What to expect when visiting the USA

28 June 2019

Visiting a new country is always a little tricky – especially when you’re not accustomed to their way of doing things. America is no exception to this rule, with lots of hidden habits and unwritten rules that often aren’t obvious to a first-time visitor.

If you’re heading on a school trip to America and are in need of a cheat sheet to the local rules, then this handy guide should help out.

Transportation

When visiting America, there are a few things to remember when it comes to getting around. Their transport systems are a little different to the one’s here in the UK – but bear these things in mind and you should be fine:

  • Every flight arriving to and leaving America has a minimum three-hour check-in time. If you’re arranging your own transfers to and from the airport, this might be something you need to remember
  • Each person visiting America must have a their own ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation), which should be arranged prior to travelling. Once you arrive in America, you’ll need this to hand – alongside your passport – for when you pass through customs
  • Once you arrive in New York, Washington or Florida, there’ll be a 5-hour time difference to remember. The USA has 6 different time zones, but in these cities, you’ll be 5 hours behind UK time
  • If you’ve arranged an airport transfer via coach, be aware that American coach regulations differ from those in the UK and therefore seatbelts cannot be guaranteed
  • If you’re visiting New York, the subway is a great way to get around and is really simple to use. It makes Manhattan a much smaller place, but don’t forget to budget for this. A 7-day unlimited travel pass offers fantastic value at around $30 per person*
  • When using a bus transfer in the USA, tips are discretionary. However, if you would like to tip, then remember it’s generally $20-$25 for airport transfers, $5-$10 for round trips and $50 for all-day charters
  • In some places, local, state and federal laws require front seats on buses and those nearest to the doors on subways to be left free for the elderly and disabled
  • Remember that it’s considered polite to ask pregnant women, and the disabled and elderly if they would like help to get on and off transport

Food and accommodation

Renowned for its spectacular dishes and fabulous accommodations, America is certainly an exciting place to visit - here are a couple of things that you should try to remember when in hotels and restaurants on your American school trip:

  • America’s hotels work on a bed share basis. When travelling with a group of students, you should remember that they will have to share beds, unless it has been previously guaranteed that they will not need to
  • Hotels serving a breakfast buffet will generally offer this continental style, not as a full American breakfast
  • It’s customary to tip in American restaurants and hotels. The usual amount is 15-20%, but this is at your discretion – but it’s worth remembering to keep a few spare dollar bills with you
  • A lot of the time, prices don’t include taxes, which make it difficult when it comes to budgeting. Different states have different tax rates, but you should generally expect to pay around 10% above the price tag
  • In America, mobile data can be expensive, it’s always worth checking you phone plan before you travel to be aware of any hidden charges

Safety

It’s always important to make sure you stay safe when visiting a new country, and even though at WST we offer an extensive support network, it is still important to remember these points:

  • Remember that the emergency services number for the States is 911
  • Always use dedicated crossings when crossing the street to avoid jay-walking fines
  • Buy a TSA (Transportation Security Association) official lock for your luggage to avoid your own being broken upon luggage inspections. The TSA official lock can be opened with a master key which saves time when inspections are carried out
  • Even though this may not apply for your students, you should still stay aware of the duty-free limits on high value purchases in America. You can head to the HMRC website to get a look at the exact limits before you travel

Parks and recreation

America is full of beautiful parks and recreational areas. But there are a few things to remember when visiting certain cities:

  • When making your way around Manhattan, it’s best to remember that it runs on a grid system – so all of the avenues run vertically, and the streets horizontally
  • If you are heading out on a trip with an allotted timeslot, make sure to arrive 5-10 minute earlier than the time stated on your ticket. This ensures there’s adequate time for your group to get checked in and prepared for your visit

General manners

And finally, it’s always important to make sure your manners are up to scratch when visiting a new country. In the USA, you should remember:

  • American citizens are extremely patriotic, so any criticism of their government, national matters or even their accent will cause offence – although this is a rule best remembered when visiting any country
  • It is considered rude to talk loudly on your mobile phone
  • Americans very much value personal space, a general rule to remember is to give someone an arm’s length of space

Our team are specialists in creating bespoke school trips to America. If you’d like to find out more or enquire about booking your own school trip to America, or any of our other destinations, then don’t hesitate to get in touch.

*Prices are subject to change