USA - General Information

Border Entry Information

Travellers visiting the U.S. and Canada from a foreign country must be able to prove to a CBP (Customs and Border Protection) Officer that they have sufficient funds (i.e. credit cards, cash, travellers cheques, money orders etc.) to cover their travel, lodging, entertainment, meals, etc. in order to be admitted into the U.S. and Canada. Therefore please carry a copy of your itinerary with you for entry.

Currency Information

The currency in America is the US Dollar, which is widely available in the UK.

Widely accepted are US Dollar cheques; Pound Sterling traveller's cheques are rarely accepted and few banks will honour them. Change is issued in US Dollars. One or two items of identification (passport, credit card, driving licence) will be required.

Hotels do not, as a rule, exchange currency and only a few major banks will exchange foreign currency, so it is advisable to arrive with US Dollars, or exchange foreign currency at the airport upon arrival.

Most major credit cards are accepted throughout North America including American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa. Visitors are advised to carry at least one major credit card, as it is common to request prepayment or a credit card imprint for hotel rooms and car hire, even when final payment is not by credit card.

We also recommend that you inform your bank/card company of your trip to the USA, in order to avoid any problems when withdrawing cash from ATMs; as a security method on your behalf, banks occasionally stop withdrawals in the event that they are being used fraudulently abroad.

Please note, we do not except travellers Cheques as payment for Excursions.

Means of Payment

When travelling outside of the UK, you should take more than one means of payment with you (cash, debit card, credit card). Make sure you have enough money to cover emergencies and any unexpected delays.

Tipping

Tipping is a way of life and a major source of income for service providers in North America.  As tips are considered income by the Government, they are taxed in advance before they’ve even been earned.

To give a tip is simply a way of saying thank you for the service you have received.  Employers often pay their employees lower wages in anticipation that receiving tips will increase the service levels they provide.  Many of these employees may not receive any employer-paid benefits such as health insurance, which they consequently must pay for personally.

With the exception of gratuities to hotel porters (one piece of luggage per person), tips are not included in the price of your holiday.  Tips are of course discretionary however there will be occasions when you are expected to tip.

When calculating the tip in restaurants and bars, 15-20% of the bill is usually appreciated, sometimes the tip is automatically added to the bill and when in taxi cabs, 10% of the posted fare is usually appreciated.

Duty Free

The following goods may be imported by visitors over 21 years of age into the USA without incurring customs duty:

  • 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 2kg of smoking tobacco or proportionate amounts of each.
  • 1L of alcoholic beverage if 21 or over.
  • Gifts or articles up to a value of US$100.

Items should not be gift-wrapped, and should be available for customs inspection.

The following items may be imported into the UK without incurring customs duty by travellers aged 18 years and over arriving from non-EU countries:

200 cigarettes or 100 cigarillos or 50 cigars or 250g of tobacco

4 litres of still wine; 1 litre of alcoholic beverages stronger than 22% or 2 litres of fortified wine (such as port or sherry), sparkling wine or any other alcoholic drink that’s less than 22%.

These can be combined provided travellers do not exceed their total alcohol allowance; 16 litres of beer; other goods including souvenirs up to the value of £390.

Please check these allowances prior to travel as they are subject to change.

Climate & Clothing

Americans tend to dress casually, particularly in the warmer months.  We recommend checking the weather forecast a few days before you travel.

We recommend comfortable, lightweight clothing.  You may also find a cardigan or pullover useful for air-conditioned buildings and transportation. Comfortable shoes are a must as there can be a lot of walking involved on some excursions.

Please note: We recommend that all customers as a precaution should carry a change of clothing in their hand luggage.

Food & Drink

North America offers an extremely wide choice of coffee shops, restaurants, food bars, etc, many of which stay open 24 hours a day. All offer value for money and the portions are considerably larger than at home.

In large cities, restaurants are mostly modern and very clean, offering a vast range of cuisines, prices and facilities. Restaurants come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from fast-food, self-service and counter service, to drive-in and table service.

As the country has become more culturally diverse, so has the average palate. Today every imaginable dish can be found coast to coast, with an increasing emphasis on fresh and healthy. The following list is simply a sampler of foods that are favourites in most regions.

