The Top Things to Know When Planning Your American Adventure

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No matter where you live around the globe, traveling to the United States is sure to be an exciting time. As the fourth largest country in the world, there is plenty to explore in terms of culture, cuisine, sights, architecture, history, sports, natural wonders, and so much more.

However, a big trip means some big-time preparation is in order to ensure everything goes smoothly. As an international traveler, you must make several arrangements ahead of time. You also should understand American customs and travel requirements to help you have the best vacation possible.

Important Things to Do Before Your Trip 

Before your trip to the United States, it’s important to get a few things in order. Most notably, international travelers must have the right documentation so they may legally enter the country.

Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA): Using the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website, international visitors must create a new application for entering the country. The application applies to international visitors who plan on being in the country for 90 days or less for the purposes of business or pleasure. Make this your top priority and get it done as soon as possible.

Current Passport: Visitors of the United States must be prepared to show their identification for virtually everything they do, including getting through TSA checkpoints, checking into hotels, renting a car, entering a nightclub, purchasing alcohol, and more. Be sure that your passport is current before attempting to enter the country.

Flight and Local Transportation: As an international traveler, it’s in your best interests to arrange your flight and local transportation as soon as possible. This ensures you have plenty of options for flight times, seating, and more. Don’t forget – public transportation isn’t available all throughout the United States. Depending on the city you’re visiting, you may need to arrange a rental car, taxi, or rideshare service.

Hotel: Your hotel is another big trip detail you’ll want to figure out ahead of time. As a rule of thumb, hotels that are close to the local sights and attractions usually cost more and require more advanced booking. If, for example, you plan on visiting Austin, TX, you will notice that Austin hotels get less expensive the farther away they get from downtown.

International Visitor Tips and Best Practices

Before entering the United States, follow these tips for a pleasant stay.

English is the most spoken language: No matter what part of the U.S. you visit, you can count on English being the most predominantly spoken language. Spanish and Chinese are second and third, respectively.

Tipping is part of American culture: One big thing that catches international tourists off-guard is America’s gratuity system, more commonly known as tipping. Although tipping is by no means mandatory, international visitors should know that wait staff and other people working in the service industry count on tips as part of their income. A typical tip is around 15 to 20% of the total bill.

Buy chargers and adapters for U.S. sockets: Another thing that’s often overlooked during international travel are the different sockets used in America. To ensure that your phone, tablet, and other electronic devices stay charged, make sure you buy the appropriate chargers and adapters ahead of time. A portable battery (aka power block) is another great travel investment to make.

Get ready for sales tax: Many international visitors are shocked when they find out about sales tax, which is never included on an item’s sticker price. When planning your trip, make sure to build an adequate cushion to account for sales tax, which can be up to 7.25% on all items. Certain specialty items, such as tobacco products, have even higher tax rates.

Research the place you’re visiting: America has many different regions. For example, a bustling metropolis like New York City is completely different from the coastal beach community of San Diego. When planning your trip, it helps to figure out in advance what flavor of the United States you want to experience. Additionally, it’s important to factor in the time of year your trip takes place. December through February are usually the coldest months, so be mindful of that if you’re planning a beach vacation.

Short-term medical coverage: If you don’t have healthcare coverage, a hospital visit in the United States can be very expensive. Be sure to investigate your short-term medical coverage options just in case you or a travel companion falls ill or sustains an injury.

Always carry cash: Some businesses and venues are cash-only, so be sure to carry cash in addition to credit cards for expenses.

Brush up on the Imperial system: The United States is one of the few countries that doesn’t use the metric system. For international visitors, that can make ordering food and calculating distance confusing. Do a little homework ahead of time and get familiar with the Imperial system of measurement.

Don’t be afraid to ask for an opinion: No matter which part of the country you visit, there will be at least one or two things it’s known for. For example, Memphis is known for their thriving country music scene and BBQ. Fort Lauderdale is known for its gorgeous beaches and fresh seafood. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you want a recommendation on what to try or experience, ask a local. Americans aren’t shy about sharing their opinions on regional fare, sightseeing, and entertainment.

Make sure to plan your trip back accordingly: Planning your trip back home is one of the most important parts of your visit. Be sure to:

  • Check-in for your return flight (if applicable)
  • Confirm you have all your belongings and your passport
  • Arrange transportation to the airport
  • Arrive at the airport at least three hours prior to take-off
  • Prepare for the time zone change

By following these tips, your trip to and from the United States should go smoothly with plenty of great memories to share with friends and family.

  • Post published:August 14, 2023
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