more expensive items, such as organic produce. The largest warehouse club chain is Costco, whose main competitor is Sam’s Club (operated by Walmart). The three major drugstore chains are CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid, with the latter two in the process of merging. In addition, almost every discount store and many supermarkets also have a small pharmacy. Most cities and suburbs have several supermarkets or pharmacies, and usually a Walmart or other large retailer.

A special note on pharmacies in discount stores and supermarkets: As a rule, discount stores group many pharmacy items – over-the-counter medicines, dental care products, cosmetics, hair care products, soaps, first aid products, etc. – in one area of the shop near the pharmacy counter. – This is not always the case. This is not always the case in supermarkets, although it is increasingly becoming the model used by discounters (Walmart uses this model in both its discounters and its supermarket-only stores).

In several areas of retailing, ruthless consolidation has led to the survival of a single national chain to compete with a number of smaller regional chains. This is the case with bookstores (Barnes & Noble), electronics shops (Best Buy), convenience stores (7-Eleven) and household goods (Bed Bath & Beyond).

Costs

Unless you live in Australia, Canada, Europe or Japan, the US is generally expensive, but there are ways to limit the damage. Many Europeans come to the US to shop (especially for electronics). Although prices in the US are lower than in many European countries, keep in mind that you will have to pay taxes/duties on goods bought abroad. Also, electronics may not be compatible with standards when returned (electrical, DVD, etc.). So the savings you make by buying in the US can easily be reversed when you return. Also, your item purchased in the USA may not be eligible for warranty service in your home country.

A basic budget for camping, hostels and preparing your food could be $30-50 a day, and you can double that if you stay in motels and eat in cheap cafés. If you then add a rental car and a hotel room, you’re already at $150 a day or more. There are also regional differences: big cities like New York and Los Angeles are expensive, while prices drop in rural areas. Most American cities have suburbs with good hotels, which are often much cheaper than those in the city centre and have a lower crime rate. So if you plan to rent a car and drive between several major cities during a single visit to the US, it is usually best to stay in safe suburban hotels with free parking, as opposed to downtown hotels that charge exorbitant parking fees. Also, if you have generous American friends who give you gift cards for any reason, these cards can help cover some of the costs.

If you plan to visit any of the National Park Service sites, such as the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone National Park, it is worth considering purchasing a National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass. It costs $80 and gives access to almost all federally managed parks and recreational areas for a year. Since admission to many parks costs at least $20 each, the pass is the most economical option if you are visiting more than one park. You can redeem receipts for 14 days of single admissions at the park entrance to upgrade to an annual pass if you find yourself wandering around and end up visiting more parks than planned.

Many hotels and motels offer discounts for members of certain organisations that anyone can join, such as AAA (formerly the American Automobile Association). If you are a member or belong to a club affiliated with the AAA (e.g. the Canadian Automobile Association, the Automobile Association in the UK or the ADAC in Germany), it is worth asking about this when you arrive.

Tipping

Tipping is common in the service industry in the United States. Standards vary, but tips are always given to waiters in restaurants and bars, taxi drivers, parking attendants and bellboys in hotels, and should only be omitted in extreme cases of poor service. The salaries paid in these professions and even their taxes take into account that they receive tips, so it is really inappropriate to leave them out.

In the United States, tipping is so common, and in some cases expected, that in many service establishments, such as hair salons and restaurants, customers who have not tipped are often asked to pay a tip or, less commonly, are berated or insulted by staff for being “ripped off” even though such behaviour is clearly considered inappropriate on the part of the staff.

While Americans themselves often debate the correct amount and who exactly deserves a tip, the generally accepted standard rates are as follows:

  • Hairdressers, other personal services: 10-15%.
  • Bartender: $1 per drink if it’s cheap, or 15-20% of the total price.
  • Grooms: $1-2 per bag ($3-5 minimum regardless)
  • Hotel porter: $1 per bag (if he helps), $1 to call a taxi.
  • Shuttle driver: $2-5 (optional)
  • Private car and limousine drivers: 15-20%.
  • Valet parking: $1 to $3 to retrieve your car (unless parking is already paid for).
  • Housekeeping in hotels: $1-2 per day for long stays or $5 minimum for very short stays (optional).
  • Food delivery (pizza, etc.): $2-$5, 15-20% for larger orders.
  • Bicycle couriers: 3-5
  • Tour guide/activity leader: $5-10 if he or she was particularly funny or informative. Tips vary depending on the size of the group (larger groups have lower tips), the cost of the tour, etc. It is often best to ask other members of the group or the guide himself what is a “good” tip.
  • Taxis: In yellow and chauffeured taxis, a tip of 10-20% is expected. Always tip more for better service (e.g. if the taxi driver helps you carry your luggage or pram). Leave a small tip if the service is poor (e.g. if the taxi driver refuses to turn on the air conditioning on a hot day). For taxis with a driver, if you hail the taxi on the street and negotiate the fare in advance, pay the negotiated amount plus an additional $1-2.
  • Full service restaurants: 15-20%. Many restaurants charge a mandatory service fee for large groups. In this case you do not need to tip extra – check the bill.

It is important to keep in mind that the legal minimum wage for restaurant waiters and other tippers is quite low (only $2.13/hour before tax), and that tips are supposed to bring them up to a “normal” minimum wage. So in restaurants (and in some other professions), tipping is not just a way of saying thank you for the service, but an essential part of the waiter’s salary.

Remember that while you should normally tip for reasonable service, you are never obliged to tip if the service was truly awful. If you receive exceptionally poor or rude service and the manager does not fix the problem when you point it out, a small, deliberate tip (one or two coins) will express your displeasure more clearly than no tip at all (which could be interpreted as a forgotten tip).

