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United States of America
Flag Great Seal
MottoIn God We Trust  (official)
E Pluribus Unum  (traditional)
(Latin: Out of Many, One)
Anthem"The Star-Spangled Banner"
Capital Washington, D.C.
38°53′N 77°01′W / 38.883°N 77.017°W / 38.883; -77.017
Largest city New York City
Official language(s) None at federal level[a]
National language English (de facto)[b]
Demonym American
Government Federal constitutional presidential republic
 -  President Barack Obama (D)
 -  Vice President Joe Biden (D)
 -  Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D)
 -  Chief Justice John Roberts
Independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain
 -  Declared July 4, 1776 
 -  Recognized September 3, 1783 
 -  Current constitution June 21, 1788 
Area
 -  Total 9,826,675 km2 [1][c](3rd/4th)
3,794,101 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 6.76
Population
 -  2010 estimate 308,884,000[2] (3rd[d])
 -  2000 census 281,421,906[3] 
 -  Density 32/km2 (178th)
83/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2008 estimate
 -  Total $14.441 trillion[4] (1st)
 -  Per capita $47,440[4] (6th)
GDP (nominal) 2008 estimate
 -  Total $14.441 trillion[4] (1st)
 -  Per capita $47,440[4] (17th)
Gini (2007) 45.0[1] (44th)
HDI (2007) 0.956[5] (very high) (13th)
Currency United States dollar ($) (USD)
Time zone (UTC−5 to −10)
 -  Summer (DST)  (UTC−4 to −10)
Date formats m/d/yy (AD)
Drives on the right
Internet TLD .us .gov .mil .edu
Calling code +1
^ a. English is the official language of at least 28 states—some sources give a higher figure, based on differing definitions of "official".[6] English and Hawaiian are both official languages in the state of Hawaii.

^ b. English is the de facto language of American government and the sole language spoken at home by 80% of Americans age five and older. Spanish is the second most commonly spoken language.

^ c. Whether the United States or the People's Republic of China is larger is disputed. The figure given is from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's World Factbook. Other sources give smaller figures. All authoritative calculations of the country's size include only the 50 states and the District of Columbia, not the territories.

^ d. The population estimate includes people whose usual residence is in the fifty states and the District of Columbia, including noncitizens. It does not include either those living in the territories, amounting to more than 4 million U.S. citizens (most in Puerto Rico), or U.S. citizens living outside the United States.

The United States of America (commonly referred to as the United States, the U.S., the USA, or America) is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district. The country is situated mostly in central North America, where its forty-eight contiguous states and Washington, D.C., the capital district, lie between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, bordered by Canada to the north and Mexico to the south. The state of Alaska is in the northwest of the continent, with Canada to the east and Russia to the west across the Bering Strait. The state of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific. The country also possesses several territories in the Caribbean and Pacific.

At 3.79 million square miles (9.83 million km2) and with about 309 million people, the United States is the third or fourth largest country by total area, and the third largest both by land area and population. It is one of the world's most ethnically diverse and multicultural nations, the product of large-scale immigration from many countries.[7] The U.S. economy is the largest national economy in the world, with an estimated 2008 gross domestic product (GDP) of US $14.4 trillion (a quarter of nominal global GDP and a fifth of global GDP at purchasing power parity).[4][8]

Indigenous peoples of Asian origin have inhabited what is now the mainland United States for many thousands of years. This Native American population was greatly reduced by disease and warfare after European contact. The United States was founded by thirteen British colonies located along the Atlantic seaboard. On July 4, 1776, they issued the Declaration of Independence, which proclaimed their right to self-determination and their establishment of a cooperative union. The rebellious states defeated the British Empire in the American Revolution, the first successful colonial war of independence.[9] The Philadelphia Convention adopted the current United States Constitution on September 17, 1787; its ratification the following year made the states part of a single republic with a strong central government. The Bill of Rights, comprising ten constitutional amendments guaranteeing many fundamental civil rights and freedoms, was ratified in 1791.

In the 19th century, the United States acquired land from France, Spain, the United Kingdom, Mexico, and Russia, and annexed the Republic of Texas and the Republic of Hawaii. Disputes between the agrarian South and industrial North over states' rights and the expansion of the institution of slavery provoked the American Civil War of the 1860s. The North's victory prevented a permanent split of the country and led to the end of legal slavery in the United States. By the 1870s, the national economy was the world's largest.[10] The Spanish–American War and World War I confirmed the country's status as a military power. It emerged from World War II as the first country with nuclear weapons and a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. The end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union left the United States as the sole superpower. The country accounts for two-fifths of global military spending and is a leading economic, political, and cultural force in the world.[11]

Contents

Etymology

In 1507, German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller produced a world map on which he named the lands of the Western Hemisphere "America" after Italian explorer and cartographer Amerigo Vespucci.[12] The former British colonies first used the country's modern name in the Declaration of Independence, the "unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America" adopted by the "Representatives of the united States of America" on July 4, 1776.[13] The current name was finalized on November 15, 1777, when the Second Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation, which states, "The Stile of this Confederacy shall be 'The United States of America.'" The short form the United States is also standard. Other common forms include the U.S., the USA, and America. Colloquial names include the U.S. of A. and the States. Columbia, a once popular name for the United States, was derived from Christopher Columbus. It appears in the name "District of Columbia".

