United States

Where will your dreams take you?

Difficult to describe in brief, the United States varies hugely in terrain, cultures, traditions and history. After declaring independence from Great Britain in 1776, today it comprises 50 states and a total size of nearly 3.8 million square miles. England is about the size of Louisiana in the south, while Japan is about the size of California. Water hugs the east, south and west, while there are three major mountain ranges, while more than 30 percent of the country is air and desert-like. Whatever you seek, you will likely find in the United States. Use our stories to plan your trip.

Entry Requirements (Passports and Visas) – PASSPORTS: Citizens of the United States must only show a valid passport upon entry (or a passport card for non-air travel to and from Canada, Mexico, Caribbean and Bermuda). As a rule, citizens of any other country seeking to enter the United States will need a passport that is valid for at least six months from the planned date of exit, but agreements have waived that extended validity requirement for some country, so be sure to check requirements with Customs & Border Protection. VISAS: Citizens of many countries outside the United States may need a visa to visit; however, a visa waiver program exempts a number of countries so verify your needs with the Department of Homeland Security. Before planning travel, use the iVisa search function below to verify requirements.

By Plane – Non-stop international flights may enter a variety of cities, depending on the origin, including New York (2 of 3 airports); Boston; Denver; Chicago; Miami; Dallas; Charlotte, N.C.; Seattle; San Francisco and Los Angeles. However, with transfers, you can get to any variety of cities in any state.

By Train – Rail travel is not as well-developed in the United States as in some countries. The East Coast corridors are the most convenient, and certain routes along the West Coast, as well as some cross-country lines. However, only the Acela Express in the Northeast is high speed. Sometimes buses run by the rail company connect some areas. Go to the Amtrak website here and be sure to look for regular specials (“deals”).

By Bus – Bus travel used to be the way to go in the United States, but these days can be very time-consuming, with many stops and transfers. Greyhound is the leading provider. Alternatives Megabus, founded in the United Kingdom, and FlixBus, established in Germany, are two options that can offer great prices and good connections IF you are going to the places they serve (primarily in higher population areas in the west, south and east).

By Car – For better or for worse, the best way to see the United States, other than large cities, is by car, partly because the distances are so large. You can rent a car starting at age 21, but anyone under 25 will pay an additional fee. Plus, you may need to acquire your own insurance and get an  an International Driving Permit in your home country since some states require it (as well as a license in your home country). Driving in the United States is on the right side, and you can turn right on red only in SOME states! Speed limits are generally posted but do also vary slightly by state; however, in general, urban areas are 30 mph, four-lane roads are 65, and interstate highways are 70. If you are stopped, stay in the car and await instructions. Do not reach for anything without being asked.

Language – The main language in the United States is, yes, English. You will certainly hear and see Spanish in southern border areas or in the west. In addition, there are numerous accents, some quite heavy, that may sometimes sound like a new language to non-English speakers. Knowing some English will make travels in the United States much easier since only about a fifth of residents speak any amount of a second language.

Learn to speak a bit of English so you can get around more easily and don’t stand out as a tourist! Read our story Start to learn languages – Top language learning apps and websites.

Health – Make sure of course that all of your routine immunizations are up to date before coming to the United States, including protective shots such as Tetanus. If you plan to be outdoors in forests or field, hiking or walking, be sure to watch out for ticks since they are particularly prevalent in the northeast, upper Midwest and west, but certain ticks can be found everywhere. Consider insect repellent clothing and normal precautions for outdoor outings. Ask your doctor about needing a tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) vaccination if you plan to spend significant time outdoors in tick-prone areas.

Non-prescription medications (“over the counter”) are widely available in drugstores and even supermarkets (such as cough suppressants, anti-inflammatories, aspirin…). For prescription medicines, you will need to find a pharmacy, which are located in many supermarkets and other large stores, too; however, no pharmacies will fill a foreign prescription so you would need to find a physician to have it re-written. If you need emergency care, try to find what is called an “urgent care clinic” (slang: “doc in a box”), which are often open evenings and weekends and can help walk-ins. They are also a little less expensive that going to a hospital’s emergency room, where you might also have very long waits. Be sure your home health insurance will cover you internationally — and at what level. We strongly advise purchasing travel insurance that has emergency medical coverage sufficient enough to cover you in the event of an emergency.

Vaccinations – Always check vaccination requirements for tourists with your local health agency. In general, you will need to have had basic vaccines such as rabies, mumps, measles, hepatitis, etc.

Travel Advisories – Before you travel, we recommend checking with your home country’s foreign affairs ministry (Department of State in the United States) or other agency to determine if there are any travel advisories.  

Emergencies – To reach the police, fire department or ambulance service, dial 911. Calling 911 is free from any landline or mobile phone; however, if a landline is available use it since dispatchers can better track your location. Be sure to read our travel advice story on medical emergencies from our own experience.

 

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Managing Money — The United States Dollar is the only currency. It is broken down into 100 cents per one dollar. Commonly circulating are bills in 1, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 dollar increments (although 100s may be harder to use in some stores), while coins are 1 cent (penny), 5 cents (nickel), 10 cents (dime), and 25 cents (quarter). Compared to many other countries, the United States relies heavily on credit cards, which can be used for most purchases including quite small ones.  Many U.S. Banks have small counters in some large supermarkets these days, too. Be sure to read our advice on getting or managing foreign currency before travel.

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Best seasons to visit — With 2,800 miles from east to west, and 1,600 miles north to south in the 48 contiguous states, not to mention Hawaii and Alaska, you can find the weather you seek almost all year round. Many people head to the likes of Florida, Arizona or Southern California in the winter for year-round T-shirt wear, but head to Colorado, Wyoming or Illinois and the winters will be freezing. The south and southeast promises very hot and humid weather in the summer, and the west’s weather generally speaking may be hot in the summer but dry.

To check the latest weather for any destination you are thinking of heading to in the United States, visit our weather page complete with weather radar and minute-by-minute forecasting.

Dining at Drago’s Seafood Restaurant on the Louisiana Oyster Trail

Dining at Drago’s Seafood Restaurant on the Louisiana Oyster Trail

We were following the Louisiana Oyster Trail in the town of Metairie just outside New Orleans. Our first stop was at the door of Drago’s Seafood Restaurant, home of the charbroiled oyster. Oysters were on the menu, and Michael was eagerly looking forward to sampling the promised charbroiled oyster dish. Drago’s offers so much more than oysters though, as we were to discover.

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