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Travel & Tourism . Tourist Guide to the Country

US Travel Requirements

Social Conventions
The wide variety of national origins and America's relatively short history 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. As long as the fundamental rules of courtesy are observed there need be no fear of offending anyone of any background. Americans are renowned for their openness and friendliness to visitors. Gifts are appreciated if one is invited to a private home. As a rule dress is casual.

Smart restaurants, hotels and clubs insist on suits and ties or long dresses. Smoking is often restricted in public buildings and on city transport. There will usually be a notice where no smoking is requested and many restaurants have smoking and non-smoking sections.

Passports and Visas
Valid passport required by all except:
(a)Canadian nationals arriving from anywhere in the Western hemisphere with at least one proof of identity.
(b)Nationals of Canada and the UK with proof of residence in Bermuda or Canada and returning there from a visit to a country in North, Central or South America (except Cuba).
The following will be refused entry to the United States of America unless a 'waiver of ineligibility' has first been obtained:

(a)people afflicted with certain serious communicable diseases.
(b)anyone with a criminal record.
(c)narcotics addicts or abusers and drug traffickers.
(d)anyone who has been deported from or denied admission to the USA within the previous 5 years.

Travelers coming to the US for tourism or business for 90 days or less from qualified countries may be eligible to visit without a visa under the Visa Waiver Pilot Program (VWPP). The VWPP is authorized through April 30, 2000.

Currently there are 29 participating countries in the VWPP, including: Andorra, Argentina, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Uruguay. Citizens of all other countries should contact their local US embassy or consulate for details of current entry requirements. Even those eligible for the visa waiver scheme must apply for a free tourist visa if they intend to stay in the US for more than ninety days. Whatever your nationality, visas are not issued to convicted felons and anybody who owns up to being a communist, fascist or drug dealer.

Money Matters
The basic unit of U.S. currency is the dollar, which is subdivided into 100 cents. Coins are the copper penny (1 cent) and four silver coins: the nickel (5 cents), the dime (10 cents), the quarter (25 cents), and the half-dollar (50 cents). Silver $1 coins are rarely seen in circulation. Paper money comes in denominations of $1, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100. All bills are the same size and green in color; they are distinguishable only by the dollar amount indicated on them and by pictures of various famous American people and monuments.

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 dollars. Although fees charged for ATM transactions may be higher abroad than at home, Cirrus and Plus exchange rates are excellent, because they are based on wholesale rates offered only by major banks.

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'bearer bonds') must be registered with US Customs on Form 4790. All gold coins and any quantity of gold must be declared before export.

If you intend to carry your stash in the form of traveler's checks, you'll save yourself a lot of hassle and expense if you buy them in US dollars. Restaurants, hotels and most stores accept US dollar traveler's checks as if they were cash. It should be noted that many banks do not have the facility to encash travellers cheques and those that do are likely to charge a high commission. One (or in some cases) two items of identification (passport, credit card, driving licence) may also be required when encashing cheques.

Major credit cards are widely accepted; and you'll find it hard to perform certain transactions (such as renting a car or reserving tickets over the phone) without one of these handy pieces of plastic. Depending on the sophistication of your home banking network, you should also be able to access your bank account using US ATMs.

Tipping is the norm and is expected in restaurants and hotels. The customary tipping rate is 15%-20% for taxi drivers, bartenders, hairdressers and waiters (never tip in a fast-food or self service environment); bellhops are usually given $2 in luxury hotels, $1 elsewhere. Hotel maids should be tipped around $1 per day of your stay.

Sales taxes vary from state to state but are typically 5-8%, though some states have no sales taxes at all. Top-end accommodation also often attracts a bed tax, which can be as high as 15%. It's worth checking whether quoted prices for lodging include all relevant taxes.

Banking hours are variable, but generally 0900-1500 Monday to Friday.

Getting Around
By Air: Given that it is such a huge country, domestic air travel is a popular means of going anywhere within the US. You can fly the width of the country, from east to west, in five hours and from north to south in two. Every major city has an airport and the fares are low, a result of stiff competition between the huge number of domestic airlines. Night flights are generally cheaper and there are always discounts available for the visitor, so you could do well by checking out what’s on offer. Having said that, fares can be expensive for the less popular routes.

By Rail: Traveling by train in the US can be surprisingly impractical and not always comfortable. Ticket prices vary in value, but the earlier you make a reservation, the cheaper the ticket. Almost all the long-distance trains are operated by Amtrak (National Railroad Passenger Corporation), though suburban and some medium-distance services are run by local agencies. Although the US rail network has more than 300,000km (186,410 miles) of track, passenger trains run over only a small part of the system. Outside the densely populated northeast, trains run once-daily over a handful of long-distance routes.