The standard way to refer to a citizen of the United States is as an American. Though United States is the formal adjective, American and U.S. are the most common adjectives used to refer to the country ("American values," "U.S. forces"). American is rarely used in English to refer to people not connected to the United States.[14]

The phrase "the United States" was originally treated as plural—e.g., "the United States are"—including in the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified in 1865. It became common to treat it as singular—e.g., "the United States is"—after the end of the Civil War. The singular form is now standard; the plural form is retained in the idiom "these United States".[15]

Geography, climate, and environment

Satellite image showing topography of the contiguous United States

The land area of the contiguous United States is approximately 1.9 billion acres (770 million hectares). Alaska, separated from the contiguous United States by Canada, is the largest state at 365 million acres (150 million hectares). Hawaii, occupying an archipelago in the central Pacific, southwest of North America, has just over 4 million acres (1.6 million hectares).[16] After Russia and Canada, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest nation by total area, ranking just above or below China. The ranking varies depending on how two territories disputed by China and India are counted and how the total size of the United States is calculated: the CIA World Factbook gives 3,794,101 square miles (9,826,675 km2),[1] the United Nations Statistics Division gives 3,717,813 sq mi (9,629,091 km2),[17] and the Encyclopædia Britannica gives 3,676,486 sq mi (9,522,055 km2).[18] Including only land area, the United States is third in size behind Russia and China, just ahead of Canada.[19]

The Teton Range, part of the Rocky Mountains

The coastal plain of the Atlantic seaboard gives way further inland to deciduous forests and the rolling hills of the Piedmont. The Appalachian Mountains divide the eastern seaboard from the Great Lakes and the grasslands of the Midwest. The MississippiMissouri River, the world's fourth longest river system, runs mainly north–south through the heart of the country. The flat, fertile prairie of the Great Plains stretches to the west, interrupted by a highland region in the southeast. The Rocky Mountains, at the western edge of the Great Plains, extend north to south across the country, reaching altitudes higher than 14,000 feet (4,300 m) in Colorado. Farther west are the rocky Great Basin and deserts such as the Mojave. The Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges run close to the Pacific coast. At 20,320 feet (6,194 m), Alaska's Mount McKinley is the tallest peak in the country and in North America. Active volcanoes are common throughout Alaska's Alexander and Aleutian Islands, and Hawaii consists of volcanic islands. The supervolcano underlying Yellowstone National Park in the Rockies is the continent's largest volcanic feature.[20]

The bald eagle, national bird of the United States since 1782

The United States, with its large size and geographic variety, includes most climate types. To the east of the 100th meridian, the climate ranges from humid continental in the north to humid subtropical in the south. The southern tip of Florida is tropical, as is Hawaii. The Great Plains west of the 100th meridian are semi-arid. Much of the Western mountains are alpine. The climate is arid in the Great Basin, desert in the Southwest, Mediterranean in coastal California, and oceanic in coastal Oregon and Washington and southern Alaska. Most of Alaska is subarctic or polar. Extreme weather is not uncommon—the states bordering the Gulf of Mexico are prone to hurricanes, and most of the world's tornadoes occur within the country, mainly in the Midwest's Tornado Alley.[21]

The U.S. ecology is considered "megadiverse": about 17,000 species of vascular plants occur in the contiguous United States and Alaska, and over 1,800 species of flowering plants are found in Hawaii, few of which occur on the mainland.[22] The United States is home to more than 400 mammal, 750 bird, and 500 reptile and amphibian species.[23] About 91,000 insect species have been described.[24] The Endangered Species Act of 1973 protects threatened and endangered species and their habitats, which are monitored by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. There are fifty-eight national parks and hundreds of other federally managed parks, forests, and wilderness areas.[25] Altogether, the government owns 28.8% of the country's land area.[26] Most of this is protected, though some is leased for oil and gas drilling, mining, logging, or cattle ranching; 2.4% is used for military purposes.[26]

History

Native Americans and European settlers

The indigenous peoples of the U.S. mainland, including Alaska Natives, are most commonly believed to have migrated from Asia. They began arriving at least 12,000 and as many as 40,000 years ago.[27] Some, such as the pre-Columbian Mississippian culture, developed advanced agriculture, grand architecture, and state-level societies. After Europeans began settling the Americas, many millions of indigenous Americans died from epidemics of imported diseases such as smallpox.[28]

The Mayflower transported Pilgrims to the New World in 1620, as depicted in William Halsall's The Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor, 1882

In 1492, Genoese explorer Christopher Columbus, under contract to the Spanish crown, reached several Caribbean islands, making first contact with the indigenous people. On April 2, 1513, Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León landed on what he called "La Florida"—the first documented European arrival on what would become the U.S. mainland. Spanish settlements in the region were followed by ones in the present-day southwestern United States that drew thousands through Mexico. French fur traders established outposts of New France around the Great Lakes; France eventually claimed much of the North American interior, down to the Gulf of Mexico. The first successful English settlements were the Virginia Colony in Jamestown in 1607 and the Pilgrims' Plymouth Colony in 1620. The 1628 chartering of the Massachusetts Bay Colony resulted in a wave of migration; by 1634, New England had been settled by some 10,000 Puritans. Between the late 1610s and the American Revolution, about 50,000 convicts were shipped to Britain's American colonies.[29] Beginning in 1614, the Dutch settled along the lower Hudson River, including New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island.

