Billed as the 'land of opportunity', for more than 500 years,people have travelled to the United States of America seeking abetter life. The territory was fought over by colonial powers for300 hundred years, and finally won its independence from Britain in1783.
Despite the near-annihilation of the Native American population,a bloody civil war, and centuries of ingrained racism (NativeAmericans were not granted citizenship until 1924 and racialsegregation was the norm until as late as the 1950s), the Americanpeople have succeeded in forging one of the world's most democraticand tolerant nations. This has resulted in a fascinatingmelting-pot of cultures, and the undisputed military and economicheavyweight of the world.
A country of this size, with a history this colourful, trulydoes present endless opportunities for travellers headingstateside. World-famous attractions like the Statue of Liberty inNew York City, Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, and the Grand Canyonin Arizona don't even begin to scratch the surface of what the UShas to offer visitors.
Depending on where and when you travel, a holiday in the UnitedStates can offer sizzling desert mesas, labyrinthine cities, chillysnow-covered forests, tropical jungles, or rolling flower-coveredprairies. With an area of roughly 3,794,083 square miles (9,826,630square km), the US is the perfect place to take long road tripsalong the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Pacific Coast Highway, or Route66, gaining a broader understanding of this vast nation along theway.
Whether you want to see the celebrity stars on the HollywoodWalk of Fame, the majestic summit of Pike's Peak, or the world'slargest ball of twine in Darwin, Minnesota, the United States hassomething for everyone.
Sightseeing in the USA is a lifelong pursuit, due to the vastscale and variety of the attractions on offer. Indeed, the USA isfar more than a single country: each state and region has its owncharacter, geography and unique, world-class sights.
Three-quarters of all foreign tourists spend time in California,Florida and New York, while the country's five most visited citiesby foreign tourists are in these three states. In between eastcoast California's beaches, movie glitz and sunny weather and westcoast New York's urban thrills and iconic sights, the USA is acountry of great diversity: the Creole culture of Louisiana, thewide-open plains of the great Midwest, epic skiing around the RockyMountains, the magnificence of the Grand Canyon, and astoundinglights of nearby Las Vegas. Offshore Hawaii is a place ofirresistible beauty too, and Alaska offers a unique wilderness toexplore.
Given all there is to see and do, and the vast distances betweenthem, you'll need to plan your trip carefully and concentrate on afew areas. Be aware that winters (November to February) on the eastcoast get very cold with plenty of snow, while beaches can getuncomfortably hot over peak summer months of July and August. Alsolook out for big national events like Spring Break (March), Fourthof July, and Thanksgiving (fourth Thursday in November) whentransport and accommodation get very busy.
The United States of America covers a large region, stretchingfrom east to west across nine time zones. Therefore, it is nosurprise that the country has a varied climate, ranging from arcticregions to deserts. California, on the west coast of the US, has apleasant, Mediterranean climate, and the Pacific Northwest Coasthas more of a maritime climate, with cooler summers and mildwinters, influenced by westerly winds. The central part of the UShas extreme temperature variations and a continental climate - withcold winters and hot summers. The eastern central US tends to bemore humid, while the western central US is semiarid. The east sideof the country has a continental climate caused by air massesmoving from west to east, with hot summers and a prevalence oftornadoes in the Mississippi River area. Florida has the warmestwinters on the eastern seaboard. It is recommended that travellersresearch the climate in the specific state they wish to visit whenchoosing when to travel.
The official currency is the US Dollar (USD), which is dividedinto 100 cents. Only major banks exchange foreign currency. ATMsare widespread and credit cards are widely accepted. Banking hoursare Monday to Friday 9am to 3pm.
English is the most common language spoken but Spanish isoften heard in the south-western states.
Electrical current is 120 volts, 60Hz. Plugs aremainly the type with two flat pins, though three-pin plugs (twoflat parallel pins and a rounded pin) are also widely used.European appliances without dual-voltage capabilities will requirean adapter.
US citizens require passports.
UK nationals require a passport valid for duration of stay. Mostpassport holders can get an Electronic System for TravelAuthorisation (ESTA) through the Visa Waiver Programme, whichallows travel to the US for up to 90 days. The VWP includestourism, certain types of business visit and transit to anothercountry.
The most important requirement on entering the U.S. is providingproof of Canadian citizenship. A valid Canadian passport is thebest document to prove Canadian citizenship and the right to returnto Canada. However, several other documents can serve, depending onthe mode of transport. Generally, Canadian citizens do not requirevisitor, business, transit or other visas to enter the UnitedStates from Canada, though there are some exceptions.
Passports must be valid for the period of intended stay. Ifvisiting the US for fewer than 90 days, Australian nationals may beeligible to apply for an Electronic System for Travel Authorization(ESTA), and enter under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).
South Africans must hold a passport valid for duration of stay.A visa is required.
Passports must be valid for duration of stay. Irish nationalscan get an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) underthe Visa Waiver Programme for entry into the United States.
US citizens require passports.
Passports must be valid for duration of stay. New Zealandnationals can get an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation(ESTA) under the Visa Waiver Programme for entry into the UnitedStates.
It is highly recommended that passports have at least six monthsvalidity remaining after your intended date of departure from yourtravel destination. Visa is required for short visits unlesstravelers qualify for entry under the Visa Waiver Program.
