Healthcare: Medical insurance is strongly advised. Only emergency cases are treated without prior payment and treatment may be refused without evidence of insurance or a deposit. All receipts must be kept in order to make a claim. Medical facilities are generally of a high standard. Many medications available over the counter in other countries require a prescription in the US. Those visiting the USA for long periods with school-age children should be aware that school entry requirements include proof of immunisation against diphtheria, measles, poliomyelitis and rubella throughout the USA; schools in many states also require immunisation against tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough) and mumps. HIV-positive visitors must apply at the US Embassy for a Waiver of Inadmissibility before entry.
Religion: Protestant majority (52%) with Roman Catholic, Mormon, Jewish and many ethnic minorities.
Money: US Dollar (USD; symbol $) = 100 cents. Notes are in denominations of $100, 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1. Coins are in denominations of $1, and 50, 25, 10, 5 and 1 cents.
Currency exchange: Hotels do not, as a rule, exchange currency and only a few major banks will exchange foreign currency, so it is advisable to arrive with US Dollars, or exchange foreign currency at the airport upon arrival.
Currency restriction: There are no restrictions on the import or export of local or foreign currency. However, amounts in excess of US$10,000 or equivalent should be declared at customs.
Social conventions: Americans are renowned for their openness and friendliness to visitors. The wide variety of national origins and the USA's relatively short history has resulted in numerous cultural and traditional customs living alongside each other. In large cities, people of the same ethnic background often live within defined communities. Shaking hands is the usual form of greeting. A relaxed and informal atmosphere is usually the norm. As long as the fundamental rules of courtesy are
observed, there need be no fear of offending anyone of any background. Gifts are appreciated if one is invited to a private home. As a rule, dress is casual. High-end restaurants, hotels and clubs may require more formal attire. Smoking is increasingly unpopular in the US; it is essential to ask permission before lighting up. Smoking is not allowed on city transport and restricted or forbidden in public buildings in most states. There will be a posted notice where no smoking is requested. An increasing number of states (including California and New York) have banned smoking altogether in bars, restaurants and many public places.
Weather and Climate: Covering a large part of the North American continent, the USA shares borders with Canada to the north and Mexico to the south and has coasts on the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. The State of Alaska, in the northwest corner of the continent, is separated from the rest of the USA by Canada, and Hawaii lies in the central Pacific Ocean. The third-largest country in the world (after the Russian Federation and Canada), the USA has an enormous diversity of geographical features. The climate ranges from subtropical to Arctic, with a corresponding breadth of flora and fauna. For a more detailed description of each region's geographical characteristics, see the individual state sections.
Best time to visit: Summer is considered to be the best season for visiting the US. To avoid the crowds one must visit USA during September and October, when the holiday season is over, but the weather is still nice and comfortable.
Clothing: Most clothing in America is gender specific. Current young American clothing is heavily based on music. Band t-shirts are very popular, especially in the rock subculture. Some Americans of certain nationalities still participate in the ceremonial wearing of traditional clothing from their native countries. Many people of Indian or Muslim descent still wear burkas and saris in public and at home.
Getting around towns and cities: There are numerous underground train systems in operation in major cities including New York (subway), Washington, DC (metro), Boston ('T'), Chicago (train) and San Francisco (BART - Bay Area Rapid Transit); others are being planned or built. There are also several tramway and trolleybus systems, including the much-loved antique trams found in San Francisco, although in many cities a car will be needed to get around.
Emergency Numbers: 911 for Police, Fire and Medical.