6 Things to Know When Traveling to the US for the First Time

valid passport and others things to know when traveling to the us for the first time

The United States of America is home to the most diverse landscapes and seascapes and other man-made famous attractions your eyes will ever lay on. Don’t let your ignorance of these things stump your otherwise enjoyable travel to your dream destination. Get in the know of these travel tips to the US first before embarking on that trip. These tips are specially curated for first-time travelers.

Things to know when going on a US trip

1) Passport validity

Travelers to the US must hold a passport with at least six months of validity. You will not be granted entry if your passport expires in six months, including the entire trip duration. Thus, make sure that your passport is valid for at least six months for a one-month stay in the US.

Tourists from certain countries require a passport valid for the entire duration of their trip. So check with your government website regarding passport requirements and validity.

2) Tourist visa

Same with passports, travelers from 40 country members of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) can enter the US visa-free for up to 90 days. The counting starts from the moment you step on US soil, including the time spent on US territories. These are Bermuda, the Caribbean islands, Mexico, and Canada.

You must apply for travel authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). You must obtain the approval at least 72 hours before your departure time. ESTA authorization can be used multiple times for as long as the days will not surpass the 90-day threshold. Such authorization is valid for two years.

If you are from a non-VWP country, you should secure a traditional tourist visa ~a B-2 visa, more specifically~ obtainable from the US embassy or consulate in your country. There are several requirements for obtaining a B-2 visa; you should prepare and bring them with you during your US visa appointment. It is an interview. The embassy or consulate will deliver the visa to the address you indicated during the interview. It would take three business days to process your visa. 

3) TSA-approved lock

Locks are a no-brainer when traveling. However, it pays to get this detail correctly if you are traveling to the US for the first time. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) implements rigorous baggage guidelines in the US. In addition, to ensure safety and security, all checked bags are inspected further. 

If baggage appears suspicious, it will be checked physically. TSA representatives can break the lock to open your bag without you knowing. The TSA official will notify you of the incident through a letter in your luggage. Thus, it is best to use a TSA-approved lock, which means the TSA official could unlock it using a master key.

4) Airport transfer

Time differences will definitely affect your flights and arrival and departure times. It is because the country spans six time zones. Thus, when booking a domestic flight and airport transfers. You need to know which time zone your destination is.

Speaking of domestic flights, traveling by air, not by car, is the better option if you are going to a distant destination. However, when planning your itinerary, refrain from booking domestic flights as part of an international leg. Instead, buy your domestic flights separately because you will have more and cheaper flight options. Additionally, you are more likely to land a good deal when the destination has high tourist traffic. Airlines compete for such and generally offer flights at lower prices than the competition.

5) Tipping etiquette

The US has a tipping culture that foreigners need to understand as well. Everyone is expected to tip all services–yes, all forms of services that you will receive. It is because cab drivers, bartenders, servers, service attendants, etc. earn below the minimum wage. 

While the advisable tipping average is between 15 and 20%, this still depends on the quality of service. If you receive terrible service, you are not obliged to give a tip. However, you may opt to give a 10% tip depending on how bad the service you received is.

If eating in a restaurant or cafe, always check the bill before giving a tip. If the total bill includes a service charge, you are not required to give a tip. This charge is considered a tip as well.

6) Sales tax

To continue with prices, the prices you see on menus or lists exclude tax. It pays to know that price tags are not what you need to pay, especially when sales tax is figured into the total amount.

Different states impose sales tax variedly, and so are cities within the same state. It can be from 7 to 11%. Expect to pay an additional 10% on top of the actual amount. So do not always believe the displayed or advertised rates. Also, it pays to read the fine print always.

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