USA travel informations
United States, what to know before you leave
Are you ready to go to the United States?
Whether you’re just a few days away from your trip or you’re still only planning your next journey, here you will find all the practical but necessary information for your next trip to the United States.
How do taxes work? How much should I tip? How to make a phone call to Europe? How to dress? But, above all…do I need a visa?
Here you will find all the answers to these and many other frequent questions to make sure your trip to the United States starts on the right foot and without glitches.
Don’t forget to fill the ESTA application form on the official website of the American government and if you have any other doubts, don’t hesitate to write and contact us, our staff is at your disposition for free estimates and specific information!
What to bring? What to wear?
United States contain several different climate areas:
- Pacific Northwest with temperate climate
- Southern Pacific with long and dry summers and mild winters
- Rocky Mountains region with temperate climate
- Central plains region with continental climate, with hot and dry summers and cold and snowy winters
- Southeastern Atlantic region dominated by tropical climate in Florida and states facing the Gulf of Mexico
- Atlantic region with continental climate, milder in the south thanks to the influence of the Gulf Stream.
Temperatures between June and August are high with hot days across the nation. In October and between April and May temperatures are milder, while the period between November and March usually sees heavy rainfall in some regions and heavy snowfall in northern regions.
Baggage and customs
All baggage is subject to inspection by American customs authorities and they cannot be locked with padlocks or combination locks. Customs allow the following items in following quantities, per person: 1l of alcoholic beverage for those who are 21 or older, 100 cigars and 200 cigarettes for those who are 18 and older, and $200 worth of various purchases. If you are carrying cash in amount of $10.000 or higher, you are required to declare it. It is not allowed to bring illegal substances, lottery tickets, items produced in Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Myanmar and counterfeit products. All food or vegetable items need to be declared or deposited in appropriate containers in the Arrivals area. If you intend on traveling with your pets (dogs or cats) make sure to understand the procedures for entering the United States with the veterinary service of your local sanitary center.
All major credit cards are accepted almost everywhere in the United States and we strongly suggest to bring at least one, since you cannot rent a car without a credit card and, in addition, most hotels require your credit card as a guarantee for any additional costs upon check-in. Most widely accepted cards are Visa and Mastercard, and electron or prepaid credit cards are also an option (but not for rentals).
ATMs in the United States operate 24/7 in most banks, in grocery shops, shopping malls and airports. Every transaction on an ATM comes with a service fee of $2.50 or higher, in addition to what your local bank will charge you.
As a result of spreading of ATM machines, traveller’s cheques are becoming obsolete, except as a backup. In case you still want to bring some with you to the United States, make sure to make your cheques in dollars, so that the businesses can easily cash them. The most widely accepted traveller’s cheques are Visa and American Express. It is recommended to mark the number of the series separately in case your cheques get lost or stolen.
The currency in the United States is the American Dollar and it comes in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 dollars, all of which are green and the same size. You can exchange money directly in a bank in the United States, but the rates will not be too good, which is why you should buy dollars in your home country before you leave. You can use your credit card or ATM to withdraw money in most banks.
United States uses alternating current at 120V/60Hz, which is why you will have to use an adapter with two flat parallel prongs, which you can get in your home country as well.
The standard video system in the United States is NTSC, not compatible with PAL, which is used in most European countries, or with SECAM. DVDs are coded for region 1, which only includes Canada and United States.
WEIGHT AND MESUREMENT
Units of measurement in the United States are different from the European ones:
- Length: foot (ft) – yard (yd) – mile (mi)
- Weight: ounce (oz) – pound (lb) – ton
- Volume: ounce, pint, quart, gallon (gal)
During the following holidays in the United States all government offices, postal services, schools and banks are closed, while museums, public transportation and other services follow the regular holiday hours. If a holiday falls on a weekend, it will be celebrated the following Monday.
