Helpful information to know if you are traveling to the US

Beside having the proper documentations to visit and stay in the US, you should know your accommodation needs, how to move around and protect yourself. This covers everything you need to know about your travel plans to US. Main points covered in the post include: American dollar, credit cards, banking, driving, taxis and other transportation, emergency telephone numbers, electricity, internet, newspapers, tv, and radio, time and dates, restrooms/bathrooms/toilets, clothing and packing, measurements and weights, and more.

Currency: American dollar

The American dollar comes in denominations of:

  • $1 (read as one dollar),
  • $2 (read as two dollars. This is rare in circulation),
  • $5 (read as five dollars),
  • $10 (read as ten dollars),
  • $20 (read as twenty dollars),
  • $50 (read as fifty dollars), and
  • $100 (read as one hundred dollars)

The dollar is divided into cents with the following coins:

  • 1 cent (also called penny),
  • 5 cents (also called nickel),
  • 10 cents (also called dime),
  • and 25 cents (also called quarter),
  • 50 cents and $1 (one dollar) coins are rare

It is not a good idea to have cash in higher denomination bills or more than necessary with you. Carry cash with you as much as needed, leave the rest at a safe place, your hotel perhaps. Some stores do not accept large bills (such as $50 or $100) particularly when you are buying something for just a few dollars or when the store does not have enough small bills ($1, $5, $10 or $20) to give you as change. Carry with you as many small bills as possible if you will be making smaller purchases.

Credit cards

In the US, all major cards are accepted but some shops do not accept certain cards. MasterCard and Visa are accepted probably at more places than American Express or Discover. If you intend to use credit cards in the US, make sure you bring with you only the cards that will be most useful and have the greatest available credit.

Sales tax

Remember you will be paying sales taxes when purchasing certain items. The tax is automatically added to your total purchase. So don’t be surprised if you are asked to pay a little more than the amount printed on the price tag. In Maryland, for instance, the customer is expected to pay 6 percent sales tax. So if he wants to purchase a laptop with a price tag of $300, he will pay $318 ($300 for the laptop and $18 in sales tax) to purchase.

Most goods are subject to a sales tax, but groceries and medicines are exempt. A gallon of milk, for example, is not taxed. Ask the cashier about the sales tax rate and if any or all of your items for purchase are exempt from tax.


Banks in the US are usually open Monday to Friday 9am to 3 Pm. Some banks are even open 7 days a week and with longer hours. Banks also serve their customers in drive-through windows. Drive-through hours are generally longer than lobby hours. You can also do your banking business with Automated Teller Machines (or ATMS). ATMs are popular for accessing cash. They offer the convenience of 24-hour access. Note you may be charged a small fee for using an ATM machine.


You will need a valid license and proof of insurance to drive in the US. Through out the US, you drive on the right side of the road. Roads are generally wider in the US than other foreign places. As such, foreign drivers find it driving easy and safe in the states. Use Interstate (other names: highway or freeway) to cut down on your driving time.

Roads are generally wider in the US
Roads are generally wider in the US
Typically bridges are as wide as the roads they serve
Typically bridges are as wide as the roads they serve

For more information on driving, see this post.

Taxis and other transportation

Taxis, buses, trains, boats are other considerations for transportation. Taxis offer a safe way of travel, especially if it is late in night or if you feel alone.


It is essential to have adequate insurance coverage. If you will be driving in the states, make sure you have car insurance. If you will be renting a car, the rental company can provide the insurance for you. It is a good idea to keep a copy of the insurance policy with you. Medical services in the states can be expensive. If you already have a medical condition, it would make sense to consider having adequate medical insurance coverage.

Emergency telephone numbers

Emergency services are just one call away. You just dial 911 for Police, Fire or Ambulance. See this post for more information.

In case of emergency, dial 911.
In case of emergency, dial 911.


In the US, electrical appliances operate on a 110 volt. Make sure your foreign appliances are safe to operate on this voltage. Some appliances have dual or universal voltage settings. If this is the case, know how to operate your appliance safely in the US. Check the owner’s manual if you are not sure. Plug adapters are available to make your appliance compatible with US electricity.

Internet, newspapers, TV, and radio

There are many media outlets that can entertain and educate you on local, national, and international fronts. You can connect to the world easily with an internet connection. Hotels and cafes have internet connection points for your laptops. If you don’t have a computer, a local public library will be a good choice not only to find a computer for internet connectivity for free but also to read variety of newspapers and magazines.

US national and international newspapers are readily available. Expect to pay more for international papers. Cable and satellite televisions offer many choices of stations, with local programming. Major TV channels include ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN (provides round the clock news). There are number of TV channels offering programs in a language other than English. There are also many choices for many radio stations. Just start the radio to find what you like!

Time and dates

If you are traveling to or staying in the states in April or October, know there is a change in time by 1 hour. On the first Sunday of April, Daylight Savings Time comes into effect, which means the clocks go forward one hour. This essentially can mean your trip is shortened by 1 hour! On the other hand, in the last Sunday in October, the clocks are moved back one hour to standard time. This essentially increases your stay in the US for 1 hour.

In the US, the date is written with month first then the date and year. For example, to write April 12, 2006, it will be written as 4/12/2006, not 12/4/2006.


In the US, toilets are commonly referred to as bathrooms or restrooms. Public restrooms are found everywhere: in the airport, train stations, shopping malls, gas (petrol) stations, restaurants, attractions, and so on. There also frequent rest areas (they not only have restrooms but also shopping possibilities) along the main highways through out the US.

A bathroom for men
A bathroom for men
A bathroom for women
A bathroom for women

A bathroom for men will read as "Men" or will have a man’s picture. A bathroom designated for women, will read "Ladies", "Women", or will have a woman's picture. A bathroom designated for either sex will read just Restroom, Bathroom, etc. Check with the staff if you cannot find a restroom.

A sign indicating bathroom is designated to men A bathroom sign for men
A sign indicating bathroom is designated to women A bathroom sign for women

Clothing and packing

One of the ways you prepare well for your travel is to pack all the essentials. If you have prepared well in terms of packing, you can dress according to the activity you want to perform. If, for example, you want to enjoy the summer at a beach, all you will need is a swimwear, sunglasses, sun lotion, and a hat. If you are to be skiing, you will need completely different attire. So plan ahead of what clothing and packing items you will need or you will be spending money and time for the needed items.


States have different requirements on alcohol consumptions or purchases in the US. If the drinking age is 21 for a state, you can purchase and drink alcohol. If you are not 21 yet, you won’t be allowed to purchase or drink. You will need to be at least 18 years of age to get into bars serving alcohol. You will need to drink just soft drinks if you are not yet 21.

Drinking water

Water from the tap is perfectly safe for drinking. If you are concerned or don’t like the taste of the tap water, there is also widely available bottled water. There are many choices when it comes to bottled water. You can easily find bottled water from vending machines, from your hotel, and purchase from stores.

Measurements and weights

In the US,

  • road distances are given in miles,
  • gas (petrol) can be in either gallons or liters, or both.
Quick metric conversion table
US Equivalent Metric Unit
93.37 inch (in) 1 meter (m)
.6241 mile (mi) 1 kilometer (km)
2.471 acres 1 hectare (ha)
2.2 pounds (lbs) 1 kilogram (kg)
1.05 quart (qt) 1 liter (l)

Please see this post for more on US measurements and weights.

Posted on 6/4/2006
by Raj Singh