If you’ve never traveled to the United States, you probably have a lot of preconceived notions about what to expect. And while some of the stereotypes are valid, reality is often much different. Here are a few tips you might find helpful.
Make Sure You Have the Right Travel Documents
The very first step is to make sure you have all of the right travel documents in order to legally enter the United States without any issues.
For the most part, you’ll be required to have at least six months of remaining eligibility on your passport to enter the United States. However, there are different rules based on your country of origin, citizenship, and length of stay.
“The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows nationals from certain countries to enter the US for tourism or visitor purposes for up to 90 days without a visa,” JayRide.com mentions. “If you can enter the country under the VWP, then you must apply for authorisation prior to travelling through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).”
Unsure of how to proceed? You can read more about ESTA requirements here. The page is continuously updated with the most recent updates and changes, as laid out by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Double Check Your Phone Plan
It’s important to research your mobile phone plan prior to travel so that you can be certain you understand the rules for calls, texting, and data usage. (Otherwise, you could be in for a nasty surprise on your next bill.) The good news is that you’ll find free WIFI in most airports and other public spaces, so even if you have to turn off your service, you can usually access the internet via WIFI.
The United States is a lot bigger than you think. It might look fairly close together on the map, but you have to remember that it stretches thousands of miles north, east, south, and west. And this means weather patterns can vary dramatically.
If you’ll be visiting different regions of the country on the same trip, make sure you pack accordingly. It can be snowing in one part of the country and t-shirt weather in another. Keep this in mind and don’t assume temperatures will be consistent from city to city.
Be Ready for Tipping Culture
While technically voluntary, tipping is highly encouraged (and expected) in many industries and establishments. Service workers – including waiters, valets, and even hairdressers – depend on tips for a large chunk of their income. They typically get paid less than minimum wage and expect tips to generate enough money to live off. So love it or hate it, you need to tip. (The only exception is if the service is terrible.)
Generally speaking, a tip should be somewhere between 10 and 25 percent of the total bill. A 10 percent tip would be for very poor service, whereas anything above 20 percent is considered generous. (If you have a large group – say eight or more people – it’s possible that the gratuity is included in the bill. If this is the case, there will be a notation on the bill.) A typical tip for a restaurant bill is 15% to 20% if the service is good.
Be Prepared for Traffic Laws
Depending on where you’re coming from, you may need to do some advanced research on unique traffic laws in the United States. For example, a red light means stop – unless you want to turn right (you can turn after stopping). And when there’s a four-way stop with stop signs in all directions, priority goes to the vehicle that pulled up first. Then it alternates. When it comes to passing slower vehicles, you can only pass if there’s a broken yellow line. (Solid yellow lines mean you have to remain in your lane.) Confused yet? You can read more here.
Enjoy Your Travels
The United States can be big, loud, and…well…different. It’s a hodgepodge of different cultures mixed into one large pot with its own unique identity. And while most people enjoy their time here, it’s important that you go in with some understanding of what to expect. This article should give you a good starting point, but you can find out more by doing some online research. Just remember to take everything with a grain of salt and avoid becoming too firmly attached to your preconceived notions of what it’ll be like. Stay safe, have fun, and enjoy your travels!
Bryan has visited exactly one more country than his wife, and she won’t let him forget it! Also an avid photographer, he enjoys entrenching himself within the local culture in order to learn more about the people of a place. He is the co-founder of Budget Your Trip and loves a good adventure, an exotic meal, or a passionate conversation about global events.