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General View

The United States is not the America of television and movies. It is large, complex, and diverse, with distinct regional identities. Due to the distances involved, traveling between regions can be time consuming and expensive.. The contiguous United States or " Lower 48 " (the 48 states other than Alaska and Hawaii) are bounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the Pacific Ocean to the west and Gulf of Mexico to the south, with much of the population living on these three coasts.. Its only land borders — both quite long — are shared with Canada to the north and Mexico to the south. The U.S. also shares maritime borders with Russia, Cuba, and the Bahamas..

The country has three major mountain ranges. The Appalachians extend from Canada to the state of Alabama, a few hundred miles west of the Atlantic Ocean. They are the oldest of the three mountain ranges and offer spectacular sightseeing and excellent camping spots.. The Rockies are, on average, the highest in North America, extending from Alaska to New Mexico, with many areas protected as national parks. They offer hiking, camping, skiing, and sightseeing opportunities.. The combined Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges are the youngest. The Sierras extend across the " backbone " of California, with sites such as Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park, then give way to the even younger volcanic Cascade range, with some of the highest points in the country..

The Gulf of Mexico is to the southeast of Texas, to the south of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida's Panhandle, and constitutes the West Coast of Florida.. The Great Lakes define much of the border between the eastern United States and Canada. More fresh water inland seas than lakes, they were formed by the pressure of glaciers retreating north at the end of the last Ice Age.. The five lakes span hundreds of miles, bordering the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, and their shores vary from pristine wilderness areas to industrial " rust belt " cities..

They are the second largest bodies of freshwater in the world, after the polar ice caps.. The overall climate is temperate, with notable exceptions. Alaska has Arctic tundra, while Hawaii, South Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands are tropical. The Great Plains are dry, flat and grassy, turning into arid desert in the far West and Mediterranean along the California coast.. In the winter, the northern and mid western major cities can see as much as 2 feet (61 cm) of snowfall in one day, with cold temperatures. Summers are humid, but mild..

Temperatures over 100 F (38 C) sometimes invade the Midwest and Great Plains. Some areas in the northern plains can experience cold temperatures of − 30 F (− 34 C) during the winter.. Temperatures below 0 F (− 18 C) sometimes reach as far south as Oklahoma.. The climate of the South also varies. In the summer, it is hot and humid, but from October through April the weather can range from 60 F (15 C) to short cold spells of 20 F (− 7 C) or so.. The Great Plains and Midwestern states also experience tornadoes from the late spring to early fall, earlier in the south and later in the north. States along the Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico may experience hurricanes between June and November..

These intense and dangerous storms frequently miss the U.S. mainland, but evacuations are often ordered and should be heeded.. The Rockies are cold and snowy. Some parts of the Rockies see over 500 inches (1,200 cm) of snow in a season. Even during the summer, temperatures are cool in the mountains, and snow can fall nearly year round.. It is dangerous to go up in the mountains unprepared in the winter and the roads through them can get very icy.. The deserts of the Southwest are hot and dry during the summer, with temperatures often exceeding 100 F (38 C). Thunderstorms can be expected in the southwest frequently from July through September..

Winters are mild, and snow is unusual. Average annual precipitation is low, usually less than 10 inches (25 cm).. Cool and damp weather is common much of the year in the coastal northwest (Oregon and Washington west of the Cascade Range, and the northern part of California west of the Coast Ranges / Cascades).. Summers (July through September) are usually quite dry with low humidity, though, making it the ideal climate for outdoor activities. Rain is most frequent in winter, snow is rare, especially along the coast, and extreme temperatures are uncommon..

Rain falls almost exclusively from late fall through early spring along the coast. East of the Cascades, the northwest is considerably drier. Much of the inland northwest is either semi arid or desert, especially in Oregon.. Northeastern and Upper Southern cities are known for summers with temperatures reaching into the 90s (32 C) or more, with extremely high humidity, usually over 80%. This can be a drastic change from the Southwest.. High humidity means that the temperature can feel hotter than actual readings. The Northeast also experiences snow, and at least once every few years there will be a dumping of the white stuff in enormous quantities..

Native Americans, or American Indians, arrived 13,500 to 16,000 years ago from migrating northeast Asian peoples. Old stereotypes of their primitiveness misrepresent the wide variety of sophisticated societies that existed before the first arrival of Europeans in the late 15th century.. For example, the Mississippian cultures built huge mounds and large towns that covered the Southeast, and the Anasazi built elaborate cliff side towns in the Southwest.. These societies were decimated by Old World diseases such as smallpox and pushed west by warfare and encroaching European settlers; their diminished numbers led to further marginalization, although today their cultures continue to endure and contribute to the American experience..

European colonization began in the 16th and 17th centuries. England, Spain, and France gained large holdings; the Netherlands, Sweden, and Russia also established outposts.. The first English colonies, founded in Jamestown, Virginia (1607) and Plymouth, Massachusetts (1620), formed the kernel of what is now known as the United States of America.. In the North, Massachusetts was first settled by religious immigrants — Puritans — who later spread and founded most of the other New England colonies, creating a highly religious and idealistic region. Other religious groups also founded colonies, including the Quakers in Pennsylvania and Roman Catholics in Maryland..

The Middle Colonies of New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania became the North's cosmopolitan center.. Longer growing seasons in the Southern colonies, which remained dominated by Virginia, gave them richer agricultural prospects, especially for cotton and tobacco. As in Latin America and the Caribbean, indentured servants and later African slaves were imported and forced to cultivate large plantations.. Slavery was initially practiced in both North and South, but its greater importance to the South's economy would eventually cause tremendous upheaval..

By the early 18th century, Great Britain had colonized the Atlantic coast from Georgia north into what is now Canada. Britain's dominance in North America was established in 1763 after the global Seven Years' War.. In part to finance the North American campaigns of the war, known as the French and Indian War, Britain imposed unpopular taxes and regulations on its colonists. This precipitated revolution in 1775 and on 4 July 1776, colonists from 13 colonies declared full independence.. The Revolutionary War lasted until 1783, when the new United States of America formally took control of all British land between the Atlantic and the Mississippi River..

Wrangling over the formation of a national government lasted until 1787 when a constitution was agreed upon. Its Enlightenment era ideas about individual liberty have since inspired the founding decrees of many states. George Washington, the General in chief of the revolutionary army, was elected the first president.. By the turn of the 19th century, the newly built Washington, D.C. was established as the national capital.. New states were created as white settlers moved west beyond the Appalachian Mountains. The Native American populations were duly displaced and further harrowed by war and disease..

The 1803 Louisiana Purchase of French lands to the west of the Mississippi effectively doubled the country's area, and provided " Indian Territory " in what is now Oklahoma for the many Native American tribes from the east that were forcibly relocated during the Trail of Tears of the 1830s.. Disagreements with British commerce policies arising from the Napoleonic Wars and Royal Navy impressment led to the War of 1812.. There were over two years of dramatic action on land and sea that included an attempted invasion of Canada and the burning of the White House, Capitol, and other public buildings in Washington, DC The final stalemate saw virtually no changes of territory, but the war galvanized separate American and Canadian identities..

The national anthem, " The Star Spangled Banner ", was conceived during the war. Western Native American tribes that had sided with the British suffered greatly as their territory was given to white settlers.. After the war, industry and infrastructure were expanded greatly, particularly in the Northeast. Roads and canals came first and helped people spread inland. In 1825, the Erie Canal connected the Atlantic to the Great Lakes.. By the 1860s, railroads and telegraph lines connected the east and west coasts via the industrial hub of Chicago in the Midwest..

In the early 19th century, a series of religious revivals, the Second Great Awakening, led to various reform movements that strove for goals such as temperance, the abolition of slavery, and women's suffrage.. U.S. expansion south and west chipped away at Spanish and Mexican territory. Spain sold Florida in 1813 after American military intervention; and an 1836 rebellion by American settlers in Mexican Texas founded an independent republic which was absorbed into the Union ten years later.. This sparked the Mexican American War in which Mexico lost what is now California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico, and the continental United States essentially assumed its modern outline..

Native Americans were relegated to reservations and continued to be purged by treaty, military force, and disease from settlers on the Oregon Trail and other westward routes.. Federal governance was light and the individual states were highly autonomous. By the 1850s, there was irreconcilable disparity between the industrialized and more urban Northern states, which had all outlawed slavery within three decades of the revolution, and the plantation dependent rural South.. The North wanted to impose a national ban on the expansion of slavery, while the Southern states sought to expand slavery into new territories. Abolitionists operated an Underground Railroad leading fugitive slaves in the northern states to freedom in Canada..

In 1861, eleven Southern states, fearful of marginalization and the avowedly anti slavery President Abraham Lincoln, broke from the Union and formed an independent Confederate States of America. The ensuing American Civil War remains the bloodiest conflict on American soil and killed hundreds of thousands.. In 1865, Union forces prevailed, firmly cementing the federal government's authority over the states. Slavery was abolished nationwide and the Confederate states were re admitted into the Union during a period of Reconstruction..

The former slaves and their descendants were to remain an economic and social underclass, particularly in the South.. Russia sold its tenuously held Alaskan territory in 1867, and the previously independent Hawaii was annexed in 1898.. The United States' decisive victory over Spain in the 1898 Spanish American War gained it colonial territories; Cuba (granted independence a few years later), the Philippines (granted independence shortly after World War II), Puerto Rico, and Guam (which remain American dependencies)..

In the late 19th and into the 20th century, Southern and Eastern Europeans, Russian Jews, and Irish refugees bolstered the continuing industrialization of the eastern cities by providing cheap labor. Many Southern African Americans fled rural poverty for industrial jobs in the North.. Other immigrants, including many Scandinavians and Germans, moved to newly opened territories in the West and Midwest, where land was given to anyone who would develop it.. The United States' entrance into World War I in 1917 marked the start of an era it would ultimately dominate politically. However, soon after the victory the U.S. eschewed international involvement and refused to join the nascent League of Nations, effectively crippling the organization..

Real wealth grew rapidly and the Roaring 20s saw stock speculation that created an immense " bubble " which burst in 1929, leading to the global economic havoc of the Great Depression. The resulting privation fostered a culture of sacrifice and hard work that would serve the country well in the coming conflict.. It also ushered in Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his " New Deal ", a series of government programs that constructed thousands of buildings and bridges across the country while creating the basis of the American welfare state..

In 1941 Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, a Hawaiian naval base, plunging the United States into World War II alongside British, Soviet, and Chinese allies. The U.S. developed atomic bombs and dropped them twice on Japan in 1945, abruptly ending the war.. By the end of the war, the United States had firmly established itself as the world's dominant economic power, responsible for nearly half of global industrial production. The subsequent nuclear armed Cold War saw the United States and the Soviet Union jostle for power while courting their own mutually assured destruction..

The term cold war is something of a misnomer as both sides were involved in military endeavors as well as covert operations along the " edges " of their respective sphere of influence that continue to (often negatively) affect the view people have of the United States and its role in global politics.. For the century after the Civil War, blacks, though ostensibly equal citizens under the post Civil War amendments to the U.S. Constitution, suffered through strong social and economic, political, and social discrimination and state sanctioned segregation, especially in the South..

A movement fighting for full civil rights for black Americans gained strength following World War II, when returning black veterans who fought against racism abroad came home to find they were still being denied service at lunch counters, hotels, and many other establishments and facing discrimination in employment and housing.. The civil rights movement vehemently, but largely peacefully, vied for equal rights. With Martin Luther King, Jr, a charismatic preacher, as its most visible leader, the movement came to a head in 1963 when 200,000–300,000 people flooded the capital to listen to him..

A revived women's movement in the 1960s also led to wide ranging changes in American society.. Postwar America was characterized by affluence and industrialization. People left agriculture and moved to the cities to become part of an increasingly technology based economy. American car culture emerged in the 1950s and was supported by the construction of a comprehensive Interstate Highway System.. The American consumer culture, as well as Hollywood movies and many forms of popular music, arguably established the United States as the cultural center of the world..

The U.S. has also grown into one of the world's major centers of higher education, being home to some of the world's most prestigious universities, and attracting more international students than any other country in the world.. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States remains the world's sole superpower and continues to have a dominant military, economic, political, and cultural role in world affairs.. Hopes that after the fall of America's chief rival, expensive and sometimes disastrous wars (such as the Vietnam War) were a thing of the past sadly haven't proven true, as recent administrations have all had to deal in one form or other with what they call the threat of " rogue states, " terrorism, and a rapidly changing global political landscape..

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, are still very much an open wound and influence the political debate to this day, with heightened security measures at airports being just one way in which terrorism (or the fear of it) has affected travellers.. Economically, the " Great Recession ", triggered in 2007 by the collapse of the housing market bubble, has technically come to an end, but the average American continues to feel the negative effects several years on.. The United States is a federal republic. Its major constituents are the 50 states and the District of Columbia (Washington D C); it also has various island territories in the Caribbean and Pacific that are strongly – but often not fully – integrated into the union..

Many of these territories are within the U.S. customs and immigration area and so for practical purposes can be considered part of the U.S. (See Travel to U S possessions).. The federal government derives its power from the Constitution, which is the oldest written constitution in continuous use. Within the overarching federal laws, each state maintains its own constitution, government and laws, and so retains considerable autonomy within the federation.. State laws can vary in their details but are, for the most part, fairly uniform from state to state..

The President is elected every four years and is the head of the federal government as well as head of state. His administration forms the executive branch. The bicameral Congress (comprising the lower House of Representatives and the upper Senate) constitutes the legislative branch.. The Supreme Court tops the judicial branch. State governments are organized similarly, with governors, legislatures, and judiciaries.. Two major political parties have dominated at both state and federal levels since the end of the Civil War; the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. While smaller political parties exist, the winner take all electoral system means that they rarely succeed at any level..

The United States is made up of many diverse ethnic groups and the culture varies greatly across the vast area of the country and even within cities – a city like New York will have dozens, if not hundreds, of different ethnicities represented within a neighborhood.. Despite this difference, there exists a strong sense of national identity and certain predominant cultural traits.. Generally, Americans tend to believe strongly in personal responsibility and that an individual determines his or her own success or failure, but there are many exceptions and that a nation as diverse as the United States has literally thousands of distinct cultural traditions..

One will find Mississippi in the South to be very different culturally from Massachusetts in the North.. Religion is very important in the United States. Only 20% of people in the United States identify with no religion, which is very low in comparison to other Western nations.. Roughly one quarter of Americans are Roman Catholic, and one half of them are Protestant, with Protestantism being further broken down into mainline, Evangelical and Pentecostal sects.. There are much smaller numbers of Jews, Mormons, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and a host of other religions. Because of many Americans' strong religious belief, many businesses and institutions are closed on Sundays, and a number of areas in the South and Midwest forbid certain actions from taking place on Sunday, while some Jewish businesses close on Friday nights and Saturdays for the sabbath. Because of many Americans' strong religious belief, many businesses and institutions are closed on Sundays, and a number of areas in the South and Midwest forbid certain actions from taking place on Sunday, while some Jewish businesses close on Friday nights and Saturdays for the sabbath..

Overall, while the United States is less religious than many other nations, it is more religious than Canada and Northern Europe; however, this trend varies greatly by region, with the Pacific Northwest and New England being largely secular and the American South being extraordinarily Christian, particularly Evangelical.. Differences in religiosity largely correlate with politics, too, so the Northeast and West Coast are generally liberal and Democratic; most of the South and heavily Mormon states like Utah, Idaho and Wyoming are very conservative and Republican; and much of the rest of the country (e g, several Midwestern, Southwestern / Rocky Mountain, and Southern coastal states) is nearly evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans..

There are no nationwide, mandatory public holidays. Federal holidays are the most centrally coordinated holidays, but they are only officially recognized by the federal government; federal offices, banks, and post offices close on these days.. Nearly all states and localities also observe these holidays, as well as a handful of their own. If a federal holiday falls on a weekend, the observance will normally be shifted to the nearest weekday.. The time between Thanksgiving (the fourth Thursday in November) and January 1 has such a high concentration of major holidays that it is often simply called " the holiday season. " School and work vacations are commonly taken during this period, with people visiting family and friends..

Airports, bus stations, and train stations will be very crowded near the major holidays. If you must travel, allow extra time to check in and clear security.. This is also a major gift giving season; most shopping malls and department stores will be crowded, especially on the day after Thanksgiving, the week before Christmas, and the day after Christmas.. In the list below, federal holidays are listed in bold italics.. New Year's Day (1 January) — most non retail businesses closed; parades; brunches and football parties..

Martin Luther King Day (third Monday in January) — many government offices and banks closed; people volunteer in their communities; speeches, especially on African American history and culture.. Chinese New Year (January / February — varies based on the Chinese lunar calendar) — Chinese cultural celebration.. Super Bowl Sunday (usu first Sunday in February) — The Super Bowl is the annual championship game of the NFL American football league and the most watched sporting event of the year; supermarkets, bars, and electronics stores busy; big football watching parties..

Lincoln's Birthday (second Monday in February) - Holiday in several states; many stores have sales.. (St) Valentine's Day (14 February) — private celebration of romance and love. Most restaurants are crowded; finer restaurants may require reservations made well in advance.. Presidents Day (third Monday in February; officially Washington's Birthday) — many government offices and banks closed; many stores have sales.. St. Patrick's Day (17 March) — Irish themed parades and parties. Expect bars to be crowded. They will often feature themed drink specials. The wearing of green clothes or accessories is common..

Easter (a Sunday in March or April) — Christian religious observances. Depending on location, many restaurants, including franchised outlets of major national chains, may close. Major retailers generally open; smaller shops may or may not close.. Passover (varies based on the Jewish calendar, eight days around Easter) — Jewish religious observances.. Cinco de Mayo (5 May) — A minor holiday in most of Mexico often incorrectly assumed to be Mexican Independence Day, but nevertheless a major cultural celebration for Mexican Americans. As with St Patrick's Day, expect bars to be crowded, frequently with themed drink specials..

Mother's Day (second Sunday in May) — Children and adults give gifts to their mothers. Most restaurants are crowded; finer restaurants may require reservations made well in advance.. Memorial Day (last Monday in May) — most non retail businesses closed; some patriotic observances; trips to beaches and parks; traditional beginning of summer tourism season.. Father's Day (third Sunday in June) — Children and adults give gifts to their fathers. Many restaurants and sporting events are crowded, although not to the same extent as Mother's Day..

Independence Day / Fourth of July (4 July) — most non retail businesses closed; patriotic parades and concerts, cookouts and trips to beaches and parks, fireworks at dusk.. Labor Day (first Monday in September) — most non retail businesses closed; cookouts and trips to beaches and parks; many stores have sales; traditional ending of summer tourism season.. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (varies based on the Jewish calendar, September or early October) — Jewish religious observances.. Columbus Day (second Monday in October) — many government offices and banks closed; some stores have sales. Italian themed parades in some cities. Columbus Day can be controversial, especially among Native Americans and Latinos, and is not as widely observed as it was in the past.

Halloween (31 October) — Children dress up in costume and go trick or treating (knocking on other houses' doors to get candy and other treats). There are spooky attractions, such as haunted corn mazes, hayrides and costume parties.. Some small family owned shops and restaurants may close early in the evening.. Veterans Day (11 November) — government offices and banks closed; some patriotic observances.. Thanksgiving Day (fourth Thursday in November) — Family dinners; many people fly or drive to visit extended family. Airports in particular will be extremely crowded on the Wednesday before and Sunday after Thanksgiving..

Almost all businesses closed, including grocery stores and many restaurants. The next day, known as " Black Friday, " major Christmas shopping traditionally begins. Many non retail employees are given Friday off or take it as a holiday.. Hanukkah / Chanukah (varies based on the Jewish calendar, eight days usually in December) — Jewish religious observances, often culturally associated with Christmas.. Christmas (25 December) — Families and close friends exchange gifts; Christian religious observances. Almost all businesses, grocery stores, and many restaurants closed the evening before and all day..

Kwanzaa (26 December – 1 January) — African American cultural observances.. New Year's Eve (31 December) — many restaurants and bars open late; lots of parties, especially in big cities.. All U.S. embassies are closed on the federal holidays in addition to the holidays of the host country.. The United States is the only industrialized country that eschews the metric system. Instead it uses " customary units " (feet, miles, gallons, pounds, etc), which are largely derived from the English units of the 18th century, and are sometimes different from the imperial units that occasionally linger in Britain..

Road distances are given in miles and speed limits in miles per hour. Gasoline and other liquids are usually sold per gallon, quart, or ounce (a U S gallon is 3 78 liters, so a U S quart is slightly less than a liter).. Beverages such as soda are sometimes sold by the liter and other times sold by the fluid ounce, with just under 34 ounces to a liter. Temperatures are reported in Fahrenheit only; 32 degrees (with units unspecified) is freezing, not warm !. Most cars' speedometers show both miles and kilometers per hour (good for trips to Canada and Mexico), and almost all packaged foods and other products are labeled in both systems..

Outside of scientific work, medicine and the military, there is little day to day exposure to the metric system, so Americans will assume you understand the U.S. customary measures.. There is no government regulation of clothes or shoe sizes. There are ill enforced informal standards, and the only thing you can count on is that sizes tend to be consistent within the same brand. Therefore, trial and error is required for each brand to determine what fits, because you cannot count on any two brands' sizes being equivalent..

For shoes, trial and error will be required for each model, even within the same brand — even if different models are the same nominal size and width, they may differ slightly in actual length and / or width, and also may be built around a different foot shape.. The federal government of the U.S. sets foreign policy, while the states deal with tourism. As such, the federal government provides the best information about legal requirements for entry, while information about places to visit and see will be provided by the state and local tourism bureaus..

Contact information is available in the individual state entries. Highway rest stops at state borders, as well as major airports in a state, usually serve as Visitor's Centers and often offer travel and tourism information and material, almost all of which is also available online.. Nearly every rest stop has a posted road map with a clearly indicated " You Are Here " marker. Some also offer free paper roadmaps to take with you. If you call or write the state Commerce department, they can also mail you information..

General Info

The United States of America, commonly referred to as the United States, America, and sometimes the States, is a federal republic consisting of 50 states and a federal district. The 48 contiguous states and Washington, D.C., are in central North America between Canada and Mexico.. The state of Alaska is the northwestern part of North America and the state of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid Pacific. The country also has five populated and nine unpopulated territories in the Pacific and the Caribbean..

At 3.80 million square miles and with around 318 million people, the United States is the world's third - or fourth largest country by total area and third largest by population. It is one of the world's most ethnically diverse and multicultural nations, the product of large scale immigration from many countries.. The geography and climate of the United States is also extremely diverse, and it is home to a wide variety of wildlife.. Paleo Indians migrated from Eurasia to what is now the U.S. mainland around 15,000 years ago, with European colonization beginning in the 16th century. The United States emerged from 13 British colonies located along the Atlantic seaboard..

Disputes between Great Britain and these colonies led to the American Revolution. On July 4, 1776, as the colonies were fighting Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War, delegates from the 13 colonies unanimously issued the Declaration of Independence.. The war ended in 1783 with the recognition of independence of the United States from the Kingdom of Great Britain, and was the first successful war of independence against a European colonial empire. The current Constitution was adopted on September 17, 1787..

The first ten amendments, collectively named the Bill of Rights, were ratified in 1791 and designed to guarantee many fundamental civil rights and freedoms.. Driven by the doctrine of manifest destiny, the United States embarked on a vigorous expansion across North America throughout the 19th century. This involved displacing native tribes, acquiring new territories, and gradually admitting new states.. During the second half of the 19th century, the American Civil War ended legal slavery in the country. By the end of that century, the United States extended into the Pacific Ocean, and its economy began to soar..

The SpanishAmerican War and World War I confirmed the country's status as a global military power. The United States emerged from World War II as a global superpower, the first country to develop nuclear weapons, the only country to use them in warfare, and as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.. The end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union left the United States as the sole superpower.. The United States is a developed country and has the world's largest national economy. The economy is fueled by an abundance of natural resources and high worker productivity. While the U.S. economy is considered post industrial, it continues to be one of the world's largest manufacturers..

The country accounts for 37 of global military spending, being the world's foremost economic and military power, a prominent political and cultural force, and a leader in scientific research and technological innovations..

What To See

The United States is extraordinarily diverse in its array of attractions. You will never run out of things to see; even if you think you've exhausted what one place has to offer, the next destination is only a road trip away.. The Great American Road Trip (see above) is the most traditional way to see a variety of sights; just hop in the car and cruise down the Interstates, stopping at the convenient roadside hotels and restaurants as necessary, and stopping at every interesting tourist trap along the way, until you reach your destination..

Indescribably beautiful scenery, history that reads like a screenplay, entertainment options that can last you for days, and some of the world's greatest architecture — no matter what your pleasure, you can find it almost anywhere you look in the United States.. From the spectacular glaciers of Alaska to the wooded, weathered peaks of Appalachia; from the otherworldly desertscapes of the Southwest to the vast waters of the Great Lakes; few other countries have as wide a variety of natural scenery as the United States does..

America's National Parks are a great place to start. Yellowstone National Park was the first true National Park in the world, and it remains one of the most famous, but there are 57 others.. The Grand Canyon is possibly the world's most spectacular gorge; Sequoia National Park and Yosemite National Park are both home to the world's tallest living organisms; Glacier National Park is a great place to see huge sheets of ice; Canyonlands National Park could easily be mistaken for Mars; and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park features abundant wildlife among beautifully forested mountains..

And the national parks aren't just for sightseeing, either; each has plenty of outdoors activities as well.. Still, the National Parks are just the beginning. The National Park Service also operates National Monuments, National Memorials, National Historic Sites, National Seashores, National Heritage Areas... the list goes on (and on).. And each state has its own state parks that can be just as good as the federal versions. Most all of these destinations, federal or state, have an admission fee, but it all goes toward maintenance and operations of the parks, and the rewards are well worth it..

Those aren't your only options, though. Many of America's natural treasures can be seen without passing through admission gates. The world famous Niagara Falls straddle the border between Canada and the U.S.; the American side lets you get right up next to the onrush and feel the power that has shaped the Niagara gorge.. The " purple majesty " of the Rocky Mountains can be seen for hundreds of miles in any direction, while the placid coastal areas of the Midwest and the Mid Atlantic have relaxed Americans for generations..

And, although they are very different from each other, Hawaii and Alaska are perhaps the two most scenic states; they don't just have attractions — they are attractions.. Americans often have a misconception of their country as having little history. The U.S. does indeed have a tremendous wealth of historical attractions — more than enough to fill months of history centric touring.. The prehistory of the continent can indeed be a little hard to uncover, as most of the Native American tribes did not build permanent settlements. But particularly in the West, you will find magnificent cliff dwellings at sites such as Mesa Verde, as well as near ubiquitous rock paintings..

The Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. is another great place to start learning about America's culture before the arrival of European colonists.. As the first part of the country to be colonized by Europeans, the eastern states of New England, the Mid Atlantic, and the South have more than their fair share of sites from early American history.. The first successful British colony on the continent was at Jamestown, Virginia, although the settlement at Plymouth, Massachusetts, may loom larger in the nation's mind..

In the eighteenth century, major centers of commerce developed in Philadelphia and Boston, and as the colonies grew in size, wealth, and self confidence, relations with Great Britain became strained, culminating in the Boston Tea Party and the ensuing Revolutionary War.... Americans have never shied away from heroic feats of engineering, and many of them are among the country's biggest tourist attractions.. Washington, D.C., as the nation's capital, has more monuments and statuary than you could see in a day, but do be sure to visit the Washington Monument (the world's tallest obelisk), the stately Lincoln Memorial, and the incredibly moving Vietnam Veterans Memorial..

The city's architecture is also an attraction — the Capitol Building and the White House are two of the most iconic buildings in the country and often serve to represent the whole nation to the world.. Actually, a number of American cities have world renowned skylines, perhaps none more so than the concrete canyons of Manhattan, part of New York City.. There, a new World Trade Center tower has risen on a site adjacent to the fallen twin towers, and the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building still stand tall, as they have for almost a century..

Chicago, where the skyscraper was invented, can no longer claim the tallest building in the country, but it still has an awful lot of really tall buildings. Other skylines worth seeing include San Francisco (with the Golden Gate Bridge), Seattle (including the Space Needle), Miami, and Pittsburgh.. Some human constructions transcend skyline, though, and become iconic symbols in their own right. The Gateway Arch in St Louis, the Statue of Liberty in Manhattan, the Hollywood Sign in Los Angeles, and even the fountains of the Bellagio casino in Las Vegas all draw visitors to their respective cities..

Even the incredible Mount Rushmore, located far from any major city, still attracts two million visitors each year.. In the U.S., there's a museum for practically everything. From toys to priceless artifacts, from entertainment legends to dinosaur bones — nearly every city in the country has a museum worth visiting.. The highest concentrations of these museums are found in the largest cities, of course, but none compare to Washington, D.C., home to the Smithsonian Institution. With almost twenty independent museums, most of them located on the National Mall, the Smithsonian is the foremost curator of American history and achievement..

The most popular of the Smithsonian museums are the National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of American History, and the National Museum of Natural History, but any of the Smithsonian museums would be a great way to spend an afternoon — and they're all 100% free.. New York City also has an outstanding array of world class museums, including the Guggenheim Museum, the American Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Intrepid Sea Air Space Museum, and the Ellis Island Immigration Museum..

You could spend weeks exploring the cultural institutions just in D.C. and the Big Apple, but here's a small fraction of the other great museums you'd be missing;. Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh — Pittsburgh. Children's Museum of Indianapolis — Indianapolis, Indiana. Exploratorium — San Francisco. Hollywood Walk of Fame — Los Angeles. Monterey Bay Aquarium — Monterey, California. Museum of Science & Industry — Chicago. Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame — Springfield, Massachusetts. National Aquarium in Baltimore — Baltimore, Maryland.

National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum — Cooperstown, New York. National Museum of Nuclear Science and History — Albuquerque, New Mexico. Philadelphia Museum of Art — Philadelphia. Pro Football Hall of Fame — Canton, Ohio. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum — Cleveland, Ohio. San Diego Zoo — San Diego, California. Strong National Museum of Play — Rochester, New York. The Henry Ford — Detroit, Michigan. Here is a handful of itineraries spanning regions across the United States;. Appalachian Trail — a foot trail along the spine of the Appalachian Mountains from Georgia to Maine.

Braddock Expedition — traces the French Indian War route of British General Edward Braddock (and a younger George Washington) from Alexandria, Virginia through Cumberland, Maryland to the Monongahela River near Pittsburgh.. The Jazz Track — a nation wide tour of the most important clubs in jazz history and in jazz performance today. Lewis and Clark Trail — retrace the northwest route of the great American explorers along the Missouri River. Route 66 — tour the iconic historic highway running from Chicago to Los Angeles.

Santa Fe Trail — a historic southwest settler route from Missouri to Santa Fe. Touring Shaker country — takes you to one current and eight former Shaker religious communities in the Mid Atlantic, New England and Midwest regions of the United States.. U.S. Highway 1 — traveling along the east coast from Maine to Florida..

What To Do

Music — Mid size to large cities often draw big ticket concerts, especially in large outdoor amphitheaters. Small towns sometimes host concerts in parks with local or older bands. Other options include music festivals such has San Diego's Street Scene or South by Southwest in Austin.. Classical music concerts are held year round and performed by semi professional and professional symphonies. Boston, for instance, occasionally puts on free concerts in the Public Park. Many cities and regions have unique sounds..

Nashville is known as Music City because of the large number of country artists that live in the city. It's home to the Grand Ole Opry, one of the most famous music venues in the country.. Country music is popular throughout the U.S. but is particularly concentrated in the South and rural West. Seattle is the home of grunge rock. Many of the most popular bands are based out of Los Angeles due to the large entertainment presence and concentration of record companies.. Theatre - America is considered to be the spiritual home of musical theatre, and many of the world's most famous musicals have had a run on Broadway in New York at one time or another..

No trip to the East Coast of the United States will be complete without catching at least one musical at Broadway. Alternatively, for those who prefer classical music, the United States is also home to one of the world's premier opera companies, the Metropolitan Opera in New York.. Other well regarded opera companies include the San Francisco Opera in San Francisco and the Lyric Opera of Chicago in Chicago.. Marching Band — In addition to traditional music concerts, a quintessential American experience is the marching band festival. One can find these events almost every weekend between September and Thanksgiving throughout the country and again from March to June in California..

Check local event listings and papers to find specifics. Also notable is the Bands of America Grand National Championship held every autumn in Indianapolis. Those looking to see the best of the best should acquire tickets to the " finals " performance, where the ten best bands of the festival compete for the championship.. This event is now held at the Lucas Oil Stadium. Both " street " or parade marching bands as well as " field " or show bands are found at almost every high school and university in America..

Professional sports — The United States has a professional league for virtually every sport, including pillow fighting.. America's passion for sports is rivaled hardly anywhere in the world, with the leagues with the world's highest attendance both per game (NFL) and total (MLB) and other leagues that are the best and most popular in their respective sport.. Watching a game is a good way to meet and interact with the locals. A few of the most popular leagues are; MLB. Major League Baseball is very popular and the sport of baseball is often referred to as " America's pastime " (being one of the most widely played in the country)..

The league has 30 teams (29 in the U S and 1 in Canada). Season lasts from April to September with playoff games held in October.. With 30 teams playing 162 games per team per season and the cheapest seats usually $10 20, this is possibly the best sporting event for international travelers to watch.. There are also several hundred minor league teams scattered across the U.S.; while quality of the games are lower, prices are cheaper (even free in a few leagues). See Baseball in the United States for more information..

NBA. The National Basketball Association is the world's premier men's basketball league and has 30 teams (29 in the U S and one in Canada). Season runs November to April, with playoffs in May June.. The National Football League, with 32 teams (all in the contiguous USA if you don't count the odd London (UK) or Toronto game or the pro bowl in Hawaii), is the leading promoter of American football in the world, a sport which has virtually nothing in common with the sport that most other countries call (association) football (Americans know that sport as soccer)..

It developed from Rugby Football (before that sport was divided into League and Union) and still has some things in common with its second cousin twice removed from England, though. It is extremely popular, and the day of the championship game, called the Super Bowl, is an unofficial national holiday.. Season lasts from September to December, with playoffs in January ending with the Super Bowl in February.. NHL. The premier ice hockey league in the world, featuring 30 teams (23 in the U S and 7 in Canada)..

A slight majority of players are Canadians, but the league has players from many other parts of the world, mainly the United States, the Nordic countries (primarily Sweden and Finland), Russia, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia.. Originally in Northern markets, recent expansions have each major region covered with a NHL team. The season runs from October to April, followed by playoffs that culminate in the Stanley Cup Finals in June.. INDYCAR. Beginning as the original form of American motorsport in 1911 with the first Indianapolis 500. INDYCAR has since come to be the premier open wheel racing series in North America. The competition in INDYCAR is known to be closer, faster, and far more dangerous than that of NASCAR..

Unlike NASCAR which almost races exclusively on " oval " tracks, INDYCAR competes on a wide variety of tracks ranging from city streets, road courses, to ovals like the world famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana which plays host to a prestigious race, the Indianapolis 500, where speeds can reach up to a thrilling 240 miles per hour !. INDYCAR holds races all across the United States, as well as Brazil and Canada, from March to October. NASCAR.. Viewed by many as a " regional sport " confined to the more rural areas of the South, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) has seemingly broken away from those misconceptions over recent years to become a major spectator sport across the country..

While a majority of the tracks still reside in the Mid Atlantic and South, NASCAR holds races all across the country, beginning with their marquee event, the Daytona 500, in mid February and ending in late November.. MLS. Major League Soccer, currently with 19 teams (16 in the U S and three in Canada) and expanding to 20 in 2015 and at least 22 in 2017 (with all of the new teams in the U S), is the latest attempt to kick start American interest in soccer.. While it may not be as popular with the media, MLS is still widely viewed and enjoyed. Foreign travelers can find particularly vibrant and familiar fan experiences in several cities, notably Washington, Chicago, Houston, Kansas City, Portland, and Seattle..