If you pay your bill in cash, leave a tip on the table when you leave the restaurant (you don’t have to hand it in personally or wait for it to be collected), or if you pay by credit card, you can write it directly on the deposit slip when you sign it. Look carefully because the slip will usually say if a 15% tip has already been added.

In restaurants where customers stand at a counter to place their order and receive their food (such as fast food chains), tipping is not expected. Some of these restaurants may have a “tip jar” near the cash register that customers can use at their discretion as a thank you for good service. In a cafeteria or buffet, it is normal to tip as the service staff will often clear the table for you and refill your drinks, etc.

The tipping rules for concierges are much more opaque. For most services (requesting maps, information, tours, etc.), no tip is expected. But for things beyond that, such as special, unusual, time-consuming requests, when you get a lot of attention while others wait, or even just for an exceptionally high level of service, the tip should generally be substantial, usually $5 or more (a $1 tip would be insulting). Tipping can also be a good way to get special treatment during your stay: a good anticipatory tip for a restaurant reservation can lead to special preferential treatment at the restaurant, tips can make unusual or difficult requests possible when the concierge would otherwise hesitate, unexpected tips can lead to special service throughout your stay, etc. If you particularly enjoyed a staff member’s service during your stay, you should leave a larger tip ($5 or more) when you leave the hotel.

Most of the jobs not mentioned here are not used to tipping and would probably refuse it. Retail workers or people in highly skilled service positions (such as doctors or dentists) are good examples. Never try to tip a public official, especially a police officer; this could be construed as attempted bribery (a serious criminal offence) and lead to serious legal problems.

Tipping managers and business owners is almost always inappropriate unless you are hosting a large party, wedding or event. Even then, be careful how you present the tip: It’s best to offer the person in charge (usually the main caterer) a percentage of the total bill and subtly thank them for sharing it with their staff.

Tipping can be good for you if you use common sense. While it is usually presented as an expected part of payment, it can also be a subtle (and acceptable) bribe to get preferential treatment. This is especially true for hotel staff and bartenders. Unusually high tips can also be a good strategy to secure preferential treatment in the future if you plan to frequent the same place. A good tip also makes you look good to friends, dates and business partners (and the opposite is true for a bad tip).

Purchase of electronics for export

A popular idea is to buy a new mobile phone in the US to use on your home network. Unfortunately, there are several complications:

  • Many phones are on the wrong frequencies for use outside the continental United States. The 850/1900 MHz frequency is most widely used in the US; several other frequencies are used, including UMTS and high-speed data (3G, 4G, LTE).
  • Verizon, Sprint and some low-cost networks use the CDMA standard, which only a few other countries support. CDMA does not require mobile phones that support removable SIM cards; it is not compatible with the GSM (2G) and UMTS (3G) global standards.
  • US operators sell SIM-locked handsets. Access to another network requires an unlock code, which operators provide to their existing customers for a fee only after an arbitrary minimum period. Third-party unlock codes are legal, but availability varies by model/manufacturer. A handful of electronics stores offer unlocked, usable phones worldwide, but this is a minority.
  • The advertised prices present the devices as cheap or “free”, with the actual cost hidden in the monthly price of the expensive post-paid tariffs. The actual price of buying a device is much higher, if it is offered at all. Operators also tag the devices with logos and apps that cannot be uninstalled or remove software features.

Similar incompatibilities exist with many other common electronic devices. Televisions do not conform to the international DVB standard used in other countries; DVDs and Blu-ray Discs are regionally encoded and use the frame size and frame rate of the US television system; digitally tuned radios use incorrect channel spacing for other ITU regions. Even if the unit works in your home country, there is probably no local warranty coverage.

Festivals & Holidays in U.S.A.

There are no compulsory national holidays. Federal holidays are the most central holidays, but they are officially recognised only by the federal government; federal offices, banks and post offices are closed on these days. Nearly all states and municipalities also observe these holidays, as well as a handful of other state-specific holidays. When a public holiday falls on a weekend, it is usually observed on the nearest weekday.

The period between Thanksgiving (the fourth Thursday in November) and 1 January has such a concentration of major holidays that it is often referred to simply as “the holiday season”. School and work holidays are often taken during this time, and people visit family and friends. Airports, highways, bus and train stations will be very busy as the major holidays approach. If you must travel, plan extra time to check in and go through security. This is also a major gift-giving season; most malls and department stores will be crowded, especially the day after Thanksgiving, the week before Christmas and the day after Christmas.

