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USA Country Information
The 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 a passport.

The Basics
Time: The USA is divided into six time zones. Eastern Time is GMT -5, Pacific Time is GMT -8, Central Time is GMT -6, 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 airports.

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.

Travel 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 is essential.

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.

Safety 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.

Local 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.

Duty 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 and permit.

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USA Entry Requirements

  • Entry 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 providing 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.
  • Entry 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.
  • Entry 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 departure.
  • Entry 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.
  • Entry 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.
  • Entry 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.

Passport/Visa 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
Sightseeing in 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 sights.

  • The 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.
  • The 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 Centre.
  • Empire 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.
  • Golden 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.
  • Kennedy 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.
  • Hawaii 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 volcano.
  • 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.
  • Disneyland 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 in 1955.
  • Yellowstone 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.
  • White House - The White House has been the private residence and administrative 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 events 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

  • ING 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.
  • Macy's 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.
  • Macy's 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.
  • Mardi Gras - Despite the devastating hurricane season in 2005, New Orleans 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.
  • St 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.
  • US 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.
  • The 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.
  • Burning Man - The Festival of the Burning Man is one of the most unique festivals. Drawing crowds of over 20,000 each year from all over the world, the celebration is of art, creativity and humanity.
  • Sundance 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.
  • Super Bowl - The Super Bowl is the arguably the biggest event on the U.S. calendar after 4th of July celebrations, and has become something of a de facto holiday.

USA Climate
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

Alabama Hawaii Massachusetts New Mexico Tennessee
Alaska Idaho Michigan New York Texas
Arizona Illinois Minnesota North Carolina Utah
Arkansas Indiana Mississippi North Dakota Vermont
California Iowa Missouri Oklahoma Virginia
Colorado Kansas Montana Oregon Eashington
Connecticut Kentucky Nebraska Pennsylvania Virginia
Delaware Louisiana Nevada Rhode Island West Virginia
Florida Maine New Hampshire South Carolina Wisconsin
Georgia Maryland New Jersey South Dakota Wyoming


USA Driving Information

Renting a Car
Rental agencies have different age minimums for foreign drivers, but 21 years old is common. Your foreign license will be fine, but check ahead to see if you'll also need an IDP.

Drivers 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.

International 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.

Traffic

  • Drive on the right. This will feel unnatural to many drivers from European countries, so take it slow.
  • Speed 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, but you can always ask your car rental agency or motor club about specific questions.
  • 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 length 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 country, interrupted 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 on the right. Interstate highways that run north-south have odd numbers, while east-west highways carry even numbers.

Road Conditions

  • 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.
  • Weather 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
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.

Emergencies
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)
  • Diesel
  • 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 fuel
  • Gas stations are generally open 24 hours a day and most are self-service. Times vary particularly in rural areas.

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