USA Travel Notes

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Australian Embassy in Washington

1145 17th Street NW
Washington DC 20036-4707
Tel   +202  797 3000
Fax  +202  797 3331


The Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade website has advice for travellers.

USA Visa Waiver Program

Travel Authorisation is compulsory
It is now mandatory that travellers who are eligible for the US Visa Waiver Program (VWP) require electronic travel authorisation (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation – ESTA). This security measure under the Visa Waiver Program is available for Australia and New Zealand passport holders. Other passport holders can go to the website to see if they’re eligible.
To apply ONLINE or to check your status, ONLY use the following web link:


At present the fee is US$14.00 for ESTA applications. The US government recommends that travellers use the online system no later than three days before departure.

Time Zones

Mainland USA covers four time zones: Central Standard, Eastern Standard, Pacific Standard and Mountain Standard. Eastern Standard is at GMT – 5, while the west coast (Pacific Standard) is at GMT – 8, making the time in the USA, 19 and 16 hours respectively behind the east coast of Australia. Be aware that daylight saving will affect these time differences. Daylight saving in America begins in April and ends in October.  To obtain the current local time and date in cities and countries in all time zones.

Voltages and Plugs

The USA uses 110 volts. There are two types of plugs used: the two-square prongs, or a two-square one-circular prong version.


To obtain the most up-to-date exchange rate you may wish to visit

The currency of the United States is the US Dollar, otherwise known as the ‘greenback’. For many years the notes were all the same colour, regardless of their denomination. In 2003 some colour differentiation was introduced, old banknotes are still in circulation. When paying for goods or receiving change it is worth making sure you have handed over the corrent denomination and/or received the correct change.
Each US dollar is made up of 100 cents, although each coin is named differently (see below).

Notes come in denominations of 1, 2 (rare), 5, 10, 20 and 50 dollars. Coins are produced in 1 cent (penny), 5 cent (nickel), 10 cent (dime), 25 cent (quarter), 50 cent and 1 dollar denominations.

Credit Cards and ATM machines

ATMs are the easiest way to access your money. They are common in all towns and cities. Most accept Visa, MasterCard, Electron, Cirrus, Maestro and InterBank cards.

Please note that using a credit card usually requires a  “chip-and-pin” credit card with an embedded microchip and an associated PIN number (the PIN is specific to each credit card). If you have questions about using your credit card in a foreign country, please contact your bank prior to departure from Australia. Check with your credit card company for details of merchant acceptability and other services which may be available.


It is not easy to exchange foreign cash when travelling in the USA.
Travelers Cheques are NO longer accepted.

Telephone & Communication

Mobile telephones
Most mobile telephones work in the USA and coverage is excellent. Check with your local provider that your phone can switch on ‘Global Roaming’ and that your provider has coverage in the places you are visiting. Mobile phones can be very useful for SMSing  (especially if you get lost!). International calls are often expensive, as is checking your message bank as calls have to be routed through Australia.

Should you choose to purchase a local sim card please check with your local provider prior to departure to make sure your phone is unlocked and will accept another sim card.

The internet is widely available in America, and download speeds are generally high, particularly in major cities. There is also free wireless internet access across the US in most hotels, cafes and stores.

If you have Web access while traveling, you might consider a broadband-based telephone service (in technical terms, Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP) such as Skype  or Vonage, which allows you to make free international calls between online computers and phones, and cheap international calls if you’re calling a normal phone number. Most cybercafes throughout the country will be using these programs already, complete with headset, microphone, and webcam.
www.skype.com     www.vonage.com

Business Hours in the USA

Banks & Offices  9.00 – 17.00 Monday to Friday.
Shops  8.00 – 19.00 or later if larger department stores.
Shop hours are longer than Australia and there are many shops, particularly convenience stores and drugstores (pharmacies), that are open 24 hours.