  • New Year’s Day (1 January) – most non-commercial businesses are closed; parades, brunches and football parties.
  • Martin Luther King Day (third Monday in January) – many government offices and banks are closed; people volunteer in their communities; speeches, including on African American history and culture.
  • Chinese New Year (January/February – varies according to the Chinese lunar calendar) – Chinese cultural festival.
  • Super Bowl Sunday (usu. first Sunday in February) – The Super Bowl is the annual championship game of the American football league NFL and the most watched sporting event of the year; supermarkets, bars and electronics stores are full; big parties to watch football.
  • Lincoln’s Birthday (second Monday in February) – holiday in several states; many shops have sales.
  • (Saint) Valentine’s Day (14 February) – a private celebration of romance and love. Most restaurants are crowded; the more refined ones may require reservations well in advance.
  • Presidents Day (third Monday in February; officially Washington’s birthday) – many government offices and banks are closed; many shops have clearance sales.
  • St Patrick’s Day (17 March) – Irish-themed parades and parties. Expect the bars to be packed. They often offer themed drink specials. Wearing green clothing or accessories is common.
  • Easter (a Sunday in March or April) – Christian religious celebrations. Depending on the location, many fast food restaurants may be closed, but sit-down restaurants tend to be open. Large retailers are usually open; small shops may or may not be closed. It is assumed to be “Western Easter” unless otherwise stated.
  • Passover (varies according to the Jewish calendar, eight days around Easter) – Jewish religious celebration.
  • Cinco de Mayo (5 May) – A minor holiday in most parts of Mexico, often mistaken for Mexican Independence Day, but nonetheless an important cultural holiday for Mexican-Americans. As with St. Patrick’s Day, expect the bars to be packed, even in places without large Mexican-American communities.
  • Mother’s Day (second Sunday in May) – children and adults give presents to their mothers. Most restaurants are crowded; in the finer restaurants you may have to book well in advance.
  • Memorial Day (last Monday in May) – most non-commercial businesses are closed; some patriotic ceremonies; beach and park tours; traditional start of the summer tourist season.
  • Father’s Day (third Sunday in June) – children and adults give gifts to their fathers. Many restaurants and sporting events are crowded, but not as much as for Mother’s Day.
  • Independence Day / Fourth of July – most non-commercial businesses are closed; patriotic parades and concerts, cookouts and beach and park tours, fireworks at dusk.
  • Labour Day (first Monday in September) – most non-commercial shops are closed; barbecues and trips to beaches and parks; many shops have sales; traditional end of the summer tourist season.
  • Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (varies according to the Jewish calendar, September or early October) – Jewish religious holidays.
  • Columbus Day (second Monday in October) – many offices and banks are closed; some shops have a sale. Italian-themed parades in some cities. Columbus Day can be controversial, especially among Native Americans and Latinos, and is not celebrated as often as in the past.
  • Halloween (31 October) – children dress up and go trick-or-treating (knocking on the doors of other houses to get sweets and other treats). There are spooky attractions such as haunted corn mazes, hayrides and costume parties. Some of the small family shops and restaurants may close in the early evening.
  • Veterans Day (11 November) – Government offices and banks closed; some patriotic ceremonies.
  • Thanksgiving Day (fourth Thursday in November) – family meal with roast turkey as the centrepiece; many people fly or drive to visit extended family. Airports in particular will be busy on the Wednesday before and the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Almost all businesses are closed, including grocery shops and many restaurants.
  • Black Friday (day after Thanksgiving) – The big Christmas shopping traditionally begins, with most shops offering sales and many opening very early in the morning. Most non-sales staff have Friday off or take it as a holiday.
  • Hanukkah / Hanukkah (varies according to the Jewish calendar, usually eight days in December) – Jewish religious celebrations often culturally linked to Christmas.
  • Christmas (25 December) – Families and close friends exchange gifts; Christian religious celebrations. Almost all shops, grocery shops and many restaurants are closed the evening before and throughout the day.
  • Kwanzaa (26 December – 1 January) – African American cultural events.
  • New Year’s Eve (31 December) – many restaurants and bars open late; many parties, especially in the big cities.

All US embassies are closed on federal holidays and host country holidays.

Traditions & Customs in U.S.A.

Given its size, the US is a very diverse country, which means that cultural norms can vary greatly from region to region and it is difficult to generalise about what might and might not be offensive. For example, while homophobic remarks would be highly offensive in a liberal region like New York, the opposite might be true in a rural, heavily evangelical southern city.

  • It is polite to shake hands at a meeting or presentation, although handshakes are often omitted in less formal situations. Some people prefer to shake fists; you can tell by whether the person extends an open hand or a closed fist, but mistakes in this situation are not so bad. A kiss on the cheek in greeting is rare and usually only given between close friends or family.
  • If there are not many people present, leave a personal space of one arm’s length between you and the others.
  • Punctuality is encouraged: a five-minute delay is usually not a problem, but a longer delay should warrant a warning if possible.
  • Because of the country’s history of racial discrimination and the current trend towards equality, Americans are particularly sensitive to issues of race. If you must refer to race, the terms “Black” or “African American”“Asian”, “Latino” or “Hispanic”, “Native American” or “American Indian” and “White” or “Caucasian” are acceptable.
  • Native American reservations are scattered throughout the country. Many of these reservations contain sites that are sacred to the tribe, and some areas may be off-limits to all but tribal members. When you enter a reservation, respect the land and its people.
  • The swastika symbol is considered highly offensive in the United States because of its association with anti-Semitism, Nazism and white supremacy. Hindu, Buddhist and Jain visitors should keep all swastika symbols out of sight.
  • Confederate symbols, especially the “Confederate flag”, while widely used in the South, are controversial in much of the country and are increasingly associated with racism and negative stereotypes about the South.

Culture Of U.S.A.

The United States is home to many cultures and a wide variety of ethnic groups, traditions and values. With the exception of Native Americans, Hawaiians and the people of Alaska, almost all Americans or their ancestors have settled or immigrated within the last five centuries. The predominant American culture is a Western culture, largely derived from the traditions of European immigrants, with influences from many other sources, such as traditions brought from Africa by slaves. More recent immigration from Asia and especially Latin America has contributed to a cultural mix that has been described as both a homogeneous melting pot and a heterogeneous bowl in which immigrants and their descendants retain different cultural traits.

The basic American culture was established by the Protestant British settlers and shaped by the settlement of the frontier, with derivative character traits passed on to descendants and passed on to immigrants through assimilation. Americans are traditionally characterised by a strong work ethic, competitiveness and individualism, as well as a unified belief in an “American creed” that emphasises freedom, equality, private property, democracy, the rule of law and a preference for limited government. Americans are extremely charitable on a world scale. According to a 2006 British study, Americans gave 1.67% of their GDP to charity, more than any other nation studied, more than twice as much as the British (0.73%) and about 12 times as much as the French (0.14%).