College sports — One rare feature of the United States sports landscape, as compared to that of other nations, is the extent to which sports are associated with educational institutions.. In many regions of the country, local college or university teams, especially in football and men's basketball, enjoy followings that rival or surpass those of major professional teams.. The primary governing body for U.S. college sports is the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which has over 1,000 member schools, including essentially all of the country's best known colleges and universities..

The college football season runs from roughly September 1 through mid December, with postseason bowl games running into early January. The basketball regular season begins in mid November and ends in late February or early March, followed by conference tournaments and then national post season tournaments that run through early April.. The NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament, popularly known as " March Madness " (an NCAA trademark), is especially widely followed even by casual sports fans..

High school sports — The U.S. association with sports and education isn't limited to colleges and universities. Many communities take great pride in their high school sports teams, and especially in smaller locales, high school sports are a major part of local culture.. During the school year (August to May), a high school game can be a great (and cheap) way to get a major dose of local culture.. The most popular sports are usually football and boys' basketball (and to a lesser extent girls' basketball), plus hockey in New England and the upper Midwest. In some areas, a particular high school sport enjoys an elevated cultural place. Examples include football in Texas, basketball in Indiana, hockey in Minnesota, and wrestling in Iowa..

Golf - The United States is home to many of the world's most famous golf courses. The most famous is arguably the Augusta National Golf Club, where membership is a very exclusive privilege.. The Augusta National Golf Club is the home of the Masters, one of the world's most prestigious professional golf tournaments. Golf is popular both as a participation and spectator sport, and the U.S. supports several major professional tours; PGA Tour.. The leading men's tour in the world, although the European Tour is very close in level of competition if not in prize money. Tournaments held throughout the U.S., plus stops in Canada and Mexico, as well as The Open Championship in the UK (one of the four " major championships ")..

LPGA Tour. Unquestionably the world's top women's tour. Most tournaments (including three of its five major championships) are still held in the U.S., but the tour now has major championships in the UK and France, plus regular stops in the Bahamas, Canada, Mexico, Australia, and several Asian countries.. Champions Tour. Run by the PGA Tour, this circuit involves golfers 50 and older. Generally, all PGA Tour stars, and many from other world tours, play here once they reach 50, unless unable to for health reasons..

One of this tour's five major championships is in the UK, and two regular events are in Canada; the rest of the tour takes place in the U.S.. Festivals and Fairs — A few days prompt nation wide celebrations. They include Memorial Day, Independence Day (a k a Fourth of July), and Labor Day. Other major holidays like Thanksgiving Day are marked by private festivities.. Many towns and / or counties throw fairs, to commemorate the establishment of a town or the county with rides, games, and other attractions. Memorial Day — commemorates the ultimate sacrifice made by America's war dead..

It is not to be confused with Veterans Day (11 November) which commemorates the service of America's military veterans, both living and deceased. It is the also the unofficial start of summer — expect heavy traffic in popular destinations, especially National Parks and Amusement Parks.. Independence Day — Celebrates America's independence from Great Britain. The day is usually marked by parades, festivals, concerts, outdoor cooking and grilling and firework displays. Almost every town puts on some sort of festivity to celebrate the day..

Large cities often have multiple events. Washington, D.C. celebrates the day on the Mall with a parade and a fireworks display against the Washington Monument. Labor Day — The U.S. celebrates Labor Day on the first Monday of September, rather than May 1 Labor Day marks the end of the summer social season.. Some places, such as Cincinnati throw parties to celebrate the day.. National Parks. There are numerous national parks throughout the United States, especially the vast interior, which offer plenty of opportunities to enjoy your favorite outdoor activities, including Recreational shooting, ATV riding, hiking, bird watching, prospecting, and horseback riding..

In more urban areas, some national parks are centered around historic landmarks. National Trails System is a group of twenty one " National Scenic Trails " and " National Historic Trails " as well as over 1,000 shorter " National Recreation Trails " for a total length of over 50,000 miles.. While all are open to hiking, most are also open to mountain biking, horseback riding, and camping and some are even open for ATVs and cars..

How To Get In

The United States has exceptionally onerous and complicated visa requirements. Read up carefully before your visit, especially if you need to apply for a visa, and consult the Bureau of Consular Affairs.. Travelers have been refused entry for many reasons, often trivial.. Citizens of the 38 countries within the Visa Waiver Program, as well as Canadians, Mexicans living on the border (holding a Border Crossing Card), and Bermudians (with British national (overseas) passports) do not require visas for entry into the United States..

Canadians and Bermudians are normally allowed to visit for up to six months.. The Visa Waiver Program permits visa free stays of up to 90 days; it applies to citizens of Andorra, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brunei, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, and the.

Citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau may enter, reside, study, and work in the U.S. indefinitely with only a valid passport.. Citizens of U.S. overseas territories such as Puerto Rico, Guam, U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa are considered to be U.S. citizens, and therefore do not require a passport to travel to (unless they are travelling from non U S territories) and live in the United States.. Citizens of the Bahamas may apply for visa free entry only at the U.S. Customs pre clearance facilities in the Bahamas, but a valid police certificate may be required for those over the age of 14..

Attempting to enter through any other port of entry requires a valid visa.. Cayman Islands citizens, if they intend to travel directly to the U.S. from there, may obtain a single entry visa waiver for about $25 prior to departure.. A criminal record will likely revoke any right to visa free travel to the U.S. Although there are exceptions e.g. traffic violations, civil infractions (such as littering, noise violations, disorderly conduct), purely political offenses (e g non violent protest in countries where it is not allowed), and offenses committed before the age of 16..

Anyone with a criminal record, including Canadians and Bermudians should seek advice from a U.S. embassy on whether they need to obtain a visa.. The program is open only to travelers who are in the United States for tourism or business purposes.. You cannot be coming to the U.S. for formal education, to get a job, or to conduct journalism; if you are, you must get an appropriate visa in advance no matter how short your trip to the U.S. may be.. The 90 day limit is not extendable. A short trip to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean will not allow a fresh 90 days upon return to the U.S. An extended absence to the neighboring countries may reset the limit, particularly if your first trip to the U.S. was short..

Take care if transiting through the U.S. on a trip around North America that exceeds 90 days.. Having a criminal record, having been previously refused entry, or having previously been denied a US visa will make one ineligible to enter on the Visa Waiver Program. Those who fall in these categories should apply for a US visa instead.. Entry under the visa waiver program requires the completion of an online form and a payment of $14, preferably 72 hours before arrival. The form is called the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)..

ESTA approval covers multiple trips and is valid for two years (unless your passport expires earlier).. All passports must be machine readable. Passports issued after 26 October 2005 need digital photographs embedded on them, and passports issued after 26 October 2006 must be biometric. While not generally a problem, some countries, e.g. France, have issued passports that do not meet these specifications.. Travelers with such obsolete passports will either need to replace them, or apply for a visa..

Entry under the Visa Waiver Program by air or sea requires travel with a signatory carrier. Any commercial scheduled services to the U.S. will be fine, but if you are on a chartered flight or vessel you should check the status of the carrier, as you may require a visa.. Flying your own personal aircraft, or sailing your own personal yacht to the U.S. will require you to obtain a tourist visa in advance.. Travelers entering by air or sea should also have a return or onward ticket out of the United States. This requirement is not necessary for residents of Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, or the Caribbean..

If traveling by land, there is a $7 fee when crossing the border.. Entry under the visa waiver program does not allow you to change your immigration status, and if you are denied entry, the decision can't be appealed and you will immediately be placed on the first flight out.. For the rest of the world, the visa application fee is a non refundable $160 (as of April 2012) for visas that are not issued on the basis of a petition and $190 for those that are; this fee is waived under very limited circumstances, namely for people requesting certain exchange visitor visas..

Depending on your nationality and the category of visa you are requesting, you may need to pay an additional fee (ranging from $7– 200) only if the visa is issued. This is called a reciprocity fee and is charged by the U.S. to match the fees charged by other countries on U.S. citizens.. The Immigration and Nationality Act states that all persons requesting entry into the United States as non immigrants are presumed to be immigrants until they overcome that presumption by showing evidence of " binding ties " to their home country as well as sufficient proof that the visit will be temporary..

When the U.S. rejects a visa application, it is usually because the applicant does not have enough binding ties to his own country to convince the consular officer that the person will not try to overstay.. Applicants need to demonstrate that they are indeed genuinely entitled to the visa they are applying for.. Face to face interviews (where the official needs to be convinced that you are not a " potential immigrant ") at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate are required for almost all nationalities, and waits for interview slots and visa processing can add up to several months..

Keep in mind that the embassy is closed on both U.S. holidays and holidays of your home country so you need to know both holidays when setting dates to apply for a visa. In addition, travelers should start planning their trips way in advance, as the application process is known to take up to six months.. Do not assume anything. Check on documentation requirements with the United States State Department or with the United States consulate nearest you.. If coming to the country with a car, be sure to have documents showing car insurance, rental agreements, driver's license, etc, before trying to enter the U.S. If your country participates in the Visa Waiver Program, note that having been denied a visa for whatever reason, including a lack of relevant documentation will result in you being ineligible for the program and having to obtain a visa for every subsequent visit to the US..

For technical and scientific fields of work or study, processing non immigrant visa application can take up to 70 days, as it can require 8 weeks for receiving an approval from authorities in Washington.. This especially applies to military and dual purpose fields which are mentioned in a so called technical alert list.. A visa is not a guarantee of entry; it only allows you to proceed to a port of entry and request admission. Your visa is generally not tied to your permitted length of stay; for example, a 10 year visa does not allow a stay of 10 years..

On the other hand, you can enter the country on the last day of validity of your visa and still be allowed to stay, for example, up to 180 days as a tourist.. Applying for an incorrect or inappropriate visa can cause serious problems, including possibly making you ineligible to ever receive any U.S. visa (especially in cases of fraud). Consider consulting a U.S. immigration attorney, especially if you want to stay longer or do something other than business or tourism.. This includes performing in concerts or competitions as well as journalism..

America's overseas possessions have slightly different rules. See each destination's article for details.. In brief, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands all have the same entry requirements as the 50 states. However, Guam and the Northern Marianas apply the visa waiver program to a few additional countries.. American Samoa lies outside the federal immigration jurisdiction and has separate entry requirements.. Starting May 2013, progressively introduced in international airports, arriving non immigrant visitors by air or by sea are not required to fill in the paper I 94 form..

Instead, all travellers records will be stored electronically by the Customs and Borders Protection (CBP), and can be accessed at, where visitors can print their records for immigration benefits.. More information is available on this website.. Visitors arriving by land are still required to fill in the I 94 paper form, and still need to surrender the portion attached to their passport once leaving the country.. If you are not a citizen or resident of the United States, you will be questioned briefly at immigration. Be prepared to prove your stated motives for entering. Proof of onward travel may be required..

For business, this can be an invitation letter from a company you are visiting, or the registration details of a conference you are attending. For tourists, you may need to demonstrate you have funds available to you.. If you don't fully comply with all that's required, e.g. no onward transport, you may be sent for further questioning. At this stage your possessions may be searched and your documents, letters or diaries may be read.. If you are found to appear as a likely immigrant (e g if you're carrying employment documents, photographs typically kept at home, excessive luggage, or pets) or if you are unable to convince the officers that you intend to abide by the terms of your stated entrance permission, you will be refused entry and deported..

If your country participates in the Visa Waiver Program, note that being refused entry will result in you being ineligible for the program and having to obtain a visa for every subsequent visit to the US.. Once they decide to let you in, you are fingerprinted and a digital photograph is taken.. As in most countries, customs officials are humorless about any kind of security threat; even the most flippant joke implying that you pose a threat can result in lengthy interrogation, at best.. The landing card will need to state the address of your first night's accommodation, which should be arranged in advance. The name of your hotel, hostel, university, etc is not sufficient; the street name and number are needed..

If it is a hotel, have a reservation under your name. If it is a private address, make sure that you are expected, as officials may phone your host to see if they're expecting anyone.. Try to have contact details (especially a phone number where they can be reached immediately), and save any text messages or emails in which your hosts mention inviting you to stay at their residence.. A customs form is handed out to all travelers; however, only one form is required per family. Hand your customs declaration to the customs officer, not immigration. Regardless of whether you have anything to declare, customs officers may still search or X ray your bags..

Most of the time, they won't. Anything more than a bag search is rare, so you won't likely encounter any ominous latex gloves.. Do not attempt to import items originating from countries that the US has imposed economic sanctions (currently Cuba, Iran, Syria and Sudan), they will be confiscated by customs if discovered - unlabeled cigars in particular are assumed to be from Cuba, and will also be taken away.. It is also against the law to bring meat or raw fruit or vegetables (with a few exceptions for Canadian produce grown in season via land borders only) but you may bring cooked non meats, such as bread and most commercially prepackaged foods (biscuits, cheese, tea, coffee, etc)..

All food and plant items being brought into the country need to be declared, even if unrestricted ! Much like in Australia and New Zealand, all incoming food and plant products must be physically examined by the United States Department of Agriculture - if necessary, you'll be directed to their inspection area after clearing customs.. For straightforward, unrestricted items such as prepackaged non meats, the inspection process rarely takes more than a minute. Failure to declare agricultural products can result in a fine or even prosecution if the USDA believes you're willfully attempting to import illegal food or plants..

That said, first time offenders are usually let off with a warning for unintentional omissions if the items are ultimately permissible.. Besides your personal effects, which will go home with you, you are allowed to import individual gifts with a value of $100 or less per item. If you're 21 years of age or older, you may also import limited quantities of tobacco and alcohol products duty free;. Up to 200 cigarettes (one carton) or fifty non Cuban cigars or up to 2kg of loose tobacco products such as snuff (or a proportional combination thereof).

Unlike some countries, the one liter restriction applies irrespective of strength; a fifth of Scotch at 40% ABV or a standard size (750ml) bottle of wine at 14% ABV are both within the allowance, but a six pack of 12 oz beer at 5% ABV is the equivalent of over 2 liters and over the duty free allowance.. If you are over the alcohol exemption by a small amount (e g a six pack of beer or a second bottle of wine) most customs officers will let this slide for wine and beer if you've made a full and accurate declaration..

Anything more than this, or any spirits over the limit will likely result in duty and tax being assessed, the amount of which depends in part on the state you're entering to and the country the goods are from (duty from Canada, for example is minimal owing in part to NAFTA).. Customs officers do not show this leniency with tobacco products, expect to pay if you are even one cigarette over !. A reasonable quantity of perfume or cologne can also be imported provided the brand is not under a " Trademark Restriction in the United States ". There is no restriction on the amount of money you can bring in or out of the US..

However, if you are bringing in or out $10,000 or more (or its equivalent in foreign currency) per family (combined total among all family members travelling together), you must declare it on your customs form and you will be given a special form to fill out; not declaring exposes you to a fine and possible seizure of that cash.. The U.S. possessions of American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Marianas Islands, and U.S. Virgin Islands are outside the federal customs jurisdiction and each have their own separate requirements. Travel between these regions and the rest of the U.S. requires a customs check..

There are some differences (mostly larger) in duty exemptions for U.S. citizens returning from these destinations.. You must pass through immigration and customs at your first point of entry, regardless of whether you have any onward domestic flights. Since you have had access to your checked bags while going through customs, you will need to re clear security before taking a connecting flight.. Nearly all major hubs have special arrangements for travelers with connecting flights, such as a conveyor belt just beyond customs where you can place your baggage that has been already been tagged for transfer your final destination..

Some hubs, like JFK, employ a more inconvenient system, whereby you must show your ID and boarding pass at a " Connecting Flights " check in counter.. At airports with separate domestic and international terminals (such as Boston), you will have to head to another terminal and drop your bags there before heading to security.. These bag drop procedures apply only if your baggage has been checked through to your final destination (as opposed to your first U S port of entry). If this is not the case, you will have to proceed to the terminal of your next flight and check in as usual..

Unlike most countries, the U.S. has no formal passport control upon exit, especially for those traveling by air or sea.. As such, if you are leaving the U.S. for the last time on a particular trip (i e not returning from Canada or Mexico), it is your responsibility to surrender your landing card at check in, or the Canadian or Mexican border officer.. If you don't, contact U.S. officials about how to return it and update your departure records to avoid any future entry hassles. If you leave by a commercial carrier, your departure will also be verified with the airline or shipping company..

Hence no further action should be needed from you; nonetheless on future visits consider bringing the necessary documents to prove you left legally. U.S. Customs and Border Protection has information about what to do if your slip is not collected.. If you intend to leave for Canada or Mexico by land for a side trip and return within 30 days or the allowed time of your stay (whichever is shorter), you may re enter the U.S. provided that you do not yet return the I 94 or I 94 card before you proceed to Canada or Mexico..

This can also be done even if you originally entered the U.S. on a single entry visa. However, you will only be admitted for the remainder of your original allowed time; the deadline to ultimately leave the U.S. won't be extended by just leaving for somewhere else in North America.. If you return the I 94 while on the side trip, you will have to apply all over again to enter the U.S. (which means a new visa for single entry visa holders) and be subject to the usual questioning that alien go through to lack of any intentions of immigrating, working, or doing something else not authorized by the visa..

That said, try to avoid re entering the U.S. a few days, weeks or months after one visit. Even if you don't technically overstay, planning several U.S. visits spaced shortly after each other may be interpreted by immigration officers as " immigrant intent " and may cause you grief.. The United States is home to some of the most popular airlines in the world. Following the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 and resultant fall in air traffic, the entire industry has seen consolidation on a grand scale and the US is now home to some of the largest airlines in the world..

Most visitors from outside Canada and Mexico arrive in the United States by plane. While many medium sized inland cities have an international airport, there are limited flights to most of these and most travelers find themselves entering the U.S. at one of the major entry points along the coasts.. The international airports in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami are the four main points of entry to the United States by plane.. From the east New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Charlotte, Boston, Washington, D.C., Orlando, and Miami are the primary entry points from Europe and other transatlantic points of departure..

All the major east coast airports have service from a few key European cities. Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle, while not in the east, also have a good number of flights from major European cities.. From the west Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Honolulu are the primary points of entry from Asia and other transpacific points of departure. Las Vegas, Portland (Oregon), and San Diego also have a few international flight options.. Of course, if you arrive in Honolulu, you must take another flight to get to the mainland. Foreign airlines are not allowed to transport passengers to / from Hawaii or Alaska and the other 48 states (except for refueling and in transit)..

Chicago, while not on the west coast, is still a major point of entry from Asia, offering non stop flights from Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, and Seoul, with direct service from Bangkok and Singapore.. Qantas serves Dallas / Fort Worth non stop from Sydney, in addition to their daily service to Los Angeles and San Francisco from Sydney and Melbourne.. From the north Chicago, New York City, Detroit and Minneapolis have a good number of flights from major Asian and Canadian cities. There are flights from Toronto to many Eastern and Midwestern cities..

From the south Miami, Houston and Los Angeles are the primary entry points from Latin America, primarily South America. Also, Dallas, Atlanta, and Charlotte are major international waypoints.. From Mexico, many major U.S. airports have non stop service to Mexico City or Cancun, and Los Angeles and Houston have non stop service to many other many Mexican cities.. From the other side of the world New Delhi, India has non stop service to New York (via JFK and Newark airports) and to Chicago. Mumbai has non stop flights to New York (JFK and Newark)..

From Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan and United Arab Emirates you can also fly to New York (JFK). Qatar, and Saudi Arabian fly to Washington, DC, and South African Airways goes to New York (JFK) and Washington, DC (Dulles).. Los Angeles and Houston both offer non stop service to Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.. The U.S. requires full entry formalities even for international transit. If you normally need a visa to visit the U.S. and can't avoid a transit, you will need a C 1 transit visa..

Customs and immigration are cleared at your first U.S. stop, not at your final destination, even if you have an onward flight. Allow at least three hours at your first U.S. stop.. Luggage allowance for flights to or from the U.S. usually operates on a piecewise system in addition to the weight system even for foreign carriers.. This means that you are allowed a limited number of bags to check in where each bag should not exceed certain linear dimensions (computed by adding the length, width and height of the bags)..

The exact allowances and restrictions on weight, linear dimension and number of baggage allowed are determined by the carrier you are flying with, your origin (if coming to the U S) or destination (if leaving) and the class of service you are traveling in. When arriving once you have collected your luggage you can head toward the exit. Most airports have near the exit a wall of " courtesy phones " with the description and the prices of motels in the area.. You can call these motels free of charge and ask for a room and a pick up shuttle will come to fetch you at the airport. It is very convenient and mostly free of charge (but you are supposed to tip the driver)..

Security procedures for commercial flights departing from anywhere in the U.S. continue to evolve. The TSA (Transportation Security Administration) now requires all passengers to remove shoes and outerwear and submit personal belongings to X ray screening.. Random passengers may now be selected for additional screening. This may include an " enhanced pat down, " or you may be required to submit to a full body X ray.. Do not assume that you are in any sort of trouble or that you are even suspected of causing trouble, simply because you are being subjected to these screenings..

If you wish to lock your checked baggage, the TSA requires you to use special locks that have the Travel Sentry TSA lock system. These locks can be opened by TSA officials using a master key should they wish to inspect the contents of your bag.. If your lock is not one of the TSA approved locks, the TSA will break it open and you will not be entitled to any compensation for the damage.. Passengers whose journeys originate in major Canadian airports and involve either U.S. or Canadian carriers will have the advantage of clearing U.S. entry formalities (passport control and customs) at their Canadian port of exit..

As far as most flights from Canada are concerned, they are treated similarly as U.S. domestic flights but only because clearance has been performed at the Canadian airport.. Hence once passengers from Canada arrive at their U.S. port of entry, rather than walk through a secluded corridor, they can see the display of restaurants and shops at the domestic terminal on their way to baggage claim.. It is worth noting that most Canadian carriers are located in U.S. domestic terminals.. Travelers on U.S. –Canadian flights operated by foreign carriers like Philippine Airlines and Cathay Pacific will still encounter traditional entry formalities upon arrival at their first U.S. stop; a Canadian transit visa may be required even if passengers are confined to a holding area for the entire transit time..

Some airports in Canada, including Vancouver International Airport, Terminal 1 of Toronto Pearson Airport, and Montreal Trudeau Airport generally do not require passengers in transit from abroad to pass through Canadian Customs and Immigration controls before going through U.S. preclearance formalities.. However, even if you pass through these airports, make sure that your papers are in order to allow you to enter Canada; if you cannot travel to the U.S. on the same day you go through preclearance, if you are not cleared for entry to the United States, or if you and / or your luggage is not checked through by your airline to at least your first destination in the United States, you will need to report to Canada Customs; a Canadian transit or temporary resident visa may be required..

Preclearance facilities are available at most major Canadian airports (Toronto Pearson, Montreal Trudeau, Ottawa Macdonald Cartier, Vancouver, Calgary, etc), Queen Beatrix International Airport in Aruba, Grand Bahama and Lynden Pindling International Airports in the Bahamas, Bermuda International Airport in Bermuda, and Dublin and Shannon International Airports in Ireland.. Passengers on British Airways flights from London to New York City transiting via either Dublin or Shannon, Ireland can take advantage of U.S. passport control and customs preclearance at Dublin or Shannon. Upon arrival at the U.S., they will arrive as if they were domestic passengers..

Traffic travels on the right hand side (as it does in Canada and Mexico), except in the U.S. Virgin Islands, due to left hand driving being common in the smaller Caribbean islands.. If you are entering under the Visa Waiver Program, you will need to pay a $6 fee, in cash, at the point of entry. No fee is payable if you are simply re entering and already have the Visa Waiver slip in your passport.. The U.S. –Canada and U.S. –Mexico borders are two of the most frequently crossed borders with millions of crossings daily. Average wait times are up to 30 minutes, but some of the most heavily traveled border crossings may have considerable delays — approaching 1–2 hours at peak times (weekends, holidays)..

Current wait times (updated hourly) are available on the U.S. customs service website. The U.S. –Mexico border is lucrative for drug trafficking, so vehicles crossing may be X rayed or searched by a drug sniffing dog.. If there is suspicion, your vehicle may be searched. Since this is an all too common event, expect no patience from border agents.. As Canada and Mexico use the metric units of measure but the U.S. uses customary units, bear in mind that after the border, road signs are published in miles and miles per hour..

If you are driving a car from Canada or Mexico then be mindful that a speed limit of 55 mph in the U.S. is 88 km / h. Greyhound offers substantial inexpensive cross border service from both Canada and Mexico throughout their network. Some routes, such as Toronto to Buffalo have hourly service. Megabus U.S. also runs multiple daily trips from Toronto (also a hub for Megabus Canada) to New York City via Buffalo for as low as $1.. Bus passengers often experience greater scrutiny from U.S. customs officials than car or train passengers..

Prior to World War II, most travelers and immigrants to the United States from foreign countries entered by boat. Today, this is not the case; as most enter by plane.. Entering the U.S. by sea, other than on a registered cruise ship, may be difficult. The most common entry points for private boats are Los Angeles and the surrounding area, Florida, and the Eastern coastal states.. Some passenger ferries exist between Canada and the U.S., mostly between British Columbia and Washington State or Alaska..

Cunard offers transatlantic ship travel between the United Kingdom and New York City.. Amtrak offers international service from the Canadian cities of Vancouver (Amtrak Cascades has two trips per day to Seattle), Toronto (Maple Leaf once daily to New York City), and Montreal (Adirondack once daily to New York City).. On international trains from Montreal and Toronto, immigration formalities are conducted at the border; this takes significantly more time than it would on a bus, which means the bus is often both less expensive and faster than the train..

Travelers from Vancouver clear U.S. immigration and customs at Pacific Central Station before they get on the train itself, just as they do for air travel. Be sure to allow enough time before departure to complete the necessary inspections.. There are many border crossings in urban areas which can be crossed by pedestrians. Crossings such as those in or near Niagara Falls, Detroit, Tijuana, Nogales, and El Paso are popular for persons wishing to spend a day on the other side of the border.. In some cases, this may be ideal for day trippers, as crossing by car can be a much longer wait..

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Music — Mid size to large cities often draw big ticket concerts, especially in large outdoor amphitheaters. Small towns sometimes host concerts in parks with local or older bands. Other options include music festivals such has San Diego's Street Scene or South by Southwest in Austin.. Classical music concerts are held year round and performed by semi professional and professional symphonies. Boston, for instance, occasionally puts on free concerts in the Public Park. Many cities and regions have unique sounds..

Nashville is known as Music City because of the large number of country artists that live in the city. It's home to the Grand Ole Opry, one of the most famous music venues in the country.. Country music is popular throughout the U.S. but is particularly concentrated in the South and rural West. Seattle is the home of grunge rock. Many of the most popular bands are based out of Los Angeles due to the large entertainment presence and concentration of record companies.. Theatre - America is considered to be the spiritual home of musical theatre, and many of the world's most famous musicals have had a run on Broadway in New York at one time or another..

No trip to the East Coast of the United States will be complete without catching at least one musical at Broadway. Alternatively, for those who prefer classical music, the United States is also home to one of the world's premier opera companies, the Metropolitan Opera in New York.. Other well regarded opera companies include the San Francisco Opera in San Francisco and the Lyric Opera of Chicago in Chicago.. Marching Band — In addition to traditional music concerts, a quintessential American experience is the marching band festival. One can find these events almost every weekend between September and Thanksgiving throughout the country and again from March to June in California..

Check local event listings and papers to find specifics. Also notable is the Bands of America Grand National Championship held every autumn in Indianapolis. Those looking to see the best of the best should acquire tickets to the " finals " performance, where the ten best bands of the festival compete for the championship.. This event is now held at the Lucas Oil Stadium. Both " street " or parade marching bands as well as " field " or show bands are found at almost every high school and university in America..

Professional sports — The United States has a professional league for virtually every sport, including pillow fighting.. America's passion for sports is rivaled hardly anywhere in the world, with the leagues with the world's highest attendance both per game (NFL) and total (MLB) and other leagues that are the best and most popular in their respective sport.. Watching a game is a good way to meet and interact with the locals. A few of the most popular leagues are; MLB. Major League Baseball is very popular and the sport of baseball is often referred to as " America's pastime " (being one of the most widely played in the country)..

The league has 30 teams (29 in the U S and 1 in Canada). Season lasts from April to September with playoff games held in October.. With 30 teams playing 162 games per team per season and the cheapest seats usually $10 20, this is possibly the best sporting event for international travelers to watch.. There are also several hundred minor league teams scattered across the U.S.; while quality of the games are lower, prices are cheaper (even free in a few leagues). See Baseball in the United States for more information..

NBA. The National Basketball Association is the world's premier men's basketball league and has 30 teams (29 in the U S and one in Canada). Season runs November to April, with playoffs in May June.. The National Football League, with 32 teams (all in the contiguous USA if you don't count the odd London (UK) or Toronto game or the pro bowl in Hawaii), is the leading promoter of American football in the world, a sport which has virtually nothing in common with the sport that most other countries call (association) football (Americans know that sport as soccer)..

It developed from Rugby Football (before that sport was divided into League and Union) and still has some things in common with its second cousin twice removed from England, though. It is extremely popular, and the day of the championship game, called the Super Bowl, is an unofficial national holiday.. Season lasts from September to December, with playoffs in January ending with the Super Bowl in February.. NHL. The premier ice hockey league in the world, featuring 30 teams (23 in the U S and 7 in Canada)..

A slight majority of players are Canadians, but the league has players from many other parts of the world, mainly the United States, the Nordic countries (primarily Sweden and Finland), Russia, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia.. Originally in Northern markets, recent expansions have each major region covered with a NHL team. The season runs from October to April, followed by playoffs that culminate in the Stanley Cup Finals in June.. INDYCAR. Beginning as the original form of American motorsport in 1911 with the first Indianapolis 500. INDYCAR has since come to be the premier open wheel racing series in North America. The competition in INDYCAR is known to be closer, faster, and far more dangerous than that of NASCAR..

Unlike NASCAR which almost races exclusively on " oval " tracks, INDYCAR competes on a wide variety of tracks ranging from city streets, road courses, to ovals like the world famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana which plays host to a prestigious race, the Indianapolis 500, where speeds can reach up to a thrilling 240 miles per hour !. INDYCAR holds races all across the United States, as well as Brazil and Canada, from March to October. NASCAR.. Viewed by many as a " regional sport " confined to the more rural areas of the South, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) has seemingly broken away from those misconceptions over recent years to become a major spectator sport across the country..

While a majority of the tracks still reside in the Mid Atlantic and South, NASCAR holds races all across the country, beginning with their marquee event, the Daytona 500, in mid February and ending in late November.. MLS. Major League Soccer, currently with 19 teams (16 in the U S and three in Canada) and expanding to 20 in 2015 and at least 22 in 2017 (with all of the new teams in the U S), is the latest attempt to kick start American interest in soccer.. While it may not be as popular with the media, MLS is still widely viewed and enjoyed. Foreign travelers can find particularly vibrant and familiar fan experiences in several cities, notably Washington, Chicago, Houston, Kansas City, Portland, and Seattle..

College sports — One rare feature of the United States sports landscape, as compared to that of other nations, is the extent to which sports are associated with educational institutions.. In many regions of the country, local college or university teams, especially in football and men's basketball, enjoy followings that rival or surpass those of major professional teams.. The primary governing body for U.S. college sports is the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which has over 1,000 member schools, including essentially all of the country's best known colleges and universities..

The college football season runs from roughly September 1 through mid December, with postseason bowl games running into early January. The basketball regular season begins in mid November and ends in late February or early March, followed by conference tournaments and then national post season tournaments that run through early April.. The NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament, popularly known as " March Madness " (an NCAA trademark), is especially widely followed even by casual sports fans..

High school sports — The U.S. association with sports and education isn't limited to colleges and universities. Many communities take great pride in their high school sports teams, and especially in smaller locales, high school sports are a major part of local culture.. During the school year (August to May), a high school game can be a great (and cheap) way to get a major dose of local culture.. The most popular sports are usually football and boys' basketball (and to a lesser extent girls' basketball), plus hockey in New England and the upper Midwest. In some areas, a particular high school sport enjoys an elevated cultural place. Examples include football in Texas, basketball in Indiana, hockey in Minnesota, and wrestling in Iowa..

Golf - The United States is home to many of the world's most famous golf courses. The most famous is arguably the Augusta National Golf Club, where membership is a very exclusive privilege.. The Augusta National Golf Club is the home of the Masters, one of the world's most prestigious professional golf tournaments. Golf is popular both as a participation and spectator sport, and the U.S. supports several major professional tours; PGA Tour.. The leading men's tour in the world, although the European Tour is very close in level of competition if not in prize money. Tournaments held throughout the U.S., plus stops in Canada and Mexico, as well as The Open Championship in the UK (one of the four " major championships ")..

LPGA Tour. Unquestionably the world's top women's tour. Most tournaments (including three of its five major championships) are still held in the U.S., but the tour now has major championships in the UK and France, plus regular stops in the Bahamas, Canada, Mexico, Australia, and several Asian countries.. Champions Tour. Run by the PGA Tour, this circuit involves golfers 50 and older. Generally, all PGA Tour stars, and many from other world tours, play here once they reach 50, unless unable to for health reasons..

One of this tour's five major championships is in the UK, and two regular events are in Canada; the rest of the tour takes place in the U.S.. Festivals and Fairs — A few days prompt nation wide celebrations. They include Memorial Day, Independence Day (a k a Fourth of July), and Labor Day. Other major holidays like Thanksgiving Day are marked by private festivities.. Many towns and / or counties throw fairs, to commemorate the establishment of a town or the county with rides, games, and other attractions. Memorial Day — commemorates the ultimate sacrifice made by America's war dead..

It is not to be confused with Veterans Day (11 November) which commemorates the service of America's military veterans, both living and deceased. It is the also the unofficial start of summer — expect heavy traffic in popular destinations, especially National Parks and Amusement Parks.. Independence Day — Celebrates America's independence from Great Britain. The day is usually marked by parades, festivals, concerts, outdoor cooking and grilling and firework displays. Almost every town puts on some sort of festivity to celebrate the day..

Large cities often have multiple events. Washington, D.C. celebrates the day on the Mall with a parade and a fireworks display against the Washington Monument. Labor Day — The U.S. celebrates Labor Day on the first Monday of September, rather than May 1 Labor Day marks the end of the summer social season.. Some places, such as Cincinnati throw parties to celebrate the day.. National Parks. There are numerous national parks throughout the United States, especially the vast interior, which offer plenty of opportunities to enjoy your favorite outdoor activities, including Recreational shooting, ATV riding, hiking, bird watching, prospecting, and horseback riding..

In more urban areas, some national parks are centered around historic landmarks. National Trails System is a group of twenty one " National Scenic Trails " and " National Historic Trails " as well as over 1,000 shorter " National Recreation Trails " for a total length of over 50,000 miles.. While all are open to hiking, most are also open to mountain biking, horseback riding, and camping and some are even open for ATVs and cars..

How To Get In

The United States has exceptionally onerous and complicated visa requirements. Read up carefully before your visit, especially if you need to apply for a visa, and consult the Bureau of Consular Affairs.. Travelers have been refused entry for many reasons, often trivial.. Citizens of the 38 countries within the Visa Waiver Program, as well as Canadians, Mexicans living on the border (holding a Border Crossing Card), and Bermudians (with British national (overseas) passports) do not require visas for entry into the United States..

Canadians and Bermudians are normally allowed to visit for up to six months.. The Visa Waiver Program permits visa free stays of up to 90 days; it applies to citizens of Andorra, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brunei, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, and the.

Citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau may enter, reside, study, and work in the U.S. indefinitely with only a valid passport.. Citizens of U.S. overseas territories such as Puerto Rico, Guam, U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa are considered to be U.S. citizens, and therefore do not require a passport to travel to (unless they are travelling from non U S territories) and live in the United States.. Citizens of the Bahamas may apply for visa free entry only at the U.S. Customs pre clearance facilities in the Bahamas, but a valid police certificate may be required for those over the age of 14..

