Destination guide: New York, United States

New York is one of the most important cities in the United States and one of the classiest and most glamourous cities in the world. Hundreds of people of different nationalities live there, giving the city a cosmopolitan and multicultural feel.

If you’re thinking of travelling to New York, you musn’t miss the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, Ground Zero, Central Park, Fifth Avenue, Times Square, Broadway and the Empire State Building, as well as many other attractions.

  • New York - Practical Information

    Orientation

    Manhattan might not exactly equal New York City – there are four other boroughs, after all –but truthfully, this is where visitors spend most, if not all, of their time. Manhattan is the heart and soul and pulse of the city, and the New York of people’s dreams, home to everything from the bright lights of Times Sq and the green expanse of Central Park to the hustle-bustle of Harlem and the West Village’s charms.

    Currency

    US Dollar

    Budget & Costs

    An economical US trip is possible, but it is easy to spend much more than you bargained for, no matter what your travel style. Mode of transportation is a big factor, as is destination: cities don't chip away at budgets, they jackhammer them into pieces.
    Only the creatively thrifty backpacker or road-tripper will spend less than $100 a day. A comfortable midrange budget ranges from $150 to $250 a day; this usually gets you a car, gas, two meals, a decent hotel and a museum admission or two. Spending over $300 a day isn't hard: just splash out a few times, drive a lot, and stay, eat and whoop it up in the likes of New York, Chicago, San Francisco.

    As a guide, 'midrange' hotels cost from $80 to $200 per night per double occupancy. In rural areas, $100 buys a princely night's sleep, but in some cities, clean budget placesstart at $200. The same holds true for meals. To travel on the cheap, plan on camping (sometimes free but up to $35 per night) or hostelling ($20 to $35 a night), cooking some of your own meals, and touring by bus and train, both of which limit your flexibility and are slower than driving or flying (that's not necessarily a bad thing). Be wary of budget motel come-ons; the sign might flash $39, but that's probably for a single room and doesn't include taxes.

    Traveling by car is often a necessity. A rental is a bare minimum of $30 a day (type of car, taxes, fees and insurance can push it higher), plus gas. Planning the great American road trip? Gas could actually cost more than the car itself (say, another $20 to $40 per day, depending on how far you're driving and on what kind of roads). Families can save money by booking accommodations that don't charge extra for children staying in the same room, by asking for kids' menus at restaurants and by taking advantage of family discounts at museums, theme parks and other sights.

    Don't forget that old travel chestnut: after you halve the clothes you've packed in your suitcase, double your estimated budget, and it'll all work out fine.

    Sample Prices

    Broadway show $100-300
    Major-league baseball game $27
    Internet access per hour $3-12
    Gallon of milk $3.35
    Local payphone call 35-50¢

    Language

    English, Spanish

    Timezone

    UTC/GMT -5

    Visas

    Warning: all information relating to visas is highly subject to change. US entry requirements keep evolving as national security regulations change. All travelers should double-check current visa and passport regulations before coming to the USA.
    Although you can also access visa information through www.usa.gov, the US State Department (www.travel.state.gov/visa) maintains the most comprehensive visa information, providing downloadable forms, lists of US consulates abroad and even visa wait times calculated by country. US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS;www.uscis.gov) mainly serves immigrants, not temporary visitors.

    Applications
    Apart from most Canadian citizens and those entering under the Visa Waiver Program, all foreign visitors will need to obtain a visa from a US consulate or embassy abroad. Most applicants must schedule a personal interview, to which you must bring all your documentation and proof of fee payment. Wait times for interviews vary, but afterward, barring problems, visa issuance takes from a few days to a few weeks.

    Your passport must be valid for at least six months after the end of your intended stay in the USA. You'll need a recent photo (2in by 2in), and you must pay a $131 processing fee, plus in a few cases an additional visa issuance reciprocity fee. In addition to the main nonimmigrant visa application form (DS-156), all men aged 16 to 45 must complete an additional form (DS-157) that details their travel plans.

    Visa applicants are required to show documents of financial stability (or evidence that a US resident will provide financial support), a round-trip or onward ticket and 'binding obligations' that will ensure their return home, such as family ties, a home or a job. Because of these requirements, those planning to travel through other countries before arriving in the USA are generally better off applying for a US visa while they are still in their home country, rather than while on the road.

    The most common visa is a nonimmigrant visitor's visa, type B-1 for business purposes, B-2 for tourism or visiting friends and relatives. A visitor's visa is good for multiple entries over one or five years, and specifically prohibits the visitor from taking paid employment in the USA. The validity period depends on what country you are from. The actual length of time you'll be allowed to stay in the USA is determined by US immigration at the port of entry. If you're coming to the USA to work or study, you will need a different type of visa, and the company or institution to which you are going should make the arrangements. Other categories of nonimmigrant visas include an F-1 visa for students attending a course at a recognized institution; an H-1, H-2 or H-3 visa for temporary employment; and a J-1 visa for exchange visitors in approved programs.

