GRE-Plan Well before your Flight

Plan before your US Flight

General Information | Accommodation | Money | Passport /Visa | Map | Contact Address | Duty Free

General Information

General: Information on the USA is provided in two parts: a general overview and individual State profiles, each of which has its own section.

Area: 9,809,155 sq km (3,787,319 sq miles).

Population: 281,421,906 (2000).

Population density: 28.7 per sq km.

Capital: Washington, DC. Population: 572,059 (2000). Twenty other cities have a population larger than that of Washington, DC. New York is the largest city, with a population of over eight million. Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego, Dallas and San Antonio had populations of over one million in 2000.

GEOGRAPHY: Covering a large part of the North American continent, the USA shares borders with Canada to the north and Mexico to the south and has coasts on the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. The State of Alaska, in the northwest corner of the continent, is separated from the rest of the country by Canada, and Hawaii lies in the central Pacific Ocean. One of the largest countries in the world, the USA has an enormous diversity of geographical features. The climate ranges from subtropical to Arctic, with a corresponding breadth of flora and fauna. For a more detailed description of each region’s geographical characteristics, see the individual State sections.

Government: Federal Republic since 1789. Gained independence from the UK in 1776. Head of State and Government: President George W Bush since 2001.

Language: English, with significant Spanish-speaking minorities.

Religion: Protestant with Roman Catholic, Jewish and many ethnic minorities. In large cities, people of the same ethnic background often live within defined communities.

Time: The USA is divided into six time zones:
Eastern Standard Time: GMT – 5 (GMT – 4 from first Sunday in April to last Sunday in October). Central Standard Time: GMT – 6 (GMT – 5 from first Sunday in April to last Sunday in October).
Mountain Standard Time: GMT – 7 (GMT – 6 from first Sunday in April to last Sunday in October).
Pacific Standard Time: GMT – 8 (GMT – 7 from first Sunday in April to last Sunday in October).
Alaska: GMT – 9 (GMT – 8 from first Sunday in April to last Sunday in October).
Hawaii: GMT – 10.

Note: When calculating travel times, bear in mind the adoption of Daylight Saving Time (DST) by most States in summer. From the first Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October, clocks are put forward one hour, changing at 0200 hours local time. Regions not observing DST include most of Indiana, all of Arizona and Hawaii.

Electricity: 110/120 volts AC, 60Hz. Plugs are of the flat two-pin type (grounded three-pin plugs are also widely used). European electrical appliances not fitted with dual-voltage capabilities will require a plug adaptor, which is best purchased before arrival in the USA.


Telephone: Full IDD is available. Country code: 1. Outgoing international code: 011. For emergency police, fire or medical services in major cities, dial 911. The following area codes denote toll-free (freephone) numbers: 800, 855, 866, 877 and 888.

Mobile telephone: GSM 1900 network, with a mixture of cellular and digital (especially in major centres) coverage. Network operators offering the closest to nationwide coverage include Verizon (formerly Bell Atlantic and GTE, now in joint venture with Vodafone; website:, Cingular (joint venture of SBC and Bell South; website: and AT&T Wireless (website:

Fax: There are bureaux in all main centres, and major hotels also have facilities. Fax services are very widely available.

Internet: There are Internet cafes in most urban areas. ISPs include America Online (website:, Cable & Wireless (website:, AT&T Business Internet Services (website: and MSN (website:

Telegram: These can be sent through all telegraph and post offices.

Post: There are numerous post offices throughout the states. Stamps can also be bought at stamp machines in hotels and shops and at ATMs, at extra cost. Airmail to Europe takes up to a week. Post office hours: 0900-1700 (24 hours at main offices in larger cities).

Press: The most influential papers are The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal. Owing to the high degree of self-government of each State, newspapers tend to be regionalised, although recent economic pressures have resulted in large-scale mergers. Even so, the USA publishes more newspapers than any other country, and has perhaps the bulkiest Sunday newspapers in the world, particularly the Sunday edition of The New York Times.