Attempting to enter through any other port of entry requires a valid visa.. Cayman Islands citizens, if they intend to travel directly to the U.S. from there, may obtain a single entry visa waiver for about $25 prior to departure.. A criminal record will likely revoke any right to visa free travel to the U.S. Although there are exceptions e.g. traffic violations, civil infractions (such as littering, noise violations, disorderly conduct), purely political offenses (e g non violent protest in countries where it is not allowed), and offenses committed before the age of 16..

Anyone with a criminal record, including Canadians and Bermudians should seek advice from a U.S. embassy on whether they need to obtain a visa.. The program is open only to travelers who are in the United States for tourism or business purposes.. You cannot be coming to the U.S. for formal education, to get a job, or to conduct journalism; if you are, you must get an appropriate visa in advance no matter how short your trip to the U.S. may be.. The 90 day limit is not extendable. A short trip to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean will not allow a fresh 90 days upon return to the U.S. An extended absence to the neighboring countries may reset the limit, particularly if your first trip to the U.S. was short..

Take care if transiting through the U.S. on a trip around North America that exceeds 90 days.. Having a criminal record, having been previously refused entry, or having previously been denied a US visa will make one ineligible to enter on the Visa Waiver Program. Those who fall in these categories should apply for a US visa instead.. Entry under the visa waiver program requires the completion of an online form and a payment of $14, preferably 72 hours before arrival. The form is called the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)..

ESTA approval covers multiple trips and is valid for two years (unless your passport expires earlier).. All passports must be machine readable. Passports issued after 26 October 2005 need digital photographs embedded on them, and passports issued after 26 October 2006 must be biometric. While not generally a problem, some countries, e.g. France, have issued passports that do not meet these specifications.. Travelers with such obsolete passports will either need to replace them, or apply for a visa..

Entry under the Visa Waiver Program by air or sea requires travel with a signatory carrier. Any commercial scheduled services to the U.S. will be fine, but if you are on a chartered flight or vessel you should check the status of the carrier, as you may require a visa.. Flying your own personal aircraft, or sailing your own personal yacht to the U.S. will require you to obtain a tourist visa in advance.. Travelers entering by air or sea should also have a return or onward ticket out of the United States. This requirement is not necessary for residents of Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, or the Caribbean..

If traveling by land, there is a $7 fee when crossing the border.. Entry under the visa waiver program does not allow you to change your immigration status, and if you are denied entry, the decision can't be appealed and you will immediately be placed on the first flight out.. For the rest of the world, the visa application fee is a non refundable $160 (as of April 2012) for visas that are not issued on the basis of a petition and $190 for those that are; this fee is waived under very limited circumstances, namely for people requesting certain exchange visitor visas..

Depending on your nationality and the category of visa you are requesting, you may need to pay an additional fee (ranging from $7– 200) only if the visa is issued. This is called a reciprocity fee and is charged by the U.S. to match the fees charged by other countries on U.S. citizens.. The Immigration and Nationality Act states that all persons requesting entry into the United States as non immigrants are presumed to be immigrants until they overcome that presumption by showing evidence of " binding ties " to their home country as well as sufficient proof that the visit will be temporary..

When the U.S. rejects a visa application, it is usually because the applicant does not have enough binding ties to his own country to convince the consular officer that the person will not try to overstay.. Applicants need to demonstrate that they are indeed genuinely entitled to the visa they are applying for.. Face to face interviews (where the official needs to be convinced that you are not a " potential immigrant ") at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate are required for almost all nationalities, and waits for interview slots and visa processing can add up to several months..

Keep in mind that the embassy is closed on both U.S. holidays and holidays of your home country so you need to know both holidays when setting dates to apply for a visa. In addition, travelers should start planning their trips way in advance, as the application process is known to take up to six months.. Do not assume anything. Check on documentation requirements with the United States State Department or with the United States consulate nearest you.. If coming to the country with a car, be sure to have documents showing car insurance, rental agreements, driver's license, etc, before trying to enter the U.S. If your country participates in the Visa Waiver Program, note that having been denied a visa for whatever reason, including a lack of relevant documentation will result in you being ineligible for the program and having to obtain a visa for every subsequent visit to the US..

For technical and scientific fields of work or study, processing non immigrant visa application can take up to 70 days, as it can require 8 weeks for receiving an approval from authorities in Washington.. This especially applies to military and dual purpose fields which are mentioned in a so called technical alert list.. A visa is not a guarantee of entry; it only allows you to proceed to a port of entry and request admission. Your visa is generally not tied to your permitted length of stay; for example, a 10 year visa does not allow a stay of 10 years..

On the other hand, you can enter the country on the last day of validity of your visa and still be allowed to stay, for example, up to 180 days as a tourist.. Applying for an incorrect or inappropriate visa can cause serious problems, including possibly making you ineligible to ever receive any U.S. visa (especially in cases of fraud). Consider consulting a U.S. immigration attorney, especially if you want to stay longer or do something other than business or tourism.. This includes performing in concerts or competitions as well as journalism..

America's overseas possessions have slightly different rules. See each destination's article for details.. In brief, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands all have the same entry requirements as the 50 states. However, Guam and the Northern Marianas apply the visa waiver program to a few additional countries.. American Samoa lies outside the federal immigration jurisdiction and has separate entry requirements.. Starting May 2013, progressively introduced in international airports, arriving non immigrant visitors by air or by sea are not required to fill in the paper I 94 form..

Instead, all travellers records will be stored electronically by the Customs and Borders Protection (CBP), and can be accessed at, where visitors can print their records for immigration benefits.. More information is available on this website.. Visitors arriving by land are still required to fill in the I 94 paper form, and still need to surrender the portion attached to their passport once leaving the country.. If you are not a citizen or resident of the United States, you will be questioned briefly at immigration. Be prepared to prove your stated motives for entering. Proof of onward travel may be required..

For business, this can be an invitation letter from a company you are visiting, or the registration details of a conference you are attending. For tourists, you may need to demonstrate you have funds available to you.. If you don't fully comply with all that's required, e.g. no onward transport, you may be sent for further questioning. At this stage your possessions may be searched and your documents, letters or diaries may be read.. If you are found to appear as a likely immigrant (e g if you're carrying employment documents, photographs typically kept at home, excessive luggage, or pets) or if you are unable to convince the officers that you intend to abide by the terms of your stated entrance permission, you will be refused entry and deported..

If your country participates in the Visa Waiver Program, note that being refused entry will result in you being ineligible for the program and having to obtain a visa for every subsequent visit to the US.. Once they decide to let you in, you are fingerprinted and a digital photograph is taken.. As in most countries, customs officials are humorless about any kind of security threat; even the most flippant joke implying that you pose a threat can result in lengthy interrogation, at best.. The landing card will need to state the address of your first night's accommodation, which should be arranged in advance. The name of your hotel, hostel, university, etc is not sufficient; the street name and number are needed..

If it is a hotel, have a reservation under your name. If it is a private address, make sure that you are expected, as officials may phone your host to see if they're expecting anyone.. Try to have contact details (especially a phone number where they can be reached immediately), and save any text messages or emails in which your hosts mention inviting you to stay at their residence.. A customs form is handed out to all travelers; however, only one form is required per family. Hand your customs declaration to the customs officer, not immigration. Regardless of whether you have anything to declare, customs officers may still search or X ray your bags..

Most of the time, they won't. Anything more than a bag search is rare, so you won't likely encounter any ominous latex gloves.. Do not attempt to import items originating from countries that the US has imposed economic sanctions (currently Cuba, Iran, Syria and Sudan), they will be confiscated by customs if discovered - unlabeled cigars in particular are assumed to be from Cuba, and will also be taken away.. It is also against the law to bring meat or raw fruit or vegetables (with a few exceptions for Canadian produce grown in season via land borders only) but you may bring cooked non meats, such as bread and most commercially prepackaged foods (biscuits, cheese, tea, coffee, etc)..

All food and plant items being brought into the country need to be declared, even if unrestricted ! Much like in Australia and New Zealand, all incoming food and plant products must be physically examined by the United States Department of Agriculture - if necessary, you'll be directed to their inspection area after clearing customs.. For straightforward, unrestricted items such as prepackaged non meats, the inspection process rarely takes more than a minute. Failure to declare agricultural products can result in a fine or even prosecution if the USDA believes you're willfully attempting to import illegal food or plants..

That said, first time offenders are usually let off with a warning for unintentional omissions if the items are ultimately permissible.. Besides your personal effects, which will go home with you, you are allowed to import individual gifts with a value of $100 or less per item. If you're 21 years of age or older, you may also import limited quantities of tobacco and alcohol products duty free;. Up to 200 cigarettes (one carton) or fifty non Cuban cigars or up to 2kg of loose tobacco products such as snuff (or a proportional combination thereof).

Unlike some countries, the one liter restriction applies irrespective of strength; a fifth of Scotch at 40% ABV or a standard size (750ml) bottle of wine at 14% ABV are both within the allowance, but a six pack of 12 oz beer at 5% ABV is the equivalent of over 2 liters and over the duty free allowance.. If you are over the alcohol exemption by a small amount (e g a six pack of beer or a second bottle of wine) most customs officers will let this slide for wine and beer if you've made a full and accurate declaration..

Anything more than this, or any spirits over the limit will likely result in duty and tax being assessed, the amount of which depends in part on the state you're entering to and the country the goods are from (duty from Canada, for example is minimal owing in part to NAFTA).. Customs officers do not show this leniency with tobacco products, expect to pay if you are even one cigarette over !. A reasonable quantity of perfume or cologne can also be imported provided the brand is not under a " Trademark Restriction in the United States ". There is no restriction on the amount of money you can bring in or out of the US..

However, if you are bringing in or out $10,000 or more (or its equivalent in foreign currency) per family (combined total among all family members travelling together), you must declare it on your customs form and you will be given a special form to fill out; not declaring exposes you to a fine and possible seizure of that cash.. The U.S. possessions of American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Marianas Islands, and U.S. Virgin Islands are outside the federal customs jurisdiction and each have their own separate requirements. Travel between these regions and the rest of the U.S. requires a customs check..

There are some differences (mostly larger) in duty exemptions for U.S. citizens returning from these destinations.. You must pass through immigration and customs at your first point of entry, regardless of whether you have any onward domestic flights. Since you have had access to your checked bags while going through customs, you will need to re clear security before taking a connecting flight.. Nearly all major hubs have special arrangements for travelers with connecting flights, such as a conveyor belt just beyond customs where you can place your baggage that has been already been tagged for transfer your final destination..

Some hubs, like JFK, employ a more inconvenient system, whereby you must show your ID and boarding pass at a " Connecting Flights " check in counter.. At airports with separate domestic and international terminals (such as Boston), you will have to head to another terminal and drop your bags there before heading to security.. These bag drop procedures apply only if your baggage has been checked through to your final destination (as opposed to your first U S port of entry). If this is not the case, you will have to proceed to the terminal of your next flight and check in as usual..

Unlike most countries, the U.S. has no formal passport control upon exit, especially for those traveling by air or sea.. As such, if you are leaving the U.S. for the last time on a particular trip (i e not returning from Canada or Mexico), it is your responsibility to surrender your landing card at check in, or the Canadian or Mexican border officer.. If you don't, contact U.S. officials about how to return it and update your departure records to avoid any future entry hassles. If you leave by a commercial carrier, your departure will also be verified with the airline or shipping company..

Hence no further action should be needed from you; nonetheless on future visits consider bringing the necessary documents to prove you left legally. U.S. Customs and Border Protection has information about what to do if your slip is not collected.. If you intend to leave for Canada or Mexico by land for a side trip and return within 30 days or the allowed time of your stay (whichever is shorter), you may re enter the U.S. provided that you do not yet return the I 94 or I 94 card before you proceed to Canada or Mexico..

This can also be done even if you originally entered the U.S. on a single entry visa. However, you will only be admitted for the remainder of your original allowed time; the deadline to ultimately leave the U.S. won't be extended by just leaving for somewhere else in North America.. If you return the I 94 while on the side trip, you will have to apply all over again to enter the U.S. (which means a new visa for single entry visa holders) and be subject to the usual questioning that alien go through to lack of any intentions of immigrating, working, or doing something else not authorized by the visa..

That said, try to avoid re entering the U.S. a few days, weeks or months after one visit. Even if you don't technically overstay, planning several U.S. visits spaced shortly after each other may be interpreted by immigration officers as " immigrant intent " and may cause you grief.. The United States is home to some of the most popular airlines in the world. Following the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 and resultant fall in air traffic, the entire industry has seen consolidation on a grand scale and the US is now home to some of the largest airlines in the world..

Most visitors from outside Canada and Mexico arrive in the United States by plane. While many medium sized inland cities have an international airport, there are limited flights to most of these and most travelers find themselves entering the U.S. at one of the major entry points along the coasts.. The international airports in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami are the four main points of entry to the United States by plane.. From the east New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Charlotte, Boston, Washington, D.C., Orlando, and Miami are the primary entry points from Europe and other transatlantic points of departure..

All the major east coast airports have service from a few key European cities. Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle, while not in the east, also have a good number of flights from major European cities.. From the west Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Honolulu are the primary points of entry from Asia and other transpacific points of departure. Las Vegas, Portland (Oregon), and San Diego also have a few international flight options.. Of course, if you arrive in Honolulu, you must take another flight to get to the mainland. Foreign airlines are not allowed to transport passengers to / from Hawaii or Alaska and the other 48 states (except for refueling and in transit)..

Chicago, while not on the west coast, is still a major point of entry from Asia, offering non stop flights from Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, and Seoul, with direct service from Bangkok and Singapore.. Qantas serves Dallas / Fort Worth non stop from Sydney, in addition to their daily service to Los Angeles and San Francisco from Sydney and Melbourne.. From the north Chicago, New York City, Detroit and Minneapolis have a good number of flights from major Asian and Canadian cities. There are flights from Toronto to many Eastern and Midwestern cities..

From the south Miami, Houston and Los Angeles are the primary entry points from Latin America, primarily South America. Also, Dallas, Atlanta, and Charlotte are major international waypoints.. From Mexico, many major U.S. airports have non stop service to Mexico City or Cancun, and Los Angeles and Houston have non stop service to many other many Mexican cities.. From the other side of the world New Delhi, India has non stop service to New York (via JFK and Newark airports) and to Chicago. Mumbai has non stop flights to New York (JFK and Newark)..

From Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan and United Arab Emirates you can also fly to New York (JFK). Qatar, and Saudi Arabian fly to Washington, DC, and South African Airways goes to New York (JFK) and Washington, DC (Dulles).. Los Angeles and Houston both offer non stop service to Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.. The U.S. requires full entry formalities even for international transit. If you normally need a visa to visit the U.S. and can't avoid a transit, you will need a C 1 transit visa..

Customs and immigration are cleared at your first U.S. stop, not at your final destination, even if you have an onward flight. Allow at least three hours at your first U.S. stop.. Luggage allowance for flights to or from the U.S. usually operates on a piecewise system in addition to the weight system even for foreign carriers.. This means that you are allowed a limited number of bags to check in where each bag should not exceed certain linear dimensions (computed by adding the length, width and height of the bags)..

The exact allowances and restrictions on weight, linear dimension and number of baggage allowed are determined by the carrier you are flying with, your origin (if coming to the U S) or destination (if leaving) and the class of service you are traveling in. When arriving once you have collected your luggage you can head toward the exit. Most airports have near the exit a wall of " courtesy phones " with the description and the prices of motels in the area.. You can call these motels free of charge and ask for a room and a pick up shuttle will come to fetch you at the airport. It is very convenient and mostly free of charge (but you are supposed to tip the driver)..

Security procedures for commercial flights departing from anywhere in the U.S. continue to evolve. The TSA (Transportation Security Administration) now requires all passengers to remove shoes and outerwear and submit personal belongings to X ray screening.. Random passengers may now be selected for additional screening. This may include an " enhanced pat down, " or you may be required to submit to a full body X ray.. Do not assume that you are in any sort of trouble or that you are even suspected of causing trouble, simply because you are being subjected to these screenings..

If you wish to lock your checked baggage, the TSA requires you to use special locks that have the Travel Sentry TSA lock system. These locks can be opened by TSA officials using a master key should they wish to inspect the contents of your bag.. If your lock is not one of the TSA approved locks, the TSA will break it open and you will not be entitled to any compensation for the damage.. Passengers whose journeys originate in major Canadian airports and involve either U.S. or Canadian carriers will have the advantage of clearing U.S. entry formalities (passport control and customs) at their Canadian port of exit..

As far as most flights from Canada are concerned, they are treated similarly as U.S. domestic flights but only because clearance has been performed at the Canadian airport.. Hence once passengers from Canada arrive at their U.S. port of entry, rather than walk through a secluded corridor, they can see the display of restaurants and shops at the domestic terminal on their way to baggage claim.. It is worth noting that most Canadian carriers are located in U.S. domestic terminals.. Travelers on U.S. –Canadian flights operated by foreign carriers like Philippine Airlines and Cathay Pacific will still encounter traditional entry formalities upon arrival at their first U.S. stop; a Canadian transit visa may be required even if passengers are confined to a holding area for the entire transit time..

Some airports in Canada, including Vancouver International Airport, Terminal 1 of Toronto Pearson Airport, and Montreal Trudeau Airport generally do not require passengers in transit from abroad to pass through Canadian Customs and Immigration controls before going through U.S. preclearance formalities.. However, even if you pass through these airports, make sure that your papers are in order to allow you to enter Canada; if you cannot travel to the U.S. on the same day you go through preclearance, if you are not cleared for entry to the United States, or if you and / or your luggage is not checked through by your airline to at least your first destination in the United States, you will need to report to Canada Customs; a Canadian transit or temporary resident visa may be required..

Preclearance facilities are available at most major Canadian airports (Toronto Pearson, Montreal Trudeau, Ottawa Macdonald Cartier, Vancouver, Calgary, etc), Queen Beatrix International Airport in Aruba, Grand Bahama and Lynden Pindling International Airports in the Bahamas, Bermuda International Airport in Bermuda, and Dublin and Shannon International Airports in Ireland.. Passengers on British Airways flights from London to New York City transiting via either Dublin or Shannon, Ireland can take advantage of U.S. passport control and customs preclearance at Dublin or Shannon. Upon arrival at the U.S., they will arrive as if they were domestic passengers..

Traffic travels on the right hand side (as it does in Canada and Mexico), except in the U.S. Virgin Islands, due to left hand driving being common in the smaller Caribbean islands.. If you are entering under the Visa Waiver Program, you will need to pay a $6 fee, in cash, at the point of entry. No fee is payable if you are simply re entering and already have the Visa Waiver slip in your passport.. The U.S. –Canada and U.S. –Mexico borders are two of the most frequently crossed borders with millions of crossings daily. Average wait times are up to 30 minutes, but some of the most heavily traveled border crossings may have considerable delays — approaching 1–2 hours at peak times (weekends, holidays)..

Current wait times (updated hourly) are available on the U.S. customs service website. The U.S. –Mexico border is lucrative for drug trafficking, so vehicles crossing may be X rayed or searched by a drug sniffing dog.. If there is suspicion, your vehicle may be searched. Since this is an all too common event, expect no patience from border agents.. As Canada and Mexico use the metric units of measure but the U.S. uses customary units, bear in mind that after the border, road signs are published in miles and miles per hour..

If you are driving a car from Canada or Mexico then be mindful that a speed limit of 55 mph in the U.S. is 88 km / h. Greyhound offers substantial inexpensive cross border service from both Canada and Mexico throughout their network. Some routes, such as Toronto to Buffalo have hourly service. Megabus U.S. also runs multiple daily trips from Toronto (also a hub for Megabus Canada) to New York City via Buffalo for as low as $1.. Bus passengers often experience greater scrutiny from U.S. customs officials than car or train passengers..

Prior to World War II, most travelers and immigrants to the United States from foreign countries entered by boat. Today, this is not the case; as most enter by plane.. Entering the U.S. by sea, other than on a registered cruise ship, may be difficult. The most common entry points for private boats are Los Angeles and the surrounding area, Florida, and the Eastern coastal states.. Some passenger ferries exist between Canada and the U.S., mostly between British Columbia and Washington State or Alaska..

Cunard offers transatlantic ship travel between the United Kingdom and New York City.. Amtrak offers international service from the Canadian cities of Vancouver (Amtrak Cascades has two trips per day to Seattle), Toronto (Maple Leaf once daily to New York City), and Montreal (Adirondack once daily to New York City).. On international trains from Montreal and Toronto, immigration formalities are conducted at the border; this takes significantly more time than it would on a bus, which means the bus is often both less expensive and faster than the train..

Travelers from Vancouver clear U.S. immigration and customs at Pacific Central Station before they get on the train itself, just as they do for air travel. Be sure to allow enough time before departure to complete the necessary inspections.. There are many border crossings in urban areas which can be crossed by pedestrians. Crossings such as those in or near Niagara Falls, Detroit, Tijuana, Nogales, and El Paso are popular for persons wishing to spend a day on the other side of the border.. In some cases, this may be ideal for day trippers, as crossing by car can be a much longer wait..

How To Get Around

The size of the U.S. and the distance separating major cities make air the dominant mode of travel for short term travelers. If you have time, travel by car, bus, or rail can be interesting.. Some states offer traffic and public transport information by dialing 511 on your phone.. The quickest and often the most convenient way of long distance intercity travel in the U.S. is by plane. Coast to coast travel takes about six hours from east to west, and 5 hours from west to east (varying due to winds), compared to the days necessary for land transportation..

Most large cities in the U.S. are served by one or two airports; many smaller towns also have some passenger air service, although you may need to detour through a major hub airport to get there.. Depending on where you are starting, it may be cheaper to drive to a nearby large city and fly or, conversely, to fly to a large city near your destination and rent a car.. Major carriers compete for business on major routes, and travelers willing to book two or more weeks in advance can get bargains. However most smaller destinations are served by only one or two regional carriers, and prices there can be expensive..

There are several types of airlines flying in the United States today;. Mainline or legacy carriers – Due to bankruptcies and mergers, there are only three major and two minor legacy carriers left.. Each of these airlines has hubs in several U.S. cities, meaning most of the airlines' flights originate or terminate from those cities; Delta Air Lines; hubs in Atlanta, Detroit, Salt Lake City, Minneapolis, Cincinnati, New York and Memphis.. United Airlines; hubs in Chicago, Houston, Newark, Denver, Washington, San Francisco and Los Angeles..

American Airlines; hubs in Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York JFK, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Los Angeles and Washington DC Alaska Airlines; hubs in Seattle, Anchorage, Los Angeles, and Portland.. Service focused primarily in Alaska and the West Coast. Hawaiian Airlines; hubs in Honolulu and Maui. Service primarily between the Hawaiian Islands, and between the Hawaiian Islands and the West Coast.. Regional airlines come in three varieties; Regional subsidiaries operate under an umbrella such as " American Eagle " or " United Express " and run small regional jets or turboprops to locales where it is not economically or technically feasible to run a full sized jet..

These flights are booked through their parent (e g Delta Connection through Delta), either by themselves or connecting to a mainline itinerary. On board service is very basic.. There are also Independent regional airlines which are not affiliated with a mainline carrier, these are usually found in more out of the way places, as well as near island communities (Cape Cod, Hawaii, Virgin Islands, etc) Commuter airlines primarily serve the business travel market, with 10–30 seat turboprop planes.. If you can work with their schedules and choice of airports (usually private aviation airports and municipal airfields) – their consistent fares can be a bargain compared even to low cost carriers..

Additionally, since fares are the same whether you buy a month in advance or the day of, tickets are also flexible with no cancellation or change fees.. Low cost carriers have grown over the past decade. The most famous of these is ubiquitous Southwest Airlines, favorite of leisure and business travelers alike, with Frontier, Spirit, and others becoming formidable competitors.. On one end, Southwest is the only airline in the United States that lets passengers check two bags free of charge, and have done away with some of the formality of air travel – with no travel agents (all reservations are through their website or call center), assigned seating or buy on board programs (free soft drinks and snacks for all passengers) At the other side of the Spectrum, Spirit Airlines sells seats as low as $9, but charges for everything beyond the seat; checked and hand luggage, advance.

seat assignments, checking in at the airport, on board refreshments, etc... Southwest, Frontier and Spirit serve destinations nationwide, although they sometimes use smaller or alternative airports such as Chicago Midway instead of the larger O'Hare International Airport.. Other low cost carriers such as Allegiant and Sun Country focus on " vacation destinations " (Florida, Mexico, the Virgin Islands, etc). Hybrid carriers offer more amenities than low cost airlines but with fares lower than the legacies. The most famous of these is JetBlue Airways which has an extensive network covering primarily major airports, one free checked bag, 34 inches between seats (very generous for an American airline) and free satellite TV in every seat..

A relative newcomer is the trendy brainchild of Sir Richard Branson; Virgin America which also offers a low priced (comparatively anyway) First Class option.. Quoted prices, both from airlines themselves and from consolidators, generally include all taxes and other mandatory fees, and there is no fuel surcharge. However, extra services tend to incur extra fees.. The main ones are listed here, along with strategies for avoiding them. Even baggage fees can be avoided with careful planning;. Checking in with an agent — In today's age of online and kiosk check in, most air travelers have no need to see a counter agent, apart from bag drop..

Hence some airlines charge $3– 10 to check in with an actual human being, although this fee will be waived if there is a legitimate reason preventing you from using other options (for example, a passport check is required or if you are physically disabled and require assistance).. Spirit Airlines also charges for using a kiosk at the airport rather than checking in online. Some airlines accept emailed boarding passes displayed on smart phones, obviating the need to print them, although many smaller and regional airports do not support mobile boarding passes yet..

Checked baggage — Expect to pay $25 35 to check a single bag, an additional $50 for a second bag, and up to $100 or more for a third bag. Particularly large or heavy bags can easily double or triple these fees.. Shop around, as some discount carriers give a free baggage allowance; e.g. JetBlue (one bag) and Southwest (two bags). Each passenger's cost free cabin baggage allowance is generally one small suitcase or garment bag and one item such as a briefcase, backpack, or purse.. If you can get all your belongings into your cabin baggage, this is the best way to avoid baggage fees. Spirit Airlines charges $20 35 per carry on bag, making it often cheaper to check in these bags..

Don't forget the standard security restrictions regarding cabin baggage; liquids and gels must be in containers under 3.4 ounces (100 mL) and be presented to security inside a transparent zip lock bag.. Razor blades, electric shavers, scissors, or anything else with a blade or sharp edge can not be carried in cabin baggage. Pre paying baggage charges online may give you a slight discount.. Frequent flier rewards programs may give a limited free baggage allowance and additional weight allowances. Some airlines have a branded credit card that offers similar perks. Shipping luggage via UPS, FedEx or the U.S. Postal Service can work out cheaper than checking in bags..

Seat selection - Unless you're flying on a full fare ticket or have elite status in an airline's frequent flyer program, there may be a fee to select seats toward the front of the economy cabin.. Airlines have different names for this; on American it's called " Main Cabin ExtrAA ", Delta advertises it " Economy Comfort ", JetBlue's " Even More Legroom ", and United's " EconomyPlus " - you'll typically get 3 4 " of additional legroom and a slightly better position in the boarding queue for earlier access to the overhead bins but usually no other benefits (although Delta offers free alcoholic beverages and on demand movies to transcontinental and international Economy Comfort passengers)..

If there are no free economy seats remaining, you may be assigned a premium seat at check in for free, although this is not guaranteed.. Curbside check in — $2– 10 on top of any baggage or check in fees, plus a gratuity is usually expected.. Food — Small snacks (e g, peanuts, potato chips, cookies) are generally free on all flights. On domestic and North American flights longer than 1.5–2 hours, prepackaged sandwiches and snacks boxes may be available to buy at inflated prices.. Hot food for purchase is available on some cross country flights. Some airlines allow you to preorder for your meals and pay online when flying economy, guaranteeing that there will be a meal available for you and that it's your first choice..

International flights outside of North / Central America and the Caribbean feature complimentary meals, and oddly enough there are international flights with meal service are actually shorter than the longest domestic or regional flights without it.. New York to London is a 6 hours and still features complimentary meal service in coach, New York to Hawaii on the other hand is a 10 hour domestic flight and does not feature complimentary meals !. Note that even if food and soft drinks are complimentary, there is always a charge for alcoholic beverages in economy, even on long haul international flights. All airlines allow you to bring your own food and non alcoholic beverages on board..

All except the smallest airports have an array of fast food and quick serve options in the terminal – but you can't bring liquids through the security checkpoint (and some airports do not allow food either).. Airside food will inevitably be more expensive than that before security but will be far cheaper and better than what's available on board. Some cities, such as Philadelphia, regulate airport food vendors and limit how much air side restaurants can markup.. Drinks — Free coffee, tea, water, juice and soda remain standard on all flights. Spirit Airlines, however, is an exception and charges for anything other than water. Alcoholic drinks cost $5– 7.

In flight entertainment — Most U.S. carriers offer entertainment of one kind or another on longer domestic routes. Delta and JetBlue offer free seatback satellite TV to all passengers, United charges $6 in coach to watch TV.. Delta, JetBlue, and United also offer on demand movies on flights with satellite TV, typically at a cost of $4 - $8 each unless the flight leaves US airspace (where satellite reception is unavailable), then they're free.. Some airlines (American, Southwest, and select Delta and United aircraft without personal screens) offer streaming entertainment to your laptop, smartphone or tablet via the aircraft's wifi system..

Expect a selection of older movies (new releases cannot be offered on streaming services due to licensing costs) and TV episodes on demand, American is charging for streaming, other carriers are not at this time.. In flight Wi Fi — Delta, JetBlue and Southwest offer in flight Wi Fi on nearly all their domestic fleets – American and United offer it on select flights.. Prices range from $5– 20, depending on the airline, length of flight, and device (tablets and smartphones get a discount as they use less data) but the Internet connection is good for almost the entire flight (at least until told by crew to switch off your devices)..

Daily and monthly passes are also available for less than $50 / month. Most airlines do not offer power ports in economy, so be sure you're charged up or have extra batteries for your device.. Mobile phones are usually permitted to be operated in flight as long as they have been set to flight mode (which effectively shuts off the mobile phone signal from your provider) before being airborne.. Pillows and blankets are disappearing rapidly. Some airlines don't have them at all; some will charge you for them (but you get to keep after you pay); and one or two offer them for free (but you have to ask for them)..

Red eye and long (& gt; 5 hour) flights are more likely to have free pillows and blankets. As always, check with your airline, and bring your own from home if you think you'll need them.. Lounge passes; Each mainline carrier operates a network of lounges, such as Alaska Airline's " Board Rooms " and Delta's " Sky Clubs " – offering a quieter space to relax or work in, business amenities such as free wi fi, fax services and conference rooms, as well as free finger foods, soft drinks, beer and wine..

Frequent flyers buy annual memberships to these lounges, but any passenger can buy a day pass during check in or at the club itself, usually around $50, although sometimes less if you buy online.. Only you can decide if the fee is worthwhile, but if you're in the upper elite tiers of an airline alliance (One World Sapphire or Emerald, Star Alliance Gold or SkyTeam Elite Plus) you may have access to these lounges for free with your frequent flyer card For members in the highest tiers, this privilege may be extended to a traveling companion..

Additionally international Business and First Class passengers can also access these lounges for free.. First class upgrades; Delta, United, and US Airways sell upgrades on a first come first served basis at check in if first class has open seats.. This is one to actually consider, especially if you're checking bags – " day of " upgrades can sometimes be as low as $50 each way, less than the cost of two bag fees.. You'd may be paying less to check your bags and additionally getting priority security screening, boarding and baggage handling, along with a larger seat and free refreshments on board..

Most mainline carriers feature " cashless cabins " meaning any on board purchases must be paid with either Visa or MasterCard (Delta also accepts American Express).. Regional subsidiaries generally do still accept cash on board, although flight attendants may not be able to break large bills – hence the traditional request " exact change is appreciated. " If you paid in advance for first class, checked baggage, meals, and alcoholic beverages are all included with the price of your ticket, as well as priority access to check in agents and boarding..

Ironically, America's discount airlines, such as JetBlue, Southwest, and Virgin America sometimes have more amenities than the legacy carriers, and for many people may be a much better experience.. JetBlue offers more than 45 channels of satellite television, non alcoholic beverages and real snacks for free on every flight; Virgin America also has satellite TV, in addition to on demand dining (even in economy).. On JetBlue your first checked bag is free ($35 for a second bag), and Southwest is the only U.S. carrier to still offer two checked bags per passenger free of charge. Virgin America charges for checked bags, but their fees are considerably lower than the legacies..

Security at U.S. airports is onerous, especially during busy holiday periods. Allow plenty of time and pack as lightly as possible. Adults must show approved picture ID Ensure that any liquids are held in containers no bigger than 3.4 ounces (100 mL).. The containers must all be placed within a single zippered plastic bag that is 1 quart (946 mL) or less in size. Only one such bag, with however much liquid, is allowed per passenger.. The cost of chartering the smallest private jet begins at around $4000 per flight hour, with the cost substantially higher for larger, longer range aircraft, and cheaper for smaller propeller planes..

While private flying is by no means inexpensive, a family of four or more can often fly together at a cost similar to or even favorable to buying first class commercial airline tickets, especially to smaller airports where scheduled commercial flights are at their most expensive, and private flying is at its cheapest.. Though you may find it cheaper than flying a family of four first class internationally, it is rarely the case, except when traveling from Western Europe.. Air Charter refers to hiring a private plane for a one time journey. Jet Cards are pre paid cards entitling the owner to a specific number of flight hours on a specified aircraft..

As all expenses are pre paid on the card, you need not concern yourself with deadhead time, return flights, landing fees, etc. Many small town airports on America's borders welcome individually owned small aircraft; points like Ogdensburg, Watertown and Massena with just a few scheduled domestic Essential Air Service flights daily fill the rest of their time with general aviation.. Give them an hour or two advance notice so that they can fetch border officials to meet the tiny private plane from exotic and foreign Brockville, and you've provided just the excuse they needed to add " International Airport " to their names..

Except for certain densely populated corridors (mostly just the Northeast), passenger trains in the United States can be surprisingly scarce and relatively expensive.. The national rail system, Amtrak (1 800 USA RAIL), provides service to many cities, offering exceptional sightseeing opportunities, but not particularly efficient inter city travel, and is often just as expensive as a flight.. In more urban locations, Amtrak can be very efficient and comfortable, but in rural areas delays are common. Plan ahead to ensure train travel between your destinations is available and / or convenient..

They have promotional discounts of 15% for students and seniors, and a 30 day U.S. Rail Pass for international travelers only. If you plan to buy a regular ticket within a week of traveling, it pays to check the website for sometimes significant " weekly specials ".. Amtrak offers many amenities and services that are lacking from other modes of transport. Amtrak's routes traverse some of America's most beautiful areas.. Travelers with limited time may not find travel by train to be convenient, simply because the country is big, and that " bigness " is particularly evident in many of the scenic areas..

For those with ample time, though, train travel offers an unparalleled view of the U.S., without the trouble and long term discomfort of a rental (hire) car or the hassle of flying.. Trains running on the Washington D.C. to Boston Northeast Corridor (Acela Express and the Regional), the Philadelphia to Harrisburg Keystone Corridor (Keystone Service and Pennsylvanian) along with a handful of short haul routes in Southern California generally run on time or very close to it.. The Northeast and Keystone Corridors are electrified and owned by Amtrak or other commuter railways and are passenger only, the routes around LA are subsidized by the State of California so that Amtrak trains have priority during the daytime (with freight having priority during the overnight hours)..

