United States Travel Guides

Business Hours

Banking hours are generally Monday-Friday 09:00-15:00, with some banks open on Saturday. Shopping hours vary greatly. Shopping centres stay open late seven days a week. Independent shops tend to close earlier and close on Sundays.

Currency

US Dollar (US$) = 100 cents. Notes are in denominations of US$100, 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1. Coins are in denominations of 50, 25, 10, 5 and 1 cents and US$1.

Hotels do not, as a rule, exchange currency and only a few major banks will exchange foreign currency, so it is advisable to arrive with US Dollars or US Dollars traveller’s cheques. ATM machines are prevalent and those cards with Cirrus and Star links can extract US Dollars from ATMs displaying those symbols.

There are no limits on the import or export of either foreign or local currency. However, amounts in excess of US$10,000 or the equivalent, including foreign currency, traveller's cheques, money orders and ‘bearer bonds’, must be registered with US Customs on Form 4790. Failure to do so may result in civil and criminal prosecution, including seizure of the money.

Credit & Debit Cards

Most major credit and debit cards are accepted throughout the USA, including American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa. Visitors are advised to carry at least one major credit card, as it is common to request prepayment or a credit card imprint for hotel rooms and car hire, even when final payment is not by credit card.

Traveller's Cheques

Widely accepted in hotels, stores and restaurants, provided they are US Dollar cheques. Traveller’s cheques issued in other currencies are not accepted and very few banks will change these. In most cases in order to change traveller’s cheques, one or two items of identification (passport, credit card, driving license) may also be required.

Customs

The following goods may be imported by visitors over 21 years of age into the USA without incurring customs duty: 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 2kg of smoking tobacco or proportionate amounts of each; 0.95 litre (1qt) of alcoholic beverage; gifts or articles up to a value of US$100.

<p>Items should not be gift-wrapped, as they must be available for customs inspection. The alcoholic beverage allowance is the national maximum; certain States allow less and if arriving in those States, the excess will be taxed or withheld.</p>

Electricity

110 volts AC, 60Hz. Plugs are of the flat two-pin type. European electrical appliances not fitted with dual-voltage capabilities will require a plug adaptor and voltage transformer which are best purchased before arrival in the USA. The television system is NTSC I/II and is not compatible with the PAL and SECAM systems used in Asia and Europe, although cassettes can be converted.

Health

The US has excellent standards of hygiene and healthcare. While you will need to ensure you have comprehensive travel insurance, the standard of medical care is amongst the highest in the world. There are no shots or injections required when visiting the US from abroad, unless you are coming from a yellow fever region, therefore a yellow fever vaccine and certificate are required.

All food establishments must maintain strict hygienic standards by law, therefore it is safe to eat even at street stalls. Tap water is drinkable in some regions; bottled water is recommended and readily available.

Language

English is the official language, with significant numbers of Spanish-speaking citizens.

Safety

Most visits to the USA are trouble-free but visitors should exercise common street sense and be aware of their valuables in crowded areas and public transport. In big cities, riding public transportation such as buses and subways is not advised late at night. Police are heavily armed and generally helpful should you encounter a problem. Dial 911 for any sort of emergency.

Visitors are advised to contact the US Department of State website for the latest travel advice: http://travel.state.gov/travel

Social Conventions

The wide variety of ethnic origins in the US has resulted in numerous cultural and traditional customs living alongside each other. In large cities, people of the same ethnic background often live within defined communities.

Shaking hands is the usual form of greeting. A relaxed and informal atmosphere is usually the norm. Americans are renowned for their openness and friendliness to visitors.

Gifts are appreciated such as flowers, wine or chocolates, if one is invited to a private home. As a rule, dress is casual. Fine restaurants, hotels and clubs insist on suits and ties or long dresses.

Smoking is becoming increasingly unpopular in the US and is often considered offensive; it is essential to ask permission from all present before lighting up. Smoking is forbidden on city transport and often restricted or forbidden in public buildings. There will usually be a notice where no smoking is requested and most restaurants have smoking and non-smoking sections. Smoking is banned in all restaurants in California (Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, etc) and New York City.

Tax and Tipping

Waiters generally expect 15 to 20 percent tip, as do taxi drivers and hairdressers. It should be noted that a cover charge is for admission to an establishment, not a tip for service. Hotel porters generally expect US$1 per bag.

Sales tax is applied to most items in most States and is not included on the price label. Sales tax can be anywhere from 3 to 15 percent, depending on the State. Some States, like New Jersey have no sales tax at all.

Telephone

Full IDD is available.
Country code: 1
All emergencies: 911
The following prefixes denote toll-free (no charge) numbers: 800, 855, 866, 877 and 888.
Telephone numbers with the prefix 900 are usually expensive, charging anywhere from US$1 to US$50 per minute.

Time

The USA is divided into six time zones:
Eastern Standard Time: GMT - 5
Central Standard Time: GMT - 6
Mountain Standard Time: GMT - 7
Pacific Standard Time: GMT - 8
Alaska: GMT - 9
Hawaii: GMT – 10
Daylight Saving Time (DST) is applied by most States in summer. From the first Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October, clocks are put forward one hour, changing at 02:00 hours local time. Hawaii is the only exception and does not apply DST.

Visa and Passports

Passports must be valid for a minimum of three to six months (depending on nationality) beyond the length of stay in the USA.

Visas
European Union nationals need to fill out a form requesting a visa at least 72 hours before they plan to travel to the US. You may need to show evidence of funds and an onward ticket. Canadians also require a passport to enter the US.

Visa regulations can be strict and can always change. Therefore, please inquire with your local US Embassy.