The geographic and cultural diversity, the fascinating history, and the countless iconic sights, all make the USA one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. While you’re sure to have an experience you’ll never forget while you’re out there, there are various quirks about the US that can take foreigners by surprise. Here are a few things you should know well before you hop on a plane bound for the states.
You Need an ESTA
Most people in the UK won’t need any kind of specific visa to travel to the US for trips of up to 90 days. However, there’s a unique difference in US border control in that you need to apply online via the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation for electronic approval before your trip. The process is pretty quick and simple, and can be done within seconds after you visit official ESTA website. However, the one thing that throws many people off is that it isn’t free. You’ll have to pay a fee of $14 (about a tenner), and payment via credit or debit is the only way to process it. This can be quite fiddly, but it means you’ll only have to fill in your customs paperwork on the flight, rather than having to go through any extra hassle once you land.
Stock Up on Dollars
The one thing you don’t want to do is go to America planning to pay for everything on cards. While tipping etiquette varies from industry to industry in most of the world, it’s an inescapable part of everyday life in the States. A lot of minimum-wage jobs in the country are taken with the assumption that the employee will be able to get by with a large chunk of their wage coming from tips. You may not be all that keen on having to make donations to shuttle bus drivers, or adding 15% to every bill you get in every restaurant, but if you don’t want to attract dirty looks wherever you go, you need to play ball! Make a point to stock up on single dollar bills before you travel, or as soon as you arrive. Just remember that a lot of restaurants will include the tip (listed as ‘gratuity’) on the bill. Always check for this before you give them anything extra!
Their Airport Security Is No Joke
This is an important thing to remember about any airport in the world, but the American Transport Security Administration is notoriously void of humour. The process can be annoying, as you always have to remove belts and shoes, and the security personnel can come off as pretty rude for someone in a customer-facing role. However, unless you want to turn your holiday into one big stress-fest, it’s important to keep your mouth shut and avoid any snarky comments. It’s an astonishingly regular occurrence for people to make “jokes” about having bombs and other dangerous items on them when passing through security, and to be detained for several hours as a result.