Outside these areas, Amtrak operates on freight lines and as a result must share track with a host railroad; this means you have about as good a chance of a delay as not.. Delays are usually brief (trains make up time en route) but have a contingency plan for being at least four hours late when traveling Amtrak, and leave lots of extra time (preferably a day or more) if you're connecting from Amtrak to another mode of travel such as a flight.. Eight hour or longer delays, especially on long distance routes, while not frequent are not unheard of..

If you miss an Amtrak connection because your first train is late, Amtrak will book you onto the next available train (or in rare cases a bus) to your final destination.. If your destination is on the Northeast Corridor, this isn't a big deal (departures are every hour) but in other parts of the country the next train may not be for several days.. If your reservations involved sleeper accommodations (Amtrak's First Class on their long distance overnight trains) on either your late arriving train or your missed connection, you will get a hotel voucher for the unplanned overnight stay..

For coach class passengers in the same situation, you will not get a hotel voucher; your unplanned lodging arrangements and cost will be your responsibility. However, after your travel is completed, Amtrak's Customer Service will commonly offer travel vouchers of $100 or more off future Amtrak travel to inconvenienced passengers.. This is true for all classes of service.. If you plan to board an Amtrak train at a location other than the train's initial place of departure, it's usually a good idea to call ahead before you leave for the station to see if the train is running on time..

A major Amtrak line in regular daily use by Americans themselves is the Acela Express line, running between Boston and Washington, D.C. It stops in New York City, New Haven, Philadelphia and many other cities on the way.. This line is electrified, with top speeds of 150 miles per hour (though the average speed is a good deal slower). Given the difficulty and expense of getting from the center of some of the major Northeastern cities to their respective airports, trains can sometimes be more convenient than air travel..

The Northeast Regional covers the same route but is slightly slower and makes a few more stops along the way. Regional trains also continue into Virginia, albeit with a diesel locomotive as the line south of Washington is not electrified.. Acela was introduced specifically to compete with the airlines with fares to match, so $300 - $350 for a roundtrip between New York City and Boston is not unheard of (and First Class will easily double that).. Increasingly the Northeast Regional is starting to price similarly to the airlines as well, roundtrips less than $275 - $300 are almost unheard of. Unless you have your heart set on seeing the Northeast by rail in the Northeast, a long distance bus (see below) may be a better value..

It takes roughly the same amount of time and even the discount bus lines (e g Bolt and MegaBus) have similar amenities to Amtrak such as reserved seating and wifi.. Depending on how far in advance you book, bus fares between major Northeast cities can be as low as $1 and more typically $15 - $25 each way.. During usual American vacation times, some long distance trains (outside the Northeast) can sell out weeks or even months in advance, so it pays to book early if you plan on using the long distance trains..

Booking early also results in generally lower fares for all trains since they tend to increase as trains become fuller. On the other hand, same day reservations are usually easy, and depending on the rules of the fare you purchased, you can change travel plans on the day itself without fees.. One major scenic long distance train route, the California Zephyr, runs from Emeryville in the Bay Area of California to Chicago, via Reno, Salt Lake City and Denver.. The full trip takes around 60 hours, but has incredible views of the Western deserts, the Rocky Mountains, and the Great Plains, things that you just cannot see if you fly..

Many of the sights on this route are simply inaccessible to cars. The trains run only once per day, and they usually sell out well in advance.. Amtrak's single most popular long distance train is the Chicago Seattle / Portland " Empire Builder " train via Milwaukee, St Paul / Minneapolis, Fargo, Minot, Glacier National Park, Whitefish, and Spokane.. In FY2007, this train alone carried over 503,000 passengers.. Amtrak also provides reasonably speedy daily round trips between Seattle and Vancouver, Canada and several daily trips between Seattle and Eugene, Oregon on the Amtrak Cascades line..

Passengers traveling long distances on Amtrak may reserve a seat in coach (Economy class) or pay extra for an upgrade to a private sleeping compartment (there are no shared rooms), which also includes all meals in the dining car.. Amtrak trains in the West feature a lounge car with floor to ceiling windows, which are perfect for sightseeing.. Separate from Amtrak, many major cities offer very reliable commuter trains that carry passengers to and from the suburbs or other relatively close by areas..

Since most Americans use a car for suburban travel, some commuter train stations have park and ride facilities where you can park your car for the day to use the commuter train to get to a city's downtown core where it may be more difficult to use a car due to traffic and parking concerns.. Parking rates at the commuter train stations vary due (some facilities may be operated by third parties). Some commuter train systems and services though do not operate on weekends and holidays so it's best to check the system's website to plan ahead..

Buy tickets before you board the train as you will either face a substantially more expensive fare or a hefty fine.. America has the largest system of inland waterways of any country in the world. It is entirely possible to navigate around within the United States by boat. Your choices of watercraft range from self propelled canoes and kayaks to elaborate houseboats and riverboat cruises.. Rivers and canals were key to developing the country, and traversing by boat gives you a unique perspective on the nation and some one of a kind scenery. Some examples of waterways open to recreational boating and / or scheduled cruises are;.

The New York State Canal System operates four canals comprising 524 miles of waterway open for recreational and commercial use. The most famous of these canals is the Erie Canal, which starts around Albany and heads west to Buffalo.. By navigating up the Hudson River from New York City, it is possible to go all the way to the Great Lakes and beyond via these waterways. Side trips to the Finger Lakes in Western New York or to Lake Champlain and Vermont are possible.. Small watercraft, including canoes and kayaks, are welcome on these canals..

The St Lawrence Seaway is now the primary port of entry for large ships into North America. Recreational boaters are welcome, however, the Seaway is designed for very large craft and a minimum boat length of 6 meters applies.. The Seaway starts in eastern Canada and goes to the Great Lakes.. The Mississippi River There are two channels of navigation from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi. The Mississippi affords north south access through the interior of the U.S. to the Gulf of Mexico and connects with all major interior waterways, including the Missouri and Ohio Rivers..

Each year, many first time and beginning boaters successfully navigate these waterways. Do remember that any kind of boating requires some preparation and planning. In general, the Coast Guard, Canal and Seaway authorities go out of their way to help recreational boaters.. They will also at times give instructions which you are expected to immediately obey. For example, small craft may be asked to give way to larger craft on canals, and weather conditions may require you to stop or change your route..

America's love affair with the automobile is legendary, and most Americans use a car when traveling within their city, and when traveling to nearby cities in their state or region.. Generally speaking, American cities were built for the automobile, so renting or bringing your own car is usually a very good idea. This applies even to very large cities like Los Angeles, Atlanta and Miami, where public transport is very limited and having a car is the most practical way of getting around.. (The exceptions are New York City, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco and Washington, D C, where having your own car is not only unnecessary, but discouraged) In most medium sized American cities, everything is very spread out and public transportation thin..

Taxis are often available, but if you're not at the airport, you may have to phone for one and wait a half hour or so to be picked up, making similar arrangements to return.. While most Americans are happy to give driving directions, don't be surprised if many aren't familiar with the local public transport options available.. Gas stations usually sell regional and national maps. Online maps with directions are available on several websites including MapQuest and Google Maps. Drivers can obtain directions by calling 1-800 Free411, which will provide them via text message..

GPS navigation systems can be purchased for around $100, and car rental agencies often rent GPS units for a small additional fee. Many smartphones are now bundled with GPS navigation software that offers turn by turn directions.. Even states that ban the use of hand held phones by drivers often allow the use of GPS features, as long as the driver enters no data when in motion (check local laws in the places you will be traveling).. Unlike most of the world, the United States continues to use the imperial measurement system, meaning that road signs are in miles and miles per hour, and fuel is sold in gallons..

If driving a car from Canada or Mexico, make sure you know the relevant conversion (1 mile is about 1 6 km). Also, if you're planning to cross into the U.S. by car, and your car's speedometer doesn't display both U.S. and metric units, read the owner's manual to see how to convert the speedometer units.. Even cars that don't display both sets of units generally allow either set of units to be displayed on demand.. A romantic appeal is attached to the idea of long distance car travel; many Americans will tell you that you can't see the " real " America except by car..

Given the scarcity of public transportation in most American cities, the loss of time traveling between cities by car rather than flying can be made up by the convenience of driving around within cities once you arrive.. In addition, many of the country's major natural attractions, such as the Grand Canyon, are almost impossible to get to without an automobile. If you have the time, a classic American road trip with a rented car (see below) is very easy to achieve.. Just keep in mind that because of the distances, this kind of travel can mean many long days behind the wheel, so pay attention to the comfort of the car you use..

A " coast to coast " trip with multiple drivers and minimal stops will take at least five days (four and a half if you have strong bladders).. The United States is covered with a convenient system of Interstate highways. Interstates are always expressways (or " freeways ") — that is, controlled access divided highways with no grade crossings, the equivalent of what Europeans call a " motorway ".. These roads connect all of the major population centers, and they make it easy to cover long distances — or get to the other side of a large city quickly..

Primary Interstates have one - or two digit numbers, with odd ones running north south (e g I 5) and even ones running east west (e g I 80). Three digit interstate numbers designate shorter, secondary routes.. An odd first digit signifies a " spur " into or away from a city; an even first digit signifies a " loop " around a large city. The second two digits remain the same as the primary Interstate that travels nearby (e g, I 495 is a loop that connects to I 95).. The vast majority of Interstates do not charge tolls, but several eastern states operate cross state Interstate toll roads called Turnpikes (or the Thruway in New York). Other states have also started to implement tolls to defray their maintenance costs..

While the majority of these tolls can still be paid in cash (no credit cards or traveler's checks), states are increasingly turning to electronic tolling. Ask your rental car agency or auto club about the tolling options available to you.. Speed limits on the interstate highways can vary from state to state, and also according to geography (for example, slower on mountain passes and within cities than on long straight rural sections).. Posted speed limits can range from as low as 45 miles per hour (70 km / h) in densely urban areas to as much as 85 miles per hour (135 km / h) in rural stretches of Texas, but mostly they'll be between 65 and 75 mph (105–120 km / h)..

The speed limits (in miles per hour) are always clearly posted on interstates.. American drivers often drive 5 to 10 miles per hour (8 16 km / h) over the posted speed limit; driving slower than the speed limit can actually be dangerous.. A good rule of thumb is to avoid driving much faster than 5 mph (8 km / h) over the speed limit, and be sure that some other cars are always passing you; avoid being the fastest or the slowest vehicle.. It is customary for the slowest traffic to keep to the right while faster traffic passes on the left. If you are pulled over by police for speeding, the excuse " Everyone else is speeding too " will not help..

Highway Patrol officers are usually most concerned with the fastest drivers, so ensuring you are slower than the fastest speeders is one way to avoid their attention. If you are pulled over, be respectful, address the officer as " Officer, " and express heartfelt regret at your excessive speed.. You will nearly always get a ticket, but it never hurts to express regret as maybe you will get lucky and only receive a warning.. Many U.S. Interstate Highways, particularly around and through very large cities, will segregate the far left hand lane or lanes and reserve them for high occupancy use..

These lanes are clearly signed, marked which white diamonds down the center of the lane, typically have double white lines on the right, and are limited to vehicles with multiple occupants (usually two, sometimes three).. High Occupancy Vehicle lanes, called HOV lanes, are designed to ease congestion on Interstate freeways around large population centers during the very start and very end of the business day, also known colloquially as Rush Hour.. Enforcement of these High Occupancy Vehicle lanes typically coincides with rush hour, from 7AM to 9AM, and again from 4PM to 6PM on weekdays. Driving in an HOV lane as the sole occupant of a vehicle during these times can result in a traffic citation and fine..

Note that motorcycles are allowed to use HOV lanes in all states, even with only one rider.. Commercial rest areas were prohibited on the U.S. Interstate Highway system by the federal government. As a result, the vast majority of stopping points are state operated rest areas with public toilets, parking, tourist information, vending machines, and a small picnic area.. While there are no restaurants, gas stations, or other stores, some rest areas are equipped with vending machines.. (A notable exception are tolled, limited access highways such as Florida's Turnpike, where exiting would force you to pay a toll; service plazas with both food and gas are found on these highways every 20–40 miles or so) Commercial traveler services tend to congregate on the local roads just off popular interstate exits, even if the exit is miles from the nearest population center..

Sometimes you'll find a truck stop, an establishment that caters to long haul truckers but is open to all travelers; Truck stops provide several services all in one building, with a " greasy spoon " - style restaurant, gas station, general store, and even hot showers.. Signs on the highway will indicate the services available at upcoming exits, including gas, food, lodging, and camping, so you can choose a stopping point as you're driving.. A secondary system of federal highways is the U.S. Highway system. U.S. Highways may be freeways on some sections, but they are often surface roads, sometimes with just one lane in each direction..

U.S. Highways, which generally predate the Interstate system, tend to be older routes that lead through town centers. In many cases, Interstates were constructed roughly parallel to U.S. Highways to expedite traffic that wishes to bypass the cities and towns.. If you don't mind stopping at traffic lights and dealing with pedestrians, U.S. Highways can lead you to some interesting off the beaten path sights.. Each state is responsible for maintenance of the Interstates and U.S. Highways (despite the names), but each one also maintains its own system of State Highways (or State Routes) that form the bulk of the inter community road network..

State Highways are usually surface roads but may occasionally be freeways; you can generally count on them being well maintained (and plowed in the winter) and that following one will get you to some form of civilization sooner rather than later.. Americans drive on the right in left hand drive vehicles and pass on the left, same as in Canada and Mexico. White lines separate traffic moving in the same direction and yellow lines separate opposing traffic.. Red lights and stop signs are always enforced at all hours in nearly all U.S. jurisdictions. At all intersections, vehicles must stop behind the thick, white line painted across the road and cannot block crosswalks..

Turning right at a red light (after coming to a complete stop and yielding to cross traffic) is legal in every state, though exceptions exist (such as New York City and where signage or signals explicitly prohibit it).. In some urban areas, onramps to freeways may have a special traffic signal, with only red and green lights, which is used during periods of high traffic.. At such signals, the light will turn green for a few seconds to allow one vehicle at a time (unless signs instruct otherwise) down the ramp to merge with freeway traffic..

At some intersections, traffic lights aren't needed at certain times of the day when there is little traffic (especially at night) and the traffic light becomes either a pulsating red light — which is treated like a stop sign — or a pulsating yellow light which simply indicates caution (there is no need to slow or stop).. In some areas, all way stop signs are marked with these flashing red lights, one in each direction.. There are three ways of indicating how a left turn can be made. Some intersections will have a traffic light with red, yellow, & green left arrows; in this case, treat the signal as you would any other..

Many intersections have a 5 light traffic signal, with red, yellow, & green circles and yellow & green left arrows. When a green left arrow is displayed, even if the red circle is simultaneously lit, traffic has the right of way to turn left without the need to yield to oncoming traffic.. When just the green circle is lit on a 5 light traffic signal, traffic turning left must yield to oncoming traffic. A few states use a pulsating yellow, left arrow to indicate that left turning traffic must yield to oncoming traffic..

When an intersection just has the simple red, yellow, & green traffic signal, traffic turning left must yield to oncoming traffic when the light is green.. In many cities, curbs are painted to reflect the ability to park at a particular location. The colors used and the meaning of the colors used varies from city to city.. In general, red (and sometimes yellow) means " no parking " and blue designates handicapped parking only (with appropriate license plate or placard). In California, yellow curbs designate loading only (goods / cargo), white designates passenger pickup or dropoff, and green indicates there is a time limit for parking (look at signs for time limit)..

Elsewhere, the meaning of curb colors varies. Always follow parking signs and, if you are uncertain whether parking is allowed at a particular spot, it's best to park elsewhere than receive a parking ticket or even have your vehicle towed and impounded (which will result in a large fee to retrieve).. A parked vehicle should never block a crosswalk, fire hydrant, or the entrance to a driveway / alley.. Most American drivers tend to drive calmly and safely in the sprawling residential suburban neighborhoods where the majority of Americans live..

However, freeways around the central areas of big cities often become crowded with a significant proportion of " hurried " drivers, who will exceed speed limits, make unsafe lane changes, or follow other cars at unsafe close distances (known as " tailgating ").. Enforcement of posted speed limits is somewhat unpredictable and varies widely from state to state. Not exceeding the pace of other drivers will usually avoid a troublesome citation.. Beware of small towns along otherwise high speed rural roads (and medium speed suburban roads); the reduced speed limits found while going through such towns are strictly enforced..

Driving law is primarily a matter of state law and is enforced by state and local police. Fortunately, widespread adoption of provisions of the Uniform Vehicle Code, and federal regulation of traffic signs under the Highway Safety Act, means that most driving laws do not vary much from one state to the next.. All states publish an official driver's handbook which summarizes state driving laws in plain English. These handbooks are usually available both on the Web and at many government offices..

AAA publishes a AAA / CAA Digest of Motor Laws, which is now available online for free. The Digest contains comprehensive summaries in plain English of all major driving laws that typically vary between states.. The Digest's coverage includes all U. S states and all Canadian provinces.. International visitors age 18 and older can usually drive on their foreign driver's license for up to a year, depending on state law. Licenses that are not in English must be accompanied by an International Driving Permit (IDP) or a certified translation..

Persons who will be in the United States for more than a year must obtain a driver's license from the state they are residing in Written and practical driving tests are required, but they are usually waived for holders of valid Canadian, Mexican, and some European licenses.. Traffic signs often depend on the ability to read English words. Drivers who can read English will find most signs self explanatory.. (Progress toward adopting signs with internationally understood symbols is extremely slow; don't count on seeing any) Distances and speeds will almost always be given in miles and miles per hour (MPH), without these units specified..

Some areas near the Canadian and Mexican borders may feature road signs with distances in both miles and kilometers.. Traffic cameras are becoming common in some metropolitan areas and will issue automated traffic citations.. Most traffic cameras are positioned at intersections and the most commonly issued citations are not coming to a complete stop when turning right on a red light, not stopping behind the stop line (thick, white line across the road before the crosswalk), and driving through a red light..

As of July 2013, 519 communities across 25 states & D.C. use cameras at intersections for red light infractions and 129 jurisdictions across 13 states & D.C. use cameras to catch speeding.. Police patrol cars vary in make, model, color, and livery from state to state and even town to town, but all are equipped with red and blue flashing lights and a siren.. If you see the lights or hear the siren, pull to the right hand shoulder of the road to let them by.. If the patrol car is directly behind you, it's your car the officer is targeting; in that case, pull over as soon as it is practical for you to do so safely, even if this means driving some extra distance..

It is extremely important that you pull off the road as soon as you are able. The officer will request to see your drivers license, the registration for the vehicle, and your proof of insurance coverage, and / or rental car documentation.. Most traffic stops are recorded by a video camera in the trooper's patrol car, as well as a lapel mike on their person. See the section on police officers in the Stay Safe section below.. Virtually every car from every rental agency in the U.S. runs on unleaded gasoline and has an automatic transmission. Renting a car usually costs anywhere from $20 and $100 per day for a basic sedan, depending on the type of car and location, with some discounts for week long rentals..

The major rental agencies are Enterprise Rent A Car (+ 1 800 RENT A CAR); Hertz (+ 1 800 230 4898); Avis (+ 1 800 230 4898); Thrifty Car Rental; and Dollar Rent A Car.. There are no large national discount car rental agencies but in each city there is usually at least one. A couple discount car rental companies, usually restricted to areas of the country, are Advantage Rent A Car, E Z Rent A Car (+ 1 800 277 5171) and Fox Rent A Car.. The internet or the Yellow Pages are the easiest ways to find them. One widespread chain is Rent A Wreck (+ 1 800 944 7501). It rents used cars at significantly lower prices..

Most rental agencies have downtown offices in major cities as well as offices at major airports. Not all companies allow picking up a car in one city and dropping it off in another (the ones that do almost always charge extra for the privilege); check with the rental agency when making your reservations.. Renting a car at an airport location can sometimes cost 3 times as much as renting the same car (from the same company) at a downtown location, but in other areas, the airport location will be cheaper..

On line travel websites such as Orbitz or Expedia can be useful to compare the best prices and make reservations.. Rental agencies accept a valid driver's license from your country, which must be presented with an International Drivers Permit if your license needs to be translated. You may wish to join some kind of auto club before starting a large American road trip, and having a cell phone is a very good idea.. Most rental agencies have some kind of emergency road service program, but they can have spotty coverage for remote regions. The largest club in the United States is AAA (+ 1-800-391-4AAA), known as " Triple A "..

A yearly membership runs about $60. AAA members also get discounts at many hotels, motels, restaurants and attractions; which may make it worth getting a membership even if you don't drive.. Alternatively, Better World Club (+1-866-238 1137) offers similar rates and benefits as AAA with often timelier service and is a more eco friendly choice (1% of revenue is donated to environmental cleanup programs).. Some non U.S. automobile clubs have affiliate relationships with AAA that allow their members to use AAA services. These include the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA), The Automobile Association in the UK, and ADAC in Germany..

Most Americans renting cars are covered for loss or damage to the rental car either by their credit card or their own private vehicle insurance policy. Without appropriate loss / damage waiver cover, you could be liable for the entire cost of the car should it be written off in an accident.. Purchasing loss / damage waiver cover and supplemental liability insurance may add up to $30 / day to the price of a rental, in some cases doubling the price of the rental.. If you visit the car rental website and identify your country of origin, you may be given a quote which includes the loss / damage waiver and liability insurance for considerably less..

Many travel insurance policies include cover for some rental car damage – check your policy against the rental terms and conditions.. Gasoline (" gas ") is sold by the gallon, at stations that are primarily self service (you must pump your own gas) with the exception of those in New Jersey and Oregon (where self service is illegal).. The American gallon is smaller than the UK gallon, and equals 3.785 liters. The U.S. octane scale is different from that used in Europe; a regular gallon of U.S. gasoline is rated at 87 octane, the equivalent of about 92 in Europe..

In most states, gas stations offer a choice of three levels of octane; 87 (regular), 89 (midgrade or plus), and 91 (premium). Unless you are renting a luxury vehicle, your vehicle will likely require only 87 regular.. If you are driving in the Rocky Mountains area, you may encounter stations that offer gas at lower octane ratings, most commonly 85 octane. This is suitable for use by 87 octane vehicles at high elevations, but if you're heading for lower elevations, be sure to fill up with 87 octane..

Diesel is not as common, but still widely used and available at most stations, especially those catering to truckers. Untaxed " offroad diesel ", sold in rural areas for agricultural use, is dyed red and should not be used in cars, as there are heavy fines if you're caught.. Despite increasing petroleum prices worldwide — a trend which dramatically reversed in the second half of 2014 — and some increases in gas taxes, the American consumer voter's attachment to his automobile, combined with abundant domestic oil reserves and relatively low taxes on gasoline, has kept retail fuel prices much lower than in many parts of the world..

Prices fluctuate by region and season. As of New Year's Day 2015, current prices are averaging just under $2.25 / gallon (equivalent to $0 59 / liter) for regular and $3.15 / gallon for diesel ($0 83 / liter).. Gas prices vary dramatically from state to state based on a number of variables, primarily state sales tax rates (which are invariably included in the advertised price). The highest prices are usually found in Hawaii, Alaska, the West Coast, Illinois, and New York.. The lowest are generally found in the south central U.S. A good rule of thumb to find cheaper gas is to venture away from the highway and city centers. There are numerous mobile apps written that will display the cheapest fuel prices within a set range..

Intercity bus travel in the United States is widespread, and while not available everywhere, there are at least three daily routes in every state.. Service between nearby major cities is extremely frequent (e g as of July 2012 there are 82 daily buses, by seven operators, on an off peak weekday each way between Boston New York, an average of nearly one every 10 minutes during daytime hours).. Many patrons use bus travel when other modes aren't readily available, as buses often connect many smaller towns with regional cities. The disadvantaged and elderly may use these bus lines, as automobile travel proves arduous or unaffordable for some..

It's commonly considered a " lower class " way to travel, but is generally dependable, safe, affordable.. Greyhound Bus Lines (+ 1 800-229-9424) and several affiliated partners have the predominant share of American bus travel. Steep discounts are available to travelers who purchase their tickets 7–14 days in advance of their travel date.. Greyhound buses typically runs in 5-7 hour segments, at which time all passengers must get off the bus so it can be serviced, even if it's the middle of the night. Continuing passengers are boarded before those just getting on..

There are no reservations on Greyhound buses. All seating is on a first come, first served basis, with the exception of select cities, where you can pay a $5 fee for priority seating.. Internet based buses are becoming very widespread. Megabus offers inexpensive daily bus service across the country in several disconnected regions;. The East Coast (also includes destinations as far west as Cleveland and Pittsburgh as well as Toronto and Montreal in Canada) hubs in New York City and Washington D.C..

South hubs in Dallas and New Orleans.. California (also includes Las Vegas and Reno in Nevada) hub in Los Angeles.. BoltBus competes with Megabus on major routes in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest. With the exception of Boston (where all long distance buses are required by law to use the main South Station bus terminal) discount buses usually depart from either outside train stations or at curbside locations to keep costs down.. The lowest fares are available by purchasing online several weeks before you travel but Bolt and Megabus both offer cash fares to walk up passengers on a space available basis..

So called Chinatown buses also provide curb side departures for a standard walk up cash fare often much lower than other operators' fares. These lines operate through the East Coast down with some further out destinations in the Midwest and South, along as along the West Coast.. GoToBus.com is the largest online booking agent for these buses.. Hispanic bus companies tend to have the most spacious buses in the country. Connections from Texas hubs to the Midwest including Chicago, the Southeast and Mexico are offered Mexican (- American) companies Tornado Bus, El Expreso, El Conejo, Omnibus Mexicanos and Groupo Senda..

Service in and out of Florida is offered by the Chilean JetSet, Argentinian RedCoach, and Cuban American La Cubana. In California and the Southwest operators include FuturaNet and Crucero, which have tickets starting from $1.. There are numerous other local operators, many of which are also affiliated with Greyhound or Amtrak. The next largest affiliation is Trailways.. The Federal Highway Administration certifies all bus operators, though they have a hard time keeping wraps on the large amount of services. Curbside bus operators (Chinatown and Internet based buses) are more dangerous than others, though still much safer than driving a private vehicle..

Recreational vehicles – large, sometimes bus sized vehicles that include sleeping and living quarters – are a distinctly American way to cruise the country. Some RVers love the convenience of being able to drive their home anywhere they like and enjoy the camaraderie that RV campgrounds offer.. Other people dislike the hassles and maintenance issues that come with RVing. And don't even think about driving an RV into a huge metropolis such as New York. Still, if you want to drive extensively within the United States and are comfortable handling a big rig, renting an RV is an option you should consider..

The thrill and exhilaration of cross country travel are magnified when you go by motorcycle. Harley Davidson is the preeminent American motorcycle brand and Harley operates a motorcycle rental program for those licensed and capable of handling a full weight motorcycle.. In some parts of the country, you can also rent other types of motorcycles, such as sportbikes, touring bikes, and dual sport bikes. For those inexperienced with motorcycles, Harley and other dealerships offer classes for beginners..

Wearing a helmet, although not required in all states, is always a good idea. The practice of riding between lanes of slower cars, also known as " lane sharing " or " lane splitting, " is illegal, except in California where it is tolerated and widespread.. Solo motorcyclists can legally use " high occupancy vehicle " or " carpool " lanes during their hours of operation.. American enthusiasm towards motorcycles has led to a motorcycling subculture. Motorcycle clubs are exclusive clubs for members dedicated to riding a particular brand of motorcycle within a highly structured club hierarchy. Riding clubs may or may not be organized around a specific brand of bikes and offer open membership to anyone interested in riding..

Motorcycle rallies, such as the famous one in Sturgis, South Dakota, are huge gatherings of motorcyclists from around the country. Many motorcyclists are not affiliated with any club and opt to ride independently or with friends.. In general, motorcycling is seen as a hobby, as opposed to a practical means of transportation; this means, for example, that most American motorcyclists prefer not to ride in inclement weather.. However you choose to ride, and whatever brand of bike you prefer, motorcycling can be a thrilling way to see the country..

A long history of hitchhiking comes out of the U.S., with record of automobile hitchhikers as early as 1911. Today, hitchhiking is nowhere near as common, but there are some nevertheless who still attempt short or cross country trips.. The laws related to hitchhiking in the U.S. are most covered by the Uniform Vehicle Code (UVC), adopted with changes in wording by individual states.. In general, it is legal to hitchhike throughout the majority of the country, if not standing within the boundaries of a highway (usually marked by a solid white line at the shoulder of the road) and if not on an Interstate highway prohibiting pedestrians..

In many states Interstate highways do not allow foot traffic, so hitchhikers must use the entrance ramps. In a few states it is allowed or tolerated (unless on a toll road).. Oklahoma, Texas and Oregon are a few states that do allow pedestrians on the highway shoulder, although not in some metropolitan areas. Oklahoma allows foot traffic on all free interstates, but not toll roads and Texas only bans it on toll roads (and on free Interstates within the city of El Paso).. Oregon only bans it in the Portland metro area. Missouri only bans it within Kansas City and St Louis city limits..

Hitchhiking has become much less popular due to increasing wariness of the possible dangers (fueled in part by sensational stories in the news media). International travelers to the U.S. should avoid this practice unless they have either a particularly strong sense of social adventure or extremely little money.. Even many Americans themselves would only feel comfortable " thumbing a ride " if they had a good knowledge of the locale.. Craigslist has a rideshare section that sometimes proves useful for arranging rides in advance. If you are open with your destination it's almost always possible to find a ride on C.L. going somewhere within the U.S..

Government And Politics

The United States is the world's oldest surviving federation. It is a constitutional republic and representative democracy, " in which majority rule is tempered by minority rights protected by law ". The government is regulated by a system of checks and balances defined by the U.S. Constitution, which serves as the country's supreme legal document.. For 2013, the U.S. ranked 19th on the Democracy Index and 19th on the Corruption Perceptions Index.. In the American federalist system, citizens are usually subject to three levels of government federal, state, and local. The local government's duties are commonly split between county and municipal governments. In almost all cases, executive and legislative officials are elected by a plurality vote of citizens by district..

There is no proportional representation at the federal level, and it is very rare at lower levels.. The federal government is composed of three branches. The House of Representatives has 435 voting members, each representing a congressional district for a two year term. House seats are apportioned among the states by population every tenth year. At the 2010 census, seven states had the minimum of one representative, while California, the most populous state, had 53.. The Senate has 100 members with each state having two senators, elected at large to six year terms; one third of Senate seats are up for election every other year. The president serves a four year term and may be elected to the office no more than twice..

The president is not elected by direct vote, but by an indirect electoral college system in which the determining votes are apportioned to the states and the District of Columbia. The Supreme Court, led by the Chief Justice of the United States, has nine members, who serve for life.. The state governments are structured in roughly similar fashion; Nebraska uniquely has a unicameral legislature. The governor of each state is directly elected. Some state judges and cabinet officers are appointed by the governors of the respective states, while others are elected by popular vote..

The original text of the Constitution establishes the structure and responsibilities of the federal government and its relationship with the individual states. Article One protects the right to the " great writ " of habeas corpus.. The Constitution has been amended 27 times; the first ten amendments, which make up the Bill of Rights, and the Fourteenth Amendment form the central basis of Americans' individual rights.. All laws and governmental procedures are subject to judicial review and any law ruled by the courts to be in violation of the Constitution is voided. The principle of judicial review, not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, was established by the Supreme Court in Marbury v Madison in a decision handed down by Chief Justice John Marshall..

The United States is a federal union of 50 states. The original 13 states were the successors of the 13 colonies that rebelled against British rule.. Early in the country's history, three new states were organized on territory separated from the claims of the existing states Kentucky from Virginia; Tennessee from North Carolina; and Maine from Massachusetts.. Most of the other states have been carved from territories obtained through war or purchase by the U.S. government. One set of exceptions includes Vermont, Texas, and Hawaii each was a well established independent republic before joining the union..

During the American Civil War, West Virginia broke away from Virginia. The most recent stateHawaiiachieved statehood on August 21, 1959. The states do not have the right to unilaterally secede from the union.. The states compose the vast bulk of the U.S. land mass.. The District of Columbia is a federal district which contains the capital of the United States, Washington D.C. The United States also possesses five major overseas territories Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands in the Caribbean; and American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands in the Pacific..

Those born in the major territories are birthright U.S. citizens except Samoans. Samoans born in American Samoa are born U.S. nationals, and may become naturalized citizens.. American citizens residing in the territories have fundamental constitutional protections and elective self government, with a territorial Member of Congress, but they do not vote for president as states.. Territories have personal and business tax regimes different from that of states.. The United States also observes tribal sovereignty of the Native Nations. Though reservations are within state borders, the reservation is a sovereign entity. While the United States recognizes this sovereignty, other countries may not..

The United States has operated under a two party system for most of its history. For elective offices at most levels, state administered primary elections choose the major party nominees for subsequent general elections.. Since the general election of 1856, the major parties have been the Democratic Party, founded in 1824, and the Republican Party, founded in 1854. Since the Civil War, only one third party presidential candidateformer president Theodore Roosevelt, running as a Progressive in 1912has won as much as 20 of the popular vote..

The third largest political party is the Libertarian Party. The President and Vice president are elected through the Electoral College system.. Within American political culture, the Republican Party is considered center right or conservative and the Democratic Party is considered center left or liberal. The states of the Northeast and West Coast and some of the Great Lakes states, known as " blue states ", are relatively liberal.. The " red states " of the South and parts of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains are relatively conservative..

The winner of the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, Democrat Barack Obama, is the 44th U.S. president.. In the 113th United States Congress, the House of Representatives is controlled by the Republican Party, while the Democratic Party has control of the Senate.. The Senate currently consists of 53 Democrats, two independents who caucus with the Democrats, and 45 Republicans; the House consists of 233 Republicans and 199 Democrats, with three vacancies.. There are 29 Republican and 21 Democratic state governors..

Since the founding of the United States until the 2000s, the country's governance has been primarily dominated by White Anglo Saxon Protestants. However, the situation has changed recently and of the top 17 positions there is only one WASP.. The United States has an established structure of foreign relations. It is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, and New York City is home to the United Nations Headquarters. It is a member of the G7, G20, and Organisation for Economic Co operation and Development..

Almost all countries have embassies in Washington, D.C., and many have consulates around the country. Likewise, nearly all nations host American diplomatic missions. However, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Bhutan, and the Republic of China do not have formal diplomatic relations with the United States.. The United States has a " special relationship " with the United Kingdom and strong ties with Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Japan, South Korea, Israel, and several EU countries, including France, Italy, Germany, and Spain..

It works closely with fellow NATO members on military and security issues and with its neighbors through the Organization of American States and free trade agreements such as the trilateral North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.. In 2008, the United States spent a net 25.4 billion on official development assistance, the most in the world. As a share of America's large gross national income, however, the U.S. contribution of 0.18 ranked last among 22 donor states.. By contrast, private overseas giving by Americans is relatively generous..

The U.S. exercises full international defense authority and responsibility for three sovereign nations through Compact of Free Association with Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau, all of which are Pacific island nations which were part of the U.S. - administered Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands beginning after World War II, and gained independence in subsequent years.. Taxes are levied in the United States at the federal, state and local government level. These include taxes on income, payroll, property, sales, imports, estates and gifts, as well as various fees..

In 2010 taxes collected by federal, state and municipal governments amounted to 24.8 of GDP. During FY2012, the federal government collected approximately 2.45 trillion in tax revenue, up 147 billion or 6 versus FY2011 revenues of 2.30 trillion.. Primary receipt categories included individual income taxes, Social SecuritySocial Insurance taxes, and corporate taxes.. U.S. taxation is generally progressive, especially the federal income taxes, and is among the most progressive in the developed world, but the incidence of corporate income tax has been a matter of considerable ongoing controversy for decades..

In 2009 the top 10 of earners, with 36 of the nation's income, paid 78.2 of the federal personal income tax burden, while the bottom 40 had a negative liability.. However, payroll taxes for Social Security are a flat regressive tax, with no tax charged on income above 113,700 and no tax at all paid on unearned income from things such as stocks and capital gains.. The historic reasoning for the regressive nature of the payroll tax is that entitlement programs have not been viewed as welfare transfers. The top 10 paid 51.8 of total federal taxes in 2009, and the top 1, with 13.4 of pre tax national income, paid 22.3 of federal taxes..

