The United States of America

The USA is a vast country stretching approximately 4 800km from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. It prides itself on being a melting pot of cultures from all over the world, with every big city in the country having its own Chinatown, Koreatown, Little Somalia, or Little Italy. Cities including New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco, offer world-class museums, shopping, restaurants and nightlife that have to be experienced to be believed.

Whether skiing in the Colorado Rockies, sunning oneself on a Miami beach or climbing to the top of the Statue of Liberty, a holiday in the US presents endless possibilities in the land of opportunity.

Best time to visit The USA

The best time to visit the USA is between May and September. The weather during this time is pleasant and the days are long. It does sometimes become uncomfortably hot during in July, and early August and many of the popular tourist attractions can be overcrowded with families on holiday during this period. The northern states experience substantial temperature changes between summer and winter, while the southern states remain reasonably temperate in winter but have hot summers. The best time for a skiing holiday in the USA is in late January and February when snow is guaranteed in most ski areas.

What to do

  • Take in a Broadway Show in New York
  • Visit Times Square
  • Take a helicopter flip over the Grand Canyon
  • Take a family trip to Disney World in Florida
  • Go wine-tasting in the Napa Valley
  • Go skiing in Colorado
  • Go hiking in Yellowstone or Yosemite National Parks

Climate and Weather

The USA has a varied climate, ranging from arctic regions to deserts due to its vastness, so it is recommended that travellers research the climate in the specific state they will be visiting. California, on the west coast of the US, has a pleasant, Mediterranean climate, while the Pacific Northwest Coast has more of a maritime climate, with cool summers and mild winters. The central parts of the US can experience extreme temperature variations – with cold winters and hot summers. The eastern central US is generally more humid, while the western central US is semiarid. The east side of the country enjoys hot summers but experiences tornadoes in the Mississippi River area. Florida has the warmest winters on the eastern seaboard.

Essential Travel Information

Passport and Visa Information

Passport Information

  • Passports must be valid for no less than six months beyond the period of intended stay.
  • Visitors must ensure they have a minimum of three blank pages in their passport ( for entry and exit stamps ).
  • Tourists must hold proof of a valid onward ticket. The travel date of this ticket may not exceed three months from the first date of entry.
  • Tourists must be able to prove they have sufficient funds for the duration of their stay in the country.

Visa Information

South Africans must hold a passport valid for the duration of their stay, and a visa is required. 
The USA has consulates in Cape Town (consularcapetown@state.gov), Durban (consulardurban@state.gov) and Johannesburg (consularjohannesburg@state.gov); who will consider and process your tourist visa request.

Please note that the US Embassy in Pretoria does not offer consulate services.

For more information visit https://za.usembassy.gov/visas/

Health Information

There are no specific health risks associated with travel within the USA. Medical facilities are excellent, but the cost of medical treatment is prohibitive. Only emergencies are treated without prior payment and treatment can be refused without evidence of insurance or proof of funds. It is essential to take out travel insurance before travelling to the USA.

Safety and Security

Travel within the United States is generally trouble-free. However, there has been an increased threat from terrorist incidents. Security has been heightened, especially at airports so be sure to allow sufficient time to complete these new security procedures. Travellers should use common sense and take necessary precautions when walking the streets and visiting tourist attractions. Hurricanes are frequent between June and November, putting the southern USA, including the Gulf Coast and the eastern US at risk. Wildfires occur in many dry areas in the US, particularly on the West Coast from March to November.

Customs and Dress Code

A 15 percent tip is expected by taxi drivers, bartenders, hairdressers and waiters, but it isn’t necessary to tip in fast-food or self-service restaurants. In upmarket restaurants or for large parties, you are expected to tip 20 percent of the bill.

Laws vary from state to state, including speed limit, fines and punishment so be vigilant when driving. The age at which you may legally buy and consume alcohol is 21 years.

Time Zone

The United States uses nine standard time zones, and most of the US observes daylight savings times Depending on the region you are visiting times zones range between GMT -5 and GMT -10. For information on the times of the regions you will be visiting visit https://greenwichmeantime.com/time-zone/usa/time-zones/

Electricity

Plugs used are mainly the type with two flat pins, though three-pin plugs (two flat parallel pins and a rounded pin) are also widely used.

Getting Around

Distances in the USA are vast, so it’s essential to plan in advance how you’ll get from place to place. Amtrak provides a scenic rail service, and there are usually good bus links between the major cities.

By air

This is the easiest and quickest way to travel around the USA although it is quite expensive. If you book far in advance, you will benefit from discounted airfares. Compare fares between Southwest Airlines, American Airlines, United Airlines, Continental Airlines and Jet Blue to get the best deals. It’s important to note that in America it’s common practice for airlines overbook flights and if time isn’t an issue and you can be flexible with your travel times and dates they’ll offer you great deals for coming off an oversubscribed flight.

By road

To be able to explore rural America and its wide-open spaces, a car is essential. Although petrol prices are high, car hire costs are generally quite cheap. (NYC excluded), with rates as low as $20 per day.

Taxis are metered, with charges of around $3 to start, plus $2 to $3 per mile. They charge extra for waiting and handling baggage, and drivers expect a 10% to 15% tip. Taxis cruise the busiest areas in large cities, so it’s easy to flag one down. Otherwise, you are also able to phone and order one.

Ridesharing companies such as Uber (www.uber.com) and Lyft (www.lyft.com) provide an alternative to taxis, and the fares are reasonable.

Currency

The official currency is the US Dollar (USD), which is divided into 100 cents. Only major banks exchange foreign currency. ATMs are widespread, and credit cards are widely accepted. Banking hours are Monday to Friday 9 am to 3 pm.

Communication

The international country dialling code for the United States is +1. The country offers mobile networks which cover most of the country, especially all urban areas. Internet cafes are prevalent in most towns and cities and wifi is widely available.

Public Holidays

New Year’s Day  – 1 Jan
Martin Luther King Day  – 15 Jan
President’s Day  – 19 Feb
Memorial Day  – 28 May
Independence Day  – 4 Jul
Labour Day  – 3 Sep
Columbus Day  – 8 Oct
Veterans Day  – 12 Nov
Thanksgiving Day  – 22 Nov
Christmas Day  – 25 Dec

Important Contact Numbers

Nationwide Emergency number: 911