By Coach: Greyhound is the main national coach carrier and covers the whole of the USA. It has an extensive and efficient bus network, and its service is supplemented by over 11,000 other tour lines, covering the country with reasonably priced and regular services. Air-conditioning, toilets and reclining seats are available on intercity routes. Facilities for left luggage and food are at hand, usually 24 hours a day. Once disembarked at a bus terminal, passengers are not permitted to wait there overnight for an onward bus (ie no sleeping in the terminal).

By Road: Every one in two persons in America can drive a car. Driving is on the right-hand side of the road and the speed limit is usually 55mph (89kph) on motorways, but varies from State to State. Although there are huge distances between cities, the country’s excellent network of motorways reach almost every town, with plenty of amenities along the way, is ideal for cross-country driving.

The American Automobile Association (AAA) offers touring services, maps, information and insurance policies. Major international companies have offices at all gateway airports and in most cities. Rental cars are plentiful and relatively cheap, and there are excellent discounts available for foreign visitors. Credit-card deposits and inclusive rates are generally required. Most rental agencies require you to be at least 25 years old. An International Driving Permit (useful as an additional proof of identity) is recommended, although it is not legally required. All travellers intending to rent or drive cars or motorhomes in the USA are strongly advised to ensure that the insurance (compulsory in most states) covers their total requirements, covering all drivers and passengers against injury or accidental death. A yellow non-resident, interstate liability insurance card which acts as evidence of financial responsibility is available through motor insurance agents.

Drive-aways are uniquely American: these are when the car rental companies need to deliver their cars to another town, so they need drivers who are willing to drive them. If a car needs delivering to a place that you’re prepared to go, agree on a date and you’re given insurance and the keys to the car. Of course, you have to put up a deposit first.

Speed limits are clearly indicated along highways and are strictly enforced, with heavy fines imposed. Note that it is illegal to pass a school bus that has stopped to unload its passengers (using indicators and warning lights) and all vehicles must stop until the bus has moved back into the traffic stream. It is also illegal for drivers not to have their licences immediately to hand. If stopped, do not attempt to pay a driving fine on the spot (unless it is demanded) as it may be interpreted as an attempt to bribe. There are extremely tough laws against drinking and driving throughout the US. These laws are strictly enforced.

Urban Transportation: Apart from taxis (or cabs, as they are called in the US), there are a number of underground train systems in operation in major cities. The subway in New York, the metro in Washington, DC, the ‘T’ in Boston, the El in Chicago and the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) in San Francisco and other systems offer cheap, quick and efficient travel during the working. There are also several tramway and trolley bus systems, including the much-loved antique trams and cable cars found in San Francisco. Just be aware, though, that many of the underground train systems are dangerous during off-peak hours (the New York subway, in particular, has acquired an almost gothic reputation for violence, although this has been much exaggerated). Cycling is an increasingly popular way to travel around small areas, since the roads are good, shoulders are wide and cars generally travel at safe speeds. Walking is considered an un-American activity unless it takes place on hiking trails in national parks.

Telephone: Full IDD is available. Country code: 1. Outgoing international code: 011. For emergency police, fire or medical services in major cities, dial 911. Fax: There are bureaux in all main centres, and major hotels also have facilities.

Telegram: These can be sent through all telegraph and post offices.

Post: There are only a limited number of post offices, so it is advisable to buy stamps in bulk. There are, however, stamp machines in hotels and shops, but these have a 25% price mark-up. Airmail to Europe takes up to a week. Post office hours: 0900-1700 (24 hours at main offices in larger cities). If sending gifts valued at less than US$50 to the USA, the recipient will not have to pay tax if the package is marked 'Unsolicited Gift'.

Health Care
Medical insurance providing cover up to at least US$500,000 is strongly advised. Only emergency cases are treated without prior payment and treatment will often be refused without evidence of insurance or a deposit. Medical facilities are generally of an extremely high standard.

Those visiting the USA for long periods with school-age children should be aware that school entry requirements include proof of immunisation against diphtheria, measles, poliomyelitis and rubella throughout the USA, and schools in many States also require immunisation against tetanus, pertussis and mumps. HIV-positive visitors must apply at the Embassy for a waiver of ineligibility before entry.


Acknowledgements: ASIATRAVELMART.COM

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