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USA Country Information
country is made up of 48 neighbouring states of the continental
USA, plus the huge
state of Alaska, northwest of Canada, and the volcanic islands
of Hawaii, 2,000 miles (3,219km) out into the Pacific. There
are also the US territories, which include Puerto Rico, Guam,
American Samoa, the Midway Islands and the US Virgin Islands.
Tourism is focused mainly in the great cities such as New
York and Washington, as well as sunshine states such as California,
Florida and Hawaii where millions of tourists congregate
each year to enjoy the fine beaches, natural wonders and
man-made attractions such as Disneyland, Universal Studios
and Hollywood. Too many miss out on the mind-blowing landscapes
of the interior which can found in the wealth of magnificent
National Parks like Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Adirondacks,
as well as spectacular sights like the Grand Canyon and the
Rocky Mountains. With all this on their doorstep, it's easy
to understand why most Americans have never bothered getting
Time: The USA is divided into six time zones. Eastern
Time is GMT -5, Pacific Time is GMT -8, Central Time is GMT
Mountain Time is GMT -7, Alaska is GMT -9, and Hawaii is GMT
-10. Other than Arizona and Hawaii, all states observe daylight
saving time in summer between March and November when clocks
go back one hour.
Electricity: 120 volts, 60Hz. Plugs are mainly the type with
two flat pins, though three-pin plugs are also widely used.
European appliances without dual-voltage capabilities will
require an adapter, which can be purchased in most major departure
Money: The US Dollar (USD) is the unit of currency and is
divided into 100 cents. Only major banks exchange foreign currency.
ATMs are widespread and credit cards and travellers cheques
are widely accepted. Travellers cheques should be taken in
US Dollars to avoid hassles. Banking hours are Monday to Friday
9am to 3pm.
Language: English is the most common language but Spanish
is often spoken in south-western states.
Health: There are no specific health
risks associated with travel within the USA. Medical facilities
are excellent, but expensive. Only emergencies are treated
without prior payment and treatment can be refused without
evidence of insurance or proof of funds. Good medical insurance
Tipping: A 15% tip is expected by taxi drivers, bartenders,
hairdressers and waiters, but don't tip in fast-food or self-service
restaurants. In expensive restaurants or for large parties
tip 20% of the bill. It is normal to tip staff in hotels.
Most services are customarily tipped if the service is good.
Information: Travel within the United States is generally
trouble-free, however travellers should be aware that the
US shares with the rest of the world an increased threat
from terrorist incidents. Security has been heightened particularly
at airports. Restrictions on hand luggage apply and travellers
are advised to check on the latest situation with airlines
in advance. Travellers should also be alert to the dangers
of car and street crime in cities and should use common sense
and take basic precautions. Hurricanes are common between
June and November, putting the southern USA, including the
Gulf Coast and the eastern US, at risk. There is a risk of
wildfires in many dry areas in the US, particularly on the
West Coast from March to November.
Customs: Laws vary from state to state, including
speed limit, fines and punishment. The age at which you may
legally buy and consume alcohol is 21 years.
Business: In such a large country, filled with so many diverse
groups, business practices may differ according to each state,
however rarely to any large degree. The East Coast is traditionally
more formal than the West Coast, however in states such as
California dress code and conservative appearance are as
common as they would be in New York. Punctuality is important
throughout the country and it is considered rude to be late
for a meeting. Gift-giving is uncommon as it may be construed
as bribery. Appropriate titles (Mr, Mrs, Ms) are used upon
introduction and until otherwise stated. Americans favour
politeness and greetings of 'Hello' and 'How are you?' are
often expressed with sincerity. Business hours may vary in
each state, but an 8am start and 5pm finish Monday to Friday
is the most common with an hour over lunch.
Communications: The international country dialling code
for the United States is +1. The outgoing code is 011, followed
by the relevant country code (e.g. 01144 for the United Kingdom).
The US has numerous area/city codes, which must be dialled
before the local number required (e.g. New York Manhattan,
212, and Washington DC, 202). Mobile networks cover most
of the country, including all urban areas, however unless
you have a tri-band phone it is likely your cellular phone
from home will not work in the United States. The largest
GSM networks are T-mobile and Cingular. Internet cafes are
prevalent in most towns and cities.