  • Hamburgers.
  • Fried chicken.
  • Barbecue.
  • Cheesecake.
  • Key lime pie.

American beer is light, cheap and always served chilled.  ‘Budweiser’ is perhaps the most famous brand.  It is also worth trying some of the cocktails available in the bars and saloons. American wine, usually from California, has certainly ‘come of age’ in recent years and now presents a very respectable alternative to the more expensive European imports.

There are also many types of bars, cocktail lounges, café-style bars and English-style pubs. Generally speaking, waiter/waitress service costs more.

Voltage

The standard voltage in the US is 110/120 volts AC, 60Hz. plugs are of the flat two-pin type. European electrical appliances not fitted with dual-voltage capabilities will require a plug adaptor, which is best purchased before arrival in North America.

Passports / Identification / Safety

If you or any member of your party is not a British Citizen or holds a non-British passport, you must check passport and visa requirements with the Embassy or Consulate of the country to or through which you are intending to travel.

Please note it is a requirement in North America to be able to show some form of identification at all times, if requested by the police or judicial authorities. In most cases it should be sufficient to carry a photocopy of the data page of your passport. However, you should be prepared to be accompanied by the police to collect the original document if necessary, or to produce it within twelve hours of notification. A driving licence or credit card is not considered sufficient proof of identity.

You should be particularly careful of handbags and wallets - where you need to carry money and documents it is advisable to use a money belt under your clothes rather than an exposed one.

If you’re exploring on your own we recommend you carry a card or brochure containing the hotel name and address which you can then give to a taxi driver in case you become lost.

Please note it is a requirement in North America to be able to show some form of identification at all times, if requested by the police or judicial authorities. In most cases it should be sufficient to carry a photocopy of the data page of your passport. However, you should be prepared to be accompanied by the police to collect the original document if necessary, or to produce it within twelve hours of notification. A driving licence or credit card is not considered sufficient proof of identity.

Immunisations

There are currently no compulsory vaccinations for travel to North America however we strongly recommend that you consult with your General Practitioner or Practice Nurse who will assess your particular health risks before recommending vaccines. This is also a good opportunity to discuss important travel health issues including safe food and water, accidents and insect bites.

Many of the problems experienced by travellers cannot be prevented by vaccinations and other preventive measures need to be taken.

Mosquito Advice

As you are travelling to a region where mosquitoes are present, we strongly recommend you are adequately prepared before you start your holiday.  While the risk of you becoming infected by a mosquito is extremely small, we would not want your holiday spoiled by a nasty bite or illness that is easily preventable with some simple pre-cautionary steps.

We therefore advise (subject to consultation with a qualified pharmacist or your doctor) you purchase high performance mosquito repellent before your trip and apply this regularly during your holiday, including when you go to bed.  We would also suggest that you take with you a ‘plug-in’ mosquito repellent device for your hotel room as an extra measure. These, along with DEET based repellents, are available from most pharmacies.

The National Advisory Committee on Malaria Prevention recommends using DEET based repellents with a concentration of over 20% as these give a longer duration of protection than other types currently available. Repellents with a concentration of 50% DEET have the longest duration of protection and require fewer applications per day. It is extremely important to re-apply throughout the day, particularly in hot or humid conditions or after swimming.  When both sunscreen and DEET are required, DEET should be applied afterwards.

Mosquitoes are active close to any open water, but their biting habits vary between species, so it’s best to assume you are at risk of being bitten at any time throughout the day or night. Remember to adequately cover your arms and legs – long trousers and sleeves are definitely a good idea. You can also spray your clothing with DEET products, but their effectiveness is shorter on clothing than on skin.

If you are bitten by a mosquito and develop a high fever for two consecutive days, you should seek urgent medical assistance.

Planning for your trip

We don’t recommend you rely on pharmacies in North America having specific, prescribed medicines so please make sure to pack more than enough for the duration of your holiday.

Prescription medicines are normally required to be declared at check-in and your local guide can help you with this if needed.

