What do I need to know before travelling to the USA?
The USA offers many exciting opportunities for all travellers. But, before you go, there are a few things you may want to keep in mind or familiarise yourself with first, just to make sure that your US trip goes as smoothly as it can. Before flying, it’s best to double-check that your passport is valid. The USA requires most countries to have at least 6 months’ worth of validity on their passport, only providing exemptions for a few countries. However, Australia is not one of them, so you will definitely need at least 6 months.
Also, make sure that you have a TSA-approved lock for your luggage. It’s always best to lock your luggage before travelling, regardless of where you’re travelling to, since this gives you some extra peace of mind. However, do keep in mind that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has the right to break your bag lock if they need to physically inspect it. This is due to their strict baggage guidelines for safety and security. And this is why you’ll want to use a TSA-approved lock, as these can be opened with a master key – which means that TSA officials do not need to break them open.
Do keep in mind that, if you have an international flight that transits through the US, which is quite common for flights to South America or Canada, then you still will need to clear US Customs. This does mean that you will need to fulfil the visa requirements, regardless of if you’re only staying for a few hours in between flights, so make sure that you’re up to date with that. Customs and rechecking of luggage can sometimes take quite a while, so be sure to allow at least two to three hours between flights. Booking flights with one airline can help you line up these flights.
What to know when you’ve made it to your destination
Now that you’ve made it to the USA, there are a few tips you should keep in mind while in the country itself! Firstly, be sure to turn off your mobile data. Many international travellers make the common mistake of keeping their mobile data on, which can entail large mobile fees. Ensure to make the most out of free WiFi when you can, especially at the airports you’re in. You can also check your current mobile phone plan to see if you can purchase some data specifically intended for international travel.
Also, unlike in Australia, there is a large tipping etiquette in the USA. While it’s ultimately up to you on whether you tip or not, a tip of 15-20% is generally expected in restaurants. This is due to how low the minimum wage is, meaning that these tips can be an important addition to the income of workers. Other service and hospitality industries also expect tips, such as taxi drivers (10-15%), housekeepers ($1-5 per night), bartenders ($1-2 per drink) and so on. If you’re using a credit card, be sure to leave the tip amount on the receipt and add it to the overall total.
As a general rule, be prepared to pay more than you think you will.
You should always be generous while budgeting, as this allows for higher prices than expected – and for any emergencies. Most prices for items are listed without tax, so be ready not to see them on the price tags. Different states and cities have varying tax rates, so it comes down to where you’re visiting.
You can generally assume a 10% addition to the price tag as most of the time it shouldn’t be any higher than this, and, as a bonus, 10% is an easy number to calculate. Also keep in mind that, if you’re staying in a resort, most of the time you’ll be charged additionally to cover pools, internet, tennis courts, and other additional items that are added to the advertised rate.
Lastly, some quick tips. Instead of 000, the emergency number in the USA is 911. Health care costs are some of the highest in the world in the USA, so be sure to have your health and travel insurance sorted out before heading over there. The USA also still uses the Imperial system, so height is measured in feet, distance – in miles, temperature – in Fahrenheit, and weight – in pounds. Last but not least – while in the US, be sure to make the most out of the National and State Parks in the USA, they’re said to be some of the best in the whole world!
We hope that you found these tips helpful and wish you all the best on your trip to the USA!