The American dream, or the perception that Americans enjoy high social mobility, plays a key role in attracting immigrants. Whether this perception is realistic is a matter of debate. While the prevailing culture claims that the United States is a classless society, researchers note significant differences between the country’s social classes that affect socialisation, language and values. Americans’ self-image, social views and cultural expectations are linked to their occupation to an unusually high degree. While Americans tend to place a high value on socio-economic success, being ordinary or average is generally seen as a positive trait.

Cuisine

Traditional American cuisine is similar to that of other Western countries. Wheat is the main grain, with about three quarters of grain products made from wheat flour. Many dishes use local ingredients such as turkey, venison, potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, squash and maple syrup, which were eaten by Native Americans and early European settlers. These local dishes are part of a national menu shared on one of America’s most popular holidays, Thanksgiving, when some Americans prepare traditional dishes to celebrate the occasion.

Characteristic dishes such as apple pie, fried chicken, pizza, hamburgers and hot dogs are derived from the recipes of various immigrants. French fries, Mexican dishes such as burritos and tacos, and pasta dishes loosely based on Italian sources are commonly consumed. Americans drink three times more coffee than tea. American industry marketing is largely responsible for the ubiquity of orange juice and milk in breakfast drinks.

American eating habits owe much to their British culinary roots, with some variations. Although new vegetables could be grown in America, which was not possible in England, most settlers were unwilling to eat these new foods until they were accepted by Europeans. Over time, American food changed so much that restaurant critic John L. Hess said in 1972, “Our founding fathers were as superior to our present political leaders in the quality of their food as they are in the quality of their prose and intelligence

The US fast food industry, the largest in the world, pioneered the drive-through format in the 1940s. The consumption of fast food has led to health concerns. In the 1980s and 1990s, Americans’ calorie intake increased by 24 per cent; fast food consumption has been linked to what public health officials call the American “obesity epidemic”. Heavily sweetened soft drinks are very popular, and sweetened beverages account for 9 % of Americans’ calorie intake.

Literature, Philosophy and Art

In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, American art and literature were primarily inspired by Europe. Writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe and Henry David Thoreau established a distinct American literary voice in the mid-nineteenth century. Mark Twain and the poet Walt Whitman were important figures in the second half of the century; Emily Dickinson, virtually unknown in her lifetime, is now recognised as an essential American poet. Works that capture fundamental aspects of national experience and character – such as Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick (1851), Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925) and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) – can be considered “great American novels”.

Eleven American citizens have received the Nobel Prize for Literature, most recently Toni Morrison in 1993. William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck are often counted among the most influential writers of the 20th century. Popular literary genres such as the Western and the hardboiled detective novel developed in the United States. The writers of the Beat Generation opened up new literary approaches, as did postmodern authors such as John Barth, Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo.

The Transcendentalists, led by Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, created the first great American philosophical movement. After the Civil War, Charles Sanders Peirce, then William James and John Dewey led the development of pragmatism. In the twentieth century, the works of W. V. O. Quine and Richard Rorty, and later Noam Chomsky, brought analytic philosophy to the forefront of American scholarship. John Rawls and Robert Nozick led a revival of political philosophy. Cornel West and Judith Butler established a continental tradition in American philosophical scholarship. Chicago School economists such as Milton Friedman, James M. Buchanan and Thomas Sowell have influenced various areas of social and political philosophy.

In the visual arts, the Hudson River School was a mid-19th century movement in the tradition of European naturalism. Thomas Eakins’ realistic paintings are widely celebrated today. The 1913 Armory Show in New York, an exhibition of European modernist art, shocked the public and changed the American art scene. Georgia O’Keeffe, Marsden Hartley and others experimented with new individualist styles. Important art movements such as Abstract Expressionism by Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning and Pop Art by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein developed in the United States. The wave of Modernism and later Postmodernism made American architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Philip Johnson and Frank Gehry famous.

One of the first great promoters of American theatre was the impresario P. T. Barnum, who ran an entertainment complex in Lower Manhattan from 1841. The team of Harrigan and Hart produced a series of popular musicals in New York City from the late 1870s. In the 20th century, the modern musical form emerged on Broadway; songs by musical theatre composers such as Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and Stephen Sondheim became standards in popular music. Playwright Eugene O’Neill received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1936; other celebrated American playwrights include Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee and August Wilson, winner of several Pulitzer Prizes.

Although little known at the time, Charles Ives’ work in the 1910s made him the first significant American composer in the classical tradition, while experimentalists such as Henry Cowell and John Cage created a distinctively American approach to classical composition. Aaron Copland and George Gershwin developed a new synthesis of popular and classical music. Choreographers Isadora Duncan and Martha Graham helped create modern dance, while George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins were the leaders of 20th century ballet. Americans have long played an important role in modern photography, with such leading photographers as Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen and Ansel Adams.

Music

The rhythmic and lyrical styles of African-American music have profoundly influenced American music as a whole, distinguishing it from European traditions. Elements of folk idioms such as the blues and what is now called old-time music were adopted and transformed into popular genres with a worldwide audience. Jazz was pioneered by innovators such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington in the early 20th century. Country music developed in the 1920s, rhythm and blues in the 1940s.

Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry were among the pioneers of rock and roll in the mid-1950s. In the 1960s, Bob Dylan emerged from the folk revival to become one of America’s most famous songwriters and James Brown led the development of funk. More recent American creations include hip-hop and house music. American pop stars such as Presley, Michael Jackson and Madonna have become global celebrities, as have contemporary music artists such as Taylor Swift, Britney Spears, Katy Perry and Beyoncé, and hip-hop artists Jay Z, Eminem and Kanye West. Rock bands like Metallica, the Eagles and Aerosmith are among the biggest sellers in the world.

Cinema

Hollywood, a northern district of Los Angeles, California, is one of the leading places in film production. The world’s first commercial film screening took place in New York in 1894, with Thomas Edison’s kinetoscope. The following year, the first commercial screening of a projected film took place, also in New York, and the United States led the way in the development of sound film in the decades that followed. Since the early 20th century, the American film industry has been largely based in and around Hollywood, although in the 21st century more and more films are not made there and film companies are subject to the forces of globalisation.

