Useful Info and Travel Tips

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

Entry Requirements for Canadian Citizens


PRIOR TO DEPARTURE ENTRY INFORMATION
Canadian citizens travelling to the U.S. by land or sea will be required to present one of the travel documents listed below. For more information, please visit the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website at www.getyouhome.gov.
1) Canadian Passport. This is an internationally recognized travel document that verifies a person’s identity and citizenship. It is accepted for travel by air, land and sea.
2) Enhanced Driver’s Licence / Enhanced Identification Card. Canadian provinces have begun issuing these documents that denote identity and citizenship that are WHTI-compliant for cross-border travel into the U.S. by land or sea.
3) Trusted Traveller Programs. NEXUS and FAST/Expres enrollment cards can speed your entry into the U.S. and are issued only to pre-approved travelers. FAST/Expres cards are valid for use at land or sea ports of entry; the NEXUS card can be used at land or sea ports of entry and at kiosks at participating airports.

UPON ENTERING THE U.S.
Canadian citizens who receive a Form 1-94 (Arrival-Departure Record) at inspection or who require a waiver of inadmissibility are now required to provide biometrics when entering the United States. While the new regulation requires certain additional Canadian travelers to provide biometrics, most Canadian travelers continue to be exempt from US VISIT procedures. Many countries around the world use biometrics as a way of facilitating the international travel process, protecting travelers against identity theft, and preventing document fraud as well as for security purposes. For more information about these procedures please visit www.dhs.gov/us-visit.

Entry Requirements for Citizens of Other Countries


PRIOR TO DEPARTURE ENTRY INFORMATION
For citizens of the current Visa Waiver Countries (http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/without/without_1990.html#countries) travel for temporary business or pleasure for 90 days or less, does not require a Visa. A compliant passport and an approved travel authorization via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is required to enter the United States. An approved ESTA is generally valid for two years, or until the passport expires, and allows multiple entries into the U.S. ESTA is an automated system that determines the eligibility of visitors to travel to the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program. The ESTA application collects the same information collected on the Form I-94W. ESTA applications may be submitted any time prior to travel, though it is recommended travelers apply when they begin preparing travel plans. As of September 8, 2010 there will be a $14 fee for a new or renewed ESTA. An approved ESTA is not a guarantee of admission to the United States. The CBP Officer has the final determination on admissibility. While in a transition phase, the paper form is still also required. The paper I-94W will eventually be phased out. For more information on ESTA, please visit the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website at www.cbp.gov/esta.

UPON ENTERING THE UNITED STATES
Upon entry into the United States your photograph and digital fingerprints will be collected. Many countries around the world use biometrics as a way of facilitating the international travel process, protecting travelers against identity theft, and preventing document fraud as well as for security purposes. For more information about these procedures please visit www.dhs.gov/us-visit.

Currency and Taxes


U.S. currency comes in coins (1¢, 5¢, 10¢, 25¢ and, less commonly, 50¢ and $1) and bills ($1, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100 and, less commonly, $2). Two tips: Keep 25¢ pieces (quarters) on hand for parking meters, buses and subways. If you can help it, don’t pay for low-cost items with larger than a $20 bill – shopkeepers may be unable or unwilling to make change.

You can exchange foreign currencies at most large banks, tourist centers and at agencies in the terminals of major airports. But you’ll receive the best rate using an automated teller machine (ATM). They’re everywhere, though some banking networks charge fees of $1-2 per transaction.
Another way to optimize the exchange rate is to make purchases with a credit card. Major credit cards are widely accepted across the U.S. In fact, some businesses, such as hotels, require a credit card to confirm a reservation. Keep some U.S. currency or traveler’s checks on hand for use in an emergency.

The U.S. doesn’t have a national sales tax comparable to the value-added tax (VAT) or goods and services tax (GST) found in other countries. Instead, individual U.S. states and localities (counties and cities) set their own rates of taxation. Thus, the sales tax you may be required to pay depends on where you are and even what you’re buying. Sales tax on food items, for example, may be lower than for merchandise; tax on gas is often higher.
Keep in mind that sales tax is never included on a price tag. Since sales tax isn’t collected on a national level, you can’t obtain a refund on departure. However, many states don’t charge tax on items shipped out of state. Inquire at the store, especially if you are making a large purchase.

Health & Medical


Medical facilities can be found in all hospitals as well as urgent care clinics. Hospitals emergency rooms and urgent care clinics do not require appointments, though in non-life threatening situations, it may be helpful to call ahead. Health care is superior in the U.S. but it can be very expensive because there is no universal health care. Traveler’s health insurance should be purchased prior to travel to the U.S. in case of an emergency. Prescription medication should be brought from home and carried in its original, labeled container. The nationwide emergency phone number for police, fire and ambulance is 911.

Social Customs


U.S. culture is as diverse as the geography, and what’s considered good manners often changes from region to region. Americans are generally an easygoing people – famously open and welcoming – but observing a few customs will guarantee a successful trip.

