VISITING THE USA

The USA is a huge country to explore, with 50 states to choose from, flanked by two oceans and covering an incredibly varied terrain. It is home to several of the world's most exciting cities, some truly mind-blowing landscapes, a strong sense of regionalism, a trenchant mythology, more history than the country gives itself credit for and, arguably, some of the most approachable natives in the world.

VISAS

South Africans must obtain a non-immigrant visa before travelling to the US. The application process involves an interview at a local US consulate.

WHEN TO TRAVEL TO THE US

The US is most popular with travelers during their summer (June, July Aug), but this is when American families pack everything up and head out on vacation. To avoid mobs (especially throughout the national park system), it's better to go during autumn or early spring.

THINGS TO KNOW

The legal age for drinking also varies from 18 to 21 from State to State, and the laws on the availability of alcohol run from New Orleans policy of anytime, anywhere and to anyone, to localities, such as in Utah, where drinking is strictly prohibited.

LANGUAGE

English

EMAIL

There are Internet cafes in most urban areas. Many of the hotels and international airports also offer Internet access.

ELECTRICITY

110V 60Hzhz Plugs are two parallel flat blades above a circular grounding pin.

CURRENCY

All bills are the same size regardless of their face value. They are all green, although the newest $20 bills have some colour in them. The most common bills you will see are $1, $5, $10, $20 and $50.

100 cents = $1, a nickel is 5c, a dime is 10c, a quarter is 25c

BANKS / EXCHANGE

Banks are open Monday-Friday from 9am to 4-5pm, and on Saturdays from 9am-12 noon. Most branches of the national banks offer exchange facilities, charging a moderate percentage of commission.

CREDIT CARDS AND TRAVELLERS CHEQUES

In the case of credit cards, the exchange rate charged is that of the day of the transaction, to which a commission is added on each usage. In the case of travellers cheques, it is preferable to take $20 minimum cheques; same rates and exchange rate as for cards.

COST OF LIVING

The United States is traditionally an expensive destination. Prices however, vary greatly from one place to another and will depend on your means of transport.

If you stay in an economy motel, eat in modest establishments and rent a car, plan on spending $100-140/person per day. For a more upmarket motel or B&B establishment, sophisticated restaurants and a car rental, budget on a minimum of $200/person. These budgets are inclusive of local taxes, the occasional drink and tourist visits.

EATING OUT: OPENING HOURS

Most restaurants are open as early as 7am. They stay open all day long, serving 3 different menus: breakfast (until 11-11.30am), lunch (12 noon-4pm) and dinner (5-9/10pm). American's traditionally dine quite early, and in small towns it can be impossible to find a restaurant open after 8-8.30pm. Early bird and smarter pre-theater establishments serve dinner between 5pm and 6.30-7pm.

TAXES AND TIPPING

Prices are always indicated without tax. Taxes and tips can increase the bill by 25-30%. Hotel taxes range from 5.7% to 13.25% depending on the State. In restaurants and on other products or services, taxes vary from 5% to 9%.

Tipping is unavoidable as the employees rely on tips to supplement their very low wages. In restaurants, it is customary to leave a 15% tip. In hotels, tip porters $1/suitcase and leave chambermaids an envelope with the amount of your choice. In bars, it is usual to leave $1/drink. Taxicab drivers generally receive a 15% tip.

MEALS

Breakfast, served from 7am to 11-11.30am, is very generous and excellent value-for-money ($5-10). Breakfast generally includes eggs, toast, bacon, sausages and potatoes. This is followed by pancakes or muffins, all of which can be washed down by quite weak tea or coffee.

Lunch is the lightest meal of the day, served until 3pm. A sandwich costs between $4-9, often served with chips and a salad or soup. Most restaurants have a lunch menu with single dishes, similar to the evening menu, but less filling and above all, less expensive (between $6-12).

Dinner is eaten early (5-7pm), except in large towns and cities. Dinner is the most filling meal of the day. The first course (hors d'oeuvre) costs between $7-15, and is often very generously served by European standards, and a second course (entrées) costs between $15-30. Desserts can be enormous ($6-10).

WHERE TO EAT

A restaurant can refer to anything ranging from snack bar, cafeteria or large chains of family restaurants to more sophisticated establishments. Some only serve breakfast or lunch, others only serve dinner, while some serve all three. Bars and coffee shops generally serve simple, but generous and value-for-money dishes. Classic, Chinese and Mexican fast food establishments are widely available. As a general rule, pizzerias and Italian restaurants are no cheaper than their counterparts. Whatever the case, it is commonplace to take your left over food or drink home in a doggy bag.

DRINKS

Many family and cheap restaurants do not serve alcohol as they are not licensed. As soon as you arrive, a large jug of iced water will be placed on your table and regularly refilled. Mineral water is quite rare and often expensive as it is imported. Most Americans order soft drinks with their meal, served in enormous glasses. You will be offered a refill during your meal: the second glass is included in the price.

EMERGENCIES

Emergencies: call 911.

MEDICAL SERVICES

With the exception of an emergency, go to medical clinics, which are less expensive than hospitals.

CHEMISTS

Most grocery stores and supermarkets sell pharmaceuticals.

MUSEUMS:

In large towns, many museums are only open from 11am and close around 5pm, except for one late closing night (generally Thursdays). Check the last admission time, which will depend on the time required to visit the museum.

POST

Post offices are open Monday-Friday from 9am-5pm, and on Saturday from 9am-12 noon.

Postage stamps are only sold from post offices. Postage rates: postcard $0.94, letter (up to 28gr) $1.10.

PUBLIC HOLIDAYS

SHOPPING: OPENING HOURS

Shops are open from 9am to 6pm, except for the large shopping malls (until 8-9pm) and small grocery stores (11pm or later).

SALES TAX

All prices are indicated before VAT. In hotels, sales tax varies between 5.7-13.25% depending on the State. In restaurants and for other products or services, sales tax can range from 5-9%.

TELEPHONE

Calling the United States from abroad: 00 + 1 (country code for the U.S.) + area code + number of the person.

Calling home from the United States: 00 + country code. For South Africa: 27.

NATIONAL CALLS

Numbers are made up of a 3-digit area code, followed by a 7-digit telephone number. In the case of local calls (same area code), only dial the 7-digit number. To call another region (different area code), dial 1 + area code + number of the person.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES