Traveling to the US? Here are 5 questions to ask yourself before you go

With the United States reopened to international visitors, perhaps you’ve booked a trip across the Atlantic this summer.

Whether you’re headed to the bright lights of New York City, the beaches of sunny southern California or road tripping to any of the wonderful places in between, there are some key things to know to make your trip go smoothly.

Here are 5 questions to ask yourself as you prepare for your trip.

Is your passport up to date and have you applied for ESTA?

Before you can go anywhere, you need to check if your passport is still valid. Make sure you have at least 6 months of validity beyond the end of your intended stay.

If you’re from one of the United States visa waiver countries, you still need to apply for travel authorization. You do that through the US Customs and Border Patrol’s Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).

You’ll be charged a total of $ 14 USD (£ 11.32 / € 13.25) – $ 4 for the processing fee and $ 10 once your application has been approved.

Typically, you’ll receive a response back on your ESTA within 72 hours of applying. Once you have it, you’re not required to print it out but you might want to do so just to have it readily available when you go through customs.

If your country is not a visa waiver country, you’ll need to apply for a visa through your local embassy or consulate.

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If you’re planning to visit the United States, make sure you have at least 6 months of eligibility left on your passport. © Shutterstock / Maridav

Are you fully vaccinated and have you scheduled your pre-arrival COVID-19 test?

While the United States has reopened to international visitors, it still requires proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than 1 day prior to departure from non-US citizens to enter.

Traveling to the United States: Here’s how to meet the new one-day testing rule

Do you have an electronic form of payment like a credit card?

In light of the pandemic, a lot of places have stopped taking cash in favor of electronic methods of payment.

If you plan to use your debit card, a word of caution with that method of payment. Some businesses like hotels and rental car companies will hold a “deposit” on a debit card for incidental charges. That can range from $ 100 to $ 200. If you don’t have that cushion in your account, it can be a shock if you are unaware and suddenly don’t have access to those funds.

Have you budgeted for tipping?

From those handing your baggage to restaurant servers to your Uber driver, in the US it is expected you tip on services. Typically, these roles have low hourly wages and instead make their salaries from “tips” left by customers for providing good service.

The pandemic has impacted a lot of things including tipping in the United States. With staffing shortages, a lot of customers have increased their tipping percentages. Some places will expect you to estimate a tip before service is rendered.

While the typical tip used to be between 15-20% of the bill, recent staffing shortages has resulted in a rise in tip percentage with 20-25% more typical these days.

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Make sure you’re vaccinated and have scheduled your COVID-19 test. © Shutterstock / Joshua Resnick

Is your home country part of Global Entry?

The lines at customs in the US can be epic. US citizens can fast track this line as well as the security line to board flights through a program called Global Entry which also gives access to the Transportation Security Administration’s PreCheck.

But the trusted traveler program also has agreements with several countries that could mean as a non-US citizen can apply and receive the same benefits of moving through the line quicker.

If you’re planning multiple trips in the US or plan on a lengthy itinerary where you will need to take multiple flights (still the easiest and fastest way to travel across the US) consider taking the time in advance of your trip to apply.

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