This post is also available in: Español
If you are planning to travel to the United States, it is probable that you have some doubts. Before knowing what activities to do, it’s always good to know some general information about the destination, so that afterward nothing takes us by surprise.
So, in order for you to be well prepared, in today’s post we will talk about the 10 things you should know before your trip to the United States:
Depending on your nationality and reason for traveling to the United States, you will need or not need to issue a certain visa in order to enter. This is one of the peculiarities of the country and although the procedure is not complicated, you should get informed so you do not have any problem.
On the one hand, there is the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which exempts citizens of some countries from flying with a visa. Provided that the purpose of the trip is tourism or business, the stay is less than 90 days and you are a national of the countries belonging to the VWP you can travel using the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), which is completed online.
Otherwise, you will have to apply for a visa that must be approved by the United States to enter this country. The process is a little longer, so if it is your case, we recommend that you ask for it several months in advance.
The de facto national language is English and although there is no official language at the federal level, some laws make it a mandatory language and it is the one spoken by the majority of the population. In fact, accents vary depending on the state you are in and can be difficult to understand. That’s why it’s advisable to travel to the United States knowing a minimum of English.
Spanish is the second most spoken language, by almost 12% of the population since there is a large Latino population, so you will be understood if you speak it as well.
The bigger a country is, the more likely it is to have some kind of shock (it’s pure statistics). But don’t worry, the solution to save you any bad feelings is to have common sense. That is to say, don’t go to areas where there isn’t a soul at night and don’t bring your best belongings in broad daylight.
In addition, the most relevant incidents are related to medical assistance due to accident or illness. Therefore, it is always advisable to take out a temporary private medical insurance. The health care in the USA is one of the most expensive in the world and you need to protect yourself against any unexpected event that might happen during your trip.
Regarding the time zone in the United States, it should be noted that it is not the same throughout the country. U.S. time is divided into nine different time zones.
From one side of the country to the other there are big-time differences, while in Los Angeles it’s 4 a.m., in New York, it’s 7 a.m. In addition, you have to take into account that the U.S. Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico have different time zones because they are not in the same territory as the central part of the country. Be well informed about this if you are going to travel from one side of the United States to the other!
American gastronomy is a reflection of the great cultural diversity that exists in the United States. And although we are sure that the first thing that comes to mind when you think of its typical cuisine is fast food, in reality, there are many other popular dishes that come from Italy, China or its Mexican counterparts.
Some of them are pasta dishes, rice or tacos with meat, which are very popular in the United States in all their variants. And of course, you can eat well in the country, but who can resist some hamburgers, sandwiches, pizzas or hot dogs, because we can’t!
The climate in the United States is very diverse as it has a geographical area 25 times larger than the United Kingdom or Japan. In general, they have a continental climate, with cold winters and hot summers, with different seasons depending on the latitude and distance from the sea.
The west is desert and the east is humid, the same goes for the north and south, the difference in temperature varies quite a lot. The western Pacific coast is cool and humid in the north and Mediterranean in the south while the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, is mild in winter and hot in summer. Florida is almost tropical as well as Hawaii. The desert area is also warm during the year and conversely, the mountainous areas are cold in all seasons.
Almost the entire country can experience sudden cold waves in winter, which have a different intensity and duration depending on the area. The cold periods last a few days in the south, where the temperature drops a few degrees below zero in winter, while they are intense and sometimes longer in the interior areas, on the plateaus, and in the northeast. Even summer heatwaves can be intense, especially in the interior areas.
To give you an idea, the hottest place in summer, which is Death Valley has the record for the highest temperature recorded in the world with 134℉ (56.7℃), while the coldest is in Alaska, with minimum temperatures that can reach
So keep in mind that depending on the area you’re traveling to and the time of year you’ll need to pack lighter or warmer clothes. Remember to check the weather a few days ahead so you can be sure of what you’re taking with you!
Best time to visit the United States
Any time is good to go to the United States, but you must take into account as we have explained, the climatic differences between regions and the season in which you are going to travel.
The high season, approximately from May to September, is the time with more tourism and higher prices. It also coincides with the highest temperatures in the country, so during this season, it is better to visit places where it is very cold in winter, such as the Rocky Mountains.
The middle season, the months of March, April and October, are the best time to travel. The temperatures are no longer as high as in summer and there is less tourism, so it is ideal to travel to the southwest of the United States (Arizona, Colorado, California), taking advantage of the fact that there are fewer people, or travel to the northeast (New York, Boston), as in other times it is too cold or hot. To visit the great plains, the months of September and October are also the best.
The low season, from November to March is when you find the lowest prices for both air tickets and accommodation, except in the ski resorts. As it is the coldest season, traveling to the southeast of the country (Florida) is a good option since in other seasons it is too hot and too crowded.
Before planning your travel budget you should know that the official currency of the United States is the United States Dollar (USD). We recommend that you exchange your money for dollars before you travel since withdrawing it from US banks can be a very expensive operation (4% commission). Carrying cash is essential to pay for public transportation or tips, although it is also advisable to carry a credit card to avoid any inconvenience.
As for tips, in the United States, they are practically obligatory and they will be included many times in the bills and tickets when you go to pay. If not, you will have to add 15-20% in tips to the final price. This is because the base salary of waiters is very low, so they live mainly from them. Don’t forget that cab drivers, bellboys, and tour guides are also groups that you should tip.
If you are going to travel to the United States you are probably wondering what the budget for the trip will be. Well, this depends on several factors:
- Where you are going to travel: This is the first question you should ask yourself as the budget can change a lot from one destination to another. Cities tend to be more expensive than rural destinations, and within these cities, the price also varies. Las Vegas, for example, is much cheaper than San Francisco.
- When: Also take into account the time of year you are going, during the low season (November-March) both accommodation and flights will be cheaper. We explained before.
- How long will you be there: It is clear that it is not the same to travel a week as it is to travel a month, so calculate well how many days you want to be there and do the math.
- Type of accommodation: If you stay in a hotel it will always be more expensive than if you stay in a hostel or guesthouse, another good option is to rent an apartment! The price will also vary depending on the city you are in.
99$(83 euros) Night in an apartment in Chicago
161$(135 Euros) Night in an apartment in San Francisco
35$ (25-30 euros) Night in a hostel in San Francisco and Los Angeles in low season
With this example you can see how the prices vary, the best option is that you book the type of accommodation you want well in advance, you will save some money for sure!
- Type of activities: From visiting the Southwest of the United States to the East Coast, visiting the most famous national parks or resting on any of the country’s beaches, all are good options!
- Transportation: The budget will vary depending on whether you decide to move around by public transportation or rent a car. Choose the most comfortable option depending on how much you are going to move around the country.
3$ (2 euros) per trip by bus or subway, depending on the city and distances
357$ (300 euros) rent a car for 10 days
Keep in mind that in addition, public transportation can be even more expensive than renting a car or a tour where they take you directly.
- Food: Eating in restaurants every day will not be the same as eating at street stands or making your own food, so decide which one suits you best!
2,38$ (2 euros)a hotdog in a street food stand
15,50$(13 euros)menu in medium level restaurants
29.81$ (25 Euros) menu in medium-high level restaurants
Water, for example, is usually free in restaurants
In general, you should keep in mind that the United States is an expensive country, so your budget should be high.
Now that you know all these details you can start planning your trip to the United States! Are you ready?