- January 1st - New Years’ Day
- Third Monday in January – Martin Luther King Jr Day
- Third Monday in February – President’s Days
- Last Monday in May – Memorial Day
- 4th of July – Independence Day
- First Monday in September – Labor Day
- Second Monday in October – Columbus Day
- November 11 – Veterans Day
- Fourth Thursday in November – Thanksgiving
- December 25 – Christmas Day
Resort Fee is an obligatory tax that some hotels and resorts (for instance, most hotels in Las Vegas) require to be paid on site for additional services such as the swimming pool, the gym, the papers, wi-fi, local phonecalls and similar.
United States are divided into four different time zones, except for Hawaii and Alaska, which are two hours behind the Pacific Time.
- Pacific Time (e.g. Los Angeles 9 hours behind)
- Mountain Time (e.g. Denver 8 hours behind)
- Central Time (e.g. Chicago 7 hours behind)
- Eastern Time (e.g. New York 6 hours behind)
Documents and paperworks
All foreign citizens that wish to visit the United States have to have a passport that is valid at least six months after the intended trip to the United States. Minors, including newborns, have to have their personal passports. The passport needs to be electronic, with an integrated microchip that contains personal data of the passport holder (passports released after October 26 2006). Electronic passports have a symbol representing a chip on the bottom of the cover, under the sign that says PASSPORT, like this:
Passport sample image
Most European countries are in the Visa Waiver Program, which allows citizens of different countries to enter the United States for a maximum period of 90 days, for tourism or work, without having to ask for a visa. It is vital to have a return ticket for your own country or a ticket for continuing the travel in another country. Residents of countries in the Visa Waiver Program need to register online on the ESTA website (https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov) in order to be able to enter the United States. The cost of the procedure is $4 for the application and another $10 for when the application is approved. Once approved, the application is good for two years. It is recommended to fill the application form at least 72 hours before departure. Being approved for ESTA does not guarantee automatic admission to the United States, which depends on the discretion of the customs and border authorities.
The following categories are no longer allowed to travel and enter the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP):
- citizens who have travelled or appear to have travelled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Lybia, Somalia, Yemen or Syria since March 1 2011 (except under certain limited conditions such as diplomatic or military travel in the service of a country that is part of the VWP);
- citizens who have double citizenship from Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, Lybia or Syria.
These persons can still ask for a visa following the standard procedure in the American Embassy or Consulate in their country. In case such persons need to obtain an American visa in emergency situations (for work, health or humanitarian reasons), embassies and consulates of the United States offer the possibility of an accelerated visa procedure.
Travellers who have received notification about revoking of their ESTA authorization and who therefore cannot travel in the United States as part of the VWP can still travel with a valid non-immigrant visa, released by an embassy or a consulate of the United States. Before leaving for United States, these travellers will have to visit an American embassy or consulate and have a visa application interview in order to get a visa in their passport. .
ESTA module needs to be filled personally, and not by third parties.
A consular visa is required in case your passport is not released by one of the countries in the Visa Waiver Program or if it does not meet the requirements listed in the paragraphs “Passport” and “ESTA,” if you plan on staying more than 90 days in the USA or if you intend on studying or working in the USA. You need to apply for a visa in an American embassy or consulate that covers your location. It is a paid procedure and it is rather complex as it includes an interview with a consular representative. Therefore it is recommended to start the process on time, well before the intended departure.
TRAVELLING FOR MINORS
Starting from June 26 2012 all minors, children and infants can only travel to Europe and abroad with their own travel documents, therefore for travelling in the United States they need to have their own personal passport instead of just being added to one of their parents’ passport, like before. It is possible that for minors whose parents travel separately or who are legally separated or divorced additional specific documentation may be required, which is why it is recommended to contact the competent authorities, embassies or consulates of the United States in your area.
