Effective from 12th January, all passengers travelling to the United States with passports from Visa Waiver Programme countries will be required to obtain travel authorisation in advance. Click here for more information.
The USA is home to several of the world's most exciting cities, some truly mind-blowing landscapes, a strong sense of regionalism, a trenchant mythology, more history than the country gives itself credit for and, arguably, some of the most approachable natives in the world.
The US was fashioned from an incredibly disparate population who, with little in common apart from a desire to choose their own paths to wealth or heaven, rallied around the ennobling ideals of the Declaration of Independence to forge the richest, most inventive and most powerful country on earth
America was stumbled upon by Columbus in 1492 and for more than 500 years people have travelled here seeking a better life in the 'land of opportunity'. The land was fought over by colonial powers for centuries and finally won its independence from Britain in 1783. Despite the near annihilation of the Native American population, one of the bloodiest civil wars the world had seen, and ingrained racism (Native Americans were not granted citizenship until 1924 and racial segregation was the norm until as late as the 1950s), the American people have succeeded in forging one of the worlds most united, democratic and tolerant nations, a fascinating melting-pot of cultures, and the undisputed military and economic heavyweight of the world.
The country is made up of 48 neighbouring states of the continental USA, plus the huge state of Alaska, northwest of Canada, and the volcanic islands of Hawaii, 2,000 miles (3,219km) out into the Pacific. There are also the US territories, which include Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the Midway Islands and the US Virgin Islands. Tourism is focused mainly in the great cities such as New York and Washington, as well as sunshine states such as California, Florida and Hawaii where millions of tourists congregate each year to enjoy the fine beaches, natural wonders and man-made attractions such as Disneyland, Universal Studios and Hollywood. Too many miss out on the mind-blowing landscapes of the interior which can found in the wealth of magnificent National Parks like Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Adirondacks, as well as spectacular sights like the Grand Canyon and the Rocky Mountains. With all this on their doorstep, it's easy to understand why most Americans have never bothered getting a passport.
The USA is divided into six time zones. Eastern Standard Time is GMT -5, and Pacific Standard Time is GMT -8, Alaska is GMT -9, and Hawaii GMT -10. Other than Indiana, Arizona and Hawaii, all states observe daylight saving time in summer.
110 volts, 60Hz. Plugs are mainly the two, flat-pin type, though three-pin plugs are also widely used. European appliances without dual-voltage capabilities will require an adapter, which can be purchased in most major departure airports.
The international country dialling code for the United States is +1. The outgoing code is 011, followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 01144 for the United Kingdom). The US has numerous area/city codes, which must be dialled before the local number required (e.g. New York Manhattan, 212, and Washington DC, 202). Mobile networks cover most of the country, including all urban areas, however unless you have a tri-band phone it is likely your cellular phone from home will not work in the United States. The largest GSM networks are T-mobile and Cingular. Internet cafes are prevalent in most towns and cities.
In such a large country, filled with so many diverse groups, business practices may differ according to each state, however rarely to any large degree. The East Coast is traditionally more formal than the West Coast, however in states such as California dress code and conservative appearance are as common as they would be in New York. Punctuality is important throughout the country and it is considered rude to be late for a meeting. Gift-giving is uncommon as it may be construed as bribery. Appropriate titles (Mr, Mrs, Ms) are used upon introduction and until otherwise stated. Americans favour politeness and greetings of 'Hello' and 'How are you?' are often expressed with sincerity. Business hours may vary in each state, but an 8am start and 5pm finish Monday to Friday is the most common with an hour over lunch.