Free: Travellers to the United States who are returning
residents of the country do not have to pay duty on articles
purchased abroad to the value of $800 provided their stay
was longer than 48 hours and their duty-free allowance was
not used in the 30-day period prior. For passengers arriving
from Samoa, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, a duty-free
allowance of $1,200 is allowed. The following items are included
in this: 1,000 cigarettes and 100 cigars. Travellers over
21 years are allowed 1 litre of alcoholic beverages; and
perfumes, lotions and other goods for personal use. Restrictions
may apply to goods from Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Burma (Myanmar),
Angola, Liberia and Sudan. It is prohibited to import Cuban
cigars from any country. Travellers to the United States
who are non-residents do not have to pay duty on the following
items: 100 cigars or 200 cigarettes and gifts to the value
of $100 provided their stay in the USA is not less than 72
hours and that the allowance has not been used in the preceding
six-month period. Prohibited items for residents and non-residents
include: meat or meat products, poultry, narcotics, absinthe,
plants, seeds, vegetables, fruits, soil, live insects and
other living plants or animal pests. Fish is prohibited unless
it carries disease-free certification. Wildlife and animals
or their by-products carry restrictions. Dairy products and
eggs from specified countries are not allowed. Firearms and
ammunition are not allowed without the necessary license
USA Entry Requirements
requirements for UK nationals: UK passport holders require a valid passport
for travel to the USA. Under
the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP), most British citizens do
not require a visa for holiday, transit or business purposes
their passports are machine-readable, the stay does not exceed
90 days, a return or onward ticket is held and they check
into the US government ESTA website prior to departure.
requirements for Canadians: Canadians do not require
a visa, only a valid passport. Visitors should hold tickets
and documents required for return or onward destination.
requirements for Australians: Australian nationals do
not require a visa for stays of up to 90 days under the Visa
Waiver Program; a valid machine-readable passport, a return
or onward ticket is required if travelling by sea or air and
they must check into the US government ESTA website prior to
requirements for South Africans: South Africans must
hold a passport valid at the date of entry; a visa is also
required. Visitors must have return or onward tickets and the
necessary documents for further travel.
requirements for New Zealanders: New Zealand nationals
require a valid passport, but do not require a visa for stays
of up to 90 days under the US Visa Waiver programme. A machine-readable
passport is necessary to qualify for the programme, a return
or onward ticket is required and they must check into the US
government ESTA website prior to departure.
requirements for Irish nationals: Irish nationals require
a valid passport. Irish passport holders qualify for the visa
waiver programme, but a machine-readable passport (MRP) must
be presented to gain visa-free entry to the country, which
allows a stay of up to 90 days. Visitors must have return or
onward tickets, all necessary documents for further travel
and check into the US government ESTA website prior to departure.
Note: Visitors entering the country under the Visa Waiver
Programme (VWP) must have a machine-readable passport
(MRP) that has a bar code on the photo page. From 26 October
2006 eligible travellers under the VWP must include biometrics
in their machine-readable passports if they wish to enter the
country without a visa, containing unique personal data such
as fingerprints or iris details. All new passports issued on
or after 26 October 2005 must contain a digital photo image
in order to travel visa-free. Due to new security measures,
all visitors to the USA will have a photograph and two fingerprints
taken by an inkless scanner on arrival, including those travelling
visa-free under the Visa Waiver Programme. As part of the Western
Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), all travellers travelling
between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and
the Caribbean region are required to present a passport or
other valid travel document to enter or re-enter the United
States. If departing from the USA a valid passport will be
required by immigration authorities. A new security regulation,
in force from 2009, means that all visitors who do not need
a visa under the US visa waiver programme will need to register
online three days before travel. This will allow the US government
to screen all visitors before travel. The new programme will
be mandatory for all visa-free travel from 12 January 2009.
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Attractions in the United States
the USA is a lifelong pursuit, such is the vast scale and variety
of the attractions on offer.
Indeed the USA is far more than a single country, as each state
and region has its own character, geography and unique, world-class
Grand Canyon -
A mile deep, 277 miles (446km)
long and up to 18 miles (29km) wide the breathtaking grandeur
of the Grand Canyon is so impressive
that pictures or words simply cannot do it justice.