ITALIAN CONSULATES IN THE UNITED STATES
- Los Angeles, CA: 12400 Wilshire Blvd, Tel. 001-820-0622
- San Francisco, CA: 2590 Webster St, Tel. 001-931-4924
- Miami, FL: 1200 Brickell Av, Tel. 001-374-6322
- New York, NY: 690 Park Av, Tel. 001-737-9100
ARRIVAL IN THE UNITED STATES
Since 2013 you no longer need to fill the I-94 arrival/departure form but you have to fill, while still on the plane, the American customs declaration. As your “US Street Address”, put the address of the place where you will spend the first night in the United States, such as the address of your hotel. Immigration officers may ask you about your travel plans or require you to prove you have enough funds to sustain your travel. It is recommended to show your return ticket and to have a list of locations you are planning on visiting in the United States. All foreign visitors are registered upon entering the United States by the Department of Homeland Security using the biometric data: in less than a minute they will take your picture and your electronic fingerprints.
ARRIVAL TO THE HOTEL
Upon check-in, you will be asked to show your ID and your credit card and you will have to fill a short registration form. In case your reservation is already paid, you will have to present a voucher and your credit card, which will be used as a guarantee in case of additional charges (pay TV, minibar, phone calls…).
ARRIVAL IN YOUR ROOM
American hotel rooms are different from European ones. Double rooms may contain one or two beds, which can be queen size, which is one and a half of the single bed space and it is the most common type, or king size, which is larger. Triple or quadruple rooms do not have three or four beds, but are still double rooms, with a king size bed and an extra bed, or two double beds. Single rooms have a single bed.
Good to know
Sales taxes in the United States vary from state to state and even from one county to another, but in general they go from 5% to 9%. Hotel taxes also vary from city to city and range from 10% to over 18%.
Tipping is obligatory in the United States and are generally as follows: 2$ per piece of baggage and at least 5$ per cart for airport and hotel porters; 10-15% for taxis; at least 2$ for valet service after they give you your keys back; 15-20% of the bill for waiters in the restaurants, if the tip is not already included in the bill; from 3$ to 4$ per night for maid service in hotels and 10-15% for bartenders plus at least 1$ per drink.
To make a phone call to the United States from abroad you need to enter the international access prefix of your own country (for example, 00 for calls from Italy) + prefix for the United States (1) + local three-digit area code + local 7-digit number. To make a phone call from the United States to another country you need to make the dial out code for international calls (011) + country code (for example, 39 for Italy) + local area code (with 0 for Italy) + the number you wish to dial.
In the United States the telephone numbers consist of a 3-digit area code and the 7-digit number you want to reach. For long-distance calls you need to dial 1 first and then enter the 3-digit code. Toll-free numbers start with 800, 999, 877 and 866 and in order to reach them you need to dial 1 first. Numbers starting with 900 come with very high rates per minute.
A good solution for your phone needs that helps you save money are the prepaid phone cards, which you can get at a kiosk, grocery store, supermarket and many other places. Some cards come with additional activation or connection costs which apply for every call. The most popular phone cards are those by AT&T.
Due to increased popularity of cell phones, pay phones are becoming less and less common. The cost of local calls from these phones, which do not return change, are between 35 and 50 cents for the first minute and more for the following minutes. Long distance calls are more expensive, especially if they require assistance from the operator. Many phones, especially in national parks, only accept credit cards and prepaid phone cards.
With Family Plan you can add one or two children to the parents’ double room free of charge. In general, only children below 12 years of age are accepted in the family plan, but many hotels allow children up to 18 years of age.
The most widely used type of gas in the United States is the unleaded kind, but there is also super gas (“highest” gas) and “regular.” The rental contract for your vehicle will specify the kind of gas it uses. Gas prices vary from state to state and also depend on the brand and the distributor, as well as on the type of service – the cheapest one being “self service.”
Most hotels in the United States have a private bathroom in the room, cable TV and telephone. Many hotels also provide towels, minibars, microwave oven, Internet access, air conditioning and/or heating. In most hotels in the United States children can stay for free, but some places may charge extra for a cot or an extra bed. Costs of international or long-distance calls are rather high and in some hotels they even charge for local and toll-free phone calls.