The European Traveler’s Guide to the United States

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Most Europeans think they understand the United States. But film and social media only give you a partial glimpse. Until you visit and spend some time immersed in the culture, there are some things that you won’t totally understand. 

Welcome to America…Here’s What You Should Know

In many regards, America is a hodgepodge of other nations and cultures. It’s a country formed by the influence of countless other nations – a truly diverse region with a little bit of something for everyone. But this doesn’t mean it’s a copycat or ripoff of other countries. In fact, it’s this unique combination of influences that gives the United States its own DNA and larger-than-life personality. 

So while you might see plenty of things that seem similar to life in certain European nations, you’ll also get a totally unique experience that will, at times, surprise your senses. 

Here’s what you should know:

Secure the Right Documentation

Any foreign national visiting the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (which includes nearly every European nation), requires an Electronic System Travel Authorization (ETSA) in order to legally enter the country.

“An approved ESTA allows you to board an air or sea carrier to the United States via the Visa Waiver Program. All major air and sea carriers are required to be a signatory Visa Waiver Program carrier,” explains. “United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) advises applicants submit their ESTA applications while booking travel, and apply more than 3 days prior to their departure to the United States.”

Contrary to popular belief, an ESTA is not a visa. Whereas a visa is issued for a very specific reason, an ESTA provides “general admission” access. It’s typically granted for a 24-month approval, unless your passport expires first, at which point the ESTA expires as well.

You Won’t See it All

When it comes to a European vacation, it’s not uncommon to visit several major cities in one swing. You might go from London to Paris to Rome, for example. But you aren’t going from New York City to Chicago to Los Angeles in one trip (at least not without spending several weeks in the U.S.).

If you were to overlay the United States on top of Europe and pretend that London is Los Angeles, New York City would stretch deep (like really deep) into Russia. Chicago would basically sit where Moscow is. In other words, planning to see everything in one trip is a big mistake. We’d recommend picking a region and sticking in that area. You can always come back!

English Needed

As eclectic as the United States is, English is the primary language. In fact, if you don’t know English, it’s going to be extremely tough to navigate certain situations. Even in big cities, where you can find dozens of languages and dialects, it’s expected that you know English in order to interact in coffee shops, restaurants, and even airports.

It’s highly-encouraged that at least one member of the travel party has a decent grasp of the English language. This will make the trip much more enjoyable for everyone involved.

Study Proper Tip Etiquette

Tipping is one of the more peculiar aspects of the United States. While tipping isn’t technically required, it’s expected in many situations. For example, any time you sit down at a restaurant and a waiter takes your order/brings you your food, a tip of 15 to 20 percent of the total bill is expected. Tipping is also expected for taxi drivers, valet services, and even tour guides.

Personal Space Appreciated

American’s are friendly and love small talk. (It’s perfectly acceptable to strike up a conversation with a stranger while waiting in line – even if it’s about something as trivial as the weather.) However, Americans also enjoy their personal space. A hug or kiss on the cheek is not considered appropriate for strangers. Likewise, an empty chair at a table does not mean you can sit down and join someone. Americans are friendly…from a distance of several feet.

Prepare for Your American VacationThe United States can be a fantastic place to visit. Whether you’re looking to see a specific site, or you’re enthralled by the idea of American culture, we’d highly recommend visiting. And while it’s certainly a unique country, it’s an amazing place of opportunity and excitement. By preparing ahead, you can make the most out of everything it has to offer.

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