Director D. W. Griffith, the greatest American filmmaker of the silent era, played a central role in the development of film grammar, and producer/entrepreneur Walt Disney was a leader in animated films and film merchandising. Directors such as John Ford redefined the image of the old American West and history and, like others such as John Huston, expanded the possibilities of cinema with on-location shooting, which had a major influence on subsequent directors. The industry had its golden years, in what is commonly referred to as the “Golden Age of Hollywood”, from the early sound period to the early 1960s, with screen actors like John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe becoming iconic figures. In the 1970s, directors such as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Robert Altman played a key role in what has been called the “New Hollywood” or “Hollywood Renaissance”, with gritty films influenced by the images of post-war French and Italian realism. Since then, directors such as Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and James Cameron have become known for their successful films, often characterised by high production costs in return for significant box office takings, with Cameron’s Avatar (2009) grossing over $2 billion.

Films topping the American Film Institute’s AFI 100 list include Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941), often called the greatest film of all time, Casablanca (1942), The Godfather (1972), Gone with the Wind (1939), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), The Wizard of Oz (1939), The Graduate (1967), On the Waterfront (1954), Schindler’s List (1993), Singing in the Rain (1952), Life is Beautiful (1946) and Sunset Boulevard (1950). The Academy Awards, better known as the Oscars, have been presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences since 1929, and the Golden Globe Awards have been presented annually since January 1944.

Sport

American football is in many ways the most popular spectator sport; the National Football League (NFL) has the highest average viewership of any sports league in the world, and the Super Bowl is watched by millions worldwide. Baseball has been considered the national sport of the United States since the late 19th century, with Major League Baseball (MLB) being the largest league. Basketball and ice hockey are the other two major professional team sports in the country, with the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the National Hockey League (NHL) being the major leagues. These four major sports, when played professionally, each take up a season at different but overlapping times of the year. College football and basketball draw large crowds. In football, the country hosted the FIFA World Cup in 1994, the men’s national team has qualified for ten World Cups, the women’s team has won the FIFA Women’s World Cup three times, and Major League Soccer is the largest league in the United States. The professional sports market in the United States is worth about $69 billion, about 50 per cent more than all of Europe, the Middle East and Africa combined.

Eight Olympic Games have taken place in the United States. In 2014, the United States won 2,400 medals in the Summer Olympics, more than any other country, and 281 in the Winter Olympics, second only to Norway. While most major US sports originated in Europe, basketball, volleyball, skateboarding and snowboarding are American inventions, some of which have become popular in other countries. Lacrosse and surfing originated with Native Americans and Native Hawaiians before contact with the West. The most watched individual sports are golf and car racing, especially NASCAR. The men’s national volleyball team has won three Olympic gold medals, one FIVB World Championship, two FIVB Volleyball World Championships and one FIVB World League.

Media

The four major broadcasters in the United States are the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), American Broadcasting Company (ABC) and Fox. The four major television networks are all commercial enterprises. Cable television offers hundreds of channels covering a variety of niches. Americans listen to an average of just over two and a half hours of radio programming per day, most of which is also commercial.

By 1998, the number of US commercial radio stations had grown to 4,793 AM stations and 5,662 FM stations. In addition, there are 1,460 public radio stations. Most of these stations are operated by universities and government agencies for educational purposes and are funded by public or private funds, subscriptions and corporate contributions. Much of the public radio is provided by NPR (formerly National Public Radio). NPR was created in February 1970 under the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967; its television counterpart, PBS, was also created by the same legislation. (NPR and PBS are operated separately). As of 30 September 2014, there were 15,433 licensed full-power radio stations in the United States, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The best-known newspapers are The New York TimesUSA Today and The Wall Street Journal. Although the cost of publishing has increased over the years, the price of newspapers has generally remained low, forcing newspapers to rely more heavily on advertising revenue and stories supplied by a major news agency such as Associated Press or Reuters for national and global coverage. With few exceptions, all newspapers in the US are privately owned, either by large chains like Gannett or McClatchy that own dozens or even hundreds of papers, or by small chains that own a handful of papers, or increasingly by individuals or families. In large cities, there are often “alternative weeklies” that supplement the major dailies, such as The Village Voice in New York or LA Weekly in Los Angeles, to name the best known. In big cities, there may also be a local business newspaper, trade papers related to local industries, and newspapers for local ethnic and social groups. The earliest versions of newspaper comics and the American comic strip appeared in the 19th century. In 1938, Superman, the superhero of DC Comics, became an American icon. Besides web portals and search engines, the most popular websites are Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia, Yahoo.com, eBay, Amazon and Twitter.

More than 800 publications are produced in Spanish, the second most common mother tongue after English.

Stay Safe & Healthy in U.S.A.

Stay Safe in United States

Crime

Big headline-grabbing crimes and slightly unfavourable statistics give the United States a reputation for crime. However, there are few visitors who have problems; common sense precautions and vigilance are enough to avoid problems. Crime in the inner cities is mostly related to gangs and drugs, as well as violent altercations. Avoid these situations and you will be fine. Urban tourist areas are heavily policed and are safe from all but minor crimes.

Rural crime in America is rare and very local, occurring mainly in very poor and troubled communities that are very easy to avoid.

In urban areas there are usually homeless people who may aggressively demand money. If you feel harassed, say “no” firmly and leave.

Illegal immigration and drug trafficking, as well as harsh treatment by the authorities, make the Mexican border unsavoury. The official border crossings are safe to use.

