The USA is one of the most popular destinations for keen travellers, due in no small part to the sheer variety of experiences available. Whether you’re keen to visit the bright lights of Las Vegas, want to kick back and enjoy the warmth in Florida, or wish to experience the shopping trip of a lifetime in New York, you can be sure that at least one of the 50 states will be able to provide an experience you’ll never forget.
However, while the USA may seem familiar even to those who have never visited – the sheer volume of cultural crossover means that most Brits are well-accustomed to the US thanks to a plethora of TV shows and movies – there are a few things you need to know about visiting the US in person, starting with…
1 – Be cautious of roaming charges
If you’ve predominantly travelled within the EU in the past, you’ll have likely grown accustomed to relatively affordable roaming charges for your phone. However, in the US, your bill can quickly spiral out of control. The most affordable way to use your phone in the States is to unlock it and then use a special SIM card that offers lower rates for US usage, so make sure you have this organised well in advance of your departure date.
2 – You’ll need an ESTA
ESTA – which stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorization – is essentially the US version of a visa, so you’ll need to ensure you have one in hand before you travel. Thankfully, the system has been streamlined and is very simple to use; you can even complete an ESTA form online, so there’s no need to worry about jumping through hoops or visiting embassies to obtain permission to travel.
3 – Tipping is expected
In the UK, our tipping culture is rather varied – tips are welcome, but are far from essential. However, in the US, the culture is very different: tipping is largely expected – and relied upon by staff – so you’ll need to ensure you have cash on you throughout your visit. In terms of how much you tip, between 15-20% of your total is around the right amount for good service in a restaurant or bar, and between $2 and $5 per night for housekeeping and hotel services.
4 – Don’t trust the price tag
In the US, the labels displayed on an item or shelf sticker may not reflect the actual price of the item; sales tax will be added when you get to the register. The actual sales tax will depend on the state you visit; Tennessee has the highest at 9.47% (and potentially more when local taxes are added in), while some states – such as Alaska and Oregon – do not have a sales tax at all. Due to this variance, check the specific tax for any state you’re visiting, and mentally add the extra amount on every time you go to buy something.
Hopefully, the tips above should help to ensure that your first trip to the USA is as straightforward and enjoyable as it can possibly be!