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
(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.
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
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 whats 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
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 countrys 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
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 youre prepared
to go, agree on a date and youre given insurance and
the keys to the car. Of course, you have to put up a deposit
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
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
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
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'.
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.