  • Please be aware that when in America you must carry a recognised form of ID on you at all times (Drivers License, Passport or Australia Post Keypass identity card).
  • It’s also important to excercise patience in the US as airports and many public sites as heightened security measures can mean unpredictable and irritating delays. Be prepared for museum visits that require airport style security. In addition, participants wanting to take photographs and use recording devices may have to pay special fees and in many instances, recording devices are totally banned.
Personal Safety
  • We strongly recommend the use of a money belt to keep your cash, cards and travel documents safe. This should be kept under your clothes at all times. This is a precaution that should be taken anywhere due to the difficulties that can be experienced in trying to replace stolen items.
  • Take photocopies of all important documents (passport, credit cards, airline tickets, insurance) and keep one copy securely in your luggage and leave another copy at home.
  • It is generally helpful to take a business card from the hotel you are staying at. This can assist hugely if you get lost. If you also have a key card for your hotel, make sure you keep these two cards separate or you run the risk of allowing a thief access to your room
  • Take extra care in crowded places and try not to ‘advertise’ the fact that you may be carrying valuables by having something like an expensive camera over your shoulder. Put it in your bag or under your coat. And men, try to avoid keeping your wallet in your hip pocket.
What to Pack

Clothing (general)
The time of the year you visit this destination will dictate the type of clothing it is appropriate to bring. It would always be advisable to take a rain coat or a water proof windbreaker. For daytime activities, we suggest a wardrobe that is versatile, casual and comfortable. It is recommended that “layered” clothing might offer the best comfort in a variety of conditions. Always expect the weather to be changeable.

Beyond the normal wardrobe we suggest

  • comfortable walking shoes (very important)
  • sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat
  • folding umbrella and/or light raincoat
  • ladies should have a scarf with them at all times in case it is required to cover shoulders or head when entering religious sites
  • prescription medicines for the full duration of your time away and a written copy of your prescriptions including what they are for, provided by your doctor
  • extra prescription eyeglasses (if required)

No attempt should be made to photograph anything remotely connected with the armed forces or in the vicinity of defence installations. Many people do not like being photographed, always ask before photographing someone.

Clothing (Churches, Mosques and Monasteries)
Although ‘foreigners’ do not have to adhere to a strict dress rules, women should wear a head covering (ie a scarf) in active churches. Men must remember to remove their hats in religious buildings. In churches it is polite to stand around the edges of the building, rather than in the centre. It is acceptable for foreigners to light candles.


Tipping is expected in cafes, restaurants and hotels. The going rate in restaurants is 1520% of the bill; never tip in a fast-food or self-service environment. Taxi drivers, bartenders and hairdressers depend on similar-sized gratuities. Sales taxes vary from state to state but are typically 5–8%, though some states have no sales taxes at all.

Useful websites

Discover the USA
New York Tourism
World Airport Guide
Guide for world airports by car, bus, train and other forms of public transport


We suggest that prior to departure you check the weather forecast for the most up-to-date information.

Average minimum/maximum Temperatures (˚C)

City Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Atlanta 2/12 3/14 7/19 11/23 16/27 20/30 22/31 22/32 18/28 12/23 7/18 2/13
Boston -6/3 -6/2 2/5 1/9 5/14 11/19 14/22 15/22 9/18 2/14 -3/9 -6/4
Chicago -6/1 -4/4 0/10 6/17 11/22 16/26 20/29 19/28 15/25 9/18 3/11 -4/3
New Orleans  7/19 8/20 11/23 15/26 19/30 22/32 24/33 24/33 22/31 16/27 11/23 11/19
New York -3/6 -3/7 0/10 6/16 11/21 17/27 20/29 19/29 16/23 10/19 4/13 -1/8
San Francisco  4/14 6/16 7/20 8/21 11/27 13/30 15/32 15/32 13/30 11/26 7/19 4/14
Savannah  4/18 5/18 8/23 12/26 16/30 21/32 23/34 22/33 20/31 14/27 8/23 5/16