Every day, the US of A lures millions of visitors with its iconic cities, magnificently colourful diverse landscapes woven like a rich tapestry with different textures, amazing food and entertainment and a culture as diverse as it could be. The USA features high in every traveller’s dream vacation list. It is impossible for a traveller to explore the nation’s millions of miles at one go and for a first-time traveller planning and researching the visit might seem quite humongous. If your next vacation plan is all about the great American experience, here are some tips you should consider as you plan.
- Start at the beginning – Passport and Visa
Passport and Visa – these are the two crucial things foreigners need to enter the country. There are different types of American visas. It is important to apply for the right kind of visa and carrying proper documents to sail through the entry port smoothly.
Are you eligible for ESTA benefits?
Electronic System for Travel Authorization – ESTA is an online visa waiver program operated by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. ESTA is currently available to international visitors from 38 countries including UK, countries of European Union, Australia, Japan.
The purpose of ESTA at $18 is to save time and hassle of queuing at the embassy. Once the application is processed, the response time is within 72 hours though ideally the responses knock your inbox within few minutes. You can check ESTA application status online. Once granted ESTA offers two years validity and can be used for trips up to 90 consecutive days. ESTA is compulsory if you have a connecting flight flying through the USA. To obtain ESTA for USA log on to the ESTA website here usaestaonline.com.
Important facts about ESTA
You need a valid e-passport. From 1st April, 2016 all passengers travelling to the US under ESTA should carry an electronic passport with an embedded digital chip that contains your biographical information.
You need to have sufficient fund in your account during your stay in the USA even if you are visiting a friend or relative.
If your ESTA approval expires during your stay in the US, you can’t renew it while staying in the country and must depart within 90 days. If you need to stay longer than 90 days, you must obtain a correct type of visa by applying to the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
An approved ESTA does not guarantee your entry to the USA. The CBP officials in charge at the port-of-entry have the final authority to grant the entry permission to the USA.
B1/ B2 visas
If you are not a citizen from one of the VWP-enjoying countries, you need to apply for the right kind of visa from a range of 3 types of short time tourist visas available. B2 visa holders are usually allowed for 6 months and can travel across the country, visit friends and relatives, participate in social / entertainment events. This visa is also applicable for medical treatment as well. On the other hand, if you want to attend a lecture or a seminar or plan to join a short-term course or training or have got an invite for a conference or so, you need a B1 visa. For B1 visa certain eligibility requirements are required.
Do you need an EVUS?
EVUS stands for Electronic Visa Update System. Launched on 29th November, 2016, EVUS is compulsory for visitors holding the passport of People’s Republic of China and a valid B1 / B2 visa. Residents from Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan with a PRC passport need to complete EVUS registration. An EVUS visa has a shelf period of 2 years or until the user’s passport or B1 / B2 visa expires.
- Airport Security – Do’s and Don’ts
Post 11/9, airport security in the USA is being handled by the Transport Security Administration (TSA) – an organization responsible for creating an agile and efficient system for preventing terrorist attacks and safeguarding the nation and its people. First time visitors to the USA need to know dos and don’ts while flying and how to sail through the tightest security noose breezily should invest time to read TSA guidelines here [https://www.tsa.gov/travel/frequently-asked-questions].
Here go some general tips that would speed up the screening process:
- Keep all your travel documents and passports securely. Organize them neatly in a folder.
- Buy a TSA approved lock for bag / luggage you are carrying.
- Do not wear fancy shoes, belts, loose outfits with pockets, sharp brooches, metal jewelry and bobby pins.
- Travel Insurance – Compulsory if you are visiting the US
It is vital to invest in a travel insurance to get you covered for all sorts of unforeseen calamities that might turn your dream trip to a nightmare. A careful research on policy terms and conditions needs to be carried out before you invest. Importance should be given on premium amount to be paid, extent of coverage, exclusions, what the policy says on alcohol and drug induced accidents, pre-existing medical condition of the insurer, coverage of expensive electronic gadgets and personal belongings and finally any event that leads to trip cancellation. The first point is of course, health. You can fall sick or get yourself injured during an adventure trip. And it is a fact universally acknowledged that medical care is outrageously costly in the USA. So, it is better not to travel if you can’t afford insurance. A travel insurance that covers trip cancellation for unforeseen reason would be useful for a visitor. Again, you need to read the fine print carefully.
- Time Zones and Climate Difference in the USA
The USA boasts of 5 types of climate zones and 6 different time zones. Before preparing an itinerary, you need to research the climate zones and prioritize the places you want to visit. Like if you want to experience the mesmerizing colour explosions of fall foliage you need to plan your trip during the beginning of October, and head northeast. Again, time zone is also an important factor. Depending on where you are going check the time zone and prepare your biological clock accordingly. Thus, you can save your sleep routine and would not have to waste trip time due to jet lag.
- Call 911 if you are in trouble
If you are in a medical emergency / robbery / fire trouble dial 911 for assistance. You call would be answered with specific questions on your trouble. Do not call for trivial matters for which you would be penalized. For detailed information, read here [http://www.emergencycareforyou.org/emergency-101/when-to-call-911/]
- Get your metrics right
While the whole world has shifted to the grams; Metric system, the US still uses the Imperial System of Measurement. For the first time visitors, initially, this might be confusing. So, miles, not kilometres; pound not pints and gallons, not litre, and, Fahrenheit not centigrade. Also, Americans use calendar in MM/DD/YYYY format.
- Tipping done right in the USA
When you are happy with a service, be it the hotel / restaurant / porter / cab driver – you tip. Now people are often confused about how much to tip. A tip might range from 15-20%. For a restaurant or cafe, the ideal amount of tip would be around 15-20% of the total bill amount. Tip amount for a taxi driver is good between 10-15% of the fare. Tip 15-20% if you do any beauty treatment.
This article points out only the essential issues you have to deal with while travelling to the USA. There are many other tips we will share in future to help you travel smoothly in a vast country like the USA.