Radio: BBC World Service (website: and Voice of America (website: can be received. From time to time the frequencies change and the most up-to-date can be found online.


HOTELS: There are many good traditional hotels. However, the majority are modern and part of national and international chains, often with standard prices. In general, the quality of accommodation is high, with facilities such as televisions and telephones in each room. For further information, contact the American Hotel & Lodging Association, 1201 New York Avenue NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20005 (tel: (202) 289 3100; fax: (202) 289 3199; e-mail:; website:
Basic categories fall into Super, Deluxe, Standard, Moderate and Inexpensive. Prices vary according to standards.

Pre-paid voucher schemes: Several companies offer a pre-paid voucher scheme for use at various hotel and motel chains throughout the USA.

BED & BREAKFAST: This long established tradition in the UK is now spreading across the USA. B&B signs are not generally displayed by individual homes, but most homes offering this service are listed in directories, which may be purchased by interested travellers. ‘B&B inns’ have up to 20 or so rooms, and are distinguished from ‘country inns’ in that the latter offer meals in addition to breakfast; further information is abvailable from the Professional Association of Innkeepers International (website: There are also numerous national and regional B&B associations.

There are ranches all over the southern and western States offering riding, participation in cattle drives, and activity holidays in mountain and lakeland settings.

This is extremely popular, especially in the Rocky Mountains and New England. The camping season in the north lasts from mid-May to mid-September. Camping along the side of highways and in undesignated areas is prohibited. For information on campsites, contact KOA (Kampgrounds of America) (tel: (406) 248 7444; fax: (406) 248 7414; website: The 24,000-plus campsites fall into two general categories:
Public sites: Usually linked with National or State Parks and Forests, offering modest but comfortable facilities. Most of them will have toilet blocks, electricity hook-ups and picnic areas. Campsites are usually operated on a first-come, first-served basis and will often restrict the length of stay. Advance reservations are possible at some national parks. Fees range from free to around US$20 per night.
Privately run sites: These range from basic to resort luxury. Most have laundry and drying facilities, entertainment and information services. Reservations can be made through a central reservation office in the USA. Fees range from around US$25-35.
Camping in the backcountry (a general term for areas inaccessible by road) requires a permit, available free of charge. Visitors are advised not to drink water from rivers and streams without boiling it for at least five minutes. It is also advisable to check fire regulations and inform the park ranger of the itinerary before setting out to a backcountry area.

There are 74 YMCA centers in 68 cities throughout the USA. Membership is not necessary, but reservations should be made two days prior to arrival via the Head Offices. The YMCA offers centrally located accommodation at attractive rates coast to coast throughout the USA. Most centres offer single and double accommodation for both men and women and many also have sports facilities. For further information, contact YMCA of the USA, 101 North Wacker Drive, Chicago, IL 60606 (website: Youth hostels offer their members simple, inexpensive overnight accommodation usually located in scenic, historical or cultural places. Youth Hostel Association membership is open to everyone with no age limit and there are individual, family and organisation memberships. British visitors should take out membership in the UK before traveling. For further information, contact the American Youth Hostels Inc, 733 15th Street NW, Suite 840, Washington, DC 20005 (tel: (202) 783 6161; fax: (202) 783 6171; website:

Self-catering facilities, known in the USA as ‘apartments’, ‘condominiums’ (or ‘condos’), ‘efficiencies’ or ‘villas’, are also available.

There are several agents who offer home exchange programmes between the USA and the UK.


US Dollar (US$) = 100 cents. Notes are in denominations of US$100, 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1. Coins are in denominations of US$1, and 50, 25, 10, 5 and 1 cents.

Currency exchange:
Hotels do not, as a rule, exchange currency and only a few major banks will exchange foreign currency, so it is advisable to arrive with US Dollars.