The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) enables citizens of certaincountries to travel to the US for a stay of up to 90 days without avisa. Visitors under the VWP need to register online three daysbefore travel and have an Electronic System for TravelAuthorization (ESTA). This allows the US government to screen allvisitors before travel. Visitors entering the country under the VWPmust have a machine-readable passport (MRP) that has a barcode onthe photo page. Travellers under the VWP must have passports thatinclude biometrics if they wish to enter the country without avisa, which means that passports must contain unique personal datasuch as fingerprints or iris details. All passports must contain adigital photo image in order to travel visa-free. All visitors tothe USA have a photograph and two fingerprints taken by an inklessscanner on arrival, including those travelling visa-free under theVWP.
As part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), alltravellers travelling between the United States and Canada, Mexico,Bermuda, and the Caribbean region are required to present apassport or other valid travel document to enter or re-enter theUnited States. If departing from the USA, a valid passport isrequired by immigration authorities. Immigration officials oftenapply different rules to those stated by travel agents and officialsources.
There are no specific health risks associated with travel withinthe USA. Medical facilities are excellent, but expensive. Onlyemergencies are treated without prior payment and treatment can berefused without evidence of insurance or proof of funds. Goodmedical insurance is essential.
A 15 percent tip is expected by taxi drivers, bartenders,hairdressers and waiters, but don't tip in fast-food orself-service restaurants. In expensive restaurants or for largeparties, tip 20 percent of the bill. It is normal to tip staff suchas valets and porters in hotels; this is discretionary, although aminimum of $5 is expected. Most services are customarily tipped ifthe service is good.
Travel within the United States is generally trouble-free,however, travellers should be aware that the US shares with therest 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 tocheck on the latest situation with airlines in advance. Travellersshould also be alert to the dangers of car and street crime incities and should use common sense and take basic precautions.Hurricanes are common between June and November, putting thesouthern 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.
Laws vary from state to state, including speed limit, fines andpunishment. The age at which you may legally buy and consumealcohol is 21 years.
In such a large country, filled with so many diverse groups,business practices may differ according to each state, howeverrarely to any large degree. The East Coast is traditionally moreformal than the West Coast, however in states such as Californiadress code and conservative appearance are as common as they wouldbe in New York. Punctuality is important throughout the country andit is considered rude to be late for a meeting. Gift-giving isuncommon 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 areyou?' are often expressed with sincerity. Business hours may varyin each state, but an 8am start and 5pm finish Monday to Friday isthe most common with an hour over lunch.
Status and age are not necessarily indicative of seniority, nordo they carry much weight in themselves. Those doing business inthe States should be mindful of this fact; never make assumptionsabout someone's position or rank. Best practice is to be respectfulto all parties. That said, the US upholds a hierarchal businessstructure, in which 'the boss' is the ultimate decision-maker.Senior leaders have the power of the last word, and can go againstthe grain just as easily as they can follow popular opinion.Concentrate on winning over this individual, even if the greatergroup seems unsupportive. Americans value a direct style ofcommunication. In this fast-paced, consumer culture 'time ismoney', and small-talk is viewed as unnecessary and wasteful. Getto the point quickly, speak about issues in a frank and openmanner, and don't take offence if someone questions or challengesyou outright.
The international country dialling code for the United States is+1. Mobile networks cover most of the country, especially all urbanareas. Internet cafes are prevalent in most towns and cities andwifi is widely available.
Travellers to the United States who are returning residents ofthe country do not have to pay duty on articles purchased abroad tothe value of $800 provided their stay was longer than 48 hours andtheir duty-free allowance was not used in the 30-day period prior.For passengers arriving from Samoa, Guam and the U.S. VirginIslands, a duty-free allowance of $1,200 is allowed. The followingitems are included in this: 50 cigarettes and 10 cigars and 150millilitres (5 fl. oz.) of alcoholic beverages or 150 millilitres(5 fl. oz.) of perfume containing alcohol. Restrictions may applyto goods from Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Burma (Myanmar), Angola,Liberia and Sudan. It is prohibited to import Cuban cigars from anycountry.
Travellers to the United States who are non-residents do nothave to pay duty on the following items: 50 cigars or 200cigarettes and gifts to the value of $100 provided their stay inthe USA is not less than 72 hours and that the allowance has notbeen used in the preceding six-month period.
Prohibited items for residents and non-residents include meat ormeat products, poultry, narcotics, absinthe, plants, seeds,vegetables, fruits, soil, live insects and other living plants oranimal pests. Fish is prohibited unless it carries disease-freecertification. Wildlife and animals or their by-products carryrestrictions. Dairy products and eggs from specified countries arenot allowed. Firearms and ammunition are not allowed without thenecessary license and permit.
United States Tourist Office: www.usatourist.com
United States Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 74999000.
United States Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 688 5335.
United States Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 4314000.
United States Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 2 6214 5600.
United States Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 668 8777.
United States Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 4 4626000.
British Embassy, Washington DC: +1 202 588 6500.
Canadian Embassy, Washington DC: +1 202 682 1740.
South African Embassy, Washington DC: +1 202 232 4400.
Australian Embassy, Washington DC: +1 202 797 3000.
Irish Embassy, Washington DC: +1 202 462 3939.
New Zealand Embassy, Washington DC: +1 202 328 4800.