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What You Need to Know Before Travelling to the United States

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The United States of America is a fantastic place to visit, whether you’re going on a family holiday, planning to sample the city life, or exploring the ins and outs of America on an epic road trip. The options are truly endless. Even if you’ve already visited the US, there’s enough to see and experience that will keep you going for a lifetime. 

There’s a great deal to do in America, but your trip over there isn’t something that should be taken on a whim. There’s a lot of planning that needs to be done to guarantee the best holiday ever. Or at least to guarantee that you’ll get through customs. Nobody wants a holiday that ends before it can even begin, especially if it was completely avoidable.

Getting Through Customs

The first hurdle to any trip abroad is getting into the country. You should deal with this in the months before your holiday, as there’s a lot of paperwork to get through and processing times aren’t always your friend. Check the entry requirements for more details. 

First of all, you will need a valid British passport. You might have a passport hidden around the house somewhere, but this doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. If this is your first holiday abroad for a while, your passport could easily be out of date. So, dig it out and check. 

When you’re travelling to the US, your expiry date must be after you return to the UK. However, other countries require your passport to be at least six months off the expiry date, so don’t get comfortable. However, the US does require your passport to be a biometric passport. If you’d had your passport renewed since 2010, you should be fine. Otherwise, check for a gold camera logo on the cover of your passport, this will tell you that your passport is biometric.

You also need to apply for either a Visa or an ESTA. An ESTA, or Electronic System for Travel Authorization, will allow you to travel to the US for less than ninety days. If you don’t have a visa or an ESTA, you will be denied entry into the United States. You can apply for an ESTA by contacting Official Esta.

You also need to be fully vaccinated from COVID-19 and be able to present a negative test result that’s no more than 3 days old. There are some exceptions to these requirements, such as those under the age of 18.

Other Paperwork Hurdles

While you can get into the US without travel insurance, it’s highly recommended that you get some. Otherwise, you could be footing a tremendous bill if something goes wrong on your holiday. Nobody likes to think about getting ill or having problems with their accommodation, but insurance can give you the peace of mind to allow you to truly relax.

This is especially important when it comes to America, as the health services for an uninsured patient can get incredibly expensive. Appropriate insurance can potentially save you tens of thousands of dollars.

The USA is Massive

You’re probably kind of aware that the US is bigger than the UK, but it’s still easy to underestimate just how huge a country it is. The US is about forty times the size of the UK, and there are eleven states that are bigger than the UK. 

This means that Americans are used to travelling long distances. A two-hour daily commute to work isn’t as uncommon as it is over here, for example. It also means that you probably can’t cover much of America in just one trip. You certainly can’t spend one day in California, then expect to just pop over to New York. 

The only quick way to travel such long distances in America is by plane. However, this size makes America a fantastic destination for a road trip holiday. You could spend months trawling along the roads of America and you still might not visit the same place twice. 

If a road trip appeals to you, then there’s some more good news. There’s a huge amount of public land in America (especially in the western half), which means that you can take your camping gear and have a great wild time. While you’re on the road, take full advantage of all those rest stops along the way, which provide free public bathrooms and sometimes free coffee to keep your eyes open for the journey. 

Be Prepared to Pay Extra

This doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is more expensive in the US (although you’d be surprised at the price of some British delicacies), but rather that you will generally pay more than the stated price.

Every state has an individual sales tax, which isn’t displayed in the price. Instead, you need to find out the sales tax in advance and either work out the full price before you buy or prepare for a shock.

You should also be prepared for the tipping culture in the US. The low minimum wage for servers (only $2.13 per hour) means it’s expected to tip 15-20% of the total meal cost. It’s also considered impolite not to tip servers in coffee shops, hair and nail salons, or massage parlors. You should also tip your delivery driver. When in doubt, tip your server.

Culture and Diversity

America is an enormous melting pot of cultures from all over the world, which influences both the food and general culture of different states. This means that there is a huge amount of diversity, although you might see some clusters of communities where people settled centuries ago. 

The simplest advice is to enjoy it. Sample whatever food you can, particularly the local delicacies. While you might think that burgers and fries are the national food, there’s so much on offer if you look beneath the surface. 

Not all American stereotypes are true, but you will notice patterns in certain states. For example, you’ll probably see the typical surfers in California or cowboys in Texas. Of course, the best way to discover America is to go there yourself. What are you waiting for?

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