Information About the U.S. for International Attendees
Thank you! We are glad you are joining us at a GRC meeting.
If you're traveling from outside the United States, the following information will help you plan your visit. And if you're new to attending GRC meetings in general, be sure to also check out our Guide for First-Time Attendees!
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Business hours in the United States are extensive in the services sector. One can shop for clothing, food and other items, or find an open restaurant very late in the evening, and in some cases, 24 hours per day. Business hours for banks and government agencies, such as the post office, are more limited – typically between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. – though some may have extended hours. GRC events are held in isolated locations, so do not expect to have access to businesses during the days of your conference. Plan to shop before you arrive, or after your conference concludes.
Calendar dates are expressed in the month-day-year order in the United States. This is contrary to the system used in many other countries. For instance, the 3rd of May, 2015, would be listed as 5-3-2015 rather than 3-5-2015.
Foreign currency exchange bureaus are rare in the United States.
ATMs (Automated Teller Machines) are located on almost every block in the United States, and are available at or near all GRC meeting locations. There are also ATMs located at the airport. You will need your personal identification number (PIN) to withdraw money. Most ATMs accept Visa, MasterCard, and American Express credit cards, as well as ATM cards from other U.S. banks. Expect to be charged a small transaction fee (between $2 to $5 USD) if you are withdrawing money at an ATM owned by a bank other than your own. We highly recommend completing your ATM transactions at the airport before traveling to the conference site.
Most businesses in the United States accept payment in the form of travelers' checks, and checks can also be exchanged for cash at a bank. Travelers are advised to have them issued in U.S. dollars because foreign-currency checks are difficult to exchange. The three types of travelers' checks that are most widely recognized are Visa, American Express, and Thomas Cook. Make a record of the check numbers and keep the information in a separate place in case the travelers' checks are lost or stolen. Remember – photo identification, such as your passport, is required to use a travelers' check. If you plan to exchange travelers' checks, please do so before traveling to the conference site.
The legal age for buying and consuming alcoholic beverages is 21. Proof of age (a government-issued photo ID card, such as your passport) is required when you purchase alcohol at stores or restaurants.
The United States uses 110-120 volts AC (60 cycles), compared with 220-240 volts AC (50 cycles) used in most countries in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. If your small electrical appliances use 220-240 volts, you will need a 110-volt transformer and a plug adapter with two flat parallel pins to operate them in the US. Converters are difficult to find in the United States, so bring one with you if you anticipate that you will need one.
Embassies and Consulates
All embassies are located in Washington, D.C. International visitors can obtain telephone numbers for their embassies and consulates by calling "Information" in Washington, D.C., at +1-202-555-1212.
Emergency Medical Care (Medical, Fire, Police)
Dial 911 in case of an emergency! If you become ill during your visit, please alert a member of the GRC staff. If there is a medical emergency, dial 911 from any phone. GRC cannot cover the cost of medical expenses, so please consider travel insurance options available to you before traveling to the United States.
If you are stopped by the police for a minor infraction of the law (such as a traffic violation), never attempt to pay the fine directly to a police officer. All fines must be paid to the clerk of the court. If you are accused of a more serious offense, it is wise to say and do nothing before consulting a lawyer. Call your embassy or consulate immediately for assistance.
The domestic rate for postage is $0.49 USD per ounce.
Please take the precautions you would take travelling to any large city. Avoid deserted areas such as dark streets or empty city parks at night. Avoid carrying valuables with you on the street, and keep expensive cameras or electronic equipment in your bag or covered when not in use. If you are concerned about the safety of your valuables while at the site, please speak with the GRC Site Manager. GRC cannot guarantee protection of your personal property, but will make every effort to help you secure your items.
In the U.S., smoking laws vary by city. In many locations, smoking is prohibited in indoor public places, including all restaurants and their attached bars, theaters, educational facilities, auditoriums, and public transportation. If you smoke, take care to ensure that you are in an area where it is permissible to do so. Tobacco products may not be sold to anyone under 18 years of age. Some GRC sites prohibit smoking entirely. If you have any concerns, please contact GRC in advance.
In the United States, there is not a VAT (value-added tax) or other indirect tax assessed on most things at a national level. Every state, city, and county has the right to levy its own tax on purchases. Hotels add additional taxes, as do some restaurants. Unlike the VAT in many countries, sales taxes are not included in the sticker prices; they are added on to your bill at the checkout counter.
Costs, especially for long-distance service and operator-assisted calls, can vary widely. Generally, hotel surcharges on all calls are extremely high. It is more cost-effective for visitors to use a public pay telephone or a pre-paid telephone card. Many convenience stores and newsstands sell pre-paid calling cards. Local calls made from public pay phones in most places cost $0.50. Pay phones do not accept pennies, and few take anything larger than a quarter ($0.25). To place an international call, dial 011 and then the country code, city/area code, and phone number. If you need assistance, press "0" to speak with an operator. If you are attending a conference at a hotel site, a phone will be available in your guest room. If you are attending a conference at a school or college site, please inquire in advance about access to a telephone.
You will need to purchase a special data plan in advance in order to use your cell phone in the United States. Please contact your plan carrier. Note that some GRC locations are isolated and cell reception can be very poor. All sites have access to wireless Internet, so you may be able to contact your friends and family using online communication methods.
Outside of the GRC meeting, it is customary to tip bartenders, waiters, and cab drivers between 15% and 20%. When paying a restaurant bill, make sure the tip has not already been included (it will appear as a "Service Charge" on the receipt). Tips are not expected in facilities affiliated with your GRC meeting. If you are taking the GRC Bus, a tip for the driver ($1-2 per piece of luggage) is greatly appreciated.
The continental United States has four time zones: Eastern, Central, Mountain, and Pacific.
U.S. Visa Questions
Many visitors to the United States require a visa to enter the country, unless they are coming from a country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program and possess a Machine-Ready Passport (MRP). If you require a visa to enter the United States, please check with your local United States Embassy or Consulate to obtain the necessary documentation as soon as possible. For additional information on visa requirements, please visit the U.S. State Department web site.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security requires travelers from Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries to apply for travel authorization at least 72 hours prior to departure through its Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). Additional information and online application can be found on the Department of Homeland Security's ESTA web site.
If you have additional questions regarding the visa application process, visit the U.S. State Department web site.