Are you planning to travel to the USA? If yes, here are 12 essential things to know before traveling to US: The United States is home to numerous natural wonders and cosmopolitan cities that draw visitors from all over the world.
From lush Caribbean jungles and beaches to vast deserts and snowcapped mountains, the country has some of the most beautiful and diverse landscapes on the planet – not to mention the famous concrete jungles.
It’s exciting to visit all of these famous attractions, but before you book your trip, here are 12 things you should know about planning a trip to the United States to help you plan your dream vacation.
The United States of America (USA) is one of the world’s largest countries. This country spans a large portion of the North American continent, from sea to sea, from mountain peaks to ocean shores.
The country has a rich history that dates back well over 200 years, and the United States continues to lead the world into the future. They provide some of the most expensive and high-quality entertainment available anywhere in the world. A country of this size is a popular destination for international tourists.
Across the beautiful American landscape, there are numerous cities to visit, landmarks to see, and places to explore. This article will look at 12 aspects of the United States, ranging from important things to know before traveling to US to amusing and interesting facts to remember.
Traveling to the United States is something that everyone should do at least once in their lives.
12 Important Things To Know Before Traveling To the US
If you want to travel to the US, here are 12 essential things to know before traveling to US:
#1. To enter the United States, you must have a tourist visa or an ESTA
Incoming visitors to America must be aware of and understand the requirements for entering the United States.
The US Visa Waiver Program, also known as the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), currently allows citizens of these 39 countries to enter the US without a visa for up to 90 days.
The European Union, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, and a few others account for the majority of these countries.
Understand that your 90-day period begins the moment you set foot on US soil, including Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and other US territories.
Those 90 days in the United States include time spent in Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, or Caribbean islands if the arrival was via the United States.
If arriving by air or cruise ship, the ESTA application is not required. It is not required when traveling by land or on local ferries, such as those between Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and Seattle, Washington.
The ESTA is valid for two years. You can visit the US an unlimited number of times as long as each stay is no longer than 90 days.
The ESTA is far less expensive than a traditional tourist visa, and filling out a simple application form only takes about 20 minutes. While you can apply for your ETSA at any time before your flight, it is recommended that you do so at least 72 hours in advance.
Have your ESTA and approval number ready when you leave, as it will be requested during check-in. If you want to stay in the US for more than 90 days, or if you don’t qualify for the ESTA program, you’ll need a visa.
Obtaining Other US Visas
If you want to stay in the US for a longer period of time, or if your citizenship is not covered by the ESTA program, you will need to look into other US tourist visas, primarily the B-2 Visa (tourist visa).
These visas are typically much more expensive than the ESTA (around $160-$180 for many countries), but the process is a bit more complicated, and there is no single list of requirements because they vary depending on your citizenship.
I recommend using iVisa to get the most accurate information, understand your visa requirements, and expedite your application.
You can also check the requirements on the website of your country’s US embassy or by visiting such an embassy or consulate. (For example, if you’re Nigerian, go to the US embassy in Abuja or Lagos.)
#2. Check the Validity of Your Passport
To enter the United States, your passport must be valid for at least six months at the time of travel. This means that if your passport expires in less than six months, you will be unable to travel to the United States.
You should also ensure that your passport is valid for the duration of your trip.
#3. Understand the Tipping Culture in the United States
Tipping is customary in the United States for all types of services, including cab drivers, deliveries, valet, porters, room service, and, most notably, waiters and bartenders. (The majority of them earn less than the federal minimum wage, which is already far too low!) Things To Know Before Traveling To the USA!
The standard tipping range is 15% to 20%.
While tipping is customary, it is not mandatory. As a general rule, I give 15% if the service was adequate (nothing outstanding).
If it was exceptional, I will give you 20% off. On the other hand, if the service was poor, I would give 10% or less, depending on the severity of the service.
Other common hospitality industry tip suggestions include:
Bartenders: $1-2 per drink
Housekeepers: $1-5 per night
Valets: $1-5 each time the valet brings your car
Hotel porters: $1-2 per bag
Concierge: dependent on the difficulty of your request
Doormen: a few dollars if they help you get a cab
Taxi drivers: 10-15%
Shared shuttle drivers: $2-3 per person
Food delivery costs between $1 and $4, depending on the distance between the restaurant and your lodging.
Finally, always check your restaurant bill before tipping, as some restaurants include the tip in the total of your bill. Likewise, some other services already include a “service charge,” which is a tip.