Credit & debit cards: Most major credit cards are accepted throughout the USA, including Diners Club, American Express, MasterCard and Visa. Check with your credit or debit card company for details of merchant acceptability and other services which may be available. Visitors are advised to carry at least one major credit card, as it is common to request prepayment for hotel rooms and car hire when payment is not by credit card.

Travelers cheques: Widely accepted in hotels, stores and restaurants, provided they are US Dollar cheques; Sterling travelers cheques are not acceptable. It should be noted that many banks do not have the facility to encash travelers cheques (the US banking system differs greatly from that of the UK) and those that do are likely to charge a high commission. One or (in some cases) two items of identification (passport, credit card, driving license) may also be required. To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travelers are advised to take travelers cheques in US Dollars.

Currency restrictions: There are no limits on the import or export of either foreign or local currency. However, amounts in excess of US$10,000 or the equivalent (including ‘bearer bonds’) must be registered with US Customs on Form 4790. All gold coins and any quantity of gold must be declared before export.

Exchange rate indicators
The following figures are included as a guide to the movements of the US Dollar against Sterling:

Date Aug
£1.00= 1.52 1.58 1.59 1.64

Passport / VISA

  Passport Required? Visa Required? Return Ticket Required?
British Yes No/2/3 Yes
Australian Yes No/2 Yes
Canadian Yes No/1 No
OtherEU Yes No/2 Yes
Japanese Yes No/2 Yes

Restricted entry: The following are not eligible to travel visa free under the Visa Waiver Program and must apply for visas before traveling:
(a) people afflicted with certain serious communicable diseases;
(b) anyone who has been arrested or who has a criminal record;
(c) narcotics addicts or abusers and drug traffickers;
(d) anyone who has been deported from or denied admission to the USA.

Valid passport required by all.

Note: (a) For nationals of countries under the Visa Waiver Program, passport must be valid for at least 90 days from date of entry (except for nationals of Andorra, Brunei and San Marino, who must hold passports valid for at least 6 months from date of departure from the USA). (b) For all other nationals, passports must be valid for 6 months from date of departure from the USA. (c) As of 15 May 2003, Belgian nationals wishing to travel to the USA under the Visa Waiver Programme must be in possession of a machine-readable passport (with a barcode) issued by their government. This will also apply to citizens of all 27 visa-free countries traveling under the Visa Waiver Program as of 1 October 2003. Those who do not possess such a passport may still travel, but must first apply for the relevant visa.

: Required by all except the following:
(a) citizens of countries under the Visa Waiver Program (see 2. below);
(b) 1. nationals of Bermuda and Canada, provided holding valid passports;
(c) nationals of Mexico, provided holding a valid passport and a US Border Crossing Card (form DSP-150, which replaces forms I-186 or I-586);
(d) transit passengers continuing their journey by the same or connecting aircraft, within 8 hours or on the next available flight, provided holding valid onward or return documentation and not leaving the airport. However, the following nationals are not eligible to transit without a visa:
Afghanistan, Angola, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Burma, Burundi, Central African Republic, China (PR), Colombia, Congo (Dem Rep), Cuba, India, Iran, Iraq, Korea (Dem Rep), Libya, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sri Lanka and Sudan. Citizens of the following countries may use the in-transit lounge facilities if traveling on an approved in-transit-lounge carrier and arriving at an approved port of entry: Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka. However, they should contact the airline before traveling, otherwise they may be denied boarding. Note: The TWOV (Transit Without a Visa) Program has been indefinitely suspended as of 2 August 2003 pending a review within the next 60 days. This does not affect qualified travelers traveling visa free under the Visa Waiver Program.