Police

American police are generally polite, professional and honest. When in uniform, they are also more formal, cautious and cold than, for example, Latin American police, especially in large cities. If you are stopped by traffic police, you should remain calm, be polite and cooperative, avoid sudden movements and indicate what you are doing if you need to take out your handbag or wallet to show your ID. It is especially important to appear calm and cooperative if you are not white, as People of Color in the U.S. are much more likely to be victims of police harassment and violence than white people. Turn on the vehicle’s interior lights and keep your hands on the steering wheel to make it clear that you are not a threat; do not get out of the vehicle until you are asked to do so. Generally, the driver of the vehicle should speak to the officer when they approach.

Do not offer a police officer a bribe in any form. American police culture categorically rejects bribes, and the mere suggestion would most likely lead to your immediate arrest. If you have to pay a fine, do not try to pay the officer; he may refer you to the appropriate police station, court or authority. Most minor traffic offences can be paid by post. Increasingly, fines can be paid online or by phone within minutes of receiving the ticket, though often for a fee of a few dollars. Instructions are often printed on the ticket.

There are three types of police officers you are most likely to encounter: State police/patrols on state highways, deputy sheriffs employed by county governments in rural areas, and police officers employed by city or municipal governments in urban areas. There are also smaller police departments, such as transit or airport police, who patrol public transportation, and university or “campus” police, who patrol universities. Federal police officers are usually only found at or near federal facilities, such as ports of entry, national parks and government offices. If you encounter them elsewhere, it is usually because they are investigating specific allegations of federal crimes.

Emergency services

If you dial 9-1-1 from any phone, you can reach the emergency services (police, fire, ambulance, etc.). Any US phone, “active” or not, should be able to dial 911 when connected to the network, and these calls are always free. Unless you are calling from a mobile phone or internet phone, the operator should be able to locate you through the phone you are using, even if you say nothing. Modern mobile phones send a GPS location of your position to within a few metres within seconds of dialling 911. If you dial 911 and leave a line open, all three emergency services will arrive within five minutes in most populated areas. Response times may be longer in sparsely populated areas or along motorways.

On any GSM mobile phone (the standard technology in most countries of the world, including Europe) you can also dial 112, which is the standard emergency number on GSM networks worldwide. US GSM operators (AT&T, T-Mobile and smaller regional operators) automatically forward 112 calls to 911.

As in most countries, misuse of the emergency number will result in at least a call back from the authorities, and at most an arrest. If you call 9-1-1 by mistake (e.g. if an error in dialling the international prefix 011- results in a “9-1-1, what is your emergency?” response), stay on the line long enough to explain to the dispatcher that you dialled the wrong number. Even then, an agent may show up.

Border Patrol

The United States Border Patrol works near the Canadian and Mexican borders, as well as in southern coastal areas like the Florida Keys. They can check immigration status and enforce immigration laws in “border areas” – generally within 40 miles of Canada and 75 miles of Mexico (although the law allows 100 miles from any border, including the ocean and Great Lakes). Near Canada, they tend to be more low-key and generally focus their efforts on buses and long-distance trains. In the south, systematic vehicle checks or stopping on the road with a friendly “Papers, please…” are much more likely. They usually do not specifically target tourists.

Foreigners must always carry their passport, visa and residence card (or green card). If you are found near the border without these documents, you may be detained until your status is checked or even fined. If your documents are in order, you will usually not be questioned. In most states (Arizona is a notable exception), police and other local authorities are not allowed to question you about your immigration status or ask for your passport or visa unless you are arrested and charged with a crime, and then only for the purpose of liaising with your embassy. After September 11, 2001, some statistics have shown that Muslims or people believed to be Muslims are disproportionately screened at airports, despite claims that passengers are selected at random. A minority of law enforcement officers may express racist or ethnocentric sentiments.

Natural disasters

The United States is a vast country with great geographical diversity, and parts of it are occasionally affected by natural disasters: Hurricanes and tropical storms from June to November in the South (including Florida), blizzards (a special and common type are “Nor’easters”) in New England and areas near the Great Lakes and the Rocky Mountains, tornadoes especially in the Great Plains and the Midwest, earthquakes in California and Alaska, flooding in parts of the Midwest, and wildfires in late summer and early autumn in Texas and on the West Coast, especially in California. More details can be found in the respective regions.

Because tornadoes are so common between the Rockies and the Appalachians, this area has been named “Tornado Alley”. The San Andreas Fault is a tectonic plate boundary that runs through California, a region prone to earthquakes. Hawaii has several active volcanoes, but they generally do not pose a threat to life and limb. The last major eruption on the American mainland was Mount St. Helens in 1980.

In the event of a natural disaster, local, state or federal authorities can issue a warning via the Emergency Alert System. This system is characterised by a very distinctive electronic scream followed by a dial tone-like tone before each message. It cancels AM/FM radio broadcasts as well as television systems. Smartphones sold since about 2011 often receive an alert based on the phone’s current location (depending on the phone’s settings, this may include a loud warning tone). Coast Guard weather is broadcast on marine VHF radio for mariners; a separate system (seven frequencies around 161 MHz) provides conditions on land. Special “weather radios” are able to monitor the frequency even in standby mode and provide warnings when deadly storms (such as tornadoes or hurricanes) are brewing. In most tornado-prone areas, a siren system sounds when a tornado warning is issued. When you hear the siren, seek shelter immediately.

Gays and lesbians

In general, the United States is a safe destination for gays and lesbians, although homosexuality is not as accepted overall as it is in Australia, New Zealand, Canada or Western Europe. Most Americans have a live-and-let-live attitude to sexuality, but there are important exceptions. It is generally not a problem to be open about your sexual orientation, although you may receive unwanted attention or comments in some situations. Attitudes to homosexuality vary widely, even in areas known for their tolerance or intolerance. Acceptance is most widespread in the country’s major cities, as well as in small towns, suburbs and college towns, particularly on the Pacific Coast, in the Northeast and in Hawaii, with acceptance in these areas generally comparable to that in Western Europe. Homophobia and anti-gay violence can be encountered anywhere, including in some suburban and rural areas in the southeast and interior west, but the likelihood of it happening to you is low.