#4. The United States is Significantly Larger Than You Think
With a total land area of 9.83 million square kilometers (the third-largest country in the world) (including territories), the United States has such a diverse landscape and culture that it almost feels like each of the 50 states is a country in its own right. Not to mention the diverse geography and cultures that Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and other territories offer.
In fact, many states are larger than some European countries when compared. The country is divided into three distinct regions by two North-South features. Things To Know Before Traveling To the USA!
The Pacific states are located west of the Rocky Mountains and are known for their long stretches of beach along the California coast, stunning deserts such as the Grand Canyon, and year-round temperate weather.
The vast plains stretching from Mexico to Canada are sandwiched between the Rockies and the Mississippi River, making the United States one of the world’s most fertile growing regions.
Finally, we have the east of the Mississippi, which is the industrial and economic center of the United States. Several major cities, including New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Miami.
The Appalachian Mountains, which are not only one of the most diverse ecological regions in the country, but also played an important role in US history, from settlement to westward expansion, can also be found here.
The Appalachians are home to the United States’ most visited national park, The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
This brings us to…
#5. Don’t Forget to Visit at Least One National Park: Things To Know Before Traveling To US
Although the United States is well known for its bustling cities, its National Parks provide a healthy balance of nature and outstanding landscapes.
In fact, the United States established the world’s first National Park. Theodore Roosevelt established Yellowstone National Park in 1872, ushering in a natural conservation practice that would spread throughout the world.
With 62 national parks, the United States has amassed an impressive collection of landscapes, flora, fauna, and outdoor experiences.
Get away from the city and immerse yourself in nature by camping in the dense forest, marveling at the sky-scraping snowcapped mountains, exploring hidden red desert canyons, and hiking past lush valleys and pristine lakes.
Check which national parks are in or near the states you’ll be visiting when planning your trip. I can assure you that they are well worth seeing! You can find a complete list of national parks here.
Zion National Park
Yosemite National Park
Yellowstone National Park
Mammoth Cave National Park
The Grand Canyon National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
#6. Plan your trip (USA Itinerary) to the United States accordingly: Things To Know Before Traveling To US
As previously stated, the United States is vast, so plan your trip accordingly. How much free time do you have? Several days, weeks, or months?
If your trip is limited in time, you should probably concentrate on just one or a few nearby cities, such as New York, Washington, DC, and Boston.
More so, if you have a few weeks, you could extend your trip by flying to the other coast (for example, from New York to Los Angeles) or driving across several states.
If you have up to 12 weeks (that’s three months), you could take a road trip across the entire continental US, or you could focus on exploring one region in depth.
Also, do you have a specific goal in mind for your trip? What do you want to experience?
It could be anything from visiting several national parks to seeing some of the country’s most famous cities and visiting several theme parks.
You could also go off-roading, camping in the wilderness, attending festivals and major events, or discover the US’s historical trails, among many other things.
Make a list of the following items while planning your trip: Things To Know Before Traveling To US!
Free things to do in each city or town
Important National Parks of Interest
Best hikes, bike trails, and walks (if you’re into that)
City tours or day trips of interest
Attractions of interest
Restaurants of interest
Now, try to fit all of them into the timeframe of your trip to see how they all fit. This will let you know if your itinerary is too ambitious or if you have time to visit additional destinations or attractions.
Always include your estimated travel time from one location to another. Google Maps Directions is ideal for this. As a general rule, I always leave some time off to allow for some wiggle room in my schedule. So, it’s wise you do so too.
#7. Think About Taking a Road Trip or Going on an Overland Adventure
Many cities in the United States are far apart, but in between, there are many beautiful places and quirky roadside attractions to explore and enjoy. This is one of the reasons why road trips and overland excursions are so popular in the United States.
You can travel between cities and rural areas by bus with companies such as Greyhound and Megabus, or by train with Amtrak, the national train operator.
When it comes to buses, the sooner you book, the better the deals, including $1 bus fares! Amtrak is the same way, and they even offer a USA Rail Pass for 15, 30, or 45 days.
I highly recommend using Busbud when looking for trains or buses. They display a large inventory of train and bus routes at the most competitive prices.
Renting a car or an RV, on the other hand, is the recommended option for road-tripping the United States if you want more freedom to move as you please.
Unless you’re visiting a city like New York, Chicago, or San Francisco, I recommend renting a car while in the United States.
Unfortunately, unlike Europe, most of the country was not developed with urban centers and public transportation. Even in major cities such as Los Angeles, Miami, Houston, and Orlando, a car is required, or at least recommended, to get around.
I use and recommend DiscoverCars.com, Kayak, and Skyscanner for car rental searches. Things To Know Before Traveling To US!