Visa Waiver Program:
(a) 2. The following nationals do not require a visa under the Visa Waiver Program:
Andorra, Australia, Brunei, EU countries (except nationals of Greece, who do require a visa, and nationals of Belgium and (as of 1 October 2003) the UK with non-machine-readable passports (see Note above)), Iceland, Japan, Liechtenstein, Monaco, New Zealand, Norway, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia and Switzerland.
To qualify for visa-free travel under the Visa Waiver Program, nationals must travel on a passport (valid for at least 90 days from date of entry, except for nationals of Andorra, Brunei and San Marino whose passports must be valid for 6 months after the departure date) for holiday, transit or business purposes only and for a stay not exceeding 90 days; hold a return or onward ticket if traveling by air or sea (if onward tickets terminate in Mexico, Canada, Bermuda or the Caribbean Islands travelers must be legal permanent residents of those countries); if entering the USA by air or sea, hold a completed form I-94W and enter aboard an air or sea carrier participating in the Visa Waiver Program (lists of participating air or sea carriers are available from most travel agents or the carriers themselves); if entering the USA by land from Canada or Mexico, hold a completed I-94W issued by Immigration at the port of entry and a US$7 fee.
(b) 3. Holders of UK passports with the endorsement British Subject, British Dependent Territories Citizen, British Protected Person, British Overseas Citizen or British National (Overseas) Citizen do not qualify for the Visa Waiver Program. Persons unsure about visa requirements (including those defined in ‘Restricted Entry’ above) should write to the US Consulate General or the Visa Department of the US Embassy (see Contact Addresses section).

Types of visa and cost:
Non-immigrant and Immigrant. Non-immigrant visas are subdivided into a number of different visa categories, including Business, Student (participating in academic or exchange programmes), Employment and Holiday. For details on other types of non-immigrant visas and application requirements, contact the Consulate (or Consular section at Embassy) or US Embassy (see Contact Addresses section). Recorded visa information is also available (tel: (09068) 200 290; calls cost 60p per minute).
The visa application fee is £67, regardless of whether the visa is denied or issued and regardless of the duration of the visa or entries required. The Embassy will provide a paying-in slip, which is attached to the application form DS-156. The fee must be paid in cash at a bank prior to submitting a visa application to the US Embassy, and the bank will issue a receipt of payment which must be attached to the application form. Some nationals may also have to pay a reciprocal visa issuance fee – details are available from the State Department (website: ).

Visas may be used for travel to the USA until the date it expires, or if marked ‘valid indefinitely’ for up to 10 years. Some visas are valid for multiple entries. The length of stay in the USA is determined by US immigration officials at the time of entry but is generally 6 months: there is however no set time. For extensions and further information, apply to the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services when in the USA.

(a) As of January 2003, most non-immigrant visa applicants are required to schedule an appointment for a visa interview with a consular officer. (b) All visa applicants, regardless of age, are required to complete a DS-156 and DS-157 form. (c) The Embassy no longer issues visas valid indefinitely. Any new B-1/B-2 visa issued will be valid for a maximum of 10 years. (d) A visa does not expire with the expiry of the holder’s passport. An unexpired, endorsed visa in an expired passport may be presented for entry into the USA as long as the visa itself has not been cancelled, is undamaged, is less than 10 years old and is presented with a valid non-expired passport, provided that both passports are for the same nationality.

Application to:
Visa branches at Consulates General. Those residing in England, Scotland or Wales should apply to the Embassy in London. Nationals of Northern Ireland should apply to the Consulate General in Belfast (see Contact Addresses section). The Consulate in Scotland does not process visas.

Application requirements:
(a) Completed visa application form DS-156 and form DS-157. (b) Passport valid 6 months after visit and with at least one blank page. (c) One passport-size colour photo. (d) Embassy copy of the fee receipt endorsed by the bank. (e) Documentation of intent to return to country of residence. (f) Supporting documents (such as purpose of visit), where relevant. (g) Self-addressed, special delivery envelope, for return by post.

(a) Nationals of China, Cuba, Russia and Vietnam are also required to complete two DS-156 application forms and provide two colour passport-size photos. Nationals of North Cyprus are required to provide four colour, passport-size photos. (b) Those defined in ‘Restricted Entry’ above are required to provide extra documentation. Please note that requirements are subject to change at short notice and any applicant should check with the US Embassy (website: ).