Gay-friendly destinations where openly gay couples are common include New York’s Chelsea neighbourhood, Rochester in Western New York, Boystown in Chicago, Capitol Hill in Seattle, Castro Street in San Francisco, Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C., South Beach in Miami Beach, Midtown in Atlanta and West Hollywood in Los Angeles. Outside of gay neighbourhoods, many major cities are also gay-friendly, especially in the Northeast and on the West Coast. A growing number of beach towns are known to be gay-friendly, including Fire Island, Key West, Asheville, Provincetown, Ogunquit, Rehoboth Beach, Saugatuck and parts of Asbury Park. Other smaller towns have neighbourhoods where gay people congregate and many have resource centres for LGBT people.

Legally, same-sex relationships are treated the same as heterosexual relationships. If you are married to a same-sex person, you may still encounter some difficulties in more conservative parts of the country, but recent Supreme Court rulings have made it clear that no state or federal agency may treat your marriage differently from others. Some states still allow businesses to refuse service to gays and lesbians; sexual orientation is not yet a nationally protected category the way race and gender are. Some businesses specifically advertise that they are LGBT-friendly by displaying symbols (usually a rainbow flag) on their facades. In some larger cities, there are alternative monthly or weekly publications that provide information and listings of places or events specifically for the LGBT communities.

Men who plan to be sexually active should be aware of the increased risk of HIV and other infections in the United States. A gay man in the United States has a 44 times higher risk of getting HIV than a heterosexual man, and a 46 times higher risk of getting syphilis. This risk increases dramatically for men who are prone to one-night stands and other risky behaviours. In a nation where 0.5% of the population is infected with HIV, unprotected sex is a very real risk. Precautions, including safe sex, are strongly recommended during your stay. Most cities have affordable or free centres for STI testing and treatment, although opening hours can be limited and waiting times long. Family planning clinics are often an affordable alternative. The lifelong consequences of HIV or other STIs are not covered by many insurance policies. It can be very expensive to seek treatment elsewhere, as the US medical system is private and operates largely on a for-profit basis.

Drugs

In general, drug laws in the USA can be quite strict: even possession or transport of small amounts can lead to imprisonment or deportation and should be avoided by travellers. However, laws and attitudes regarding the most commonly available drug, marijuana, vary greatly from state to state. States such as Louisiana and Florida impose heavy fines and long prison sentences, while other states have largely decriminalised marijuana use. Eighteen states currently allow the medical use of marijuana, with individuals able to obtain medical marijuana with a doctor’s prescription and a ‘medical marijuana card’. In some states, especially West Coast cities, medical marijuana dispensaries are so commonplace that they seem almost ordinary. Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska allow limited recreational use of marijuana, as does the District of Columbia, although the status of legalisation in that state is currently uncertain due to the District’s unique federal status.

Under no circumstances should you transport marijuana or other drugs that are illegal under federal law across state lines, onto (some) Indian reservations, onto federal land (such as federal agency buildings, military bases, post offices, etc.), or internationally, as this is considered drug trafficking and can be punishable by a lengthy prison sentence. Even if you transport it on a direct flight or by mail between places where marijuana is legal or tolerated, such as between the US and the Netherlands or between Washington State and Colorado, it is still illegal under US federal law. In some countries, trace amounts of marijuana residue, poppy seeds or legal drugs containing certain substances such as codeine purchased in the US are punishable under US drug laws. Even drugs such as marijuana that were consumed in the United States before leaving the country may be punishable if detected in your system upon arrival in another country, even if no drugs or drug paraphernalia were found on you or in your luggage.

Prostitution

Prostitution is illegal except in licensed brothels in rural Nevada. Tolerance varies widely from state to state. Police officers can pose as prostitutes to catch and arrest anyone offering sex for pay.

Pistols

It is true: the United States has a strong gun culture, and many Americans (though by no means all) own firearms. Gun ownership is regulated by each state, and although these regulations (obtaining the necessary permits, types of weapons allowed) vary considerably from state to state and sometimes from city to city within a state, the United States is generally considered to have a lenient attitude towards gun ownership, especially compared to Europe and Asia.

Although US citizens have a constitutionally guaranteed right to own and carry firearms, non-immigrant aliens who have been in America for less than 180 days cannot legally possess a firearm or ammunition unless they entered the country specifically to hunt or shoot, or possess a valid hunting licence issued by the state in which they are shooting. Participation in a recognised shooting competition also counts. Any other activity is strictly prohibited.

WARNING: Persons who have renounced U.S. citizenship may not possess firearms or ammunition, even for sporting purposes.

Your chances of being shot are very slim, but remember that :

  • In urban areas, a civilian carrying an openly visible firearm is generally rare and therefore potentially more of a concern than in rural areas. However, since “open carry” is allowed in many states, you may encounter someone with a holstered firearm. Many states also have “concealed carry” laws that allow the possession of a firearm concealed in clothing or in a vehicle. Remember that people with a permit to carry a firearm, whether open or concealed, are usually not criminals and will not harm you.
  • Hunting is popular in rural America. Using marked trails should be safe, but if you go off the beaten track, try to find out if and where hunting is taking place. If so, wear bright colours (especially bright orange) to be easily visible to hunters. You can also put brightly coloured waistcoats on the dogs you take with you. If you want to hunt, get the necessary permits and check the local regulations.
  • Target shooting is a popular sport. Many shooting ranges welcome tourists and offer a variety of firearms to rent and shoot on the range. Many have a “two-person minimum” rule and consider it dangerous to rent firearms to individuals.
  • The legal carrying of firearms for protection by people hiking, exploring or camping in the wilderness is on the rise due to a small number of high-profile incidents on well-known trails. This is a controversial issue in the hiking/camping community, with strong arguments on both sides. In general, legal gun ownership does not increase the danger to bystanders. People who carry guns may have military or police training and be quite willing to help others in an emergency.