When renting a car in the United States, we recommend doing the following:
Examine the total cost of the car rental. Typically, the price quoted during a search does not include taxes or insurance.
Car rental companies frequently push for premium insurance coverage above the minimum required. Based on your circumstances, you must decide whether or not to include it.
The current fuel/gas price in the states you’ll be visiting. Estimate the potential cost of gas you’ll consume based on the distance you expect to travel and the car’s gas consumption rate (you can find that online by searching the car model and its miles per gallon rate).
Will it include GPS? If so, how much does it cost? Nowadays, you can get a local sim card with data and use your phone with Google Maps or Waze as your GPS.
How much does it cost for each additional driver? To be safe in the event of an accident, including all drivers on the rental agreement.
How much will it cost to drop off the car in a different city (if you’re only traveling one way)?
Is your route subject to tolls? Look them up online. Tolls can quickly add up!
Before leaving the car rental lot, document and photograph all visible defects on the vehicle. Take a picture of the dashboard as well to record the fuel level and mileage.
When taking a road trip in more remote areas, such as the Midwest, keep in mind the distance between gas stations, as some can be quite far apart. Make sure your gas tank is full enough to get you through those empty stretches.
Finally, if you have an RV, know that the Walmart chain allows RVs to park for free in their parking lots for one night. There are also numerous free or low-cost campgrounds located throughout the country.
It should be noted that overnight RV parking at roadside rest stops is prohibited in many states, so check to see if this applies to your trip.
#8. Book Your Domestic Flights Separately From Your International Flights
Flying is your best bet if you’re short on time and want to travel between cities. What we recommend is that you purchase your domestic flights separately from your international flights.
When domestic flights are purchased in conjunction with the international leg, airlines and flight aggregators frequently charge a premium. If you book them separately, you’ll have more options across all airline alliances.
Many popular routes in the United States, particularly those frequented by foreigners, are extremely competitive among US airlines, so you’ll have a better chance of finding a good deal if you search for them independently.
#9. Expect to Pay More Than What is Displayed
Unlike in most other countries, the prices displayed at supermarkets, stores, restaurants, hotels, and other businesses do not include sales tax. Every state has its own sales tax, which ranges from 7% to 11.5%.
Resorts are notorious for charging a hefty “resort fee” that is frequently not disclosed when making a reservation.
Depending on the resort, this could range from $10 to $100. To see these additional taxes and fees, always read the fine print or the “not included” section of the advertised price.
#10. Never Travel Without Travel Insurance: Things To Know Before Traveling To US
I’m sure you’ve heard horror stories about the ineffective and costly medical system in the United States. They are all correct.
I’m sure you don’t want to return home and find a $1200 bill for a doctor’s prescription for ibuprofen. This may appear exaggerated, but it isn’t far from the truth.
Travel insurance with medical coverage is essential for any trip, but especially so in the United States.
It’s also a plus if your insurance covers trip cancellation in the event of flight cancellations or other unforeseen events. I use World Nomads travel insurance and have had nothing but positive experiences with them.
#11. Always Carry Enough Cash with You: Things To Know Before Traveling To US
As advanced as the United States claims to be, it still lags behind many European and South American countries in terms of digital payment options.
Because the United States is always catching up, don’t be surprised if many rural businesses still only accept cash.
Also, in many places, the tip is left in cash, unless you can add it to your credit card.
In most major cities, credit cards and contactless payments will be accepted for almost everything. However, there are a few cash-only businesses (for tax purposes).
Before leaving your home country, notify your bank that you will be using your debit and credit cards in the United States so that they do not block them as a suspicious charges.
#12. Remember to Visit the Islands! Things To Know Before Traveling To US
Both Hawaii and Puerto Rico have several stunning islands that make you feel like you’re in a different country, worlds away from the typical American image.
I can attest to that as a native Puerto Rican, having grown up there.
Kayak in the world’s brightest bioluminescent bay, visit one of the Americas’ oldest cathedrals, and surf in the Caribbean’s surfing capital.
A Few More Quick Tips: Things To Know Before Traveling To US
In the United States, the emergency phone number is 911.
The United States is one of only three countries in the world that uses the Imperial system. The measurements are in inches and feet, the distances are in miles, the weight is in pounds, and the temperature is in Fahrenheit.
You drive on the right side of the road.
The United States has six time zones. Make sure you know what time zone your destination is in, especially when booking flights and airport transfers.
Was that helpful?
Let us hear your comment or questions in the comment section below. More so, share these 12 important things to know before traveling to US.