In 2013 the Tax Policy Center projected total federal effective tax rates of 35.5 for the top 1, 27.2 for the top quintile, 13.8 for the middle quintile, and 2.7 for the bottom quintile.. State and local taxes vary widely, but are generally less progressive than federal taxes as they rely heavily on broadly borne regressive sales and property taxes that yield less volatile revenue streams, though their consideration does not eliminate the progressive nature of overall taxation.. During FY 2012, the federal government spent 3.54 trillion on a budget or cash basis, down 60 billion or 1.7 vs. FY 2011 spending of 3.60 trillion. Major categories of FY 2012 spending included Medicare amp; Medicaid, Social Security, Defense Department, non defense discretionary, other mandatory and interest..

The total national debt in the United States was 18.527 trillion, according to an estimate for 2014 by the International Monetary Fund. In May 2014, U.S. federal government debt held by the public was approximately 12.495 trillion, or about 75 of U.S. GDP.. Intra governmental holdings stood at 5 trillion, giving a combined total debt of 17.494 trillion. By 2012, total federal debt had surpassed 100 of U.S. GDP. The U.S. has a credit rating of AA from Standard amp; Poor's, AAA from Fitch, and Aaa from Moody's..

Historically, the U.S. public debt as a share of GDP increased during wars and recessions, and subsequently declined. For example, debt held by the public as a share of GDP peaked just after World War II, but then fell over the following 30 years.. In recent decades, large budget deficits and the resulting increases in debt have led to concern about the long term sustainability of the federal government's fiscal policies. However, these concerns are not universally shared..

What To Buy

The official U.S. currency is the United States dollar ($), divided into 100 cents (¢). The dollar is colloquially known as the buck so 5 bucks means $5. Foreign currencies are almost never accepted.. Some major hotel chains may accept traveler's cheques in other currencies. The Canadian dollar can generally be used close to the border; it is sometimes accepted at larger stores up to 100 miles from the border.. The Mexican peso can also be used in border towns (El Paso, Laredo, etc), but you'll get better rates by exchanging it before leaving Mexico..

Common American bills are for $1, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100, with $2 bills practically never seen in circulation. The $100 and sometimes $50 bills are too valuable for small transactions, and may be refused.. All the bills are the same size. All $1 and $2 bills and older $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 bills are greenish and printed with black and green ink. Newer versions of the $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 bills are slightly more colorful.. Banknotes never expire and several designs of each note can circulate together. However, some retailers may refuse older bills in higher denominations ($100, $50, and maybe $20) which lack the anti counterfeiting features (watermarks, security ribbon, microprinting) that staff are trained to look for..

The standard coins are the penny (1 ¢, copper color), the chunky nickel (5 ¢, silver color), the tiny dime (10 ¢, silver color) and the ridged edge quarter (25 ¢, silver color).. These coins only have their values written in words, not figures, e.g. " quarter dollar ", rather than " 25 ¢ ". The 10 ¢ coin is labeled " one dime ", not " ten cents ".. When it comes to value, size doesn't matter; the dime is the smallest coin, followed by the penny, nickel, and quarter. Half dollar (50 ¢, silver) and dollar ($1, silver or gold) coins exist but are uncommon..

Coin operated machines usually only accept nickels, dimes, and quarters, and dollar bills, though vending machines may also accept dollar coins; larger vending machines, such as for buses or postal stamps, may take $5, $10, and even $20 bills.. Canadian coins are sized similarly, but machines usually reject them. Humans generally won't notice (or care about) a few small Canadian coins (particularly pennies, but also nickels, dimes, and even quarters) mixed with American, at least not in the northern parts of the country..

Currency exchange centers are rare outside the downtowns of major coastal and border cities, and international airports. Some banks can provide currency exchange services.. Opening a bank account in the US is a fairly straightforward process, and there are no restrictions on foreigners owning bank accounts in the US. The largest retail banks are Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Citibank.. Many parts of the country, such as Hawaii, are poorly served by the big retail banks and are dominated by local banks..

ATMs can handle foreign bank cards or credit cards bearing Visa / Plus or MasterCard / Cirrus logos. They generally charge about $2.50 to cards issued by other banks, though this is often waived for cards issued outside the U.S. Smaller ATMs in restaurants etc often charge higher fees (up to $5).. Some ATMs (such as those at Sheetz gas stations and government buildings such as courthouses) have no fee. Another option is withdrawing cash (usually up to $40 over the cost of your goods) when making a debit card purchase at a large discount store such as Walmart or Target, or at many supermarkets..

Stores almost never charge a fee for this service, though the bank that issued your card may.. Major credit cards such as Visa and MasterCard (and their debit card affiliates) are widely used and accepted. Nearly all large retailers will accept credit cards for transactions of all sizes, even as small as one or two dollars.. However, some small businesses and independently owned stores specify a minimum amount of money (usually $2– 5, but can legally charge up to $10 minimum) for credit card use, as such transactions cost them around $0.30 - 0.50 (this practice is also common at bars when opening a tab)..

Almost all sit down restaurants, hotels, and shops will accept credit and debit cards; those that do not post a sign saying " CASH ONLY. " Other cards such as American Express and Discover are also accepted, but not as widely.. Many retailers have a window sticker or counter sign showing the logos of the four big U.S. credit cards; Visa, MasterCard, AmEx, and Discover.. Only a few high end boutique stores in major cities also have window stickers for foreign cards like JCB and China UnionPay. However, both JCB and China UnionPay have alliances with Discover, so they can be used at any retailer that accepts Discover cards..

When making large purchases, it is typical for U.S. retailers to ask to see some form of photo identification. Shops may also ask for photo identification for foreign issued cards. In certain circumstances, credit / debit cards are the only means to perform a transaction.. Hence if you do not have one, you can purchase a prepaid card or gift card with Visa, MasterCard or AmEx logo for yourself in a good number of stores but you may need to provide identification before the card is activated.. Transaction authorization is made by signing a paper sales slip or a computer pad, although many retailers will waive the signature requirement for small purchases. The U.S. is in the process of implementing the EMV " chip and PIN " credit card authorization system used overseas..

The deadline for financial institutions to convert to using only EMV chip cards is October 2015.. Since chip and PIN card readers were virtually non existent in early 2014 and most financial institutions don't plan to begin replacing existing cards until late 2014 / early 2015, don't expect to find many compatible card readers until the 2015 deadline draws near.. After October 2015, retailers may still require a signature on a paper slip or computer pad as opposed to using a PIN (as it's the " chip " technology that's being mandated)..

Gas station pumps, selected public transportation vending machines, and some other types of automated vending machines often have credit / debit card readers.. Many gas station pumps and some automated vending machines that accept credit cards ask for the ZIP code (i e, postal code) of the U.S. billing address for the card, which effectively prevents them from accepting foreign cards (they are unable to detect a foreign card and switch to PIN authentication).. At gas stations, you can use a foreign issued card by paying the station attendant inside..

If you live in Canada and are using a card with the MasterCard logo, you can use it at all U.S. pumps that require a ZIP code prompt by entering the digits of your postal code (ignoring letters and spaces) and adding two zeroes to the end.. When using a debit card, some stations will place a hold on your account for a specified amount (a notice will be present on the pump, typically $75) and then update the charge once you've filled up (but there is often a 1-2 day delay between removing the " hold " and updating the amount charged)..

Each major commercial establishment (e g store, restaurant, online service) with a statewide, regional, nationwide or online presence makes its own gift card available to consumers for use at any of its establishments nationwide or its online store.. Despite the word " gift " in gift card, you can actually purchase and use these cards for yourself. A gift card for a certain establishment can be purchased at any of the establishment's branches.. Supermarkets and pharmacies also have a variety of gift cards from different stores, restaurants and other services. Once these are purchased by you or given to you by friends, you can use a particular store or restaurant's gift card at any of its branches nationwide or online store for any amount..

In case funds in the gift card are insufficient, you can use other payment methods to pay for the balance (like cash, credit card, or a 2nd gift card particular to the establishment).. The gift card also has instructions on how to check your remaining balance online. Gift cards will not likely work in branches outside the U.S.. There is no nationwide sales tax (such as VAT or GST), although nationwide taxes are levied on certain goods, notably motor fuels (gasoline and diesel). As a result, state or local taxes cannot be refunded by customs agents upon your leaving the U.S..

Most states have a retail sales tax of roughly 3 10% (4 6% is typical). A few have no state sales tax, but allow local city governments to collect sales taxes.. Most states also levy substantial sin taxes on liquor or cigarettes. Taxes are almost never included in posted prices (except for those on gasoline / diesel, and in most states, alcoholic beverages consumed on premises).. Instead they will be calculated when you come to pay. Groceries and a variety of other " necessities " are usually exempt, but almost any other retail transaction – including restaurant meals – will incur sales tax..

Regional price variations, indirect hotel and business taxes, etc will usually have more impact on a traveler's wallet than the savings of seeking out a low sales tax or no sales tax destination.. Many cities also impose sales taxes, and certain cities have tax zones near airports and business districts that are designed to exploit travelers. Thus, sales taxes can vary up to 2% in a matter of a few miles.. However, even accounting for the burden of sales taxes, U.S. retail prices still tend to be much lower than in many other countries. The U.S. has not implemented any form of value added tax, where each segment in the supply chain is required to charge tax on the value it adds towards the final product..

Rather, U.S. sales taxes are charged only by the retailer at the time of the sale of the final product to the consumer.. Internationally renowned luxury brands are hard to find in the no sales tax states. Their boutiques are traditionally found in the largest and wealthiest states; California, Texas, New York, Illinois and Florida (all of which have sales taxes).. However, a limited range of their wares may be found in local luxury retailers in the no sales tax states.. Shopping malls and shopping centers. America is the birthplace of the modern enclosed " shopping mall " as well as the open air " shopping center "..

In addition, American suburbs have miles and miles of small strip malls, or long rows of small shops with shared parking lots, usually built along a high capacity road.. Large cities still maintain central shopping districts that can be navigated on public transport, but pedestrian friendly shopping streets are uncommon and usually small. Most medium sized suburban towns contain at least one shopping mall containing one or more department stores as well as restaurants and retail establishments..

They also contain one or more strip corridors containing strip malls, auto dealerships, and office space.. Outlet centers. The U.S. pioneered the factory outlet store, and in turn, the outlet center, a shopping mall consisting primarily of such stores. Outlet centers are found along major Interstate highways outside of most American cities.. Major retailers. American retailers tend to have some of the longest business hours in the world, with chains like Walmart and 7 Eleven often featuring stores open 24/7 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week)..

Department stores and other large retailers are usually open from 10AM to 9PM most days, and during the winter holiday season, may stay open as long as 8AM to 11PM. Most supermarkets are open late into the evening, usually until at least 9PM.. The U.S. does not regulate the timing of sales promotions as in other countries. U.S. retailers often announce sales during all major holidays, and also in between to attract customers or jettison merchandise.. American retail stores are gigantic compared to retail stores in other countries, and are a shoppers' dream come true. As such, they typically offer a wide range of items. Department stores typically sell clothing, shoes, furniture, perfume and jewelry..

Supermarkets sell produce, meats, fish, paper products, canned goods, milk, liquor and cigarettes. In poor neighborhoods or on freeways adjacent to gas stations, there are often convenience stores that offer a small range of cooked food, soda, sundries and cigarettes, albeit at rates not competitive with supermarkets.. Farmer's markets. Unlike many other countries, the United States does not have large open air markets open daily. Instead, urban and suburban cities have farmer's markets where growers sell fruits and vegetables directly to consumers..

These events are typically held once weekly and take place in a cordoned off street or parking lot.. Garage sales. On weekends, it is not uncommon to find families selling no longer needed household items in their driveway, garage, or yard. If you see a driveway full of stuff on a Saturday, it's likely a garage sale.. Check it out; one person's trash may just be your treasure. Bargaining is expected and encouraged.. Flea markets. Flea markets (called " swap meets " in Western states) have dozens if not hundreds of vendors selling all kinds of usually inexpensive merchandise. They sometimes take place in convention centers, but usually take place in large suburban parking lots..

Some flea markets are highly specialized and aimed at collectors of a particular sort; others just sell all types of items. Again, bargaining is expected.. Auctions. Americans did not invent the auction but may well have perfected it. The fast paced, sing song cadence of a country auctioneer, selling anything from farm animals to estate furniture, is a special experience, even if you have no intention of buying.. In big cities, head to the auction chambers of Christie's or Sotheby's, and watch paintings, antiques and works of art sold in a matter of minutes at prices that go into the millions..

According to Deloitte, the largest fashion goods retailer in both the U.S. and the entire world is Macy's, Inc, which operates over 800 Macy's midrange department stores in 45 states, Puerto Rico, and Guam, plus a smaller number of upscale Bloomingdale's stores.. Nordstrom is another upscale department store that is also found in most states. Midrange stores include Kohl's, Sears, The Gap, and JCPenney, while the lower end is dominated by Marshalls, TJ Maxx, and Old Navy.. Department stores are normally found in suburban towns, often in shopping malls, though a few can be found in downtowns or smaller rural towns..

General discount stores like Walmart, Target, and Kmart are ubiquitous. Many discount stores, in addition to selling clothing and sundries, have either a small grocery section or a full supermarket; in fact, Walmart is the country's largest grocer, as well as being its largest retail chain.. The three largest supermarket chains are Kroger, Albertsons / Safeway (in the process of merging, with both nameplates to be retained), and SuperValu, but they operate under legacy regional nameplates in many states (for example, Vons and Ralphs in California, and Cub in Minnesota)..

There are smaller regional supermarkets, such as A&P on the East Coast. A number of American suburbs have high end markets such as Whole Foods that sell more expensive items such as wine and organic produce.. The dominant warehouse club chain is Costco, whose biggest competitor is Sam's Club (operated by Walmart). The three big pharmacy chains are CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid, though almost all discount stores and many supermarkets also contain a small pharmacy.. Most urban and suburban towns contain several supermarkets or pharmacies, and more often than not a Walmart or other " big box " retailer..

A special note on pharmacies in discount stores and supermarkets; Generally, discount stores will group many items sold at pharmacies — over the counter medications, dental care products, cosmetics, hair care supplies, soap, first aid supplies, and the like — in one section of the store near the pharmacy counter.. This is not always the case in supermarkets, though that is steadily changing toward the discount store model. (Walmart uses this model both in its discount stores and its supermarket only Walmart Markets).

In several areas of the retail sector, ruthless consolidation has resulted in only one surviving nationwide chain, which may compete with a number of smaller regional chains. Examples include bookstores (Barnes & Noble), electronics (Best Buy), convenience stores (7 Eleven) and housewares (Bed Bath & Beyond).. Unless you live in Australia, Canada, Europe or Japan, the U.S. is generally expensive, but there are ways to limit the damage. Many Europeans come to the U.S. for shopping (especially electronics)..

While prices in the U.S. are lower than in many European countries, keep in mind that you will be charged taxes / tariffs on goods purchased abroad. Additionally, electronics may not be compatible with standards when you return (electrical, DVD region, etc).. As such, the savings you may find shopping in the U.S. may easily be negated upon your return. Furthermore, your U.S. - bought item may not be eligible for warranty service in your home country.. A bare bones budget for camping, hostels, and cooking your food could be $30 50 / day, and you can double that if you stay at motels and eat at cheap cafes..

Add on a rental car and hotel accommodation and you'll be looking at $150 / day and up. There are regional variations too; large cities like New York and Los Angeles are expensive, while prices go down in rural areas.. Most U.S. cities have suburbs with good hotels that are often much more affordable than those in the city center and enjoy lower crime rates. Thus, if you plan to rent a car and drive between several major cities on a single visit to the U.S., it is usually a better idea to stay at safe suburban hotels with free parking, as opposed to downtown hotels that charge exorbitant parking fees. Thus, if you plan to rent a car and drive between several major cities on a single visit to the U.S., it is usually a better idea to stay at safe suburban hotels with free parking, as opposed to downtown hotels that charge exorbitant parking fees..

Additionally, if you have generous friends from the U.S. who will give gift cards to you for some reason, the cards can help you defray some of the costs.. If you intend to visit any of the National Park Service sites, such as the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone National Park, it is worth considering the purchase of a National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass.. This costs $80 and gives access to almost all of the federally administered parks and recreation areas for one year. Considering the price of admission to many parks is at least $20 each, if you visit more than a few of them, the pass will be the cheaper solution..

You can trade in receipts from individual entries for 14 days at the entrance to the parks to upgrade to an annual pass, if you find yourself cruising around and ending up visiting more parks than expected.. Many hotels and motels offer discounts for members of certain organizations which anyone can join, such as AAA (formerly the American Automobile Association).. If you're a member, or are a member of a club affiliated with AAA (such as the Canadian Automobile Association, The Automobile Association in the UK, or ADAC in Germany), it's worth asking at check in.

Tipping is widely practiced in the United States service sector. Standards vary, but gratuities are always given to servers in restaurants and bars, to taxi drivers, parking valets, and bellstaff in hotels, and should be omitted only in extreme cases of bad service.. The salaries made in these professions, and even their taxes, take into account that they will be tipped, so it really is inappropriate to leave them out.. Tipping in the United States is so common and expected in some cases that in many service establishments, such as hair salons and restaurants, customers who did not tip are often asked to pay a tip, or more rarely may be verbally scolded or abused by staff for " stiffing " them, even though such behavior on the part of the staff is considered clearly inappropriate..

While Americans themselves often debate correct levels and exactly who deserves to be tipped, generally accepted standard rates are;. Hairdressers, other personal services; 10–15%. Bartenders; $1 per drink if inexpensive or 15–20% of total. Bellhops; $1– 2 per bag ($3– 5 minimum regardless). Hotel doorman; $1 per bag (if they assist), $1 for calling a cab. Shuttle bus drivers; $2– 5 (optional). Private car & limousine drivers; 15–20%. Parking valet; $1– 3 for retrieving your car (unless there's already a fee for parking).

Housekeeping in hotels; $1– 2 per day for long stays or $5 minimum for very short stays (optional). Food delivery (pizza, etc); $2– 5, 15–20% for larger orders. Tour guides / activity guides; $5 – $10 if he or she was particularly funny or informative.. Tips vary with the size of the group (tips are lower in large groups), the cost of the tour, etc, and it is often best to ask others in the group, or the guide himself, what a " good " tip would be.. Taxis; Tips of 10–20% are expected in both yellow cabs as well as livery cabs. Always tip more for better service (for example, if the cabbie helps you with your bags or stroller)..

Leave a small tip if the service is lousy (for example, if the cabbie refuses to turn on the AC on a hot day). For livery cabs, if you hail the cab on the street and negotiate the fare in advance, then pay the negotiated amount plus an extra $1– 2. Full service restaurants; 15–20%. Many restaurants include a mandatory service charge for larger groups, in which case you do not need to tip an additional amount – check the bill.. It is important to keep in mind that the legal minimum wage for restaurant waitstaff and other tip earners is quite low (just $2 13 / hour before taxes), with the expectation that tips bring them up to a " normal " minimum wage. Thus, in restaurants (and certain other professions) a tip is not just a way to say " thank you " for service, but is an essential part of a server's wages. Thus, in restaurants (and certain other professions) a tip is not just a way to say " thank you " for service, but is an essential part of a server's wages..

Remember that while it is expected for you to tip normally for adequate service, you are never obliged to tip if your service was truly awful.. If you receive exceptionally poor or rude service and the manager does not correct the problem when you bring it to their attention, a deliberately small tip (one or two coins) will express your displeasure more clearly than leaving no tip at all (which may be construed as a forgotten tip).. If paying your bill by cash, leave a cash tip on the table when you leave (there is no need to hand it over personally or wait until it's collected), or if paying by credit card you can add it directly to the charge slip when you sign it..

Look carefully, as the slip will generally inform you whether a 15% gratuity has already been added.. Tipping is not expected at restaurants where patrons stand at a counter to place their order and receive their food (such as fast food chains). Some such restaurants may have a " tip jar " by the cash register, which may be used wholly at the customer's discretion in appreciation of good service.. Some tipping at a cafeteria or buffet is expected since the wait staff often clears the table for you and provides refills of drinks and such..

The rules for tipping concierge are much more arcane. For most services — asking for maps, information, tours, etc. — a tip is not expected.. But for things above and beyond like special, unusual, time consuming requests, if you receive a lot of attention while others are waiting, or even just for an exceptionally high level of service, tips should generally be large, usually starting at $5 (a $1 tip would be insulting).. Tips can be a good way to get special treatment during a stay too; good sized preemptive tips for restaurant reservations could lead to special preferential treatment at the restaurant, tips can make unusual or difficult requests happen when the concierge would otherwise demur, tips out of the blue can lead to special service throughout your stay, etc If you especially like the service you have received from an employee during a stay, consider passing them a larger tip ($5 or more) on the way out..

The majority of jobs not mentioned here are not customarily tipped, and would likely refuse them. Retail employees, or those in service positions which require high qualifications (such as doctors or dentists) are good examples.. Never try to offer any kind of tip to a government employee of any kind, especially police officers; this could be construed as attempted bribery (a felony offense) and might cause serious legal problems.. Tipping managers and business owners is almost always inappropriate, unless you are the host of a large party, wedding, or event..

Even then, be careful how you present the tip — it's best to offer a percent of the total bill to the person in charge (usually the head caterer) and to subtly thank them for sharing it with their staff.. Tipping can work for you, if you are savvy. While it is usually presented as an expected part of payment, it can also be a subtle (and acceptable) bribe for preferential treatment.. This is especially true with hotel staff and with bartenders. Unusually large tips can also be a good strategy for securing preferential treatment in the future, if you plan to go to the same place often..

Tipping well also makes you look rather good in front of friends, dates, and business partners (and the reverse is true for tipping poorly).. A popular idea is to buy a hot new mobile phone in the U.S. to use on your home network. Unfortunately, there are several complications;. Most phones sold by US carriers are SIM locked to prevent the use of a SIM card for a different network. Service providers release unlock codes only to existing customers for a fee after some arbitrary minimum term of service..

Use of third party " unlock " codes is lawful but availability varies between handset models and manufacturers.. Many phones are on the wrong frequencies for use outside the Americas. 850/1900 MHz is most common in the US but various other frequencies are in use, especially for UMTS and high speed data (3G, 4G, LTE).. Verizon, Sprint and many low cost networks use CDMA, which is rarely used outside the US and some parts of Asia. CDMA is incompatible with GSM (a commonly deployed standard worldwide, used by AT&T, T Mobile, and a couple low cost networks) and does not require handsets support removable SIMs..

Many advertised prices are based on a two year contract; handsets are represented as inexpensive or even " free ", with the real cost hidden in the monthly cost of an expensive post paid plan.. Purchasing the handset outright, up front for cash either isn't an option or carries a higher price tag. Carriers often brand handsets with their logos and apps (which can't be uninstalled) or modify software to remove functionality.. A limited selection of unlocked phones may be found in some small electronics shops, a few Best Buy stores in major tourist destinations (like New York City or Orlando) and a handful of retailers online..

As phone makers may make several physically and visually identical models of the same phone with different, incompatible standards or frequencies, there is a risk that what looks compatible actually supports a different system.. Similar incompatibilities exist with many other popular electronic items. TV's don't match the international DVB standard used in other countries, DVDs are region coded or use the image size and frame rate of the US TV system, digitally tuned radios use the wrong channel spacing for other ITU regions..

Even if the equipment works in your home country, there is likely to be no local warranty coverage. See electrical systems and mobile telephones for details..

What To Eat

The variety of restaurants throughout the U.S. is remarkable. In a major city such as New York, it may be possible to find a restaurant from nearly every country in the world.. In addition to the usual array of independent restaurants, the U.S. possesses a singularly baffling array of fast food and casual chain restaurants; even if you think you know U.S. fast food from the chains' international outlets, the sheer variety domestically is immense.. Ethnic cuisine from other parts of the world is frequently adapted to American tastes and / or made with locally available ingredients. This is particularly true of Asian cuisines, especially Chinese (see below)..

Many restaurants, especially those serving fast food or breakfast, do not serve alcohol, and many others may only serve beer and wine. Portions are generally huge, regardless of restaurant style, although this trend has moderated recently with increasingly health conscious customers.. Many restaurants now offer several portion options, though it may not be immediately obvious. Ask when ordering if portion choices are available. Taking home " left overs " is very common and is a good way to get two meals for the price of one..

Ask for a to go box at the end of your meal if you have not cleared your plate.. In much of America, home cooked food is substantially better than restaurant fare. This is particularly true in rural areas and small towns. If you have the opportunity to attend a carry in dinner or pot luck, this is a chance not to be missed.. There is no nationwide ban on smoking, so whether you are allowed to smoke in a bar or restaurant or other public indoor space varies between, and even within, states. In most cases, it is banned..

If there is a " No Smoking " sign, lighting up may get you ejected, fined, or even arrested, in addition to dirty looks.. Smoking has acquired a social stigma — even where it is permitted. You may want to ask the people around you whether they mind before lighting up. Many states have laws about smoking near public entrances, keep an eye out for posted signs stating a minimum distance to the door although enforcement is not consistent.. Typically if you find an ash tray or a butt station, you are safe to smoke there..

Large cities host many examples of every type of restaurant imaginable from inexpensive neighborhood eateries to extravagant full service restaurants with extensive wine lists and prices to match. Most medium sized cities and suburbs will also field a decent selection.. In the most " up scale " restaurants, rules for men to wear jackets and ties, while once de rigueur, are becoming more relaxed. Check with the restaurant if in doubt.. Fast food restaurants such as McDonald's, Subway and Burger King are ubiquitous, but the variety of this type of restaurant in the U.S. is astounding; burgers, hot dogs, pizza, fried chicken, barbecued meat, and ice cream only begin to touch on it..

Alcoholic beverages are not served in these restaurants; " soda " (often called " pop " in the Midwest through Western New York and Western Pennsylvania, or generically " coke " in the South) or other soft drinks are standard.. Don't be surprised when you order a soda, are handed a paper cup and expected to fill it yourself from the soda fountain (refills are often free). The quality of the food varies, but because of the strictly limited menu, it is generally good, especially in the daytime. Also the restaurants are usually clean and bright, and the service is limited but friendly. Tipping is not expected but you must clear your table after your meal. A few restaurants, called " drive ins ", serve you directly in your car..

Takeout food is very common in larger cities for meals that may take a little longer to prepare than in a fast food place. Place an order by phone or online and then go to the restaurant to pick it up and take it away.. Many places will also deliver; in some cities, it is easier to have pizza or Chinese food delivered than to find a sit down restaurant. Pizza delivery is especially ubiquitous in the U.S.; towns as small as 5,000 typically have at least one establishment offering delivery, and often more than one..

The main national pizza chains are Pizza Hut (mostly dine in restaurants that also offer takeout and delivery), Domino's (no dine in), Papa John's (also no dine in), and Little Caesars (mostly takeout only, with some locations also offering delivery).. Local pizza places often compete successfully against the big national chains, and many such restaurants also offer takeout and delivery.. Fast Casual restaurants offer a fast food dining style (no waitstaff, no alcohol), but the meals tend to be fresher and healthier. The food takes a bit longer to prepare — and costs a few dollars more — than at fast food joints, but it's generally worth it..

Notable examples include Chipotle (Tex Mex), Noodles and Company, Panera Bread (soup and sandwiches), Five Guys (burgers) and Freddies Burgers.. Diners are typically American and have remained popular since their heyday in the 1940s and 1950s. They are usually individually run, open 24 hours and found on major roads, though they also appear in large cities and suburbs.. They offer a wide variety of huge meals that often include soup or salad, bread, beverage and dessert. They are usually busy for breakfast, in the morning or after the bars close..

Diner chains include Denny's, Norm's, and (in the South) Waffle House.. No compendium of American restaurants would be complete without mentioning the truck stop. You will only encounter these places if you are taking an intercity auto or bus trip. They are found on the interstate highways and cater to truckers.. There will be diesel fuel and separate parking for the " big rigs " and showers for the drivers who sleep in their cabs.. These fabled restaurants serve what passes on the road for " plain home cooking "; hot roast beef sandwiches, meatloaf, fried chicken, and of course the ubiquitous burger and fries — expect large portions !.

The three major chains are Pilot / Flying J, TA / Petro, and Love's. These generally have 24 hour restaurants, including " all you can eat " buffets and large breakfasts, often served in skillets.. You are most likely to find such a restaurant at a TA or Petro (most truck stops also have national fast food outlets). Truckers know their eating; if there are plenty of trucks outside, it'll be good.. Chain sit down restaurants are a step up in quality and price from diners and truck stops, although those with discerning palates will probably still be disappointed. Some specialize in a type of food (e g seafood) or a particular national cuisine, others have broader offerings..

Some are well known only for breakfast, such as IHOP (originally International House of Pancakes) which serves it all day in addition to other meals. A few of the larger chains include Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Applebee's and T.G.I. Friday's.. These restaurants tend to serve alcohol.. The largest cities will have one or more fine dining establishments, the quality of which can vary from " overpriced " to " exquisite ". Some will have a dress code; if jackets or ties are required, they will sometimes be made available to borrow..

Some bars double as restaurants and serve food late. Bars, including their dining areas, may be off limits to those under 21.. Soft drinks come with a liberal supply of ice. Asking for no ice is acceptable, and the drink will still probably be fairly cool. Water is usually served chilled and with ice, unless you request otherwise.. It will typically not be carbonated; if you want carbonated water, ask for " sparkling water. " Bottled water, still or sparkling, will cost at least $1– 2 Sit down restaurants will often bring free iced tap water, even before taking your drink order..

At fast food restaurants, bottled water is assumed unless you specify " ice water " or " tap water ". Coffee, tea and soft drinks are sometimes refilled at no extra charge, but you should ask if this is not explicitly stated.. Many restaurants aren't open for breakfast. Those that do (mostly fast food and diners), serve eggs, toast, pancakes, cereals, coffee, etc Most restaurants stop serving breakfast between 10 and 11AM, but some, especially diners, will serve breakfast all day.. As an alternative to a restaurant breakfast, one can grab breakfast food such as doughnuts, muffins, fruits, coffee, and packaged drinks at almost any gas station, coffee shop, or convenience store (such as 7 Eleven, Circle K or AM / PM)..

Continental Breakfast is a term primarily used by hotels and motels to describe a cold breakfast offering of cereal, breads, muffins, fruit, etc Milk, fruit juices, hot coffee and tea are the typical beverages.. There is usually a toaster for your bread. This is a quick, cheap way of getting morning food.. Lunch can be a good way to get food from a restaurant whose dinners are out of your price range.. Dinner, the main meal. Depending on culture, region, and personal preference, is usually enjoyed between 5 and 9PM. Most restaurants will be willing to box up your leftover food (typically referred to as a " to go box ")..

Making reservations in advance is a good idea if the restaurant is popular, " up scale ", or you are dining in a large group.. Buffets are generally a cheap way to get a large amount of food. For a single, flat, rate, you can have as many servings of whatever foods are set out. However, since food can be sitting out in the heat for hours, the quality can suffer.. Generally, buffets serve American or Chinese food.. Many restaurants serve Sunday brunch, served morning through early afternoon, with both breakfast and lunch items. There is often a buffet. Like most other meals, quality and price can vary by restaurant..

Typical American food items that can be found at most restaurants or large gatherings include hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, ice cream, and pie. While many types of food are unchanged throughout the United States, there are a few distinct regional varieties of food.. The most notable is in the South, where traditional local fare includes grits (ground maize porridge), collard greens (a boiled vegetable, often flavored with ham and a dash of vinegar), sweet iced tea, barbecue (not unique to this region, but best and most common here), catfish (served deep fried with a breadcrumb coating), cornbread, okra, red beans, and gumbo (a stew of seafood or sausage, rice, okra, and sometimes tomatoes)..

Barbecue, BBQ, or barbeque is a delicious American specialty. At its best, it's beef brisket, ribs, or pork shoulder slowly wood smoked for hours.. Ribs are served as a whole - or half rack or cut into individual ribs, brisket is usually sliced thin, and the pork shoulder can be shredded (" pulled pork ") or chopped (" chopped pork ").. Sauces of varying spiciness may be served on the dish, or provided on the side. There are also unique regional styles of barbecue, with the best generally found in the South. The most distinct styles come from Kansas City, Texas, Tennessee, and North Carolina..

California and Maryland have a style that focuses on beef barbecued in an outdoor pit or brick oven. However, barbecue of some variety is generally available throughout the country. Barbecued meat can be served with a variety of sides, including chili, corn on the cob, coleslaw and potato salad.. Barbecue restaurants are unpretentious and the best food is often found at very casual establishments. Expect plastic dinnerware, picnic tables, and sandwiches on cheap white bread. Barbecue found on the menu at a fancy chain or non specialty restaurant is likely to be less authentic..

Ribs and chicken are almost always eaten with your fingers; tackle pork and brisket either with a fork or in a sandwich.. Some Americans (though never Southerners) use " barbecue " as a synonym for " cookout "; a party where the likes of chicken, hamburgers, and hot dogs are grilled outdoors (rather than smoked).. These can be fun, but they don't represent the American BBQ cuisine.. With a rich tradition of immigration, America has a wide variety of ethnic foods; everything from Ethiopian cuisine to Laotian food is available in major cities with large immigrant populations..

Italian food is perhaps the most pervasive of ethnic cuisines in America, though this food has often taken a different direction than Italian food in Italy. All but the smallest villages have at least one restaurant that specializes in pizza, and many also have pasta restaurants as well.. There are also restaurants that specialize in German or French food, but in much smaller numbers.. Chinese food is widely available and adjusted to American tastes. Authentic Chinese food can be found in restaurants in Chinatowns in addition to communities with large Chinese populations. Japanese sushi, Vietnamese, and Thai food have also been adapted for the American market in recent years..

Fusion cuisine combines Asian ingredients and techniques with more traditional American presentation. Indian food outlets are available in most major U.S. cities and towns.. Mexican / Hispanic / Tex Mex food is very popular, but again in a localized version. Combining in various ways beans, rice, cheese, and spiced beef or chicken with round flatbread loaves called tortillas, dishes are usually topped with spicy tomato salsa, sour cream, and an avocado based dip called guacamole.. Small authentic Mexican taquerias can be found easily in California and the Southwest, and increasingly in cities throughout the country..

Middle Eastern and Greek foods are also becoming popular in the United States. The gyro (known as " doner kebab " or " shawarma " in Europe) is a popular Greek sandwich of sliced processed lamb on a pita bread topped with lettuce, tomatoes and a yogurt cucumber sauce.. Hummus (a ground chickpea dip / spread) and baklava pastries are frequently found in supermarkets, along with an increasingly widespread and high quality array of " pita " products.. Vegetarian food is easy to come by in big urban areas. As vegetarians are becoming more common in the U.S., so are the restaurants that cater to them. Most big cities and college towns will have vegetarian restaurants serving exclusively or primarily vegetarian dishes..

In smaller towns you may need to check the menu at several restaurants before finding a vegetarian main course, or else make up a meal out of side dishes.. Wait staff can be helpful answering questions about meat content, but be very clear about your personal definition of vegetarian, as dishes with fish, chicken, egg, or even small quantities of beef or pork flavoring may be considered vegetarian.. This is especially common with vegetable side dishes in the South. Meat free breakfast foods such as pancakes or eggs are readily available at diners..

People on low fat or low calorie diets should be fairly well served in the U.S., as there has been a continuing trend in calorie consciousness since the 1970s. Even fast food restaurants have " lite " specials, and can provide charts of calorie and fat counts on request.. For the backpacker or those on very restricted budgets, American supermarkets offer an almost infinite variety of pre packaged / pre processed foods that are either ready or almost ready for consumption, e.g. breakfast cereal, ramen noodles, canned soups, frozen dinner, etc.