Dress is generally casual; business dress is sometimes required in high-end restaurants and private clubs, but less frequently than even a few years ago. Nevertheless, if you are attending a special event, it’s probably best to risk being overdressed, rather than too casual. Small gifts are appreciated if you are visiting someone in their home.

Tipping is customary for service industry professionals: waiters, bartenders, taxi drivers, hairdressers, hotel porters and chambermaids, coatroom attendants, parking valets and airport skycaps. Tips are an important part of their income. The tipping custom in the U.S. is 15 percent of the total bill – 20 percent or more for exceptional service. Tip coatroom attendants $1 per garment; parking valets $1-2 when you drop off your car and another $1-2 when you pick it up; hotel porters and airport skycaps at least $1 per bag; and hotel chambermaids $3-5 a day.

Smoking is much less accepted here than it once was. In fact, it’s restricted in many establishments and often banned entirely. Even entire cities – including Seattle and New York – are “smoke free” in most public areas. Check for no-smoking signs and never light up unless you’re sure it’s allowed. It’s polite to ask for permission if you’re in the company of others.

Shaking hands is the usual form of greeting, but many Americans are quite casual and demonstrative: it’s not altogether unusual to receive a hug and sometimes even a friendly kiss on the cheek from someone you’ve only just met.

Every culture has some quirky do’s and don’ts. Here are a few of America’s: Observe queues and don’t cut in line. Be aware that Americans are fanatics about showering and hygiene. Keep your voice down when talking on a mobile phone in public. And only use your phone in appropriate places where others will not be disturbed by being a party to your conversation.

Communications


Internet service in the U.S. is widespread and fast. Connect for free at most public libraries and, for a fee, at cybercafés, copy centers and hotels. Many coffee houses offer free wireless if you have your own Wi-Fi-enabled computer.

Make calls from any public phone using a pre-paid phone card or phone credit card. Use a coin-operated pay phone (30-50¢) for local calls. Pre-paid phone cards generally offer the best rate, especially for international calls. Pick one up at airports, hotels, bus stations, grocery and convenience stores. Purchasing or renting a mobile phone that operates on a U.S. network is another, pricier option.

Send an international airmail postcard or letter weighing up to 1 ounce for 69¢ to Canada and Mexico and 90¢ elsewhere. Domestic first-class rates start at 41¢ for a letter and 26¢ for a postcard. Purchase stamps and post mail at the local post offices and some banks, grocery stores and pharmacies.

Transportation and Driving


The U.S.’s transportation system is well maintained and extensive. Go by airplane, bus, train or car. Locally, you’ll find metros, ferries, trolleys and taxis. But avoid hitchhiking anywhere in the U.S.; it’s not efficient or safe.

Given the country’s size, flying is the fastest way to get from one place to another. Most interstate flights connect through main airports in large cities known as “hubs.” Even if you’re flying to a destination within the same state, you may have a more or less lengthy stopover in a hub. When booking flights, check all airports near your destination – sometimes you can find a better fare or a less busy airfield. New York City is served by three airports: Kennedy, La Guardia and Newark, New Jersey. Manhattan is easily accessible from all of them. Similarly, travelers to Chicago will be fine landing at O’Hare, one of the world’s busiest airports, but should also look at flights into Midway, an easy taxi ride into town.

Passenger train travel is still an excellent way to hop between urban centers within a region like Seattle and Portland or Boston, New York and Washington, D.C. Amtrak, the national rail service, travels all over the country but its most appealing service is on scenic routes such as Chicago to San Francisco, on a train called the California Zephyr. Amtrak offers 15- and 30-day unlimited USA Rail Passes as well as a number of regional rail passes.

Greyhound is the major long-distance bus or coach carrier within the U.S., but Trailways offers more regional routes. If you plan on using the bus frequently, before leaving home, purchase the discounted Greyhound International Ameripass, which is available only outside the U.S.

The U.S. is a car culture and driving is often the most convenient and economical way to travel. From a practical standpoint, public transportation within cities isn’t highly efficient except in large metropolitan areas. So even if you’re jumping between cities by plane, you may want to rent a car on arrival and drive. You’ll find car rental outlets at all major airports. Indulge in that uniquely American pastime, the road trip. Set your own pace, wander down abandoned back roads, stop whenever and wherever you like. It’s prudent to take the LDW/CDW (loss/collision damage waiver) insurance on your rental.
The U.S. interstate highway system is excellent and well maintained. Though gas prices have been rising in the U.S., they are still lower than most international visitors are accustomed to paying. Gas stations are plentiful along highways and in cities, and can usually provide maps and road directions, too. Speed limits vary on American highways, but are typically 55-75 miles per hour. Speeds are posted and often enforced by highway patrol officers. Driving under the influence of alcohol or non-prescription drugs is a serious offense in the U.S. and can result in inconvenience, embarrassment and expense (and criminal charges?). Hitchhiking is illegal in many U.S. states.