    Visa Waiver Program 
    Currently under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), citizens of the following countries may enter the USA without a visa for stays of 90 days or fewer: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK.

    If you are a citizen of a VWP country, you do not need a visa only if you have a passport that meets current US standards and you have gotten approval from the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) in advance. Register online with the Department of Homeland Security at https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov at least 72 hours before arrival; once travel authorization is approved, your registration is valid for two years.

    Visitors from VWP countries must still produce at the port of entry all the same evidence as for a nonimmigrant visa application. They must demonstrate that their trip is for 90 days or less, and that they have a round-trip or onward ticket, adequate funds to cover the trip and binding obligations abroad. In addition, the same 'grounds for exclusion and deportation' apply, except that you will have no opportunity to appeal the grounds or apply for an exemption. If you are denied under the Visa Waiver Program at a US point of entry, you will have to use your onward or return ticket on the next available flight.

    Entering the USA
    If you have a non-US passport, you must complete an arrival/departure record (form I-94) before you reach the immigration desk. It's usually handed out on the plane along with the customs declaration. For the question, 'Address While In the United States,' give the address where you will spend the first night (a hotel address is fine).

    No matter what your visa says, US immigration officers have an absolute authority to refuse admission to the USA or to impose conditions on admission. They will ask about your plans and whether you have sufficient funds; it's a good idea to list an itinerary, produce an onward or round-trip ticket and have at least one major credit card. Showing that you have over $400 per week of your stay should be enough.

    The Department of Homeland Security's registration program, called US-VISIT (www.dhs.gov/us-visit), includes every port of entry and nearly every foreign visitor to the USA. For most visitors (excluding, for now, most Canadian and some Mexican citizens), registration consists of having a digital photo and electronic (inkless) fingerprints taken; the process takes less than a minute.

    The National Security Entry/Exit Registration System (NSEERS) applies to certain citizens of countries that have been deemed particular risks; however, US officials can require this registration of any traveler. Currently, the countries included are Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria, but be sure to visit www.ice.gov for updates. Registration in these cases also includes a short interview in a separate room and computer verification of all personal information supplied on travel documents.

    Visa Extensions
    To stay in the USA longer than the date stamped on your passport, go to a local USCIS ([tel] 800-375-5283; www.uscis.gov) office to apply for an extension well before the stamped date. If the date has passed, your best chance will be to bring a US citizen with you to vouch for your character, and to produce lots of other verification that you are not trying to work illegally and have enough money to support yourself. However, if you've overstayed, the most likely scenario is that you will be deported. Travelers who enter the USA under the VWP are ineligible for visa extensions.

    Short-Term Departures & Reentry
    It's temptingly easy to make trips across the border to Canada or Mexico, but upon return to the USA, non-Americans will be subject to the full immigration procedure. Always take your passport when you cross the border. If your immigration card still has plenty of time on it, you will probably be able to reenter using the same one, but if it has nearly expired, you will have to apply for a new card, and border control may want to see your onward air ticket, sufficient funds and so on.

    Traditionally, a quick trip across the border has been a way to extend your stay in the USA without applying for an extension at a USCIS office. Don't assume this still works. First, make sure you hand in your old immigration card to the immigration authorities when you leave the USA, and when you return make sure you have all the necessary application documentation from when you first entered the country. US immigration will be very suspicious of anyone who leaves for a few days and returns immediately hoping for a new six-month stay; expect to be questioned closely.

    Citizens of most Western countries will not need a visa to visit Canada, so it's really not a problem at all to cross to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, detour up to Québec or pass through on the way to Alaska. Travelers entering the USA by bus from Canada may be closely scrutinized. A round-trip ticket that takes you back to Canada will most likely make US immigration feel less suspicious. Mexico has a visa-free zone along most of its border with the USA, including the Baja Peninsula and most of the border towns, such as Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez.

    Weights & Measures

    Imperial

    Customs

    For a complete list of US customs regulations, visit the official portal for US Customs and Border Protection (www.cbp.gov); the downloadable 'Know Before You Go' brochure covers the basics. US Customs allows each person to bring 1L of liquor (provided you are at least 21 years old) and 100 cigars and 200 cigarettes (if you are at least 18) duty-free into the USA. US citizens are allowed to import, duty-free, $800 worth of gifts and purchases from abroad, while non-US citizens are allowed to bring in $100 worth.

    US law permits you to bring in, or take out, as much as $10,000 in US or foreign, traveler's checks or money orders without formality. larger amounts of money must be declared to customs.

    There are heavy penalties for attempting to import illegal drugs. It's also forbidden to bring in to the US drug paraphernalia, lottery tickets, items with fake brand names, and most goods made in Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Myanmar (Burma), Angola and Sudan. Any fruit, vegetables, or other food or plant material must be declared or left in the bins in the arrival area. Most food items are prohibited to prevent the introduction of pests or diseases.