Working days required: Routine applications will normally take at least 10 days from the date of receipt. However, due to the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, applications may take up to several weeks. Passports will be posted back in the self-addressed, registered envelope. It is important to allow sufficient time for processing the visa, and final travel plans should not be made until a visa has been issued. Applications lodged during the peak travel season may take longer.

Temporary residence: The law in the USA is complex for those wishing to take up residence. More information may be obtained from the Embassy (see Contact Addresses section).


Contact Addresses

Contact Addresses

Location: North America.

Country dialing code: 1.

International Trade Administration, Tourism Industries

US Department of Commerce, Room 7025, Washington, DC 20230, USA
Tel: (202) 482 0140. Fax: (202) 482 2887.

Travel Industry Association of America
1100 New York Avenue NW, Suite 450 West, Washington, DC 20005, USA
Tel: (202) 408 8422. Fax: (202) 408 1255.

Embassy of the United States of America
24 Grosvenor Square, London W1A 1AE, UK
Tel: (020) 7499 9000. Fax: (020) 7495 5012 (visa section).
Opening hours (for telephone enquiries): Mon-Fri 0830-1730.
Consulates in: Belfast and Edinburgh.

American Embassy Visa Services
Tel: (09068) 200 290 (24-hour visa information line; calls cost 60p per minute); identical information is available on the embassy website at no cost) or (09055) 444 546 (operator-assisted visa information, Mon-Fri 0800-2000, Sat 0900-1600; calls cost £1.30 per minute).

British Embassy
3100 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008, USA
Tel: (202) 588 7800. Fax: (202) 588 7870 (chancery) or 588 7892 (passports) or 588 7850 (visas).
Consulates in: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Orlando, San Francisco and Seattle.

Embassy of the United States of America
490 Sussex Drive, Ottawa, Ontario, K1N 1G8, Canada
Tel: (613) 238 5335. Fax: (613) 688 3082 (consular section) or 688 3080 (administration).
Consulates in: Calgary, Halifax, Montréal, Québec, Toronto, Vancouver and Winnipeg.

Canadian Embassy
501 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20001, USA
Tel: (202) 682 1740. Fax: (202) 682 7701.
Consulates in: Atlanta, Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New York and Seattle.

Duty Free

The following goods may be imported by visitors over 21 years of age into the USA without incurring customs duty:
200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 2kg of smoking tobacco or proportionate amounts of each; 1l of alcoholic beverage; gifts or articles up to a value of US$100 (including 100 cigars in addition to the tobacco allowance above).

Note: (a) Items should not be gift-wrapped as they must be available for customs inspection.
(b) The alcoholic beverage allowance (see above) is the national maximum; certain States allow less and if arriving in those States, the excess will be taxed or withheld.
(c) The gift allowance may only be claimed once in every six months and is only available to non-residents who intend to stay in the USA for more than 72 hours.
(d) For information about the importation of pets, refer to the brochure Pets, Wildlife – US Customs, available at US Embassies and Consulates.
(e) Further information on US customs regulations is available on the Internet (website:

Prohibited and restricted items: The following are either banned or may only be imported under license:

(a) Narcotics and dangerous drugs, unless for medical purposes (doctor’s certificate required).
(b) Absinthe, biological materials, some seeds, fruits and plants (including endangered species of plants and vegetables and their products).
(c) Firearms and ammunition (with some exceptions – consult Customs’ website).
(d) Hazardous articles (fireworks, toxic materials).
(e) Meat and poultry products – fresh, dried or canned.
(f) Any fish (unless certified as disease free).
(g) Cuban cigars, brought from any country.
(h) Wildlife and endangered species including crustaceans, mollusks, eggs and any crafted articles of fur, skin and leather.
(i) Dairy products and eggs.
(j) Imports from Iran and leather souvenirs from Haiti (eg: drums).
(k) Obscene articles and publications.

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