Many states and metropolitan areas now participate in the 511 Travel Hotline, which provides road travelers with information related to traffic, weather, road conditions, construction, etc. Just dial 511 from your cell phone or from a roadside telephone to get up-to-the-minute advice. For an overview of participating destinations, go to www.deploy511.org/deployment-stats.html.

Measurements and Voltage


Voltage: wherever you stay, don’t forget to pack an AC and plug adapter – the U.S. uses 110 to 120 volts and electrical plugs with two flat parallel blades.

The U.S. measurement system is based on the English system of measurement and is referred to as U.S. Customary Units. The metric system is used in some specific fields of work, including the medical field, but U.S. Customary Units remain the standard for most Americans.

Length in the U.S. is based on four customary measurements: inch, foot, yard and mile. Americans generally measure rooms and buildings in square feet, carpets in square yards and territory in square miles.

1 inch = 25.4 mm
1 foot = 12 inches = 0.304 m
1 yard = 3 feet = 0.914 m
1 mile = 5,280 feet = 1.609 km

Liquid measure in the U.S. is generally based on number of fluid ounces. Beverages are usually measured in fluid ounces with single servings ranging between 8 and 16 ounces. Milk is usually sold in cups or half pints, pints, quarts and gallons. Water volume for bathtubs, ponds, swimming pools, etc., is usually described in gallons.

1 fluid ounce (oz) = 29.573 mL
1 liquid pint = 16 fl oz = 473.176 mL
1 liquid quart = 2 pt = 32 fl oz = 946.352 mL
1 gallon = 4 qt = 128 fl oz = 3.785 L

Weight in the U.S. is measured most commonly in ounces and pounds. Produce and other fresh foods, such as meat are usually sold by pounds.

1 ounce (oz) = 28.349 g
1 pound = 16 oz = 453.584 g

Clothing Sizes


If you decide to buy clothes in the United States, the rule of thumb is “try it before you buy it”. Sizes vary greatly between manufacturers.

MEN SIZES BY COUNTRY

United States  34  36  38  40
United Kingdom
UK and US men's suit and coat sizes are the same.
 34  36  38  40
Europe
Add 10 to a US size to get the
equivalent European men's suit/coat size.
 44  46  48  50
Japan
Japanese men's suit and coat sizes are marked by letters.   
S = 34 US, M = 38 US, L = 40 US, L = 44 US.        
 S(34)  S(34)  M(38)  M(38)

WOMEN SIZES BY COUNTRY

United States   6     8    10    12 
United Kingdom
Add 2 to a US size to get
the equivalent UK women's size.
  8  10   12   14
Europe
Add 28 or 30 to a US size to get
the equivalent European women's size.
 36   38    40   42
Japan
Subtract 1 from a US size to get
the equivalent Japanese women's size.    
  5   7    9   11



CANADA


Do I need a passport to enter Canada?

US citizens only need a document such as a birth certificate and government-issued photo identification (e.g., driver's license) to enter Canada. However, as of Jan. 23, 2007, a new American law, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), requires anyone, including US citizens, entering or re-entering the United States by air to have a passport or a NEXUS card when used at a NEXUS kiosk at designated airports.
By June 1, 2009, anyone, including US citizens, entering or re-entering the United States by land and sea will need to have a passport or other appropriate, secure document. Visit the U.S. Department of State website www.travel.state.gov frequently for international travel updates.
International visitors to Canada who are not US citizens must carry a valid passport and visa (if required). Citizens from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Mexico, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Australia and others do not require a visa to enter Canada. Visit Citizenship and Immigration Canada online www.cic.gc.ca for a complete listing.

What are the requirements for children entering Canada?

If you are travelling with children, you must carry identification, such as a birth certificate, proof of citizenship or student visa for each child under 18 years old. Divorced parents who share custody of their children should carry copies of the legal custody documents and a letter of authorization from the other custodial parent allowing the child to be taken out of the country. Adults who are not parents or guardians must have written permission from the parents or guardians to accompany the children. When travelling with a group of vehicles, parents or guardians should travel in the same vehicle as the children for border crossing. Customs officers are often looking for missing children and may ask questions about the children who are travelling with you.
 

Where can American travellers get a US passport?

First-time passport applicants need to apply in person to one of 8,000 passport acceptance facilities located throughout the United States. Applicants should bring two regulation-size photographs of themselves, proof of US citizenship and a valid form of photo identification, such as a driver's license.
US passport renewals can be done by mail if the recent passport is available to submit, is not damaged, was issued within the past 15 years and you were over age 16 when it was issued. Applicants must either still have the same last name or can show legal proof of name change.
For detailed information about obtaining or renewing your US passport, visit the U.S. Department of State, National Passport Information Center website www.travel.state.gov, or access US passport application services from the United States Postal Service www.usps.com.

For more information visit:

U.S. Department of State ⇒ www.travel.state.gov
Countries Requiring Visas and Canadian Visa Offices ⇒ www.cic.gc.ca
Canada International Website ⇒ www.goingtocanada.gc.ca
Canada Border Services Agency ⇒ www.cbsa.gc.ca