    The USA, like over 170 other countries, is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES). As such, it prohibits the import and export of products made from species that may be endangered in any part of the world, including ivory, tortoiseshell, coral and many fur, skin and feather products. If you bring or buy a fur coat, bone carving or alligator-skin boots, you may have to show a certificate when you enter and/or leave the USA that states your goods were not made from endangered species. For more information, contact the US Fish and Wildlife Service ([tel] 800-358-2104; www.fws.gov).

    Business Hour

    Stores are typically open from 9am to 8pm Monday to Saturday. In the south of the country and in small towns, some stores close between 2pm and 4pm, then stay open till 9pm. Some don’t open on Saturday afternoon. Stores in malls and coastal resort towns often open on Sunday too. Supermarkets and department stores usually open from 9am or 10am to 10pm every day.

    Offices have similar Monday to Friday hours to stores, with a greater likelihood of the 2pm to 4pm lunch break. Offices with tourist-related business, including airline and car-rental offices, usually open on Saturday too, from at least 9am to 1pm.
    Typical restaurant hours are 7am (9am in central Mexico) to midnight. If a restaurant has a closing day, it’s usually Sunday or Monday. Cafés typically open from 8am to 10pm.

    Banks are normally open 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday, and 9am to 1pm Saturday. In smaller towns they may close earlier or not open on Saturday. Casas de cambio(money-exchange offices) are usually open from 9am to 7pm daily, often with even longer hours in coastal resorts. Post offices typically open from 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday, and 9am to 1pm Saturday.

    Telephone

    Useful Phone Numbers

    Phone numbers within the USA consist of a three-digit area code followed by a seven-digit local number. If you’re calling long distance, dial [tel] 1 + the three-digit area code + the seven-digit number. For local and national directory assistance, dial [tel] 1-212-555-1212. As part of a miraculous citywide system, you can dial [tel] 311 for any issues that are city-related – whether you have a noise complaint, have a question about parking regulations or simply want to find the nearest dog run. Operators are available 24 hours and will quickly connect you to the government office that’ll best be able to serve you.

    If you’re calling NYC from abroad, the international country code for the USA is 1. To dial an international number directly from NYC, dial [tel] 011, then the country code, followed by the area code (without any leading ‘0’) and phone number. (To find country codes, check the phone book or dial [tel] 411 and ask for an international operator.) International rates vary depending on the time of day and the destination.

    In New York City, Manhattan phone numbers are in the 212 or 646 area code (although cell phones and some businesses use 917) and the four outer boroughs are in the 718 or 347 zone. No matter where you’re calling within New York City, even if it’s just across the street in the same area code, you must always dial 1 + the area code first. 

    All toll-free numbers are prefixed with an 800, 866, 877 or 888 area code. Some toll-free numbers for local businesses or government offices only work within a limited region. But most toll-free phone numbers can be dialed from abroad – just be aware that you’ll be connected at regular long-distance rates, which could become a costly option if you’re put on hold.

     

    Pay Phones

    Though they seem outmoded, pay phones still exist on NYC streets and are almost always available. Just don’t expect to find any phone booths like the kind that Superman changed in, unless you seek out one of the very few left in existence, such as one on the Upper West Side at West End Ave and 101st St.

    To use a pay phone, you can pump in quarters, use a phone credit or debit card or make collect calls. There are thousands of pay phones on the New York City streets, seemingly all with a different price scheme, though most (especially the Verizon phones, which have yellow handles) are 50¢ for untimed local calls. You can also make long-distance calls at global calling stations, which have low by-the-minute rates; you’ll find them all over the city, but especially in and around Times Sq.

     

    Phonecards

    An excellent long-distance alternative is phone debit cards, which allow you to pay in advance, with access through a toll-free 800 number. These are available in amounts of $5, $10, $20 and $50 from Western Union, machines in airports and train stations, some supermarkets and nearly every corner deli. Certain cards deliver better value depending on where you’re calling (eg New York Alliance is better for Brazil, while Payless is better for Ireland) and the purveyors of the cards can usually provide accurate information.

    Mobile Phones

    Cell phones (mobile phones), have taken over the city; plans are even underway to make reception available in the subways. New Yorkers are totally in love with their phones (or, increasingly, their iPhones), which are part communication device and part status symbol here. But as a traveler, you really don’t need a cell phone in the city, especially with the preponderance of pay phones. Plus, service can be less than stellar, with several silent zones around town. If you can’t do without one, you’ll find many tiny storefronts – most run by Verizon, T-Mobile or AT&T – where you can buy a cheap phone and load it up with prepaid minutes, thus avoiding a long-term contract.

     

    Electricity overview

    Japanese-style plug with two parallel flat blades

     

    Electricity overview ( Japanese)

     

    Two parallel flat blades above a large circular grounding pin

     

    Electricity overview ( Two parallel)