In the largest cities, " corner stores " abound. These small convenience stores carry a variety of snacks, drinks, and prepackaged foods.. Unlike most convenience stores, their products are sold at relatively low prices (especially by urban standards) and can provide for snacks or even (nutritionally partial) meals for a budget no more than $5 a day.. It is usually inappropriate to join a table already occupied by other diners, even if it has unused seats; Americans prefer this degree of privacy when they eat..

Exceptions are cafeteria style eateries with long tables, at crowded informal eateries and cafes you may have success asking a stranger if you can share the table they're sitting at, and at some inexpensive Chinese restaurants where staff will direct you to share a table.. Striking up a conversation in this situation may or may not be welcome, however.. Table manners, while varying greatly, are typically European influenced. Slurping or making other noises while eating is considered rude, as is loud conversation (including phone calls). It is fairly common to wait until everybody at your table has been served before eating..

You should lay cloth napkins across your lap; you can do the same with paper napkins, or keep them on the table.. Offense isn't taken if you don't finish your meal, and most restaurants will package the remainder to take with you, or provide a box for you to do this yourself (sometimes euphemistically called a " doggy bag ", implying that the leftovers are for your pet).. If you want to do this, ask the server to get the remainder " to go "; this term will be almost universally understood, and will not cause any embarrassment..

Some restaurants offer an " all you can eat " buffet or other service; taking home portions from such a meal is either not allowed, or carries an additional fee.. Many fast food items (sandwiches, burgers, pizza, tacos, etc) are designed to be eaten by hand (so called " finger food "); a few foods are almost always eaten by hand (french fries, barbecue, chicken on the bone) even at moderately nice restaurants.. If unsure, eating finger food with a fork and knife probably won't offend anyone; eating fork and knife food by hand might, as it's considered " uncivilized " and rude..

When invited to a meal in a private home it is considered polite for a guest to ask if they can bring anything for the meal, such a dessert, a side dish, wine or beer, or for an outdoor barbecue, something useful like ice or plastic cups or plates.. The host may refuse, but it is nonetheless considered good manners to bring along a small gift for the host. A bottle of wine, box of candies or fresh cut flowers are most common.. Gifts of cash, prepared ready to serve foods, or very personal items (e g toiletries) are not appropriate. If you do not know your hosts very well, it may be best to avoid alcohol in certain situations, as many Americans drink alcohol very infrequently or not at all..

This teetotaling is found particularly in the Bible Belt (the South and parts of the Midwest), and the Mormon Belt (Utah and to a lesser extent Idaho, Wyoming, and Arizona); Mormons, some Fundamentalist Christians and Muslims are forbidden by their religions to drink alcohol at all.. Mormons also aren't allowed to drink coffee tea and other hot beverages, although adherence to this particular rule varies.. An exception is the carry in or potluck meal, where each guest (or group / family) must bring a food dish to share with everyone; these shared dishes make up the entire meal..

Usually dishes are grouped (e g, salads, main dishes or casseroles, side dishes, desserts); you should ask the host if they want you to bring something in particular.. Ideal dishes for a potluck should be served from a large pot, dish, or bowl, and would be spooned or forked on to diners' plates — hence the emphasis on salads, casseroles, and spoonable side dishes.. These types of meals typically offer a wide assortment of well prepared foods and may be the very best way to experience authentic American cuisine..

Options For Drink

Drinking customs in America are as varied as the backgrounds of its many people. In the cities, you can find everything from tough local " shot and a beer " bars to upscale " martini bars "; urban bars and nightclubs will often serve only simple food, or none at all.. In the suburbs, alcohol is mainly served in restaurants rather than bars. And in rural areas, the line between " bar " and " restaurant " is often blurred to the point of meaninglessness; with few establishments nearby, locals go to the same place for both meals and nightlife..

A few states have dry counties, places where it is illegal to sell alcohol for local consumption; these are mostly in rural areas.. The drinking age is 21 throughout the U.S. except in most of the outlying territories (where it is 18).. Enforcement of this varies, but if you're under 30 be prepared to show photo ID Some retailers may not accept a foreign driver's license (except from Canada) so having your passport available when purchasing alcohol is strongly advised.. In some states, people who are under 21 are not even allowed to be present in a bar or liquor store..

Alcohol sales are typically prohibited after 2AM. In some states, most stores can only sell beer and wine; hard liquor is sold at dedicated liquor stores.. Several " dry counties " – mostly in southern states – ban some or all types of alcohol in public establishments; private clubs (with nominal membership fees) are often set up to get around this.. Sunday sales are restricted in some areas.. Most towns ban drinking in the open with varying degrees of enforcement. Even if it is allowed, a visible bottle (rather than one in a small bag) is either illegal or justifies police attention..

Being " drunk and disorderly " is banned. Drunk driving comes under fairly harsh scrutiny. A blood alcohol level of 0.08% is considered " under the Influence " and many states consider a level of 0.05% as " impaired ".. If you're under 21, most states have limits of 0.00-0.02%. Foreigners will typically be deported, even well established permanent residents. It is also usually against the law to have an open container of alcohol anywhere in a car other than in the trunk; this can be heavily fined..

Should you find yourself in a situation where you drank a bit more than you intended and are unsure if you should drive, taxi cabs are fairly prolific in medium to large cities. Many automotive clubs offer hotlines to find a ride home.. Sales of raw milk for human consumption are illegal in some states and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) bans the interstate sale or distribution of raw milk.. Beer and wine are the main non distilled alcoholic drinks, with whiskey the main hard liquor (i e distilled drink). " Cider " without further qualification is just an unfiltered variety of apple juice..

" Hard cider " is the alcoholic drink from fermented apples; it is generally unpopular despite Americans having been its most enthusiastic consumers two centuries ago.. Beer constitutes approximately half the alcohol consumed in the U.S. Nationally known light lagers (which are cheap and mediocre) remain most prevalent, despite the emergence of other types of beer in the 1990s.. Microbreweries, which specialize in small batch, high quality beers made by traditional methods, add much needed variety. Microbrews are often inventive and experimental; some are excellent examples of classic beer styles, while others push the limits and develop new, unique flavors..

Most are individual regional brewers, although a few are reaching national distribution. Some bars and restaurants carry microbrews, while others don't, seemingly at random. Brew pubs combine microbrewery and bar and serve highly regarded beer that is made on the premises.. Vermont offers the highest ratio of microbreweries per capita in the country followed by Oregon, Montana, Colorado and Maine, while Washington grows 77 percent of the total United States hop crop, a key ingredient in beer making..

Wine is available across the quality spectrum. American wines are labeled primarily by the grape variety. A rough guide to quality comes in the specificity of the labeling. Color alone (" Red ", " white ", and " rose " or " pink ") denotes the lowest echelon.. Above this, regions are labeled by state (e g " California "), an area of a state (e g " Central Coast "), a county or other small region (e g " Willamette Valley "), or a specific vineyard (e g " Dry Creek Vineyard ").. The cheapest wine tends to come in a plastic bag encased in a box. " Fortified wines ", known as " bum wine ", are the precise opposite of high class European port, sherry or Madeira..

All 50 states practice some sort of winemaking, though 90% of America's wine — including its most highly regarded from the Napa Valley — are Californian. Wines from Oregon's Willamette Valley and Washington state represent good value as they are less well known.. Michigan, Colorado's Wine Country, and New York State's Finger Lakes produce German style whites which have won international competitions. The Llano Estacado region of Texas is also notable for its wines.. Sparkling wines are available by the bottle in upscale restaurants, and are also sometimes served by the glass. The best Californian sparkling wines have been rated comparably to leading French champagnes but they are not commonly sold in supermarkets outside of California..

Most bars, except urbane wine bars, serve unremarkable wine. Wine is taken quite seriously by some restaurants, but as with all other alcoholic drinks in restaurants, expect to pay up to four times the liquor store price for a bottle.. Hard alcohol (i e spirits) is usually drunk with mixers, but it is also served " on the rocks " (with ice) or " straight up " (unmixed, with no ice, also called " neat ").. Whiskey, the traditional choice, remains popular despite the increased popularity of vodka and other clear spirits. Whiskey is distilled from many different grains..

The main types are rye (made with mainly rye, a relative of wheat), malt (made with mainly barley) and bourbon (made with mainly corn, i e maize).. Nightclubs in America run the usual gamut of various music scenes, from discos with top 40 dance tunes to obscure clubs serving tiny slices of obscure musical genres.. Country music dance clubs, or honky tonks, are laid fairly thick in the South and West, especially in rural areas and away from the coasts, but one or two can be found in almost any city. Also, gay / lesbian nightclubs exist in nearly every medium - to large sized city..

" Happy hour ", a period usually lasting from 30 minutes to three hours, usually between 5PM and 8PM, sees significant discounts on selected drinks. " Ladies' nights ", during which women receive a discount or some other financial incentive, are increasingly common.. Until 1977, the only U.S. state with legalized gambling was Nevada. The state has allowed games of chance since the 1930s, creating such resort cities as Las Vegas and Reno in the process.. Dubbed " Sin City, " Las Vegas in particular has evolved into an end destination adult playground, offering many other after hours activities such as amusement parks, night clubs, strip clubs, shows, bars and four star restaurants..

Gambling has since spread outside of Nevada to a plethora of U.S. cities like Atlantic City, New Jersey and Biloxi, Mississippi, as well as to riverboats, offshore cruises and Indian reservations.. State lotteries and " scratch games " are another, popular form of legalized gambling. However, online gaming and wagering on sports across state lines remains illegal in the U.S.. The United States has one of the widest varieties of soft drinks (carbonated high sugar alcohol free drinks as opposed to " hard " alcoholic drinks) and the most famous brands originate here..

While Pepsi and Coca Cola are sold (almost) around the world, some flavors are hardly known outside North America.. Root Beer, for example, is a non alcoholic beverage containing various flavoring roots; while the flavor is strange to most Europeans not accustomed to it, it is one of the first things Americans tend to miss when abroad for longer periods of time.. Sparkling water is not commonly consumed by Americans and rather seen as a " European " curiosity, but it is available in most stores. Tap water is potable, but due to its regionally varying and sometimes very notable chlorine content it is often avoided due to its taste..

No matter what people might tell you bottled water is usually not in any way better than regular tap water apart from the chlorine issue mentioned above.. In restaurants in some parts of the country such as the South but not others, you will often get at least one if not unlimited refills of your desired soft drink, and tap water is almost always served for free, if you ask for it.. Americans like to put a lot of ice into their drinks, so unless you specifically ask for " no ice " (and sometimes even then) you will get a lot of ice with all your non alcoholic drinks, including water..

Where To Sleep

By far the most common form of lodging in rural United States and along many Interstates is the motel. Providing inexpensive rooms to automotive travelers, most motels are clean and reasonable with a limited array of amenities; telephone, TV, bed, bathroom.. Motel 6 (+ 1 800 466-8356) is a national chain with reasonable rates ($30 – $70, depending on the city). Super 8 Motels (+ 1 800 800-8000) provides reasonable accommodations throughout the country as well.. Reservations are typically unnecessary, which is convenient since you don't have to arbitrarily interrupt a long road trip; you can simply drive until you're tired then find a room. However, some are used by adults looking to book a night for sex or illicit activities and many are located in undesirable areas..

Business or extended stay hotels are increasingly available across the country. They can be found in smaller towns across the Midwest or in coastal urban areas. Generally they are more expensive than motels, but not as expensive as full scale hotels, with prices around $70 to $170.. While the hotels may appear to be the size of a motel, they may offer amenities from larger hotels. Examples include Marriott's Courtyard by Marriott, Fairfield Inns, and Residence Inns; Hilton's Hampton Inn and Hilton Garden Inn; Holiday Inn's Holiday Inn Express; Starwood's Four Points by Sheraton, and Hyatt Place..

Some extended stay hotels are directed at business travelers or families on long term stays (that are often relocating due to corporate decisions). These hotels often feature kitchens in most rooms, afternoon social events (generally by a pool), and serve continental breakfast.. Such " suite " hotels are roughly equivalent to the serviced apartments seen in other countries, though the term " serviced apartments " is not generally used in American English.. Hotels are available in most cities and usually offer more services and amenities than motels. Rooms usually run about $80 – $300 per night, but very large, glamorous, and expensive hotels can be found in most major cities, offering luxury suites larger than some houses..

Check in and check out times are almost always fall in the range of 11AM noon and 2PM 4PM. Many U.S. cities now have " edge cities " in their suburbs which feature high quality upscale hotels aimed at affluent business travelers.. These hotels often feature all the amenities of their downtown / CBD cousins (and more), but at less exorbitant prices.. In many rural areas, especially on the coasts and in New England, bed and breakfast (B&B) lodging can be found. Usually in converted houses or buildings with less than a dozen units, B&Bs feature a more home like lodging experience, with free breakfast served (of varying quality and complexity)..

Bed and breakfasts range from about $50 to $200 per night, with some places being much steeper. They can be a nice break from the impersonality of chain hotels and motels. Unlike Europe, most American bed and breakfasts are unmarked; one must make a reservation beforehand and receive directions there.. The two best known hotel guides covering the U.S. are the AAA (formerly American Automobile Association; typically pronounced " Triple A ") TourBooks, available to members and affiliated auto clubs worldwide at local AAA offices; and the Mobil Travel Guide, available at bookstores..

There are several websites booking hotels online; be aware that many of these sites add a small commission to the room rate, so it may be cheaper to book directly through the hotel.. On the other hand, some hotels charge more for " drop in " business than reserved rooms or rooms acquired through agents and brokers, so it's worth checking both.. There are also youth hostels across the U.S. Most are affiliated with the American Youth Hostel organization (a Hostelling International member). Quality of hostels varies widely, but at $8 – $24 per night, the prices are unbeatable..

Despite the name, AYH membership is open to people of any age. Non AYH hostels are also available, particularly in larger cities. Be aware that hostels are clustered in more touristy locations, do not assume that all mid sized towns will have a hostel.. Camping can also be a very affordable lodging option, especially with good weather. The downside of camping is that most campgrounds are outside urban regions, so it's not much of an option for trips to big cities.. There is a huge network of National Parks (+ 1 800 365-2267), with most states and many counties having their own park systems, too. Most state and national campgrounds are of excellent quality, with beautiful natural environments..

Expect to pay $7 – $20 per car on entry. Kampgrounds of America (KOA) has a chain of commercial campground franchises across the country, of significantly less charm than their public sector equivalents, but with hookups for recreational vehicles and amenities such as laundromats.. Countless independently owned private campgrounds vary in character.. Some unusual lodging options are available in specific areas or by prior arrangement. For example, you might enjoy staying on a houseboat in Lake Tahoe or the Erie Canal. Or stay in a treehouse in Oregon..

More conventional lodging can be found at college or university dormitories, a few of which rent out rooms to travelers during the summertime. Finally, in many tourist areas, as well as big cities, one can rent a furnished house by the day..

Connect

The country code for the U.S. is + 1 The long distance prefix (trunk code) is also " 1 ", so U.S. telephone numbers are frequently written as an eleven digit number; " 1 nnn nnn nnnn ".. The rest of the telephone number consists of ten digits; a three digit area code, and a seven digit number. Area codes are assigned by population, not geography, so expect many codes in large cities and only one or two for the entirety of a mainly rural state.. Whether a number is a mobile or a landline (and sometimes even its location) often cannot be distinguished from its area code or number..

From a mobile phone, a domestic call is simple; always dial ten digits without the " 1 ".. From a fixed line, you can usually dial a local number using ten digits. New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago require eleven digits. Places where a new area code overlays another one require ten digit dialing, whereas areas with only one area code usually allow seven digits.. If a number is written or given without the area code, you can usually dial it like that locally, but dialing ten digits should also work. For long distance and toll free, always dial eleven digits..

Domestic calls to area codes 800, 888, 877, 866, 855, and 844 are toll free. They must be dialed using the full 11 digit pattern. With few exceptions (such as Canada or, rarely, Mexico) these are not reachable from abroad.. (Voice over IP users may be able to circumvent this restriction by calling via a US based gateway) The area code 900 is used for services with additional charges (e g " adult entertainment ").. This is also true of local seven digit numbers starting with 976 (or, in some localities, 970)..

To dial abroad, the international access code is 011 (" + " will also work on a mobile phone).. Canada, U.S. territories, Bermuda, and 17 Caribbean nations are part of the North American Numbering Plan, and have the same country code (" 1 ") as the U.S. Calls made between these countries are dialed using only the full 11 digit number, but almost all are charged at international rates.. Calls between the U.S. and its territories may be more expensive than calls within the contiguous 48 states and D.C., or even calls between the U.S. mainland and Canada (which typically are charged at a higher rate than domestic calls, but lower than other international calls)..

Alaska and Hawaii may carry a surcharge even for domestic calls, depending on the carrier and rate plan.. The once ubiquitous pay phone is now much harder to find. Likely locations include in or near stores and restaurants, shopping mall entrances and near bus stops. In large cities, they can be hard to find outside of transport stations and hotels.. Most are coin operated (quarters, dimes and nickels) and do not accept paper bills. Prices are normally $0.50 for the first three minutes, and $0.25 for each additional minute. An online directory of pay phones can be found at Pay Phone Directory..

Telephone directories contain two listings (often split into two books); the white pages lists number alphabetically, and the yellow pages list businesses by category (e g " Taxicabs ").. Many residential land line phones and all mobile phones are unlisted. Directory assistance can also be had (at an extra cost) by dialing 4-1-1 (for local numbers) or 1 area code 555-1212 (for other areas).. If 4-1-1 doesn't work, try 555-1212, areacode 555-1212 or 1 areacode 555-1212. Free directory information (with advertisements) is available; dial 1-800 FREE 411 (1 800-3733-411) or browse free411.com or 411.info..

Regional telephone companies' web sites (most often AT&T, Verizon, or CenturyLink; also Frontier in West Virginia and FairPoint in northern New England) also provide directory information.. Using the website of the company that operates in the region you are interested in yields the best results (e g AT&T for most of California, and Verizon for the Northeast). Long distance telephone calling cards are available at most convenience stores. They are generally aimed at specific types of call (e g domestic, or to particular countries). Credit can be often replenished over the phone using a credit or debit card, but foreign bank cards may be refused..

Card calls from payphones via toll free numbers printed on the cards may be more expensive. There may also be effective charges per connection as well as per minute; some cards also carry hidden weekly or monthly charges which deplete their value.. The four largest mobile phone networks in the U.S. are AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint, and T Mobile. These all have good coverage of practically all urban / suburban and many rural areas of the country, although each network has strong and weak areas..

Smaller networks tend to have poor coverage outside of large metropolitan areas.. There is no surcharge for calling to a mobile phone (calls to mobile phones are charged the same as calls to land lines), and mobile phones don't pay surcharges when calling domestic long distance.. Instead, mobile phones themselves are charged for all usage, outgoing and incoming. In other words, a call to / from a mobile phone carries the same cost to that mobile phone, but it doesn't matter whether it's local, domestic long distance, or toll free..

Credit packages from $25 / month allow you to make hundreds of minutes' worth of calls. A failed call (or a " missed call ") will be charged since you are billed from the moment you dial.. If you want to have a mobile phone in the U.S. while you travel, you have several options;. Using your phone from home isn't as easy as in some other countries, because the U.S. (as well as Canada and many Latin American countries) uses the 850 and 1900 MHz frequencies, instead of 900 and 1800 MHz used elsewhere..

If you have a phone that's tri - or quad band (which includes many modern phones), you should be fine; otherwise, this option won't work for you.. You will also need to pay attention to whether your phone is GSM / UMTS (used by AT&T and T Mobile; common in Europe) or CDMA (used by Verizon and Sprint).. Roaming service (using your home phone number by simply calling through a U S network) is expensive, and will depend on the networks your home provider has contracts with, as well as your own provider's fees..

Internet data plans are ubiquitous in the U.S., but the normally high prices become exorbitant once roaming fees are added. Canadian cell phones may roam at $1.50 / minute or more, although plans vary; prepaid cash users may not roam at all.. A small fourth carrier Wind Mobile is an exception; while it has a limited footprint using non standard frequencies at home, it is relatively inexpensive for roaming; a $39 plan (roughly $45 prepaid after taxes) covers unlimited talk, international text, and 5GB of data in the US with no speed restrictions on standard T Mobile and AT&T cellular frequencies..

Roaming is also an issue for Americans who live, work, or travel in areas near the Canadian and Mexican borders. Roaming on non U.S. networks is equally expensive for Americans.. If you're visiting, say, Detroit, there are certain places near the border where the signal from Windsor is stronger, which means that unless you turn roaming off, your phone will connect to the Canadian network.. In turn, you'll find yourself with unexpected roaming charges for voice or data on a future bill.. Buying a SIM card is a better way to use your personal phone; by installing the SIM card in your phone, you'll have a local U.S. telephone number prepaid with no contract, hundreds of minutes' worth of calls, and large amounts of data..

The prices make it more economical for extended stays, but the convenience of cheap calls and data make this an attractive option for any visitor.. Purchasing prepaid minutes and a basic mobile phone is your next best option. These can be found at some grocery stores, at most electronics, office supply, and convenience stores, and of course online.. A basic phone (without Internet access) and 60–100 minutes of time can be purchased for under $50.. In addition to minutes, some prepaid services charge a flat fee per month (e g $20 / month), or a fee for days when the phone is actually used (e g $1 25 / day)..

Prepaid, contract free mobile phone service is available from many prepaid only providers, such as Boost Mobile, Cricket, Straight Talk, TracFone, and Virgin Mobile USA, as well as limited offerings from the major carriers; AT&T's GoPhone, T Mobile, and Verizon Prepaid Wireless.. Renting a phone costs from around $3 / day, and can be done at shops in most of the larger airports. Depending on how long you're staying and how much you plan on calling or using data, it may be cheaper or easier to use a prepaid SIM card or prepaid phone instead..

Getting a phone contract, which is what most Americans do, is something only visitors planning to stay long term should consider.. Unless you've lived in the U.S. for several months, international visitors won't have a credit rating that is recognized by U.S. service providers and therefore aren't able to subscribe to these plans (although some providers will let you get one with a deposit, typically at least $500).. Contracts typically require a 24 month commitment (cancellation fees can reach $300) to a specific monthly rate plan, and in exchange they subsidize the cost of the phone (so basic phones are " free ", and smartphones only " cost " $50 – $200)..

Addressing mail with a properly formatted address will expedite its journey with the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). (Not to be confused with the abbreviation for private shipper UPS) Most important is the ZIP code (postal code); you can look up ZIP codes and correct address formats online.. ZIP codes were originally 5 digits; later they gained a hyphen and 4 extra digits, which are recommended but still optional, and used more commonly by businesses than by individuals.. Addresses should be written in three (sometimes four) lines like this;.

There are recommended abbreviations for state names and terms (e g street = ST, avenue = AVE); the USPS address and ZIP code search uses them automatically.. The USPS also recommends that addresses be written using only upper case letters and no punctuation (except the hyphen in the ZIP code and hyphens and slashes in some house numbers), but automated sorting machines accept mixed case lettering and even cursive writing just as easily.. First class international airmail postcards and letters (up to one ounce / 28 5 grams) cost $1.15..

(The lower rate to Canada and Mexico has ended) All locations with a ZIP code are considered domestic, including the 50 states, U.S. possessions, Micronesia (FSM), Marshall Islands, and overseas military bases and ships (APO / FPO).. Domestic postcards cost $0.34, and ordinary letters up to an ounce, $0.49. " Forever " stamps are available for the first ounce of both domestic and international postage, and protect against future increases.. Mailing thick or rigid objects, or non standard shapes increases the postage cost..

Poste Restante, the receiving of mail at a post office rather than a private address, is called " General Delivery. " There is no charge for this service. You will need to show ID such as a passport to pick up your mail.. You do not need to have mail addressed to a particular post office by its name -- use only " GENERAL DELIVERY " in the second line. For example;. The last four digits of the ZIP code for General Delivery are always " 9999 ". If the city is large enough to have multiple post offices, only one (usually in the center of downtown) will allow General Delivery..

For example, if you're staying in the Green Lake district of Seattle (a few miles north of downtown), you cannot receive your mail at the Green Lake Post Office, and must travel downtown to get it.. However, if you're in an independent suburb just outside a large city having only one government post office you can have it sent there. Another option is to rent a post office box.. FedEx and UPS also have a " Hold for Pickup " option and have locations throughout larger cities in the U.S. Though usually more expensive, these may be a better option when receiving something important from abroad..

Given the ubiquity of private Internet access, Internet cafes are rare outside major cities and tourist areas. However, you do have some options, except perhaps in the most rural of areas.. Accessible WiFi networks, however, are common.. The most generally useful WiFi spots are in coffee shops, fast food chains, and bookshops, though you may need to buy something first. Some cities also provide free WiFi across their downtown areas.. Try to use only public networks. Using a private network (even one without a password), unless authorized to do so, is illegal (though enforcement is nearly non existent), and it may also allow criminals to track your browsing and so defraud you..

Even traffic on public networks may be logged.. A few less obvious WiFi spots may be found in;. Public libraries – Free Wi Fi is almost always available, although you may need to get a log in from the information desk. The network may even be accessible 24/7, so even if the library is closed you may be able to sit outside and surf.. Starbucks — all locations of the Starbucks coffee chain offer free Wi Fi, as well as electrical outlets for your laptop.. Hotels – chain hotels usually have it in the rooms and the communal areas; smaller independent hotels vary. An overpriced option at high end hotels, but included standard at most economy limited service chains..

Colleges and universities – may have networks in their libraries and student centers that are open to non students. Ask around.. Airports – even smaller regional ones offer Wi Fi. It may cost though.. Paid WiFi chains – give you access to numerous hotspots for a small charge, e.g. Boingo.. Mobile broadband via a USB modem is also an option. Service providers include Verizon Wireless and Virgin Mobile (which uses the Sprint network). Make sure to check a coverage map before you buy, each company has large areas with bad or no coverage. Also, these plans are subject to data limits which are easy to exceed unknowingly ! Avoid watching videos over a mobile network..

Internet cafes can still be found in some larger cities (e g New York and Los Angeles). Airports and shopping malls offer Internet access terminals for very quick use, although these are generally disappearing.. Access typically costs $1 for 1–2 minutes of web time. Any public computer will likely block access to undesirable websites and log your Internet use.. Public libraries — have PCs with broadband for public use. You will need to register with the library to get log in information, and may (rarely) need to pay a small fee..

Photocopy shops — will have computers available for public use (at a cost). E.g. FedEx Office (+ 1 800 463 3339 / + 1 800 GOFEDEX; when prompted by the voice menu, say " FedEx Office " or press " 64 ") is open 24 hr and is nationwide.. Some are also commercial mail receiving agents (such as The UPS Store) and offer fax service.. Smart hotels — have " business centers " replete with computers, printers, photocopies, and fax machines that you can use at a cost.. Electronics stores — the computers on display are often connected to the Internet. A quick email will be tolerated with a smile, six hours of Warcraft won't. The Apple Store is particularly generous and will allow browsing without intent to buy; however, some websites, such as Facebook, are blocked..

University libraries — while private universities may restrict entry to their students and faculty, public university libraries are generally required by law to be open to the public (at least as far as books go) and they may also have a computer or two for public use..

How To Stay Safe

Headline grabbing major crimes and slightly unfavorable statistics give the United States a reputation for crime. However, few visitors experience any problems; common sense precautions and staying alert are sufficient to avoid trouble.. Crime is usually connected with gangs and drugs in the inner cities, and with heated disputes. Avoid those and you'll be fine. Urban tourist areas are heavily policed and are safe from all but petty crimes.. Urban areas tend to have homeless people who may aggressively ask for money. If you feel harassed, say " No " firmly and walk away..

Illegal immigration and drug smuggling, and the authorities' heavy handed treatment of them, make the Mexican border undesirable to visit. Official border crossings are safe to use.. American police are generally polite, professional, and honest. When in uniform, they are also more formal, cautious, and cold than police in, say, Latin America — especially in large cities.. If stopped by traffic police, you should stay calm, be polite and cooperative, avoid making sudden movements, and state what you are doing if you need to reach for your purse or wallet to present your identification..

Turn on the inside car lights and keep your hands on the wheel to make it clear that you are not a threat; do not exit the vehicle unless told to do so.. Do not offer bribes to a police officer in any way or under any circumstances. U.S. police culture categorically rejects bribes, and the mere suggestion would very likely result in your immediate arrest.. If you need to pay a fine, don't try to pay the officer; he or she can direct you to the appropriate police station, courthouse, or government office. Most minor traffic infractions can be paid by mail..

Increasingly fines can be paid online or over the phone within a matter of minutes of receiving the ticket, though often for a convenience fee of a few dollars. Instructions are often printed on the ticket.. There are three types of police you are most likely to encounter; state police / highway patrol units on state highways, deputy sheriffs employed by county governments in rural areas, and police officers employed by city or town governments in urban areas.. Some transit agencies in major cities have their own transit police departments separate from city or county law enforcement. Federal law enforcement officers are generally found only in or near federal facilities, such as ports of entry..

If you encounter them elsewhere, it is usually because they are investigating specific allegations of federal crimes.. Dialing 9-1-1 at any telephone will reach the emergency services (police, fire, ambulance, etc). Any U.S. phone, regardless if it is " active " or not, must be able to dial 911 if it is connected to the network, and such calls are always free.. Unless you are calling from a mobile or Internet based phone, the operator should be able to locate you from the phone you are using even if you do not say anything. Modern cell phones will send a GPS fix of your location down to a few meters within a few seconds of dialing 911..

Dialing 911 and leaving an open line will bring all 3 emergency services to your location in under 5 minutes in most populated areas. Response time may be longer in sparsely populated areas or along the Interstates.. On any GSM mobile phone (the standard technology in most of the world, especially in Europe), you can also dial 112, which is the standard emergency number for GSM networks worldwide.. U.S. GSM carriers (AT&T, T Mobile, and smaller regional operators) automatically redirect 112 calls to 911..

As in most countries, misuse of the emergency services number will result in, at the least, a call back from authorities; at most, arrest.. If you reach 9-1-1 accidentally (for instance, if a misdial of the 011- international prefix gets a " 9 1 1, what's your emergency " response) stay on the line for long enough to explain to the dispatcher that you have reached a wrong number.. The United States Border Patrol works near both the Canadian and the Mexican borders, as well as in Southern coastal areas like the Florida Keys..

They can verify immigration status and enforce immigration laws in the " border zones " — generally within 40 miles of Canada and 75 miles of Mexico (although the law allows for 100 miles from any border, including sea and the Great Lakes).. Near Canada they tend to be unobtrusive and generally focus their work on long distance buses and trains. In the South, systematic vehicle checkpoints or being stopped on the street with a friendly " Papers, please... " is much more likely.. They tend not to target tourists specifically..

Foreigners are always required to carry their passports, visas, and landing cards (or Green Cards). Being found without them near the border could lead you to being detained until your status is verified, or possibly fined.. If your documents are in order, you generally won't be questioned.. In most states (Arizona is a notable exception), police and other local authorities are not allowed to question you about your immigration status or to ask to see your passport or visa unless you're arrested and charged with a crime, and then only for the purpose of connecting you with your embassy..

As a result of the 9/11 attacks, some statistics have shown that Muslims or those who are assumed to be Muslims may be disproportionately targeted for additional screenings at airports despite claims that passengers are chosen at random.. The U.S. is a huge country with very varied geography, and parts of it are occasionally affected by natural disasters; hurricanes and tropical storms from June through November in the South (including Florida), blizzards (a specific and common type are " Nor'easters ") in New England and the areas near the Great Lakes and the Rocky Mountains, tornadoes mostly in the Great Plains and Midwest, earthquakes in California and Alaska, floods in areas of the Midwest and wildfires in the late summer and early fall in Texas and on the.

West Coast, particularly California. See the regions in question for more details. Because tornadoes are so common between the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachian Mountains, this area has earned itself the colloquial name Tornado Alley. The San Andreas Fault is a tectonic plate boundary running through California, an area prone to earthquakes. Because tornadoes are so common between the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachian Mountains, this area has earned itself the colloquial name Tornado Alley. The San Andreas Fault is a tectonic plate boundary running through California, an area prone to earthquakes..

In the case of a natural disaster, local, state or federal authorities can issue a warning over the Emergency Alert System. It has a very distinctive electronic screeching followed by a sound similar to a dial tone prior to any message.. It will override AM / FM radio broadcasts as well as TV systems. Smartphones sold since about 2011 will often receive the alert as well in the form of a message based on the current location of the phone (depending on the phone's settings, this may include a loud alert tone)..

In most tornado prone regions, a system of sirens will sound when a tornado warning is issued. If you hear the siren, seek shelter immediately. (For more information, see tornado safety). Homosexual relations are legal. Many states and cities (even those considered to be more conservative or that do not recognize same sex marriage) have anti discrimination codes protecting sexual orientation, including public accommodations in hotels, restaurants and transport.. The major legal controversy concerns whether same sex marriage should be recognized or not. Marriage laws vary from state to state; currently 15 states and the District of Columbia allow and recognize same sex marriages, while a handful others provide some benefits without calling them " marriages "..

In these states, foreign marriages will likely be recognized. The federal government, due to a 2013 court case, now also recognizes same sex marriages including foreign marriages.. In general, the US is a safe destination for gay and lesbian travellers, though as a whole, homosexuality is somewhat not as well accepted as in Australia, Canada or Western Europe.. Most Americans take a live and let live approach to sexuality, but there are significant exceptions. It's generally not a problem to be open about your sexual orientation, though you may receive unwanted attention or remarks in some situations..

Attitudes toward homosexuality vary widely even in regions with a reputation for tolerance or intolerance. Acceptance is most common in major cities throughout the country and smaller cities, suburbs and college towns especially around the Pacific Coast, the Northeast and Hawaii, with acceptance in these areas generally being on par with Western Europe.. Homophobia and anti gay violence may be encountered anywhere, especially in some suburban and rural areas of the Southeast and interior West, but the chances of this happening to you are low..

Gay friendly destinations, where openly gay couples are common, include New York's Chelsea, Rochester in Western New York State, Chicago's Boystown, Seattle's Capitol Hill, San Francisco's Castro Street, Washington's Dupont Circle, Miami Beach's South Beach, Atlanta's Midtown and Los Angeles' West Hollywood.. Even outside of gay neighborhoods, many major cities are gay friendly, especially in the Northeast and the West Coast. An increasing number of resort areas are known as gay friendly, including Fire Island, Key West, Asheville, Provincetown, Ogunquit, Rehoboth Beach, Saugatuck, and parts of Asbury Park..

In other smaller cities, there are neighborhoods where gay people tend to congregate, many have resource centers for LGBT people.. Some businesses specifically advertise that they are LGBT friendly by displaying symbols (typically a rainbow flag) on their storefront.. Men planning to engage in any sexual activity should be aware of the heightened risk of HIV and other infections in the United States. A gay American man is 44 times more likely to contract HIV than a heterosexual one, and 46 times more likely to contract syphilis..

This risk grows greatly among men likely to engage in one night stands and other higher risk behavior. In a nation where 0.5% of the population are infected with HIV, unprotected sex is a very real risk.. Precautions, including safer sex, are strongly advised during your stay. Most cities have affordable or free testing and treatment centers for STIs, though hours may be limited and waits may be long.. Planned Parenthood clinics are often an affordable alternative. The lifelong repercussions of HIV or other STIs aren't covered by many insurance policies. Seeking health care elsewhere can be very pricey, as the U.S. medical system is private and largely operates on a for profit basis..

In general U.S. drug laws can be pretty severe; even possession or transportation of small amounts can lead to prison or deportation and should be avoided by travelers. However, laws and attitudes concerning the most commonly available drug, marijuana, vary wildly from state to state.. States like Louisiana and Florida impose large fines and lengthy prison sentences, while in other states marijuana use has been largely decriminalized. 18 states currently allow medical use of marijuana, where persons can obtain marijuana for medicinal use with a doctor's prescription and a " medical marijuana card "..

