The United States has always been a popular destination for tourists, workers, and students alike. In 2019, long before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it was seeing an uptick in tourists from other countries.  Once travel restrictions are eased again, it’s likely we’ll see that trend continue and the U.S. will be a popular destination for people all over the globe. 

But, if you’ve never been to America before, it’s important to know about a few unique rules and quirks the country has. Each state has its own individual rules, but the entire country is under federal law. So, things might be slightly different depending on where in the U.S. you choose to go.  

With that in mind, however, let’s look at some general things you should know before making a  trip to the U.S. The more you know about making your trip as smooth as possible, the more you’ll be able to enjoy yourself. 

1. You Still Might Need an ESTA

There are several countries, including Australia, Chile, South Korea, and many more, that are part of a visa waiver program.  That simply means you don’t need a visa in order to travel to the U.S. Your first step should be researching whether your country is a part of that program or not.  

Even if it is, you still won’t be able to enter the U.S. empty-handed. You might still need an ESTA, or Electronic System for Travel Authorization. An ESTA is simply a way to get pre-approved to get into the United States.  

Filling out your ESTA application is easy, thanks to sites like Figure out what you need to travel the right way from your country, and it will alleviate a lot of stress later. 

2. There is Diversity Everywhere

America is often referred to as a “melting pot”. That’s because people immigrated here from all over the world. Depending on where you go, you’re bound to see some ‘races’ more than others, but every citizen here is 100% American, no matter their background or skin color. That’s what makes the U.S. so unique  – there is no one way to stereotype what an American looks like. 

3. A Road Trip is the Best Way to See the Country

One thing many people from other countries are often surprised by is that the U.S. is a very vehicle-forward country. While there is plenty of public transportation in major cities, most people drive wherever they need to go. It’s also a big country. It would take about 40 hours of driving to go from one side to the other.  

But, that’s actually one of the best ways to see the country, if you’ve got some time and you aren’t in a hurry to get from one place to another.  Rent a car or an RV when you get into the country, or plan out your rental ahead of time. You will have to get used to driving on the other side of the road. But, once you’re able to do that, taking the scenic route throughout the country will really give you the opportunity to see and experience everything it has to offer. 

Keep in mind, however, that you need to be at least 25 years old to rent a car in the States. 

4. The U.S. Uses the Imperial System

You’re probably used to the metric system, but that’s not what the U.S. uses. They are one of the few countries that still use the Imperial system. So, you’ll hear people use miles, feet, inches, etc. when they’re talking about units of measurement. 

It can be helpful to do a little research before you go so you have a basic concept of this system. It will help you immensely if you’re trying to get directions or you need to know how far away something is.  

5. You Can Find Free WiFi

International roaming charges can wreak havoc on your phone bill. So, try to avoid using your data as much as possible in the U.S.  

Thankfully, that’s pretty easy to do. Most public places have free WiFi. If you’re staying in a hotel, chances are they will provide you with a WiFi network and password during your stay. But, if you’re out and about, almost any coffee shop (including every Starbucks) has WiFi. They might ask you to purchase a coffee or a snack, but who wouldn’t want to do that, anyway? 

6.  The Drinking Age is 21

If you’re looking for the perfect place to travel in a post-pandemic world, the U.S. is a great option. But, if part of your travel plans include unwinding with an alcoholic beverage, make sure you’re 21 before you decide to come to the States. That’s the minimum drinking age. 

Bars, restaurants, and even stores are required to see your ID or some proof of your age in order to serve you alcohol. If you even look under 40 years of age, you will be asked to provide your ID for age verification. 

7. Get Ready to Tip

There are many professions in the U.S. that truly survive off of tips from other people. Whenever you go to a restaurant, you’ll be expected to tip your waiter/waitress about 20% of whatever your meal was. 

This is largely due to the fact that most people in those positions make minimum wage – or lower. They rely on tips to pay their bills and make a living.  While the U.S. is unique in this endeavor, it’s something you’ll have to get used to while you’re here. Not tipping properly, or not tipping enough is extremely frowned upon. 

Like any other country, the United States has its own quirks and unique customs that require some getting used to. There are many more we could’ve added to this list. But, these are important keys to understand before your trip, so you’re not confused or overwhelmed when you get here. Knowing before you go will allow you to fully enjoy every second of your American adventure!