Things you need to know before visiting the USA

Magic Kingdom

It was a dream of mine to take the kids to Disney World in Florida for many years and back in 2016 we finally realised our dream.

What I wasn’t expecting was all the paperwork and extra expense that goes with booking a holiday to the USA and our first hurdle to overcome was updating our passports, as two of them had just under 6 months left on them.

Our second hurdle was applying for an ESTA for each of us.

All you need to know about the ESTA for the US

As UK citizens, we are automatically members of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows us to enter the US for tourism or visitor purposes for up to 90 days without a visa, however you must still apply for authorisation prior to travelling through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).

The ESTA application process is relatively simple and must be done at least 72 hours before you intend to travel, although I recommend you complete it at least a week before you intend to travel. Use the ‘group application’ tab to apply for the family.

To apply, you will need:

  • Names and Addresses of all travelling with your party
  • Their passport numbers
  • Name and address of the accommodation where you are staying
  • Secure online payment means – they accept either Visa, Mastercard, American Express, or via PayPal
  • An ESTA costs $14 per person (currently Β£11.53 on the USD/GBP exchange rate)

You can track the progress of your application online 24 hours a day. It is always best to apply for your ESTA as soon as you know you are travelling to the US.

You will need an ESTA whether entering the country via plane or cruise ship.

Once you have an ESTA they remain valid for two years and during this time travellers are allowed to visit the US as often as they want, for business or pleasure. Each stay in the USA can last a maximum of 90 consecutive days and you must have a copy of your ESTA with you when you travel.

Virgin Atlantic

Travel Insurance

It goes without saying, but never travel without health / travel insurance, especially to the USA as their healthcare system is extremely expensive.

It is crucial that you research your travel insurance options carefully, as pre-existing conditions may not be covered by a basic insurance policy and you don’t want a holiday ruined by a bout of illness or an unexpected accident.

Magic Kingdom

When you arrive

Our first visit to the USA was a huge learning curve.

Orlando Airport is exceptionally busy and their passport control system requires each member of your party to scan their passports and have a photo taken through a special computer system (the adults have to have fingerprints taken too) and then wait in another queue for said passport and print outs to be checked.

My advice is to expect delays of at least 90 minutes when you arrive, however, once you are through the airport it is time to relax and have fun!

Other things you need to know

Tipping

Tipping is technically voluntary but, because minimum wage for wait staff is even lower than normal, it is expected that they will make up the difference in tips, although it is NOT expected in Disney parks.

Walt Disney World

Sales Tax

The price of something is not always reflected on the pricing label as sales tax is added on at the till. Check the state you are visiting for their sales tax rate.

Everyone is friendly

The one thing we did find on our visit Stateside is that everyone is very friendly and would do everything in their power to help you out, or make you feel welcome!

Have you visited the USA? What was your experience like?

12 thoughts on “Things you need to know before visiting the USA

  1. I’ve never been to the US, so this is really helpful, especially in regards to the paperwork required

  2. It’s a useful post with lots of tips and advise for those visiting USA

  3. This is so useful. It’s been over 10 years since we went to the USA and there’s so much remember!

  4. Crystal says:

    These are great tips for people wishing to visit the USA. It’s important to know what you need to do beforehand.

  5. Anosa says:

    I think for me the biggest thing about the USA was the tipping business like it ain’t optional, you have to.
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  6. I have visited the states a few times and I enjoy my time there most of the time. The tipping part annoys me though.
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  7. Great compilations of things to make a note before visiting the US. I haven’t gone to the US since I moved to Europe. I used to travel there more often. It is true about tipping, they expected you to leave a % aside of the bill. They really rely on it. I didn’t know that in Disney this wasn’t expected. Good to know. The sales on tax are confusing, aren’t they? You need to wait until you pay to know the full amount. I would love to go back to the US with my family. My girls haven’t been there yet so I should be planning something soon. Thanks for the tips πŸ™‚ x

  8. Laura says:

    These are really interesting points about travelling to the USA, and many I wouldn’t have realised or considered.

  9. Kira says:

    Some great tips . We are planning our trip next year so these will definitely come in handy

  10. Valerie says:

    I live in the USA and your point about healthcare is valid, it is very expensive here. Tipping is expected in many places here, some even add it right into your check.

  11. Laura says:

    We’ve never made the venture to the US with the children and probably won’t until the baby is old enough to remember the trip, but I had no idea passport control could be that much of a wait. Worth planning for in itself really. Great advice too on insurance, too many people think they’ll get away with not having any x

  12. Great tips! I remember helping my Dad sort these kinds of things out when we went quite a few years ago now. I would love to go back to America with my family now πŸ™‚

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