The USA might not have the casual chic of Southern Italy or the unique urban bustle of Japanese cities, but it is still a destination unlike any other.
Whether you are visiting the US for tourism or work, you will find plenty of wondrous places to explore, from the dramatic landscapes of California to the vast expanses of the Midwest.
Still, if it’s your first time visiting the US, there are a few things you should know to make sure your visit goes smoothly.
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1. You May Need a Visa
The United States is quite well-known around the world for its strict immigration policies.
The good news is: if you’re not planning on relocating to the US, you won’t need to go through the rigorous immigration process.
The news to keep in mind is: even if you’re hailing from a country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program (no visa is required for travel), there is still a step to complete before you can safely embark on your journey to the land of the free.
40 countries participate in the Visa Waiver Program with the US, including most of the European Union member countries, the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, and Singapore. If you are a citizen of one of the eligible countries and you’re planning to visit the US for business or tourism purposes for 90 days or less, you won’t need to get a visa.
Instead, you will need to complete what’s known as the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). The process is completely digital and is similar to the eVisa process that some countries have implemented.
It is very important that you get your ESTA waiver at least 72 hours before your flight to the US — otherwise, you might not be able to board your plane.
Of course, if you’re not a citizen of a country that participates in the waiver program, you will need to obtain a visa to be able to enter the US. If that’s the case, we recommend that you check with your local US embassy or consulate for details.
2. Don’t Rely on Public Transportation
It may come as a surprise, but the public transportation infrastructure is not very developed in the US — with the exception of the biggest cities such as New York and Chicago (and even in that case, it may not be as convenient or efficient to use).
That’s largely due to the prevalent driving culture. The US was shaped by driving, and driving was shaped by the US — as a result, it’s much easier to get around by car in most of the country.
So, if you drive, we recommend renting around in advance so that you can comfortably get around. And if you don’t drive, you can take advantage of services such as Uber or Lyft, which are both very prevalent and affordable.
If there is one unexpected advantage to the American culture of getting around by car, it’s that you’ll be very flexible when it comes to booking the accommodation for your visit. Even the smallest towns are very accessible by car, let alone the large cities — which can help you save on your hotel expenses.
For example, if you’re headed to New Orleans, instead of booking a hotel that’s located dead-center in the heart of the city, you can book a hotel near New Orleans and save on your accommodation!
3. Tipping is Very Much Expected
In most places around the world, tipping the service staff is usually reserved for expressing gratitude for exceptional service. However, the US is an exception, and tipping is very much expected of you.
That’s because most service workers in the US actually have very low hourly wages and rely on your tips to make a living. Whether this approach is fair or not is very much debatable. What you need to know is that you’ll need to factor the tips in when making a budget for your expenses.
So, be prepared to tip anywhere between the least acceptable 10% of your total bill and the very much expected 20% of your total bill.
4. The Power Outlets Are Different
A consideration that doesn’t get discussed enough in US travel tips is the fact that the power outlets in the US are different.
North America, the US included, predominantly uses the Type A plug, which is also used in Japan and common in parts of China.
What’s more, however, is that the voltage of the US power systems is also different. Instead of 220V like in most parts of the world, in the US, the voltage is 120V. What this means is that to safely use the electrical appliances you bring with you into the US, you will need both a voltage converter and an outlet adapter.
The good thing is you can usually get a two-in-one device.
5. Don’t Travel without Health Insurance
To be fair, you shouldn’t travel abroad without health insurance with international coverage to begin with — for safety and peace of mind.
However, the US is exceptionally notorious when it comes to out-of-pocket healthcare costs, to the point where a single doctor visit and basic procedures can add up to a bill of several thousand dollars.
And while health insurance is not mandatory to be able to enter the US (unless you’re applying for a visa), we recommend that you set yourself up with a reasonable plan prior to your trip to the United States.
6. U.S. Cities Are Great — but the National Parks Are Spectacular
If you’re from abroad but you grew up watching American movies and TV shows, the US travel destinations at the top of your list are probably New York City, Miami, Los Angeles, and other emblematic cities.
However, as amazing and iconic as those and other urban areas are, the true beauty of the United States lies in the country’s spectacular nature.
Keep in mind: the US is not only the third-largest country in the world but also features some of the most diverse terrains. You have jungle, mountains, great plains, deserts, sandy beaches, and frosty tundra all available to explore — all within one country.
Lakes are special parts of the US nature ecosystem and they bring a lot of real estate value. Lake of Ozarks real estate are becoming very popular as people are coming back to the natural way of life due to stressful city life.
This brings us to the key point — during your visit to the US, do everything you can to explore at least of the country’s many National Parks, such as the world-famous Yosemite, Yellowstone, The Grand Canyon, or the Great Smoky Mountains.
Trust us, you won’t regret it.
7. It Might not Be all that Different…
The final thing you should keep in mind and prepare yourself for when visiting the United States is that your visit might not end up all that life-shattering and shocking when it comes to culture.
That’s because the US, in its essence, is a nation of immigrants — meaning that wherever you come from, there is a high chance that a considerable number of your compatriots are already living in the US and have formed a prominent community.
Moreover, American culture has borrowed a lot from all the different ethnicities that make up the American nation. So, you might even notice some similarities to your homeland when visiting the US.
Not to mention, finding food that’s familiar to you or people that speak your language should not be difficult, regardless of where exactly in the US you end up.