Excursions and activities

We recommend you do not purchase excursions from hotels or street vendors as these may not have been safety checked, may not meet required local standards or have adequate insurance cover.

If you choose to partake in an activity you should ensure your travel insurance covers you for that specific activity.

We recommend you heed any additional advice specific to your destination, given to you by your Tour Manager or Local guide.

Accommodation & Bathrooms

You will find that in some hotels in the US there is not always uniformity of rooms, so size and shape may vary. We cannot therefore guarantee that all rooms for our customers will be the same in each property.

Please also note that most US hotels usually provide tea/coffee-making facilities in their rooms, but not all. In all US hotel bathrooms you will find shower curtains or screens. Bathmats are also provided, however caution should always be maintained because tiled floors become slippery when wet.

Smoking in California

California is now the leading state on the subject of Antismoking Laws.  The majority of hotels in California are now non-smoking and those hotels that still have smoking rooms only have a few, so it may not be possible to have a smoking room.

Smoking in Las Vegas

Please be aware that in Las Vegas, smoking is allowed in the casino areas of hotels and this can sometimes be noticeable in other communal areas. 

Hotel Incidentals

Please note that some hotels in the USA may ask for credit card details on check in. This is for any incidentals (mini bar, calls, films etc) that may be charged to your room.

Tap water

Tap water everywhere contains some bacteria and different minerals. You are used to the tap water at home but when you travel, the water is different and it may upset you. For this reason it is safer to drink the bottled water. It is safe to clean your teeth with tap water.

Hand Sanitizers

It may be prudent to carry a hand sanitizer for use overseas, especially after handling money. 

Air Conditioning

Air Conditioning & heating is standard in almost all US hotel rooms. However in cooler climate areas where air conditioning is not necessary, you may find that there is only a heating system. 

Swimming Pools (if applicable)

Where hotels have their own swimming pools, please arrange to take your own towels, as some hotels do not provide these. You should always familiarise yourself with the pool before swimming.  Diving is not recommended.

Health

Some hospitals may ask non-US residents to pay a deposit or ‘good faith’ payment upon admittance. Any requests for funds should be directed to your travel insurance provider in the first instance; you should only pay the hospital if you are advised to do so by your travel insurance company. Your level of medical care won’t be affected while your claim is being processed.

Time zones

As North America is such a vast country (3,000 miles from coast to coast), the country spans 6 time zones.  It shares the main four time zones with Canada. Eastern Time , Central Time, Mountain Time and Pacific Time (Hawaii Time and Alaska Time are separate Time zones).

Please see below cities we fly into and their Time Zones

Boston, New York and Atlanta (Eastern Standard Time) - 5 hours behind GMT.

Chicago, Dallas and New Orleans (Central Standard Time) - 6 hours behind GMT.

Phoenix and Rapid City (Mountain Standard Time) - 7 hours behind GMT.

Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas (Pacific Standard Time) - 8 hours behind GMT.

Coaches

Some coaches used on our North American holidays may be equipped with WC and washbasin however this cannot be guaranteed.  In all cases, regular comfort stops will be made to ensure a relaxing journey. Please note that smoking is not permitted on any of our coaches.

Extra charges

Please note that payment for any extras such as drinks, laundry, telephone calls and meals other than those included in your tour price, must be made directly to your hotel prior to departure.

Lost property

We will endeavour to trace any lost property and provide you with contact details in order that you may recover your property.

Shopping

Many of our tours take in local shops and markets and some will visit factory shops or outlets, selling a range of goods.  However we cannot accept responsibility for the quality of the goods you have purchased or for any costs you may incur in having them delivered to your home address. 

Please ensure you have a clear understanding of the price you have agreed with the vendor and the conversion rate of local currency to sterling pounds before signing for the sale either in cash or using your credit card.  Please exercise care when using your PIN number abroad making sure it is not visible to others. 

Alcatraz Island, San Francisco

Alcatraz Island is not part of Travelsphere’s excursion programme and it is advised that you make your own reservations should you wish to visit. If you intend to book Alcatraz Island, we recommend you do this prior to your departure from the UK. In order to make your reservation we advise that you take any Travelsphere optional excursions that you wish to participate in into account.