10 Things to Know Before Visiting the USA

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The USA is home to countless treasures that attract travellers from all over the globe. The country houses some of the most picturesque and diverse landscapes on earth, a vast collection of iconic attractions, and many concrete jungles to explore. The destination truly encapsulates all the experiences that make an overseas trip an adventure to remember. Although, there are a few things that you should be aware of before visiting the US. From tipping customs and payment expectations to entry requirements and road rules, here are important things to remember before visiting the United States of America.

1. States and regions

The United States of America is split into 50 states and also divided further into different regions. These include the West, Midwest, Northwest, and South.

Each of these regions has different geographical characteristics. For example, the Northeast is known for its mountain ranges and rocky coastlines, whereas the Midwest is often associated with large forests, grassy plains, and stretching lakes.

See some of our other articles on the USA for the best things to see and do, and the best places to go.

2. Getting around the country

The many cities in the USA are often very far from each other. This can seem daunting if you’re embarking on a multi-destination trip. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to get around the country. For example, if you’re hoping to save some money, the bus is a cost-effective option – although you can expect a lot of stops in between. Some long-distance bus operators include Greyhound and Megabus. You could also use Amtrak which is the national train operator. They have 300+ trains per day and connections between 500+ destinations in 46 states.

When planning your travel around the USA you could also consider a service such as Omio which can help you find the best options, as well as Flixbus for finding cheap coach options.

Otherwise, if you’re hoping to save time, you can’t beat air travel. Discount options are available if you book in advance.

3. There’s a tipping culture

In America, tipping your waiter is the normal practice and not leaving one is considered rude. As the minimum wage is low, it’s common to leave a 15% to 20% tip to compensate. If your math is a bit dusty, it proves helpful to have your phone calculator nearby. So remember, whether you’re at a restaurant, bar, or in a taxi, it’s important to leave a tip, especially if you’ve received good service.

4. Be prepared to pay more than what’s displayed

When it comes to purchasing goods and services in the United States of America, the price isn’t always what it seems. This is because most of the prices you will see are excluding sales tax, so when you arrive at the counter to pay, expect the cashier to require a slightly higher price. As the tax will vary from state to state, it’s safe to expect at least a 10% addition to the total cost. This also goes for most accommodation, with ‘resort fees’ commonly added to advertised prices.

Paying in the USA - by Sharon-Mccutcheon-CC0

5. Take the time to explore the national parks

Although America is renowned for its dense, buzzing cities, the country also boasts a very impressive range of national parks. Ranging from lush forestry, sky-scraping mountains, red deserts, and bottomless valleys, there’s a natural playground to suit any adventurer’s needs. Not to mention, the parks hold a collection of records, including the longest cave system in the world (Mammoth Cave National Park) and the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere (Death Valley, California). Some national parks that are undeniably worth your time are Yellow Stone National Park, The Grand Canyon National Park, Yosemite National Park, and Zion National Park.

Yosemite National Park, USA - CC0

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6. Don’t forget your ESTA

It’s important for incoming travellers to be aware of and understand the requirements of entering the USA. America’s Visa Waiver Program allows people of certain countries (such as Australia, Denmark, and Belgium), to enter the US for up to 90 days without a visa. Although, this doesn’t mean you can simply arrive without any paperwork. If you’re arriving from a country under the Visa Waiver Program, you are required to apply for an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) and attain approval before arriving. The process is quick and simple, but be sure to leave yourself plenty of time before you leave just in case.

Should you want some help applying for your visa then consider a service such as iVisa. Note this service does come with a processing fee.

7. Be careful where you wander in cities

Many cities, no matter what country you visit, typically include suburbs/ areas that you should avoid at all cost. In America, the line between these areas can be quite thin. In fact, the difference between a friendly and dangerous neighbourhood can sometimes differ by only one block. Just to be safe, try to be aware of your surroundings at all times, assess your situation regularly, and try to gain some local wisdom on where to and where not to wander.

Chicago, USA

8. Don’t visit without health/ travel insurance

Although travel insurance is a necessity of any trip overseas, it’s absolutely crucial when it comes to America. The country’s health services are extremely expensive, to the extent that you’ll be wondering whether you truly need medical attention or if you can stick it out. Just to be safe, it may be wise to make an investment in travel insurance and keep a printed version with you while on your journey.

9. There are plenty of islands worth exploring

As well as the US mainland there are islands that are also worth a visit – in particular, the Hawaiian Islands. This cluster of tropical islands is comfortable to travel year-round. Ranging from the bustling metropolis of Oahu to the natural playground of the Big Island. When visiting these you’ll find plenty of relaxing as well as adrenaline-fuelled experiences to be had.

10. You can turn right on a red light

An American road rule to keep in mind is the ‘turn right on red’ rule. Essentially, this means that across the 50 states, drivers are allowed to turn right on a red light if it’s safe to do so and if there’s no sign prohibiting a right turn. Rather than figuring this out the hard way (scratching your head with a lineup of cars honking at you to run a red), try to keep this tip handy.

Also, it’s important to remember that Americans drive on the right-hand side, so take caution when driving and crossing the road.

Streets of America - CC0

Find places to stay in the USA

Use the map below to find great places to stay for your trip. Use the top box to change your destination.

Tours and activities for the USA

Throughout the USA you’ll find heaps of fantastic tours, day trips and activities. Below are a few ideas to get you started, or click the blue button for even more.


America is a destination unlike any other. The country showcases a collection of diverse landscapes and iconic cities to leave tourists entertained to no end. When you take the time to visit the USA, be sure to remember these important tips to help maximise your experience.

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Written by

Nicholas Hastie

Nicholas Hastie is a travel and health writer located in Brisbane, Australia. He is passionate about documenting his journeys through writing and photography. Nicholas enjoys sharing his travel stories online and encouraging others to travel and create unforgettable memories.

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