Racism

Compared to many European and Asian countries, the United States is, at least publicly, a racially tolerant country. The US Constitution, in conjunction with state and federal legislation and case law, prohibits racial discrimination in a wide range of public areas, such as employment, admission to universities and the provision of services by retail businesses. However, the Constitution also guarantees freedom of speech, so it is still possible to hear racist remarks even in very public forums.

Yet most Americans are tolerant of other races, or at least pretend to be, and it is rare to be openly attacked by random people simply because of your race. The country occasionally goes through periods of heightened hostility towards racial minorities or immigrants (including currently, in 2016), but the general trend is one of tolerance and acceptance.

Stay Healthy in United States

Disease

As a highly industrialised nation, the United States is largely free of most of the serious communicable diseases found in many developing countries; however, HIV rates are higher than in Canada and Western Europe, with an infection rate of about 0.5% in the total population.

Rabies and Lyme disease are two infectious diseases that are important to know about. Human cases of rabies are quite rare in the United States, although the disease is more common in the eastern parts of the country. Rabies can be transmitted through animal bites; if you are bitten by a mammal, seek medical attention as soon as possible – if you wait until you have symptoms of rabies, you will almost certainly die (in the entire history of medicine, there are only a handful of documented cases of rabies patients who survived after symptoms appeared, but if you get vaccinated before symptoms appear, you have a very good chance of surviving unharmed). Bats and other small wild animals are particularly susceptible to transmission of the rabies virus. If you are bitten, especially if you cannot identify the animal and even if it is a “simple scratch”, see a doctor as soon as possible.

Lyme disease is transmitted by the deer tick, which is common in the forests and open fields of many rural areas. There have been cases of Lyme disease in every state, but the vast majority have been reported in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic states and Great Lakes states like Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois. If you are going outdoors, it is a good idea to apply an effective deer tick repellent to exposed skin areas. If you develop flu-like symptoms after hiking in forested areas, be sure to get tested for Lyme disease, as it is often confused with other illnesses and early treatment is usually very effective.

Other diseases endemic to the USA but of far less concern are Hantaviral Pulmonary Syndrome (in the western regions), Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (mainly in the Rocky Mountain region), West Nile Virus (in all regions) and Eastern and Western Equine Encephalitis (mainly in the Midwest region).

These diseases are exceptionally rare and the medical system in the US is quite capable of treating them when necessary.

For the latest travel health information for the United States, including tips and recommendations, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention‘s website for the United States.

Due to the high volume of travel to and from the US and the fact that diaspora communities from almost every country in the world are present in the US, the US is somewhat more likely than other places to experience “imported” cases of pandemics, as in the case of the 2014 Ebola outbreak, where there were some cases in the US.

Health care

American health care is generally top-notch, but can be very expensive. Most Americans have private health insurance. The largest government health programme, Medicare, is mainly for the elderly. Medicaid is a broadly similar programme for the poor. Travellers should ensure that their travel insurance is valid for the United States. Because of the high cost, some “global” insurance policies do not specifically cover the United States. Long-term visitors to the US (e.g. on a work or student visa) are usually required to purchase private health insurance as part of their visa requirement. Many Americans receive health insurance through their employer as part of their benefits package. If you are considering working in the US, check with your employer to see if such an arrangement is possible for you.

For the patient, public (20%), private for-profit (20%) and private not-for-profit (60%) hospitals in the US are generally indistinguishable. Public hospitals in inner cities may be more crowded and less well maintained, but overall the costs and level of service are the same in all types of hospitals. No hospital can turn away a life-threatening emergency. Private hospitals can only stabilise these patients before sending them to a nearby public hospital, which usually acts as a regional centre for 24-hour emergency treatment.

In a life-threatening emergency, call 911 to have an ambulance take you to the nearest hospital emergency room, or in less urgent situations, go to the hospital yourself and register at the emergency room desk. Charges for ambulances usually range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, and although they will never refuse to transport you in an emergency, you will be billed for the cost of the ambulance later. Emergency rooms treat patients regardless of their ability to pay, although their services are not free. Expect to pay at least $500 for a visit, plus the cost of certain services or medications administered to you. Avoid going to the emergency room for non-urgent care without an appointment; they are 3-4 times more expensive than other options and your non-urgent condition means you will have to wait for hours or even days. Most urban areas also have small urgent care centres (also called urgent care) for conditions that do not require a visit to the emergency department (e.g. superficial cuts). Their opening hours can be limited; only a few are open at night.

Walk-in clinics can provide routine medical care; to find one, look in the Yellow Pages under “Clinics”, or call a larger hospital and ask. Patients see a doctor or nurse practitioner without an appointment (but often with some waiting time). They are usually very open about fees and always accept credit cards. Make sure the staff member knows you will be paying “out of pocket”; if they assume insurance will pay, they may inflate the bill with unnecessary extras.

There are dentists all over the country. They usually explain the fees over the phone, and most accept credit cards. Health insurance does not usually cover dental care; you need to take out separate dental insurance for this.

Government-supported clinics offering free or low-cost testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases are widely available. Local health offices provide further details. Many county clinics also offer primary health care services; however, these services are for low-income residents, not foreign travellers. Planned Parenthood (1-800-230-7526) is a private organisation with clinics and centres throughout the country that provides birth control and other reproductive health services for women and men.

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