Statue of Liberty - The universal symbol of
freedom and democracy, the Statue of Liberty was the first
sight to be seen by the 12 million
immigrants who passed through the Ellis Island Immigration
State Building - One of the enduring symbols of New York,
and once again the
city’s tallest structure, the Empire State Building
stands 436ft (145m) high. Completed in 1931, this Art Deco
behemoth remains one of the most impressive engineering feats
of all time; it was built in just 410 days and remains the
fastest rising major skyscraper ever built.
Gate Bridge -
The rust-coloured towers, graceful suspension and supportive
cables of the Golden Gate Bridge make this famous symbol
of San Francisco the most photographed bridge in the world,
and visible from almost any high point in the city, although
it is often shrouded in rolling fog.
Space Centre - The John F. Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaveral,
46 miles (74km) southeast of Orlando
on Florida’s east coast,
is one place in this fantasyland state where fact is just as
entertaining as fancy.
Volcanoes National Park - In the Hawaii
Volcanoes National Park surrounding the earth's most massive
volcano, Mauna Loa, visitors can actually watch
lava flow into the sea from Kilauea, the still active on-site
- Hollywood - Los Angeles is the film and entertainment
capital of the world and the name 'Hollywood' is the embodiment
of glamour, success
and money; the place where films are made, television shows
are recorded and stars take up residence.
Resort - Claiming to be 'The Happiest
Place on Earth', Disneyland is an integral part of an American
childhood and was the world's
first mega theme park designed for the family by Walt Disney
National Park - The world’s first national park, Yellowstone
was established in 1872 and despite its popularity today,
most of the park
still remains an undeveloped wilderness of magnificent mountain
scenery, waterfalls, alpine lakes and rivers.
House - The White House has been the private residence and
headquarters of every President of the United States since
1800. Today an American flag flies over the house whenever
the president is in residence.
- Broadway - Going to the theatre is one of the most popular tourist
in New York and the shows on Broadway are world famous, boasting
some of the best in the world from blockbuster musicals to
intense personal drama.
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Events in USA
New York City Marathon - As the world’s largest marathon
with more than 35,000 runners from around the world, only
London ranks alongside
New York in terms of prestige.
Thanksgiving Day Parade -
Thanksgiving (originally a harvest festival) is celebrated
across the United States as families get together and feast
on huge helpings of roast turkey. Macy’s Thanksgiving
Parade is one of the Big Apple’s most dynamic and colourful
events that takes the celebrations one stage further.
Fourth of July Fireworks Spectacular - Independence Day is
celebrated throughout the States, but nowhere
more than in New York City. Although many locals leave to
spend the holiday on Long Island or in Upstate New York,
thousands of others stay behind to watch Macy's Fourth of
July Fireworks Spectacular.
Gras - Despite the devastating hurricane season in 2005,
is once again hosting the world-renowned annual Mardi Gras,
a carnival that was first celebrated in its present form
in 1856 and has earned a reputation for being the most scandalous
and sensational annual event on the world's festival calendar.
Patrick’s Day -
Boston boasts a long-standing Irish culture with Irish pubs
a-plenty, and St Patrick's Day is a significant event in
the city, featuring one of the biggest parties in America.
Open Tennis Tournament - The top names and seeds vie for
victory in the final Grand
Slam event of the season in New York each year. Singles,
doubles, men's and ladies, and mixed doubles make up the
five separate tournaments within the championship.
US Masters - The US Masters Tournament (referred to simply
as The Masters)
is one of golf's four major championships. Unlike the other
three 'majors,' the Open, The US Open and the PGA Championship,
this tournament is held at the same venue each year, the
Augusta National Golf Club.
Man - The Festival of the Burning Man is one of the most
Drawing crowds of over 20,000 each year from all over the
world, the celebration is of art, creativity and humanity.
Film Festival - The Sundance Film Festival is one of the
most prestigious independent
film festivals in the world. Many major contemporary filmmakers,
such as Quentin Tarantino, Steven Soderbergh and the Coen
Brothers, all made names for themselves at Sundance.
