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Traveling to the United States for the First Time? Here Are the Top Things You Should Know

According to official data, the United States remains one of the top vacation destinations, with over 77 million visitors in 2018. It has everything you ever wanted for an amazing vacation – mountains, lakes, forests and national parks, wildlife, the ocean, iconic cities like New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, and Chicago, as well as plenty of nightlife, museums to visit, and opportunities to spend time outside.

However, going to the US for the first time can be an overwhelming experience, especially because of the cultural differences. Even though you live in Europe and you grew up with American sitcoms, TV shows, and movies, there are still many differences that you will have to embrace. Here are some things that you should expect during this adventure.

Health and travel insurance

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Under no circumstances, should you travel to the United States without having health insurance. The medical system there is ridiculously expensive, so you may end up paying thousands of dollars for a short visit to the ER. 

The healthcare system is complex and, sometimes, seems to follow rules that nobody else in the world understands. Unlike most other countries that adopted a universal healthcare system, healthcare in the United States mainly focuses on private providers and insurance companies. 

That being said, all minors under the age of 18 years old will receive free medical healthcare if none of their parents can afford it. Similarly, all people over the age of 65 and those who live on social welfare are qualified for free healthcare. 

Have your documents with you at all times 

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Anytime you enter a liquor shop, a gas station or even a regular supermarket hoping to buy a beer, you will be asked for your ID. Don’t flatter yourself even though you are well into your 30s because the local rules state that all citizens under 45 years old will be asked for ID whenever purchasing alcohol or cigarettes. 

That being said, you may also be asked for your ID by law enforcement or when entering bars, clubs, and even some restaurants. And don’t forget that the legal drinking age in the United States is 21 and not 19 as in Canada or 18 as in Europe and almost all other countries in the world. 

Tipping services

Many Americans work in the service industry, relying almost entirely on tips to make a decent monthly living. Therefore, tipping is expected and, in some situations, even mandatory. 

Unlike many European countries where tipping is optional and doesn’t usually exceed 10% of the total bill, in the United States you will be expected to tip a minimum of 15-20%. This includes drivers, baristas, waitresses, and bartenders. 

The reason behind this tipping policy is that most people in the service industry are paid way below the minimum wage because they are expected to earn more by being nice to customers and working for their tips. Coming from a country like Germany, Austria or Japan where people rarely tip, this practice may seem strange but it is the American way. 

Consider your budget

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Ah, taxes. The American taxation system is complicated and makes little to no sense if you live outside the country. Perhaps the weirdest thing you will come across in your trip is seeing one price displayed on the shelves and paying another price for the product at the register. 

The reason is that the United States doesn’t enforce a VAT per se, meaning each state has its own taxation system. Most foods, beverages, clothes, and other mandatory products are taxed between 7-8% and 12%, depending on the state, while taxes for alcohol, tobacco, and electronics are usually higher. 

Make sure to take this into account when considering your budget for the trip. America remains one of the most expensive destinations in the world, so always bring extra money with you for emergencies. 

How to plan a low-budget trip 

If you plan on living in the United States for a short while but don’t have more than $2,000-$3,000, there are still plenty of tips to follow to make the most out of your money. For instance, renting a one-bedroom home for a month is more convenient than staying in Airbnbs, hotel or motel rooms. 

Renting a house in the suburbs is not that expensive, and you will also get a small backyard. However, you should look out for pests, especially raccoons as they now tend to invade our homes more often. They are smart and very curious creatures and they have adapted themselves very well to living amongst people. They will eat from your trash cans and get inside your house through a pet door or even under your garage. To inform yourself about raccoon traps and how to keep them away from your home you can check out

Although they look friendly, raccoons are disease carriers and can easily force you to pay a visit to the hospital which you may not afford unless you have solid traveling insurance.