From iconic cities to diverse landscapes, the United States (USA) is one of the world’s most popular destinations. However, the country and its culture can still be intimidating especially for a first-time visitor.
From the tipping culture, road rules, to entry requirements, here are the most important things that you need to know when you travel to the USA.
1. Don’t forget your USA Visa
As a traveler, you need to know the requirements that are needed when traveling in the USA. Because if you accidentally pay for the wrong visa or show up without the proper documents could result in your entry to be declined.
Some travelers could qualify for the 90-day visa waiver also known as the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).
To secure an ESTA you have to be a citizen for a member country first. Most European countries, Japan, and Australia usually fall on that category.
This allows you to travel in the US for either leisure or business for 90 days, as long as you have a valid visa passport and an ESTA application that’s approved.
If you plan to extend your stay for more than 90 days, or you’re not a citizen of a member country, then you need to apply for an appropriate US visa.
2. Don’t go to the USA without a travel insurance
Healthcare in the USA is costly. And each year, thousands of US citizens file for bankruptcy because of medical debt.
Just a ride to the ambulance can already cost you about $2,700, an actual trip to the emergency room can cost you between $200-3,000 depending on your medical condition.
In some cases, they might even have to charge you as high as $20,000. That’s why you must buy travel insurance before your trip to the USA.
You don’t want to be caught in a situation wherein you’re caught between having to choose whether or not you’re going to the hospital, or just sticking it out when you’re sick.
So, save money, and future headaches by purchasing travel insurance.
3. Understand the tipping etiquette
Technically, tipping is discretionary, and there’s that unwritten rule that you have to tip at least 15 to 20 percent in restaurants.
But why, so? Because the minimum wage is relatively low in the US, tipping is already part of the income of workers.
Tips are relatively common in other services and hospitality industries as well-so it’s important that you keep a stock of those dollar bills, and keep them in handy for tips.
However, when dining in a restaurant, you need to double-check your bill before tipping, because some of them already automatically include a gratuity.
If you’re paying via credit card, then you need to write the tip amount that you’ll be leaving on the receipt of the credit card, and then add it to the total.
4. The prices are not quite what they seem
When it comes to buying goods and services in the US, the prices aren’t what you initially thought they are.
The prices that you often see on price tags still excludes the sales tax, so when you get to the counter to pay, you’ll always be charged with a slightly higher price.
Sales tax usually varies from one state to another, but it’s safe to assume that there’s a 10 percent addition of the total cost.
This goes with most accommodations, as well as “resort fees” that have to be added on top of the advertised prices.
5. Explore a couple of National Parks
The country has one of the most beautiful national parks in the world. During your trip, you should at least see to it that you visit one (if not two!).
From the Smokey Mountains to the Grand Canyon, you’d find out that these parks are filled with beautiful scenery, stunning lakes, and a lot of interesting wildlife.
You might even consider doing a whole trip that’s dedicated to exploring America’s true treasures, and you shouldn’t miss that!
6. The food servings are unusually large
Food portions in the US are unusually large. So a huge portion of that uneaten food usually goes to the trash, or gets eaten with someone who has already had enough and just forcing himself to finish.
Most restaurants that are on the high-end are usually serving smaller portions but these come at a higher price.
One advantage of having large portions of food is that you can always take home the extra food, and then eat it the next day.
7. Don’t rely on public transportation
Apart from big cities like New York and Washington DC, public transportation in the US is virtually non-existent.
The country has a strong car culture, so your best bet to get around is renting a car, giving you the time and freedom to move at your own pace.
Keep in mind that most cars in the US are automatic, and manual cars are a bit hard to come by.
8. Airport security is a big deal
Apart from land travel, flying is one of the best ways to explore the country. But it can be tiring as well.
The US security takes their jobs seriously, so be prepared to wait out long lines, take off your shoes, jacket, belt, go through one metal detector to another, and be randomly pulled aside for some random search as well.
To make the airport security process smooth, here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Arrive at the airport at least 3 hours before your actual flight.
- Dress in a way where you can quickly take off your things, such as your belts and shoes. Wear as little metal as possible as well, like your watches and jewelry.
- Keep your passport and travel documents within reach because you’ll be asked for it a couple of times.
- Pack all your toiletries that are TSA approved in a ziplock that’s one-quart in size, as well as your laptop and electronics to be easily accessible.
While you can’t exactly predict how your travels will go, hopefully, this article has offered you bits of knowledge to help you get the most out of your journey to the USA.
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Odette Viola is a passionate traveler and always looking for the hidden gems of the world, always looking for new adventure and experiences. She’s also a freelance writer and currently developing her skills in photography.