Bowl - The Super Bowl is the arguably the biggest event on
calendar after 4th of July celebrations, and has become something
of a de facto holiday.
The United States of America covers
a large region, stretching from east to west across six time
zones and therefore
it is no surprise that the country has a varied climate, ranging
from arctic regions to deserts. California, on the west coast
of the US, has a pleasant, Mediterranean climate, and the Pacific
Northwest Coast has more of a maritime climate, with cooler
summers and mild winters, influenced by westerly winds. The
central part of the US has extreme temperature variations and
a continental climate - with cold winters and hot summers (with
tornadoes). The eastern central US tends to be more humid,
while the western central US is semiarid. The east side of
the country has a continental climate caused by air masses
moving from west to east, with hot summers and a prevalence
of tornadoes in the Mississippi River area. Florida has the
warmest winters on the eastern seaboard. It is recommended
that travellers research the climate in the specific state
they wish to visit when choosing when to travel.
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States of USA
USA Driving Information
Rental agencies have different age minimums for foreign
drivers, but 21 years old is common. Your foreign license will
but check ahead to see if you'll also need an IDP.
license. As a tourist, your foreign license is valid in most
states for up to one year. Some states offer
a shorter grace period, but regardless of your length of stay,
make sure the license contains photo identification. If your
home license comes in several pieces, bring them all.
Driver Permit (IDP). The IDP is typically not required to
drive in America. Some states and car rental agencies do
request the IDP, so it's
never a bad idea to have one at hand. You must get your IDP in your home
country, before making the trip abroad.
- Drive on the right. This will feel unnatural to many
drivers from European countries, so take it slow.
limit minimums and maximums vary across the 50 states.
Highway speeds can range from 55 miles per hour to 75, while
city driving and neighborhood traffic can dip to 25 miles
per hour or lower. Signs are posted in most populated areas,
you can always ask your car rental agency or motor club about
- Ask ahead about
toll roads, often called "turnpikes." Most
issue tickets at your point of entry and assess the toll
at your point of exit, with the amount determined by your
of travel. Credit and debit cards are accepted at some toll
booths, but not all.
- America is famous for its interstate
highways. Prepare for long, straight drives across open
by areas of dense urban traffic. Six- and eight-lane highways
can be nerveracking for drivers not accustomed to so much
traffic, so again, take it slow and stick to the slower lanes
right. Interstate highways that run north-south have odd
numbers, while east-west highways carry even numbers.
- Road conditions are typically excellent, but not always.
Watch for potholes in well-traveled areas, and road debris
in more isolated areas. Highways can become littered with
old, blown tires along commercial truck routes.
conditions vary across the country. Depending on the season,
you can encounter tropical storms in the South,
ice and hail in the North, tornadoes across the Heartland,
and severe rain in the West. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA) offers current information about weather
warnings and country-wide forecasts.
- Many states in the
U.S. now operate a 511 Travel System. You can now call
from your cell phone for real-time, local
information about traffic delays, construction detours, and
weather conditions. Many states are moving toward a cell-phone
ban while on the road, so make sure to pull over to a safe
spot before making the call.
Parking regulations are varied and nuanced across the 50 states.
Parking lots can be metered, carry a flat fee, or come free
to everyone. Streetside parking is common, but hard to come
by in the more populated cities. Parallel parking is also common,
but not nearly as common as you might be used to in London
or Paris. Check the posted signage for limitations, which can
include zoning restrictions, scheduled street-sweeping, snow
emergency routes, and reservations for nearby places of business.
In the event of a breakdown, an accident, or a
medical emergency, have your important contact numbers at
hand. You never know
when you might need to call your insurance providers, your
consulate or embassy, or the local authorites.
Across America, 911 is the universal emergency phone number.
If you need an ambulance, a fire engine, or the police, this
is the number to call.
Fuel types available in the USA
- Unleaded Petroleum (gasoline)
- Check carefully before filling whether your rental
car uses petrol or diesel. If you make a mistake do not
start the vehicle as severe damage may result
and you will be liable for repair costs. Inform service station staff
who will assist in arranging for the tank to be drained
and refilled with the correct
- Gas stations are generally open 24 hours a day and most
are self-service. Times vary particularly in rural areas.