In some states, particularly cities on the West Coast, medical marijuana dispensaries are so commonplace that they seem almost ordinary. Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska allow limited recreational use of marijuana.. Under no circumstances should you transport marijuana or other drugs that are illegal under federal law across state lines, as doing so is drug trafficking and could subject you to a lengthy prison term.. Prostitution is illegal except at licensed brothels in rural Nevada. Tolerance varies considerably between states. Police officers occasionally pose as prostitutes to catch and arrest anyone offering to pay for sex..

It's true; the US has a strong gun culture, and many (but by no means all) Americans own a firearm.. Possession of firearms is regulated by individual states, and while these regulations (obtaining necessary permits, the kinds of arms permitted) vary greatly from state to state and, sometimes, from city to city within the same state, the US is generally considered to be a place with lenient attitudes towards firearm ownership, especially compared to Europe and Asia.. Non immigrant aliens present in America for fewer than 180 days cannot possess a firearm or ammunition, unless they traveled specifically for hunting or sporting shooting, or they have a valid hunting license from the state they are shooting in Entry in a recognized shooting competition also qualifies..

Anything else is strictly illegal.. Your chances of getting shot are very low, but bear in mind that;. In a city, a civilian with an openly visible firearm is much more of a concern than one in the country. However, many states permit " open carry ", and while uncommon in cities, you may encounter somebody with a holstered firearm.. Many states also have " concealed carry ", laws which permit the possession of a concealed firearm in clothing or in a vehicle. Keep in mind that people with permits to carry a firearm, openly or concealed, are usually not criminals and not going to harm you..

Hunting is popular in rural America. Use of marked trails should not be a risk, but if venturing off the beaten path try to inquire if and where any hunting may currently be afoot.. If there is, wear bright colors (particularly " Blaze Orange ") to be highly visible to the hunters. This includes putting a bright vest on any dogs you take too. If you wish to hunt, obtain the correct permits and review the local regulations.. Target shooting is a popular sport. Many ranges welcome tourists and will have a variety of firearms available to rent and shoot at the range. Many implement a " two person minimum " rule and consider it unsafe to rent firearms to lone individuals..

Geography, Climate, And Environment

The land area of the contiguous United States is 2,959,064 square miles. Alaska, separated from the contiguous United States by Canada, is the largest state at 663,268 square miles. Hawaii, occupying an archipelago in the central Pacific, southwest of North America, is 10,931 square miles in area.. The United States is the world's third or fourth largest nation by total area, ranking behind Russia and Canada and just above or below China.. The ranking varies depending on how two territories disputed by China and India are counted and how the total size of the United States is measured calculations range from 3,676,486 square miles to 3,717,813 square miles to 3,794,101 square miles..

to 3,805,927 square miles. Measured by only land area, the United States is third in size behind Russia and China, just ahead of Canada.. The coastal plain of the Atlantic seaboard gives way further inland to deciduous forests and the rolling hills of the Piedmont. The Appalachian Mountains divide the eastern seaboard from the Great Lakes and the grasslands of the Midwest.. The MississippiMissouri River, the world's fourth longest river system, runs mainly northsouth through the heart of the country. The flat, fertile prairie of the Great Plains stretches to the west, interrupted by a highland region in the southeast..

The Rocky Mountains, at the western edge of the Great Plains, extend north to south across the country, reaching altitudes higher than 14,000 feet in Colorado. Farther west are the rocky Great Basin and deserts such as the Chihuahua and Mojave.. The Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges run close to the Pacific coast, both ranges reaching altitudes higher than 14,000 feet. The lowest and highest points in the continental United States are in the state of California, and only about 80 miles apart..

At 20,320 feet, Alaska's Mount McKinley is the tallest peak in the country and in North America. Active volcanoes are common throughout Alaska's Alexander and Aleutian Islands, and Hawaii consists of volcanic islands.. The supervolcano underlying Yellowstone National Park in the Rockies is the continent's largest volcanic feature.. The United States, with its large size and geographic variety, includes most climate types. To the east of the 100th meridian, the climate ranges from humid continental in the north to humid subtropical in the south..

The southern tip of Florida is tropical, as is Hawaii. The Great Plains west of the 100th meridian are semi arid. Much of the Western mountains are alpine.. The climate is arid in the Great Basin, desert in the Southwest, Mediterranean in coastal California, and oceanic in coastal Oregon and Washington and southern Alaska. Most of Alaska is subarctic or polar. Extreme weather is not uncommonthe states bordering the Gulf of Mexico are prone to hurricanes, and most of the world's tornadoes occur within the country, mainly in the Midwest's Tornado Alley..

The U.S. ecology is considered " megadiverse " about 17,000 species of vascular plants occur in the contiguous United States and Alaska, and over 1,800 species of flowering plants are found in Hawaii, few of which occur on the mainland.. The United States is home to more than 400 mammal, 750 bird, and 500 reptile and amphibian species. About 91,000 insect species have been described. The bald eagle is both the national bird and national animal of the United States, and is an enduring symbol of the country itself..

There are 58 national parks and hundreds of other federally managed parks, forests, and wilderness areas. Altogether, the government owns 28.8 of the country's land area.. Most of this is protected, though some is leased for oil and gas drilling, mining, logging, or cattle ranching; 2.4 is used for military purposes.. Environmental issues have been on the national agenda since 1970. Environmental controversies include debates on oil and nuclear energy, dealing with air and water pollution, the economic costs of protecting wildlife, logging and deforestation, and international responses to global warming..

Many federal and state agencies are involved. The most prominent is the Environmental Protection Agency, created by presidential order in 1970. The idea of wilderness has shaped the management of public lands since 1964, with the Wilderness Act.. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 is intended to protect threatened and endangered species and their habitats, which are monitored by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service..

History

The first North American settlers migrated from Siberia by way of the Bering land bridge approximately 15,000 or more years ago. Some, such as the pre Columbian Mississippian culture, developed advanced agriculture, grand architecture, and state level societies.. After European explorers and traders made the first contacts, the native population declined due to various reasons, including diseases such as smallpox and measles, intermarriage, and violence.. In the early days of colonization many settlers were subject to shortages of food, disease and attacks from Native Americans. Native Americans were also often at war with neighboring tribes and allied with Europeans in their colonial wars..

At the same time however many natives and settlers came to depend on each other. Settlers traded for food and animal pelts, natives for guns, ammunition and other European wares. Natives taught many settlers where, when and how to cultivate corn, beans and squash in the frontier.. European missionaries and others felt it was important to " civilize " the Indians and urged them to concentrate on farming and ranching without depending on hunting and gathering.. After Columbus' first voyage to the New World in 1492 other explorers and settlement followed into the Floridas and the American Southwest. There were also some French attempts to colonize the east coast, and later more successful settlements along the Mississippi River..

Successful English settlement on the eastern coast of North America began with the Virginia Colony in 1607 at Jamestown and the Pilgrims' Plymouth Colony in 1620. Early experiments in communal living failed until the introduction of private farm holdings.. Many settlers were dissenting Christian groups who came seeking religious freedom. The continent's first elected legislative assembly, Virginia's House of Burgesses created in 1619, and the Mayflower Compact, signed by the Pilgrims before disembarking, established precedents for the pattern of representative self government and constitutionalism that would develop throughout the American colonies..

Most settlers in every colony were small farmers, but other industries developed. Cash crops included tobacco, rice and wheat. Extraction industries grew up in furs, fishing and lumber. Manufacturers produced rum and ships, and by the late colonial period Americans were producing one seventh of the world's iron supply.. Cities eventually dotted the coast to support local economies and serve as trade hubs. English colonists were supplemented by waves of Scotch Irish and other groups. As coastal land grew more expensive freed indentured servants pushed further west..

Slave cultivation of cash crops began with the Spanish in the 1500s, and was adopted by the English, but life expectancy was much higher in North America because of less disease and better food and treatment, so the numbers of slaves grew rapidly.. Colonial society was largely divided over the religious and moral implications of slavery and colonies passed acts for and against the practice. But by the turn of the 18th century, African slaves were replacing indentured servants for cash crop labor, especially in southern regions..

With the colonization of Georgia in 1732, the 13 colonies that would become the United States of America were established. All had local governments with elections open to most free men, with a growing devotion to the ancient rights of Englishmen and a sense of self government stimulating support for republicanism.. With extremely high birth rates, low death rates, and steady settlement, the colonial population grew rapidly. Relatively small Native American populations were eclipsed. The Christian revivalist movement of the 1730s and 1740s known as the Great Awakening fueled interest in both religion and religious liberty..

In the French and Indian War, British forces seized Canada from the French, but the francophone population remained politically isolated from the southern colonies. Excluding the Native Americans, who were being conquered and displaced, those 13 colonies had a population of over 2.1 million in 1770, about one third that of Britain.. Despite continuing new arrivals, the rate of natural increase was such that by the 1770s only a small minority of Americans had been born overseas. The colonies' distance from Britain had allowed the development of self government, but their success motivated monarchs to periodically seek to reassert royal authority..

The American Revolutionary War was the first successful colonial war of independence against a European power. Americans had developed an ideology of " republicanism " that held government rested on the will of the people as expressed in their local legislatures.. They demanded their rights as Englishmen, no taxation without representation. The British insisted on administering the empire through Parliament, and the conflict escalated into war.. Following the passage of the Lee Resolution, on July 2, 1776, which was the actual vote for independence, the Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, on July 4, which proclaimed, in a long preamble, that humanity is created equal in their unalienable rights and that those rights were not being protected by Great Britain, and finally declared, in the words of the resolution, that the 13 colonies were independent states and had no allegiance to the British crown in the United States..

The latter date, July 4, 1776, is now celebrated annually as America's Independence Day. In 1777, the Articles of Confederation established a weak government that operated until 1789.. Britain recognized the independence of the United States following their defeat at Yorktown. In the peace treaty of 1783, American sovereignty was recognized from the Atlantic coast west to the Mississippi River. Nationalists led the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 in writing the United States Constitution, and it was ratified in state conventions in 1788..

The federal government was reorganized into three branches, on the principle of creating salutary checks and balances, in 1789. George Washington, who had led the revolutionary army to victory, was the first president elected under the new constitution.. The Bill of Rights, forbidding federal restriction of personal freedoms and guaranteeing a range of legal protections, was adopted in 1791.. Although the federal government criminalized the international slave trade in 1808, after 1820 cultivation of the highly profitable cotton crop exploded in the Deep South, and along with it the slave population. The Second Great Awakening, beginning about 1800, converted millions to evangelical Protestantism..

In the North it energized multiple social reform movements, including abolitionism; in the South, Methodists and Baptists proselytized among slave populations.. Americans' eagerness to expand westward prompted a long series of Indian Wars. The Louisiana Purchase of French claimed territory in 1803 almost doubled the nation's size. The War of 1812, declared against Britain over various grievances and fought to a draw, strengthened U.S. nationalism.. A series of U.S. military incursions into Florida led Spain to cede it and other Gulf Coast territory in 1819..

Expansion was aided by steam power, when steamboats began traveling along America's large water systems, which were connected by new canals, such as the Erie and the Iamp; M; then, even faster railroads began their stretch across the nation's land.. From 1820 to 1850, Jacksonian democracy began a set of reforms which included wider male suffrage, and it led to the rise of the Second Party System of Democrats and Whigs as the dominant parties from 1828 to 1854.. The Trail of Tears in the 1830s exemplified the Indian removal policy that moved Indians into the west to their own reservations. The U.S. annexed the Republic of Texas in 1845 during a period of expansionist Manifest Destiny..

The 1846 Oregon Treaty with Britain led to U.S. control of the present day American Northwest. Victory in the Mexican American War resulted in the 1848 Mexican Cession of California and much of the present day American Southwest.. The California Gold Rush of 184849 spurred western migration and the creation of additional western states. After the American Civil War, new transcontinental railways made relocation easier for settlers, expanded internal trade and increased conflicts with Native Americans..

Over a half century, the loss of the buffalo was an existential blow to many Plains Indians cultures. In 1869, a new Peace Policy sought to protect Native Americans from abuses, avoid further warfare, and secure their eventual U.S. citizenship.. From the beginning of the United States, inherent divisions over slavery between the North and the South in American society ultimately led to the American Civil War.. Initially, states entering the Union alternated between slave and free states, keeping a sectional balance in the Senate, while free states outstripped slave states in population and in the House of Representatives..

But with additional western territory and more free soil states, tensions between slave and free states mounted with arguments over federalism and disposition of the territories, whether and how to expand or restrict slavery.. Following the 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln, the first president from the largely anti slavery Republican Party, conventions in thirteen states ultimately declared secession and formed the Confederate States of America, while the U.S. federal government maintained secession was illegal..

The ensuing war was at first for Union, then after 1863 as casualties mounted and Lincoln delivered his Emancipation Proclamation, a second war aim became abolition of slavery. The war remains the deadliest military conflict in American history, resulting in the deaths of approximately 618,000 soldiers as well as many civilians.. Following the Union victory in 1865, three amendments to the U.S. Constitution prohibited slavery, made the nearly four million African Americans who had been slaves U.S. citizens, and promised them voting rights..

The war and its resolution led to a substantial increase in federal power aimed at reintegrating and rebuilding the Southern states while ensuring the rights of the newly freed slaves. But following the Reconstruction Era, throughout the South Jim Crow laws soon effectively disenfranchised most blacks and some poor whites.. Over the subsequent decades, in both the north and south blacks and some whites faced systemic discrimination, including racial segregation and occasional vigilante violence, sparking national movements against these abuses..

In the North, urbanization and an unprecedented influx of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe supplied a surplus of labor for the country's industrialization and transformed its culture. National infrastructure including telegraph and transcontinental railroads spurred economic growth and greater settlement and development of the American Old West.. The later invention of electric lights and telephones would also impact communication and urban life. The end of the Indian Wars further expanded acreage under mechanical cultivation, increasing surpluses for international markets. Mainland expansion was completed by the Alaska Purchase from Russia in 1867..

In 1898 the U.S. entered the world stage with important sugar production and strategic facilities acquired in Hawaii. Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines were ceded by Spain in the same year, following the Spanish American War.. Rapid economic development at the end of the 19th century produced many prominent industrialists, and the U.S. economy became the world's largest. Dramatic changes were accompanied by social unrest and the rise of populist, socialist, and anarchist movements.. This period eventually ended with the beginning of the Progressive Era, which saw significant reforms in many societal areas, including women's suffrage, alcohol prohibition, regulation of consumer goods, greater antitrust measures to ensure competition and attention to worker conditions..

The United States remained neutral at the outbreak of World War I in 1914, though by 1917, it joined the Allies, helping to turn the tide against the Central Powers.. President Woodrow Wilson took a leading diplomatic role at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 and advocated strongly for the U.S. to join the League of Nations. However, the Senate refused to approve this, and did not ratify the Treaty of Versailles that established the League of Nations.. In 1920, the women's rights movement won passage of a constitutional amendment granting women's suffrage. The 1920s and 1930s saw the rise of radio for mass communication and the invention of early television..

The prosperity of the Roaring Twenties ended with the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the onset of the Great Depression. After his election as president in 1932, Franklin D Roosevelt responded with the New Deal, which included the establishment of the Social Security system.. The Great Migration of millions of African Americans out of the American South began around WWI and extended through the 1960s; whereas, the Dust Bowl of the mid 1930s impoverished many farming communities and spurred a new wave of western migration..

The United States was at first effectively neutral during World War II's early stages but began supplying material to the Allies in March 1941 through the Lend Lease program.. On December 7, 1941, the Empire of Japan launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, prompting the United States to join the Allies against the Axis powers.. Though the nation lost more than 400,000 soldiers, it emerged relatively undamaged from the war with even greater economic and military influence. Allied conferences at Bretton Woods and Yalta outlined a new system of international organizations that placed the United States and Soviet Union at the center of world affairs..

As an Allied victory was won in Europe, a 1945 international conference held in San Francisco produced the United Nations Charter, which became active after the war. The United States developed the first nuclear weapons and used them on Japan; the Japanese surrendered on September 2, ending World War II.. After World War II the United States and the Soviet Union jockeyed for power during what is known as the Cold War, driven by an ideological divide between capitalism and communism.. They dominated the military affairs of Europe, with the U.S. and its NATO allies on one side and the USSR and its Warsaw Pact allies on the other. The U.S. developed a policy of " containment " toward Soviet bloc expansion. While they engaged in proxy wars and developed powerful nuclear arsenals, the two countries avoided direct military conflict. The U.S. often opposed Third World left wing movements that it viewed as Soviet sponsored..

American troops fought Communist Chinese and North Korean forces in the Korean War of 195053. The Soviet Union's 1957 launch of the first artificial satellite and its 1961 launch of the first manned spaceflight initiated a " Space Race " in which the United States became the first to land a man on the moon in 1969.. A proxy war was expanded in Southeast Asia with the Vietnam War.. At home, the U.S. experienced sustained economic expansion and a rapid growth of its population and middle class. Construction of an interstate highway system transformed the nations infrastructure over the following decades. Millions moved from farms and inner cities to large suburban housing developments..

A growing civil rights movement used nonviolence to confront segregation and discrimination, with Martin Luther King Jr becoming a prominent leader and figurehead. A combination of court decisions and legislation, culminating in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, sought to end racial discrimination.. Meanwhile, a counterculture movement grew which was fueled by opposition to the Vietnam war, black nationalism, and the sexual revolution. The launch of a " War on Poverty " expanded entitlement and welfare spending..

The 1970s and early 1980s saw the onset of stagflation. After his election in 1980, President Ronald Reagan responded to economic stagnation with free market oriented reforms. Following the collapse of dtente, he abandoned " containment " and initiated the more aggressive " rollback " strategy towards the USSR.. After a surge in female labor participation over the previous decade, by 1985 a majority of women age 16 and over were employed. The late 1980s brought a " thaw " in relations with the USSR, and its collapse in 1991 finally ended the Cold War..

After the Cold War, the 1990s saw the longest economic expansion in modern U.S. history, ending in 2001. Originating in U.S. defense networks, the Internet spread to international academic networks, and then to the public in the 1990s, greatly impacting the global economy, society, and culture.. On September 11, 2001, Al Qaeda terrorists struck the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon near Washington, D.C., killing nearly 3,000 people. In response the United States launched the War on Terror, which includes the ongoing war in Afghanistan and the 200311 Iraq War..

Barack Obama, the first African American, and multiracial president, was elected in 2008 amid the Great Recession..

Economy

The United States has a capitalist mixed economy which is fueled by abundant natural resources and high productivity. According to the International Monetary Fund, the U.S. GDP of 16.8 trillion constitutes 24 of the gross world product at market exchange rates and over 19 of the gross world product at purchasing power parity.. Its national GDP was about 5 larger at PPP in 2014 than the European Union's, whose population is around 62 higher. However, the US's nominal GDP is estimated to be 17.528 trillion as of 2014, which is about 5 smaller than that of the European Union..

From 1983 to 2008, U.S. real compounded annual GDP growth was 3.3, compared to a 2.3 weighted average for the rest of the G7. The country ranks ninth in the world in nominal GDP per capita and sixth in GDP per capita at PPP.. The U.S. dollar is the world's primary reserve currency.. The United States is the largest importer of goods and second largest exporter, though exports per capita are relatively low. In 2010, the total U.S. trade deficit was 635 billion. Canada, China, Mexico, Japan, and Germany are its top trading partners..

In 2010, oil was the largest import commodity, while transportation equipment was the country's largest export. China is the largest foreign holder of U.S. public debt. The largest holder of the U.S. debt are American entities, including federal government accounts and the Federal Reserve, who hold the majority of the debt.. In 2009, the private sector was estimated to constitute 86.4 of the economy, with federal government activity accounting for 4.3 and state and local government activity the remaining 9.3. While its economy has reached a postindustrial level of development and its service sector constitutes 67.8 of GDP, the United States remains an industrial power..

The leading business field by gross business receipts is wholesale and retail trade; by net income it is manufacturing.. Chemical products are the leading manufacturing field. The United States is the third largest producer of oil in the world, as well as its largest importer. It is the world's number one producer of electrical and nuclear energy, as well as liquid natural gas, sulfur, phosphates, and salt.. While agriculture accounts for just under 1 of GDP, the United States is the world's top producer of corn and soybeans. The National Agricultural Statistics Service maintains agricultural statistics for products that include peanuts, oats, rye, wheat, rice, cotton, corn, barley, hay, sunflowers, and oilseeds..

In addition, the United States Department of Agriculture provides livestock statistics regarding beef, poultry, pork, and dairy products. The National Mining Association provides data pertaining to coal and minerals that include beryllium, copper, lead, magnesium, zinc, titanium and others.. In the franchising business model, McDonald's and Subway are the two most recognized brands in the world. Coca Cola is the most recognized soft drink company in the world.. Consumer spending comprises 71 of the U.S. economy in 2013. In August 2010, the American labor force consisted of 154.1 million people. With 21.2 million people, government is the leading field of employment..

The largest private employment sector is health care and social assistance, with 16.4 million people. About 12 of workers are unionized, compared to 30 in Western Europe. The World Bank ranks the United States first in the ease of hiring and firing workers.. The United States is the only advanced economy that does not guarantee its workers paid vacation and is one of just a few countries in the world without paid family leave as a legal right, with the others being Papua New Guinea, Suriname and Liberia..

In 2009, the United States had the third highest labor productivity per person in the world, behind Luxembourg and Norway. It was fourth in productivity per hour, behind those two countries and the Netherlands.. The 2008-2012 global recession had a significant impact on the United States, with output still below potential according to the Congressional Budget Office.. It brought high unemployment, along with low consumer confidence, the continuing decline in home values and increase in foreclosures and personal bankruptcies, an escalating federal debt crisis, inflation, and rising petroleum and food prices..

There remains a record proportion of long term unemployed, continued decreasing household income, and tax and federal budget increases. A 2011 poll found that more than half of all Americans think the U.S. is still in recession or even depression, despite official data that shows a historically modest recovery.. In 2013 the Census Bureau defined poverty rate decreased to roughly 14.5 of the population.. Americans have the highest average household and employee income among OECD nations, and in 2007 had the second highest median household income. According to the Census Bureau real median household income was 50,502 in 2011, down from 51,144 in 2010..

The Global Food Security Index ranked the U.S. number one for food affordability and overall food security in March 2013. Americans on average have over twice as much living space per dwelling and per person as European Union residents, and more than every EU nation.. For 2013 the United Nations Development Programme ranked the United States 5th among 187 countries in its Human Development Index and 28th in its inequality adjusted HDI.. There has been a widening gap between productivity and median incomes since the 1970s. While inflation adjusted household income had been increasing almost every year from 1947 to 1999, it has since been flat and even decreased recently..

The rise in the share of total annual income received by the top 1 percent, which has more than doubled from 9 percent in 1976 to 20 percent in 2011, has had a significant impact on income inequality, leaving the United States with one of the widest income distributions among OECD nations.. The post recession income gains have been very uneven, with the top 1 percent capturing 95 percent of the income gains from 2009 to 2012.. Wealth, like income and taxes, is highly concentrated; the richest 10 of the adult population possess 72 of the country's household wealth, while the bottom half claim only 2 This is the second highest share among developed nations..

Between June 2007 and November 2008 the global recession led to falling asset prices around the world. Assets owned by Americans lost about a quarter of their value. Since peaking in the second quarter of 2007, household wealth is down 14 trillion.. At the end of 2008, household debt amounted to 13.8 trillion.. There were about 643,000 sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons in the U.S. in January 2009, with almost two thirds staying in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program.. In 2011 16.7 million children lived in food insecure households, about 35 more than 2007 levels, though only 1.1 of U.S. children, or 845,000, saw reduced food intake or disrupted eating patterns at some point during the year, and most cases were not chronic..

Culture

The United States is home to many cultures and a wide variety of ethnic groups, traditions, and values. Aside from the Native American, Native Hawaiian and Native Alaskan populations, nearly all Americans or their ancestors settled or immigrated within the past five centuries.. Mainstream American culture is a Western culture largely derived from the traditions of European immigrants with influences from many other sources, such as traditions brought by slaves from Africa.. More recent immigration from Asia and especially Latin America has added to a cultural mix that has been described as both a homogenizing melting pot, and a heterogeneous salad bowl in which immigrants and their descendants retain distinctive cultural characteristics..

Core American culture was established by Protestant British colonists and shaped by the frontier settlement process, with the traits derived passed down to descendants and transmitted to immigrants through assimilation.. Americans have traditionally been characterized by a strong work ethic, competitiveness, and individualism, as well as a unifying belief in an " American creed " emphasizing liberty, equality, private property, democracy, rule of law, and a preference for limited government.. Americans are extremely charitable by global standards. According to a 2006 British study, Americans gave 1.67 of GDP to charity, more than any other nation studied, more than twice the second place British figure of 0.73, and around twelve times the French figure of 0.14..

The American Dream, or the perception that Americans enjoy high social mobility, plays a key role in attracting immigrants. Whether this perception is realistic has been a topic of debate.. While mainstream culture holds that the United States is a classless society, scholars identify significant differences between the country's social classes, affecting socialization, language, and values.. Americans' self images, social viewpoints, and cultural expectations are associated with their occupations to an unusually close degree. While Americans tend greatly to value socioeconomic achievement, being ordinary or average is generally seen as a positive attribute..

The four major broadcasters in the U.S. are the National Broadcasting Company, Columbia Broadcasting System, the American Broadcasting Company and Fox. Americans are the heaviest television viewers in the world, and the average viewing time continues to rise, reaching five hours a day in 2006.. The four major broadcast television networks are all commercial entities. Americans listen to radio programming, also largely commercial, on average just over two and a half hours a day.. In 1998, the number of U.S. commercial radio stations had grown to 4,793 AM stations and 5,662 FM stations. In addition, there are 1,460 public radio stations. Most of these stations are run by universities and public authorities for educational purposes and are financed by public andor private funds, subscriptions and corporate underwriting..

Much public radio broadcasting is supplied by NPR. NPR was incorporated in February 1970 under the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967; its television counterpart, PBS, was also created by the same legislation.. Aside from web portals and search engines, the most popular websites are Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia, Amazon, eBay, and Twitter.. Well known newspapers are The New York Times, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal.. Although the cost of publishing has increased over the years, the price of newspapers has generally remained low, forcing newspapers to rely more on advertising revenue and on articles provided by a major wire service, such as the Associated Press or Reuters, for their national and world coverage..

With very few exceptions, all the newspapers in the U.S. are privately owned, either by large chains such as Gannett or McClatchy, which own dozens or even hundreds of newspapers; by small chains that own a handful of papers; or in a situation that is increasingly rare, by individuals or families.. Major cities often have " alternative weeklies " to complement the mainstream daily paper, for example, New York City's Village Voice or Los Angeles' L.A. Weekly, to name two of the best known.. Major cities may also support a local business journal, trade papers relating to local industries, and papers for local ethnic and social groups. Early versions of the American newspaper comic strip and the American comic book began appearing in the 19th century..

In 1938, Superman, the quintessential comic book superhero of DC Comics, developed into an American icon.. In Spanish, the second most widely spoken mother tongue behind English, more than 800 publications are published.. The world's first commercial motion picture exhibition was given in New York City in 1894, using Thomas Edison's Kinetoscope. The next year saw the first commercial screening of a projected film, also in New York, and the United States was in the forefront of sound film's development in the following decades..

Since the early 20th century, the U.S. film industry has largely been based in and around Hollywood, California.. Director D W Griffith was central to the development of film grammar and Orson Welles's Citizen Kane is frequently cited as the greatest film of all time. American screen actors like John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe have become iconic figures, while producerentrepreneur Walt Disney was a leader in both animated film and movie merchandising.. Hollywood is also one of the leaders in motion picture production..

The rhythmic and lyrical styles of African American music have deeply influenced American music at large, distinguishing it from European traditions. Elements from folk idioms such as the blues and what is now known as old time music were adopted and transformed into popular genres with global audiences.. Jazz was developed by innovators such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington early in the 20th century. Country music developed in the 1920s, and rhythm and blues in the 1940s.. Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry were among the mid 1950s pioneers of rock and roll. In the 1960s, Bob Dylan emerged from the folk revival to become one of America's most celebrated songwriters and James Brown led the development of funk..

More recent American creations include hip hop and house music. American pop stars such as Presley, Michael Jackson, and Madonna have become global celebrities.. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, American art and literature took most of its cues from Europe. Writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, and Henry David Thoreau established a distinctive American literary voice by the middle of the 19th century.. Mark Twain and poet Walt Whitman were major figures in the century's second half; Emily Dickinson, virtually unknown during her lifetime, is now recognized as an essential American poet..

A work seen as capturing fundamental aspects of the national experience and charactersuch as Herman Melville's Moby Dick, Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and F Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby may be dubbed the " Great American Novel ".. Eleven U.S. citizens have won the Nobel Prize in Literature, most recently Toni Morrison in 1993. William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway are often named among the most influential writers of the 20th century.. Popular literary genres such as the Western and hardboiled crime fiction developed in the United States. The Beat Generation writers opened up new literary approaches, as have postmodernist authors such as John Barth, Thomas Pynchon, and Don DeLillo..

The transcendentalists, led by Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, established the first major American philosophical movement. After the Civil War, Charles Sanders Peirce and then William James and John Dewey were leaders in the development of pragmatism.. In the 20th century, the work of W V O Quine and Richard Rorty, and later Noam Chomsky, brought analytic philosophy to the fore of American philosophical academia. John Rawls and Robert Nozick led a revival of political philosophy.. Cornel West and Judith Butler have led a continental tradition in American philosophical academia. Globally influential Chicago school economists like Milton Friedman, James M Buchanan, and Thomas Sowell have transcended discipline to impact various fields in social and political philosophy..

In the visual arts, the Hudson River School was a mid 19th century movement in the tradition of European naturalism. The realist paintings of Thomas Eakins are now widely celebrated. The 1913 Armory Show in New York City, an exhibition of European modernist art, shocked the public and transformed the U.S. art scene.. Georgia O'Keeffe, Marsden Hartley, and others experimented with new, individualistic styles. Major artistic movements such as the abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning and the pop art of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein developed largely in the United States..

The tide of modernism and then postmodernism has brought fame to American architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Philip Johnson, and Frank Gehry.. One of the first major promoters of American theater was impresario P T Barnum, who began operating a lower Manhattan entertainment complex in 1841. The team of Harrigan and Hart produced a series of popular musical comedies in New York starting in the late 1870s.. In the 20th century, the modern musical form emerged on Broadway; the songs of musical theater composers such as Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, and Stephen Sondheim have become pop standards..

Playwright Eugene O'Neill won the Nobel literature prize in 1936; other acclaimed U.S. dramatists include multiple Pulitzer Prize winners Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, and August Wilson.. Though little known at the time, Charles Ives's work of the 1910s established him as the first major U.S. composer in the classical tradition, while experimentalists such as Henry Cowell and John Cage created a distinctive American approach to classical composition.. Aaron Copland and George Gershwin developed a new synthesis of popular and classical music. Choreographers Isadora Duncan and Martha Graham helped create modern dance, while George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins were leaders in 20th century ballet..

Americans have long been important in the modern artistic medium of photography, with major photographers including Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, and Ansel Adams.. Mainstream American cuisine is similar to that in other Western countries. Wheat is the primary cereal grain. Traditional American cuisine uses indigenous ingredients, such as turkey, venison, potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, squash, and maple syrup, which were consumed by Native Americans and early European settlers.. These home grown foods are part of a shared national menu on one of America's most cherished holidays; Thanksgiving, when Americans all make the same traditional foods to celebrate the occasion..

Characteristic dishes such as apple pie, fried chicken, pizza, hamburgers, and hot dogs derive from the recipes of various immigrants. French fries, Mexican dishes such as burritos and tacos, and pasta dishes freely adapted from Italian sources are widely consumed.. Americans generally prefer coffee to tea. Marketing by U.S. industries is largely responsible for making orange juice and milk ubiquitous breakfast beverages.. American eating habits owe a great deal to that of their British culinary roots with some variations. Even though American lands could grow newer vegetables England could not, most colonist would not eat these new foods until accepted by Europeans..

Over time American foods changed to a point that food critic, John L Hess stated in 1972 " Our founding fathers were as far superior to our present political leaders in the quality of their food as they were in the quality of their prose and intelligence ".. The American fast food industry, the world's largest, pioneered the drive through format in the 1930s. Fast food consumption has sparked health concerns. During the 1980s and 1990s, Americans' caloric intake rose 24; frequent dining at fast food outlets is associated with what public health officials call the American " obesity epidemic "..

Highly sweetened soft drinks are widely popular, and sugared beverages account for nine percent of American caloric intake.. While most major U.S. sports have evolved out of European practices, basketball, volleyball, skateboarding, and snowboarding are American inventions, some of which have become popular in other countries. Lacrosse and surfing arose from Native American and Native Hawaiian activities that predate Western contact.. The Iroquois field their own separate national team, the Iroquois Nationals, in recognition of the confederacy's creation of lacrosse. Eight Olympic Games have taken place in the United States..

The United States has won 2,400 medals at the Summer Olympic Games, more than any other country, and 281 in the Winter Olympic Games, the second most behind Norway.. The market for professional sports in the United States is roughly 69 billion, roughly 50 larger than that of all of Europe, the Middle East, and Africa combined. Baseball has been regarded as the national sport since the late 19th century, while American football is now by several measures the most popular spectator sport.. Basketball and ice hockey are the country's next two leading professional team sports. These four major sports, when played professionally, each occupy a season at different, but overlapping, times of the year..

College football and basketball attract large audiences. Boxing and horse racing were once the most watched individual sports, but they have been eclipsed by golf and auto racing, particularly NASCAR. In the 21st century, televised mixed martial arts has also gained a strong following of regular viewers.. While soccer is less popular in the United States than in many other nations, the country hosted the 1994 FIFA World Cup, the men's national soccer team has been to the past six World Cups and the women are first in the women's world rankings..

Health

The United States has a life expectancy of 78.4 years at birth, up from 75.2 years in 1990, ranking it 50th among 221 nations, and 27th out of the 34 industrialized OECD countries, down from 20th in 1990.. Increasing obesity in the United States and health improvements elsewhere have contributed to lowering the country's rank in life expectancy from 1987, when it was 11th in the world. Obesity rates in the United States are among the highest in the world.. Approximately one third of the adult population is obese and an additional third is overweight; the obesity rate, the highest in the industrialized world, has more than doubled in the last quarter century..

Obesity related type 2 diabetes is considered epidemic by health care professionals. The infant mortality rate of 6.17 per thousand places the United States 169th highest out of 224 countries. The United States has the highest first day infant death rate out of all the industrialized countries in the world.. About 11,300 newborns die within 24 hours of their birth in the U.S. each year, 50 percent more first day deaths than all other industrialized countries combined.. In 2010, coronary artery disease, lung cancer, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, and traffic accidents caused the most years of life lost in the U.S. Low back pain, depression, musculoskeletal disorders, neck pain, and anxiety caused the most years lost to disability..

The most deleterious risk factors were poor diet, tobacco smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, physical inactivity, and alcohol use. Alzheimer's disease, drug abuse, kidney disease and cancer, and falls caused the most additional years of life lost over their age adjusted 1990 per capita rates.. U.S. teenage pregnancy and abortion rates are substantially higher than in other Western nations.. The U.S. is a global leader in medical innovation. America solely developed or contributed significantly to 9 of the top 10 most important medical innovations since 1975 as ranked by a 2001 poll of physicians, while the EU and Switzerland together contributed to five..

