The United States gets millions of tourists every year. Some go shopping in New York City while others head to California to soak up the sun and surfing culture. If you’re planning a trip, check out these seven things every traveller needs to know before they visit the US (including essentials like getting your visa or ESTA).
1. You Might Need to Apply For an ESTA
If your nationality is from one of the visa waiver countries, you’ll need to apply for your ESTA longer than 72 hours before you plan to visit the United States. This includes travellers from all countries in the EU, the United Kingdom among others. You’ll need to do the online application for your ESTA visa before paying a small fee. Once everything has been approved, print your ESTA and bring it with you to the United States. Nationalities who need a tourist visa will need to follow the procedures at the nearest embassy.
2. Expect Long Lines at Airport Security
The United States takes airport security extremely seriously. As such, you can expect to wait longer than you would in other countries. Most airports require all passengers to go through two metal detectors. And random bag searches are the norm. It’s strongly advised to get to the airport at least three hours before your flight departure time. When you take into consideration traffic and congestion, you might end up leaving your hotel five hours before your flight. Likewise, when you arrive in the United States, the lines at immigration often take up to an hour.
3. Make Sure You Have Health Insurance
While it’s not mandatory to have health insurance to visit the United States, it’s advisable due to the extremely high cost of receiving medical attention. If you need to go to the emergency room and you don’t have insurance, you’ll probably end up spending thousands. Bills can often rise to the $10,000s for emergency care. You could take the risk, but the cost of a comprehensive insurance policy will be a fraction of what you’d pay if you do find yourself in need of medical attention.
4. Hidden Fees
You might be used to going to the store and paying the price you see on the shelves. Not in the United States. The prices displayed on everything exclude sales tax. When you arrive at the cashier, they then add between 6% and 10% extra onto your cost. This can often come as a surprise if you’re not familiar with shopping in the US. The amount of sales tax varies from state to state and even city to city. Add an extra 10% onto the price you see on the shelves. That way you won’t be in for any nasty surprises at the cashier.
5. You’re Expected to Leave Tips
Tipping might be considered optional, but it’s the norm to leave anywhere between 10% and 20% on top of the bill in restaurants. Most staff who work in the service industry earn minimum wage which gets topped up by tips. As such, it’s become customary to leave something. Combine this with the sales tax and you might find that you’re paying up to 30% more than you initially thought.
6. Remember 911 For Emergencies
If you need to call the emergency services, remember the phone number is 911. You can call this for free using your mobile or any public phone.
7. Take Your Safety Seriously
And finally, the United States has a reputation for crime in some of the larger cities. While you’re unlikely to encounter any problems in most parts of the country, you need to be extremely vigilant in some parts. A quick Google search will reveal the places that aren’t safe to visit as tourists. You can also always ask the receptionist at your hotel where are safe and unsafe areas of the city.
Visiting the United States
Remember to make sure you get your visa or ESTA approved before travelling. Expect long lines at immigration and going through airport security. Add 10% onto the price you see in the supermarkets to factor in sales tax and remember to tip up to 20% in restaurants and cafés. Finally, exercise caution in major cities and dial 911 in emergencies.