Since 1966, Americans have received more Nobel Prizes in Medicine than the rest of the world. From 1989 to 2002, four times more money was invested in private biotechnology companies in America than in Europe.. The U.S. health care system far outspends any other nation, measured in both per capita spending and percentage of GDP. Health care coverage in the United States is a combination of public and private efforts and is not universal.. In 2010, 49.9 million residents or 16.3 of the population did not carry health insurance. The subject of uninsured and underinsured Americans is a major political issue. In 2006, Massachusetts became the first state to mandate universal health insurance..

Federal legislation passed in early 2010 would ostensibly create a near universal health insurance system around the country by 2014, though the bill and its ultimate impact are issues of controversy..

Things To Learn

Studying full time in the United States is an excellent opportunity for young adults seeking an advanced education, a chance to see a foreign country, and a better understanding of the U.S. and its people.. It can be done independently by applying directly to a college for admission, or through the " study abroad " or " foreign exchange " department of a college in your own country, usually for a single term or one year.. (Either approach requires, at minimum, an F or J student visa) The latter is usually easiest; the two institutions will handle much of the arrangements, and you don't have to make a commitment to four years living in a strange country..

Be forewarned, however; many state universities and private colleges are located in small towns, hundreds of miles from any big urban centers. Don't expect to spend your weekends in New York if your college is in North Dakota.. The U.S. attracts more international students than any other country in the world and a lot of cultural diversity can be seen throughout its top universities.. Note that unless you have applied for and received special permission in advance, international students are not allowed to work off campus in the United States..

Any courses that contribute credits towards the awarding an academic degree will require you to obtain a student visa in advance regardless of how short your stay in the US may be. However, short courses that do not count as academic credits may be undertaken on a tourist visa, or under the visa waiver program.. In large cities, open universities may offer short non credit courses on all sorts of practical topics, from ballroom dance to buying real estate. They are a good place to learn a new skill and meet people..

Cope

Today, dress in the U.S. tends to be fairly casual. For everyday clothes, jeans and T shirts are always acceptable, as are shorts when the weather is suitable. Sneakers (athletic shoes) are common; flip flops and sandals are also popular in warm weather.. In the winter seasons in northern states boots are commonly worn.. At the workplace, business casual (slacks, understated collared shirts without a tie, and non athletic shoes) is now the default at many companies; more traditional industries (e g finance, legal, and insurance) still require suits and ties, while others (e g computer software) are even more casual, allowing jeans and even shorts..

When dressing up for nice restaurants or upscale entertainment, a pair of nice slacks, a collared shirt, and dress shoes will work almost everywhere. Ties for men are rarely necessary, but jackets are occasionally required for very upscale restaurants in big cities (such restaurants will almost always have jackets to lend).. At the beach or pool, men prefer loose bathing trunks or boardshorts, and women wear bikinis or one piece swimsuits.. Nude bathing is not generally acceptable and is usually illegal except at certain private beaches or resorts; even women going topless is not usually accepted by most people, and is also illegal in some states..

Generally, Americans accept religious attire such as hijab, yarmulke, and burqa without comment.. The United States has a higher proportion of religious adherents than many western nations, and visitors looking to attend services should have no problem locating a house of worship, even in small towns.. A typical medium sized American town or city probably has one or more Catholic parishes, several Protestant churches (the most common being Baptist, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Episcopal / Anglican), and other houses of worship depending on the demographics of the area (such as synagogues or mosques)..

Most Christian churches in the United States practice an " open table ", meaning they welcome you to participate in worship, and some or all rituals, even if you're not a member of their religious denomination.. Some churches, and some entire denominations, welcome LGBT individuals.. Print media are not as ubiquitous as they were before the advent of the Internet, but print isn't dead yet. Just about every mid sized city (and many small ones) has a daily newspaper covering local news and often some national news..

Major metropolitan areas will usually have a number of papers to choose from, each with its own editorial slant and biases, but all of generally high quality of reporting.. (A few exceptions, known as " tabloids " after their most common printing format, exist; you can identify them by their exaggerated, sensational headlines). The national paper of record is The New York Times ($2 50 daily, $6 Sunday); although ostensibly a newspaper local to New York City, its coverage of national and international issues makes it daily reading just about anywhere in the country..

For financial news, The Wall Street Journal (also based in NYC, $2) is similarly well respected and widely read. For a more casual but still informative format, USA Today ($2) publishes five days a week; it's the most widely circulated print newspaper in the country.. Many hotels offer free copies of either the local paper or USA Today; ask at the front desk. Other widely read papers include the Los Angeles Times (noted for its West Coast coverage) and The Washington Post (with exemplary political reporting from the nation's capital)..

Newsmagazines like Time are published weekly and offer more in depth feature coverage.. Major metropolitan areas also have a full suite of broadcast television stations; small cities might have only two or three local stations, especially if they're within broadcast range of a larger city. The major broadcast networks are ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and PBS (taxpayer funded public broadcasting).. You'll rarely be traveling anywhere that you'd need to use an antenna, though; almost the entire country is wired for cable TV. That opens up a whole range of options for viewing, from CNN for news to The Weather Channel to ESPN for sports, along with countless entertainment channels..

The channel numbers vary based on the cable provider and location, which is why most hotels provide a channel listing. Most cable systems also have a program guide available through the cable box.. Broadcast radio is a much more fragmented market than television; major cities have dozens of stations on both AM and FM bands. The AM band is mostly used for talk formats, due to the lower sound fidelity; music stations are almost exclusively found on the FM band.. The most popular radio music formats are Country, Top 40 (current hits), and Adult Contemporary (a blend of soft rock, easy listening, and the softer side of modern pop)..

Many rental cars come equipped with satellite radio from SiriusXM, which offers hundreds of channels of music, comedy, news, and sports, without the need to keep finding new stations as you drive across the country..

Demographics

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the country's population now to be 319,248,000, The U.S. population almost quadrupled during the 20th century, from about 76 million in 1900.. The third most populous nation in the world, after China and India, the United States is the only major industrialized nation in which large population increases are projected.. The United States has a very diverse population31 ancestry groups have more than one million members. German Americans are the largest ethnic group - followed by Irish Americans, Mexican Americans and English Americans..

White Americans are the largest racial group; Black Americans are the nation's largest racial minority and third largest ancestry group. Asian Americans are the country's second largest racial minority; the three largest Asian American ethnic groups are Chinese Americans, Filipino Americans, and Indian Americans.. The United States has a birth rate of 13 per 1,000, which is 35 below the world average. Nevertheless, its population growth rate is positive at 0.9, significantly higher than that of many developed nations..

In fiscal year 2012, over one million immigrants were granted legal residence. Mexico has been the leading source of new residents since the 1965 Immigration Act. China, India, and the Philippines have been in the top four sending countries every year.. As of 2012, approximately 11.4 million residents are illegal immigrants.. According to a survey conducted by the Williams Institute, nine million Americans, or roughly 3.5 of the adult population identify themselves as homosexual, bisexual, or transgender. A 2012 Gallup poll also concluded that 3.5 of adult Americans identified as LGBT..

The highest percentage came from the District of Columbia, while the lowest state was North Dakota at 1.7. In a 2013 survey, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 96.6 of Americans identify as straight, while 1.6 identify as gay or lesbian, and 0.7 identify as being bisexual.. In 2010, the U.S. population included an estimated 5.2 million people with some American Indian or Alaska Native ancestry and 1.2 million with some native Hawaiian or Pacific island ancestry.. The census counted more than 19 million people of " Some Other Race " who were " unable to identify with any " of its five official race categories in 2010..

The population growth of Hispanic and Latino Americans is a major demographic trend. The 50.5 million Americans of Hispanic descent are identified as sharing a distinct " ethnicity " by the Census Bureau; 64 of Hispanic Americans are of Mexican descent.. Between 2000 and 2010, the country's Hispanic population increased 43 while the non Hispanic population rose just 4.9. Much of this growth is from immigration; in 2007, 12.6 of the U.S. population was foreign born, with 54 of that figure born in Latin America..

Fertility is also a factor; in 2010 the average Hispanic woman gave birth to 2.35 children in her lifetime, compared to 1.97 for non Hispanic black women and 1.79 for non Hispanic white women.. Minorities constituted 36.3 of the population in 2010, and over 50 of children under age one, and are projected to constitute the majority by 2042. This contradicts the report by the National Vital Statistics Reports, based on the U.S. census data, which concludes that 54 of births were non Hispanic white..

About 82 of Americans live in urban areas; about half of those reside in cities with populations over 50,000. In 2008, 273 incorporated places had populations over 100,000, nine cities had more than one million residents, and four global cities had over two million.. There are 52 metropolitan areas with populations greater than one million. Of the 50 fastest growing metro areas, 47 are in the West or South. The metro areas of Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, and Phoenix all grew by more than a million people between 2000 and 2008..

English is the de facto national language. Although there is no official language at the federal level, some lawssuch as U.S. naturalization requirementsstandardize English. In 2010, about 230 million, or 80 of the population aged five years and older, spoke only English at home.. Spanish, spoken by 12 of the population at home, is the second most common language and the most widely taught second language. Some Americans advocate making English the country's official language, as it is in 28 states..

Both Hawaiian and English are official languages in Hawaii, by state law. While neither has an official language, New Mexico has laws providing for the use of both English and Spanish, as Louisiana does for English and French.. Other states, such as California, mandate the publication of Spanish versions of certain government documents including court forms. Many jurisdictions with large numbers of non English speakers produce government materials, especially voting information, in the most commonly spoken languages in those jurisdictions..

Several insular territories grant official recognition to their native languages, along with English Samoan and Chamorro are recognized by American Samoa and Guam, respectively; Carolinian and Chamorro are recognized by the Northern Mariana Islands; Cherokee is officially recognized by the Cherokee Nation within the Cherokee tribal jurisdiction area in eastern Oklahoma; Spanish is an official language of Puerto Rico and is more widely spoken than English there.. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion and forbids Congress from passing laws respecting its establishment. Christianity is by far the most common religion practiced in the U.S., but other religions are followed, too..

In a 2013 survey, 56 of Americans said that religion played a " very important role in their lives ", a far higher figure than that of any other wealthy nation.. In a 2009 Gallup poll 42 of Americans said that they attended church weekly or almost weekly; the figures ranged from a low of 23 in Vermont to a high of 63 in Mississippi.. As with other Western countries, the U.S. is becoming less religious. Irreligion is growing rapidly among Americans under 30. Polls show that overall American confidence in organized religion is declining, and that younger Americans in particular are becoming increasingly irreligious..

According to a 2014 survey, 78.5 of adults identified themselves as Christian, Protestant denominations accounted for 51.3, while Roman Catholicism, at 23.9, was the largest individual denomination. The total reporting non Christian religions in 2012 was 4.9, up from 4 in 2007.. Other religions include Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, and Unitarian Universalism. The survey also reported that 16.1 of Americans described themselves as agnostic, atheist or simply having no religion, up from 8.2 in 1990..

There are also Baha'i, Sikh, Jain, Shinto, Confucian, Taoist, Druid, Native American, Wiccan, humanist and deist communities.. Protestantism is the largest Christian religious grouping in the United States. Baptists collectively form the largest branch of Protestantism, and the Southern Baptist Convention is the largest individual Protestant denomination. About 26 percent of Americans identify as Evangelical Protestants, while 18 percent are Mainline and 7 percent belong to a traditionally Black church..

Roman Catholicism in the United States has its origin in the Spanish and French colonization of the Americas, and later grew due to Irish, Italian, Polish, German and Hispanic immigration. Rhode Island is the only state where a majority of the population is Catholic.. Lutheranism in the U.S. has its origin in immigration from Northern Europe. North and South Dakota are the only states in which a plurality of the population is Lutheran. Utah is the only state where Mormonism is the religion of the majority of the population..

The Mormon Corridor also extends to parts of Idaho, Nevada and Wyoming.. The Bible Belt is an informal term for a region in the Southern United States in which socially conservative Evangelical Protestantism is a significant part of the culture and Christian church attendance across the denominations is generally higher than the nation's average.. By contrast, religion plays the least important role in New England and in the Western United States.. In 2007, 58 of Americans age 18 and over were married, 6 were widowed, 10 were divorced, and 25 had never been married. Women now work mostly outside the home and receive a majority of bachelor's degrees..

The U.S. teenage pregnancy rate, 79.8 per 1,000 women, is the highest among OECD nations. Between 2007 and 2010, the highest teenage birth rate was in Mississippi, and the lowest in New Hampshire.. Abortion is legal throughout the U.S., owing to Roe v Wade, a 1973 landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court. While the abortion rate is falling, the abortion ratio of 241 per 1,000 live births and abortion rate of 15 per 1,000 women aged 1544 remain higher than those of most Western nations..

In 2011, the average age at first birth was 25.6 and 40.7 of births were to unmarried women. The total fertility rate was estimated for 2013 at 1.86 births per woman. Adoption in the United States is common and relatively easy from a legal point of view.. In 2001, with over 127,000 adoptions, the U.S. accounted for nearly half of the total number of adoptions worldwide. The legal status of same sex couples adopting varies by jurisdiction. Polygamy is illegal throughout the U.S..

Education

American public education is operated by state and local governments, regulated by the United States Department of Education through restrictions on federal grants. In most states, children are required to attend school from the age of six or seven until they turn 18; some states allow students to leave school at 16 or 17.. About 12 of children are enrolled in parochial or nonsectarian private schools. Just over 2 of children are homeschooled. The U.S. spends more on education per student than any nation in the world, spending more than 11,000 per elementary student in 2010 and more than 12,000 per high school student..

Some 80 of U.S. college students attend public universities.. The United States has many competitive private and public institutions of higher education. According to prominent international rankings, 13 or 15 American colleges and universities are ranked among the top 20 in the world.. There are also local community colleges with generally more open admission policies, shorter academic programs, and lower tuition. Of Americans 25 and older, 84.6 graduated from high school, 52.6 attended some college, 27.2 earned a bachelor's degree, and 9.6 earned graduate degrees..

The basic literacy rate is approximately 99. The United Nations assigns the United States an Education Index of 0.97, tying it for 12th in the world.. As for public expenditures on higher education, the U.S. trails some other OECD nations but spends more per student than the OECD average, and more than all nations in combined public and private spending.. As of 2012, student loan debt exceeded one trillion dollars, more than Americans owe on credit cards..

How To Talk

Almost all Americans speak English. They generally use a standard accent (native to the Midwest), popularized in the 20th century by radio, TV and movies.. In many areas, especially the South and Texas, in New England, in New York City, and in the upper Midwest, you'll find distinctive regional accents and dialects.. Nowhere should this pose any problem to a visitor, as Americans often admire foreign accents and most will try to use a more standard accent to help you understand them.. Even so, visitors are generally expected to speak and understand English. While many Americans study a foreign language in school, few advance past the basics. Popular tourist sites often have signs and information available in other languages..

American English differs somewhat from the English spoken in other parts of the English speaking world. These differences are mostly minor, and primarily around minor spelling differences as well as pronunciation. See the article on English language varieties for a detailed discussion.. Spanish is the first language of Puerto Rico and a large minority of residents on the mainland (with the fifth largest Spanish speaking population in the world). Spanish speakers in the United States are often Puerto Ricans, or first - and second generation immigrants from Latin America..

As a result, the Spanish spoken is almost invariably a Latin American or Puerto Rican dialect. Spanish is the primary second language in many parts of the United States such as California, the Southwest, Texas, Florida, and the metropolitan areas of Chicago and New York City.. Many of these areas have Spanish language radio and television stations, with local, national and Mexican programs. Many establishments and government offices in major commercial and tourist areas have Spanish speaking staff on duty, and it is possible with some difficulty to get by in the major cities and tourist attractions speaking only Spanish..

French is the primary second language in rural areas near the border with Quebec, in some areas of Louisiana, and among West African immigrants, but is not widespread elsewhere.. In southern Florida, Haitian immigrants primarily speak Haitian Creole, a separate language derived from French, as their second language, although a substantial number also speak French.. Thanks to the North American Free Trade Agreement, some products now have trilingual packaging in English, Spanish, and French for sale throughout the entire trade bloc, especially household cleaning products and small electric appliances..

However, the vast majority of consumer products are labeled only in English, meaning that a rudimentary grasp of English is essential for shopping.. Hawaiian is the native language of Hawaii, although English is the most widely spoken language and Japanese is also widely spoken there. In the various Chinatowns in major cities, Cantonese and Mandarin are common.. Smaller immigrant groups also sometimes form their own pockets of shared language, including Russian, Italian, Greek, Arabic, Tagalog, Korean, Vietnamese, and others..

Chicago, for instance, is the city with the second largest ethnic Polish population in the world, behind Warsaw (although most Chicago area Poles are American born and speak only English).. The Amish, who have lived in Pennsylvania and Ohio for generations, speak a dialect of German.. Some Native Americans speak their respective native languages, especially on reservations in the west. However, despite efforts to revive them, many Native American languages are endangered, and people who speak them as their first language are few and far between..

Navajo speakers in Arizona and New Mexico are an exception to this, but even a clear majority among them speak and understand English too.. Bottom line; unless you're certain you'll be in an area populated with recent immigrants, traveling in the United States without a firm grasp of English is a significant challenge.. American Sign Language, or ASL is the dominant sign language in the United States. When events are interpreted, they will be interpreted in ASL.. Users of French Sign Language and other related languages may find ASL intelligible, as they share much vocabulary, but users of Japanese Sign Language, British Sign Language, or Auslan will not..

Closed captioning on television is widespread, but far from ubiquitous. Many theaters offer FM loops or other assistive listening devices, but captioning and interpreters are rarer.. For the blind, many signs and displays include Braille transcriptions of the printed English. Larger restaurant chains, museums, and parks may offer Braille menus and guidebooks, but you'll likely have to ask for them..

Etymology

In 1507, the German cartographer Martin Waldseemller produced a world map on which he named the lands of the Western Hemisphere " America " after the Italian explorer and cartographer Amerigo Vespucci.. The first documentary evidence of the phrase " United States of America " is from a letter dated January 2, 1776, written by Stephen Moylan, Esq., George Washington's aide de camp and Muster Master General of the Continental Army. Addressed to Lt Col Joseph Reed, Moylan expressed his wish to carry the " full and ample powers of the United States of America " to Spain to assist in the revolutionary war effort..

The first publicly published evidence of the phrase " United States of America " was in an anonymously written essay in The Virginia Gazette newspaper in Williamsburg, Virginia, on April 6, 1776.. In June 1776, Thomas Jefferson included the phrase " UNITED STATES OF AMERICA " in all capitalized letters in the headline of his " original Rough draught " of the Declaration of Independence.. In the final Fourth of July version of the Declaration, the pertinent section of the title was changed to read, " The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America "..

In 1777 the Articles of Confederation announced, " The Stile of this Confederacy shall be ' The United States of America ' ".. The short form " United States " is also standard. Other common forms include the " U.S. ", the " U.S.A. ", and " America ". Colloquial names include the " U.S. of A. " and, internationally, the " States ".. " Columbia ", a name popular in poetry and songs of the late 1700s, derives its origin from Christopher Columbus; it appears in the name " District of Columbia ".. In non English languages, the name is frequently the translation of either the " United States " or " United States of America ", and colloquially as " America "..

In addition, an abbreviation is sometimes used.. The phrase " United States " was originally treated as plural, a description of a collection of independent statese.g., " the United States are " including in the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified in 1865.. It became common to treat it as singular, a single unite.g., " the United States is " after the end of the Civil War. The singular form is now standard; the plural form is retained in the idiom " these United States "..

The difference has been described as more significant than one of usage, but reflecting the difference between a collection of states and a unit.. The standard way to refer to a citizen of the United States is as an " American ". " United States ", " American " and " U.S. " are used to refer to the country adjectivally.. " American " is rarely used in English to refer to subjects not connected with the United States..

Cities

The United States has over 10,000 cities, towns, and villages. The following is a list of nine of the most notable. Other cities can be found in their corresponding regions.. Washington, D.C. — the national capital, filled with major museums and monuments, along with multicultural communities. Boston — best known for its colonial history, its passion for sports, and its university students. Chicago — heart of the Midwest and transportation hub of the nation, with massive skyscrapers and other architectural gems.

Los Angeles — home of the film industry, musical artists, and surfers, with beautiful mild weather, great natural beauty from mountains to beaches, and endless stretches of freeways.. Miami — attracts sun seeking northerners and home to a rich, vibrant, Latin influenced, Caribbean culture. New Orleans — " The Big Easy " is the birthplace of Jazz, and is known for its quaint French Quarter and annual Mardi Gras celebration. New York City — the country's biggest city, home of the financial services and media industries, with world class cuisine, arts, architecture, and shopping.

San Francisco — the City by the Bay, featuring the Golden Gate Bridge, vibrant urban neighborhoods, and dramatic fog. Seattle — rich museums, monuments, and recreational opportunities, and five distinct climates within 200 miles (320 km).

Other Destinations

These are some of the largest and most famous destinations outside of major cities.. Denali National Park — a remote national park featuring North America's highest peak. Grand Canyon — the world's longest and most visited canyon. Mesa Verde National Park — well preserved Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings. Mount Rushmore — the iconic memorial of four former presidents carved into a cliff face. Niagara Falls — the massive waterfalls straddling the border with Canada. Great Smoky Mountains National Park — national park in the southern Appalachians.

Walt Disney World — the most popular vacation resort destination in the world. Yellowstone National Park — the first national park in the U.S., and home of the Old Faithful geyser. Yosemite National Park — home of El Capitan and the famous Giant Sequoia trees.

What To Respect

It is polite to shake hands when meeting someone or being introduced, though handshaking is often skipped in less formal situations. Kissing on the cheeks in greeting is rare and usually done only between close friends and family.. Unless it is really crowded, leave about an arm's length of personal space between yourself and others.. Punctuality is valued; being five minutes late is not usually a problem, but any more should warrant a forewarning when possible.. As a result of the country's history of racial discrimination and the modern push toward equality, Americans are exceptionally touchy about issues of race. If you have to reference race, Black or African American, Asian, Latino or Hispanic, Native American or American Indian, and White or Caucasian are acceptable terms..

There are Native American reservations scattered throughout the country. Many of these reservations are home to sites that are sacred to the tribe, and certain places may be off limits to all but tribe members.. If you enter a reservation, respect its land and people.. The Swastika symbol is considered to be very offensive in the US owing to its association with Nazism and white supremacy. Hindu, Buddhist and Jain visitors should keep all Swastika symbols out of sight. Also see the section on tipping, and the section on smoking..

Military

The president holds the title of commander in chief of the nation's armed forces and appoints its leaders, the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The United States Department of Defense administers the armed forces, including the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force.. The Coast Guard is run by the Department of Homeland Security in peacetime and by the Department of the Navy during times of war. In 2008, the armed forces had 1.4 million personnel on active duty.. The Reserves and National Guard brought the total number of troops to 2.3 million. The Department of Defense also employed about 700,000 civilians, not including contractors..

Military service is voluntary, though conscription may occur in wartime through the Selective Service System. American forces can be rapidly deployed by the Air Force's large fleet of transport aircraft, the Navy's 10 active aircraft carriers, and Marine Expeditionary Units at sea with the Navy's Atlantic and Pacific fleets.. The military operates 865 bases and facilities abroad, and maintains deployments greater than 100 active duty personnel in 25 foreign countries. The extent of this global military presence has prompted some scholars to describe the United States as maintaining an " empire of bases "..

The military budget of the United States in 2011 was more than 700 billion, 41 of global military spending and equal to the next 14 largest national military expenditures combined. At 4.7 of GDP, the rate was the second highest among the top 15 military spenders, after Saudi Arabia.. U.S. defense spending as a percentage of GDP ranked 23rd globally in 2012 according to the CIA. Defense's share of U.S. spending has generally declined in recent decades, from Cold War peaks of 14.2 of GDP in 1953 and 69.5 of federal outlays in 1954 to 4.7 of GDP and 18.8 of federal outlays in 2011..

The proposed base Department of Defense budget for 2012, 553 billion, was a 4.2 increase over 2011; an additional 118 billion was proposed for the military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. The last American troops serving in Iraq departed in December 2011; 4,484 service members were killed during the Iraq War.. Approximately 90,000 U.S. troops were serving in Afghanistan in April 2012; by November 8, 2013 2,285 had been killed during the War in Afghanistan..

Infrastructure

Personal transportation is dominated by automobiles, which operate on a network of 13 million roads, including one of the world's longest highway systems. The world's second largest automobile market, the United States has the highest rate of per capita vehicle ownership in the world, with 765 vehicles per 1,000 Americans.. About 40 of personal vehicles are vans, SUVs, or light trucks. The average American adult spends 55 minutes driving every day, traveling 29 miles.. Mass transit accounts for 9 of total U.S. work trips. While transport of goods by rail is extensive, relatively few people use rail to travel, though ridership on Amtrak, the national intercity passenger rail system, grew by almost 37 between 2000 and 2010. Also, light rail development has increased in recent years. Bicycle usage for work commutes is minimal..

The civil airline industry is entirely privately owned and has been largely deregulated since 1978, while most major airports are publicly owned. The three largest airlines in the world by passengers carried are U.S. - based; American Airlines is number one after its 2013 acquisition of US Airways.. Of the world's 30 busiest passenger airports, 12 are in the United States, including the busiest, Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport.. The United States energy market is 29,000 terawatt hours per year. Energy consumption per capita is 7.8 tons of oil equivalent per year, the 10th highest rate in the world. In 2005, 40 of this energy came from petroleum, 23 from coal, and 22 from natural gas..

The remainder was supplied by nuclear power and renewable energy sources. The United States is the world's largest consumer of petroleum.. For decades, nuclear power has played a limited role relative to many other developed countries, in part because of public perception in the wake of a 1979 accident. In 2007, several applications for new nuclear plants were filed.. The United States has 27 of global coal reserves. It is the world's largest producer of natural gas and crude oil..

Crime And Law Enforcement

Law enforcement in the United States is primarily the responsibility of local police and sheriff's departments, with state police providing broader services. Federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Marshals Service have specialized duties.. At the federal level and in almost every state, jurisprudence operates on a common law system. State courts conduct most criminal trials; federal courts handle certain designated crimes as well as certain appeals from the state criminal courts..

Plea bargaining in the United States is very common; the vast majority of criminal cases in the country are settled by plea bargain rather than jury trial.. In 2012 there were 4.7 murders per 100,000 persons in the United States, a 54 decline from the modern peak of 10.2 in 1980. Among developed nations, the United States has above average levels of violent crime and particularly high levels of gun violence and homicide.. A cross sectional analysis of the World Health Organization Mortality Database from 2003 showed that United States " homicide rates were 6.9 times higher than rates in the other high income countries, driven by firearm homicide rates that were 19.5 times higher. " Gun ownership rights continue to be the subject of contentious political debate..

The FBI's Uniform Crime Reports estimates that there were 3,246 violent and property crimes per 100,000 residents in 2012, for a total of over 9 million total crimes.. Capital punishment is sanctioned in the United States for certain federal and military crimes, and used in 32 states. No executions took place from 1967 to 1977, owing in part to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down arbitrary imposition of the death penalty.. In 1976, that Court ruled that, under appropriate circumstances, capital punishment may constitutionally be imposed. Since the decision there have been more than 1,300 executions, a majority of these taking place in three states Texas, Virginia, and Oklahoma..

Meanwhile, several states have either abolished or struck down death penalty laws. In 2010, the country had the fifth highest number of executions in the world, following China, Iran, North Korea, and Yemen.. The United States has the highest documented incarceration rate and total prison population in the world. At the start of 2008, more than 2.3 million people were incarcerated, more than one in every 100 adults.. The prison population has quadrupled since 1980. African American males are jailed at about six times the rate of white males and three times the rate of Hispanic males. The country's high rate of incarceration is largely due to changes in sentencing guidelines and drug policies..

In 2008, Louisiana had the highest incarceration rate, and Maine the lowest. In 2012, Louisiana had the highest rate of murder and non negligent manslaughter in the U.S., and New Hampshire the lowest..

Science And Technology

The United States has been a leader in scientific research and technological innovation since the late 19th century. In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell was awarded the first U.S. patent for the telephone. Thomas Edison's laboratory developed the phonograph, the first long lasting light bulb, and the first viable movie camera.. In the early 20th century, the automobile companies of Ransom E Olds and Henry Ford popularized the assembly line. The Wright brothers, in 1903, made the first sustained and controlled heavier than air powered flight..

The rise of Nazism in the 1930s led many European scientists, including Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi, and John von Neumann, to immigrate to the United States.. During World War II, the Manhattan Project developed nuclear weapons, ushering in the Atomic Age, while the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory pioneered the advancement of jet assisted takeoff.. The Space Race produced rapid advances in rocketry, materials science, and computers. Advancements by American microprocessor companies such as Advanced Micro Devices, and Intel along with both computer software and hardware companies that include Sun Microsystems, IBM, GNU Linux, Apple Computer, and Microsoft refined and popularized the personal computer..

The ARPANET was developed in the 1960s to meet Defense Department requirements, and became the first of a series of networks which evolved into the Internet. Today, 64 of research and development funding comes from the private sector.. The United States leads the world in scientific research papers and impact factor. As of April 2010, 77 of American households owned at least one computer, and 68 had broadband Internet service.. 85 of Americans also own a mobile phone as of 2011. The country is the primary developer and grower of genetically modified food, representing half of the world's biotech crops..

Regions

The United States comprises 50 states, as well as the city of Washington, D.C., a federal district and the nation's capital. The country also has a few territories, including the commonwealth of Puerto Rico.. Below is a rough grouping of these states into regions, from the Atlantic to the Pacific;. Politically, the U.S. is a federation of states, each with its own rights and powers (hence the name), with laws varying slightly from state to state.. The U.S. also administers a motley collection of non state territories around the world, by far the largest of which is Puerto Rico (which has the special status of a " commonwealth ")..

Other territories include the U.S. Virgin Islands, also in the Caribbean, and Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, Wake Island and islands without permanent inhabitants such as the Midway Islands in Oceania.. As these are, from a traveller's point of view, quite different from the 50 states, they are covered in separate articles..

Work

It is better to arrange your work and work visa before you enter the United States. Young people who are full time students of certain nationalities can apply for a J1 " Exchange Visitor " visa which permits paid work as a nanny or summer work for up to 4 months in virtually any type of job.. The United States Department of State has full information on applying for this type of visa including the precise categories that qualify. Once you have received work authorization, you will have to apply for a Social Security Number (SSN) for your employer to report your wages to the government for tax purposes..

You can start working before you receive your number in the mail, but you must provide your employer with a receipt from the Social Security Administration indicating that you have applied for one.. The H 1B visa allows a limited number of skilled and certain unskilled employees to temporarily work in the United States. It usually requires a tertiary degree and is based on a petition filed by an American employer.. The job you wish to apply for should be related to your degree. The most common careers of hard to get H 1B visa holders are nurses, mathematics teachers, and computer science professionals..

On the other hand, there is the more permanent employment based immigrant visa which has similar requirements to the H 1B visa. Before an employer can arrange any work visa, he must ensure that nobody within his locale is willing or qualified to do the job before considering you.. Unless you are a permanent resident of the United States (i e green card holder), as a foreigner, you will need a work visa to be allowed to work in the United States.. Paid work is not allowed on a B1 / B2 visitor visa or the visa waiver program, though volunteer work is allowed. Working unlawfully in the United States runs the very real risk of arrest, deportation, and ineligibility to re enter the country..

Illegal immigrants also run the risk of dangerous work conditions. Foreigners on F1 student visas are allowed to work for up to 20 hours a week on campus in their respective institutions, but are generally banned from working off campus unless they have applied for and received special permission in advance.. Note that the above restrictions apply to Canadians and Bermudians as well. The only exceptions to this rule are citizens of Palau, Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia, who are allowed to live and work in the United States indefinitely with only a valid passport..

Citizens of U.S. Overseas Territories such as Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands are considered to be U.S. citizens and, therefore, may work unrestricted in the United States.. If you are seeking to adjust visa status or to enter the U.S. on a working visa you should first check the official government websites of the U.S. Department of State, which issues visas abroad, and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services which administers immigration programs within the United States..

Unfortunately, con artists both in the U.S. and overseas often prey on people's desire to travel or work in the U.S. Keep in mind that visa applications do not usually require an attorney or other intermediary, so you should be wary of and verify any " advice " offered by third parties, especially non lawyers.. If in doubt about properly applying for such visas then it is recommended to use a licensed immigration attorney.. Keep in mind that anyone entering under the Visa Waiver Program is not permitted to adjust their status for any reason. For detailed immigration rules related to working in the US, visit the web site of the Bureau of Consular Affairs..

How To Stay Healthy

Being a highly industrialized nation, the United States is largely free from most serious communicable diseases found in many developing nations; however, the HIV rate is higher than in Canada and Western Europe, with about a 0.5% infection rate in the overall population.. Two diseases that, while rare, are worth becoming educated about are rabies and Lyme disease. Rabies is more prevalent in eastern regions of the country and may be contracted from animal bites; if you are bitten by any mammal see a doctor quickly – do not wait for symptoms..

Lyme disease is spread via the deer tick, which are prevalent in the woodlands and open fields of many rural areas. When venturing into the outdoors, it is a good idea to apply an insect repellent onto exposed skin surfaces that is effective against deer ticks.. Other diseases that are endemic within the United States, but are of far less concern, include Hantaviral Pulmonary Syndrome (found in western regions), Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (mostly in the Rocky Mountain region), West Nile Virus (all regions) and Eastern / Western Equine Encephalitis (particularly in the mid west region)..

These diseases are extraordinarily rare and the medical system of the United States is very much capable of handling any of these when necessary.. For the latest in traveler's health information pertaining to the United States, including advisories and recommendations, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention destination United States website. American health care is generally first class but can be very expensive. Most Americans have private health insurance. The largest state run health program, Medicare, is mainly for the elderly. Medicaid is a largely similar program for the poor..

Travelers should ensure their travel insurance is valid for the U.S. Given the high costs, some " world wide " insurance specifically does not cover the US. Long term visitors to the US (e g Work or Student visa holders) are generally required to take up private health insurance as part of their visa conditions.. To the patient, America's public (20%), private profit making (20%), and private non profit making (60%) hospitals are generally indistinguishable. Inner city public hospitals may be more crowded and less well maintained, but as a whole both costs and service levels are consistently high in all types..

No hospital can refuse a life threatening emergency case. Private hospitals may only stabilize such patients before sending them to a nearby public hospital, which will generally act as the regional center for 24 hr emergency treatment.. In a life threatening emergency, call 911 to summon an ambulance to take you to the nearest hospital emergency room (" ER "), or in less urgent situations get to the hospital yourself and register at the ER's front desk.. Ambulance fees typically range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, and though they will never refuse to transport you in an emergency, the ambulance fees will be billed to you at a later date..

Emergency rooms treat patients regardless of their ability to pay, even though their services are not free. Expect to pay at least $500 for a visit, plus the cost of any specific services or medications you are given.. Avoid using ERs for non emergency walk in care; they are 3–4 times more expensive than other options and your non urgent condition means you will have a wait of hours or maybe days.. Most urban areas also have minor emergency centers (also called " urgent care ", etc) for situations where a full emergency room is not necessary (e g superficial lacerations). Their hours may be limited; few are open at night..

Walk in clinics can provide routine medical care; to find one, check the yellow pages (see By phone below) under " Clinics ", or call a major hospital and ask.. Patients see a doctor or nurse practitioner without an appointment (but often with a bit of a wait). They are typically very up front about fees, and always accept credit cards.. Make sure the clerk knows you will be paying " out of pocket "; if they assume an insurance company is paying, they may inflate the bill with unnecessary extras..

Dentists are common across the country. They are accustomed to explaining fees over the phone, and most will accept credit cards.. Government supported clinics offering free or low cost testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases are widespread. Local Health Departments will provide more details. Many county clinics offer primary health care services as well, however these services are geared towards low income residents and not foreign travelers.. Planned Parenthood (1 800-230-7526) is a private agency with clinics and centers around the country providing birth control and other reproductive health services for both females and males..