In 1674, the Dutch ceded their American territory to England; the province of New Netherland was renamed New York. Many new immigrants, especially to the South, were indentured servants—some two-thirds of all Virginia immigrants between 1630 and 1680.[30] By the turn of the century, African slaves were becoming the primary source of bonded labor. With the 1729 division of the Carolinas and the 1732 colonization of Georgia, the thirteen British colonies that would become the United States of America were established. All had local governments with elections open to most free men, with a growing devotion to the ancient rights of Englishmen and a sense of self-government stimulating support for republicanism. All legalized the African slave trade. With high birth rates, low death rates, and steady immigration, the colonial population grew rapidly. The Christian revivalist movement of the 1730s and 1740s known as the Great Awakening fueled interest in both religion and religious liberty. In the French and Indian War, British forces seized Canada from the French, but the francophone population remained politically isolated from the southern colonies. Excluding the Native Americans (popularly known as "American Indians"), who were being displaced, those thirteen colonies had a population of 2.6 million in 1770, about one-third that of Britain; nearly one in five Americans were black slaves.[31] Though subject to British taxation, the American colonials had no representation in the Parliament of Great Britain.

Independence and expansion

Tensions between American colonials and the British during the revolutionary period of the 1760s and early 1770s led to the American Revolutionary War, fought from 1775 through 1781. On June 14, 1775, the Continental Congress, convening in Philadelphia, established a Continental Army under the command of George Washington. Proclaiming that "all men are created equal" and endowed with "certain unalienable Rights," the Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, drafted largely by Thomas Jefferson, on July 4, 1776. That date is now celebrated annually as America's Independence Day. In 1777, the Articles of Confederation established a weak confederal government that operated until 1789.

After the British defeat by American forces assisted by the French, Great Britain recognized the independence of the United States and the states' sovereignty over American territory west to the Mississippi River. A constitutional convention was organized in 1787 by those wishing to establish a strong national government, with powers of taxation. The United States Constitution was ratified in 1788, and the new republic's first Senate, House of Representatives, and president—George Washington—took office in 1789. The Bill of Rights, forbidding federal restriction of personal freedoms and guaranteeing a range of legal protections, was adopted in 1791.

Attitudes toward slavery were shifting; a clause in the Constitution protected the African slave trade only until 1808. The Northern states abolished slavery between 1780 and 1804, leaving the slave states of the South as defenders of the "peculiar institution." The Second Great Awakening, beginning about 1800, made evangelicalism a force behind various social reform movements, including abolitionism.

Territorial acquisitions by date

Americans' eagerness to expand westward prompted a long series of Indian Wars and an Indian removal policy that stripped the native peoples of their land. The Louisiana Purchase of French-claimed territory under President Thomas Jefferson in 1803 almost doubled the nation's size. The War of 1812, declared against Britain over various grievances and fought to a draw, strengthened U.S. nationalism. A series of U.S. military incursions into Florida led Spain to cede it and other Gulf Coast territory in 1819. The United States annexed the Republic of Texas in 1845. The concept of Manifest Destiny was popularized during this time.[32] The 1846 Oregon Treaty with Britain led to U.S. control of the present-day American Northwest. The U.S. victory in the Mexican–American War resulted in the 1848 cession of California and much of the present-day American Southwest. The California Gold Rush of 1848–49 further spurred western migration. New railways made relocation easier for settlers and increased conflicts with Native Americans. Over a half-century, up to 40 million American bison, or buffalo, were slaughtered for skins and meat and to ease the railways' spread. The loss of the buffalo, a primary resource for the plains Indians, was an existential blow to many native cultures.

Civil War and industrialization

Battle of Gettysburg, lithograph by Currier & Ives, ca. 1863

Tensions between slave and free states mounted with arguments over the relationship between the state and federal governments, as well as violent conflicts over the spread of slavery into new states. Abraham Lincoln, candidate of the largely antislavery Republican Party, was elected president in 1860. Before he took office, seven slave states declared their secession—which the federal government maintained was illegal—and formed the Confederate States of America. With the Confederate attack upon Fort Sumter, the American Civil War began and four more slave states joined the Confederacy. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation declared slaves in the Confederacy to be free. Following the Union victory in 1865, three amendments to the U.S. Constitution ensured freedom for the nearly four million African Americans who had been slaves,[33] made them citizens, and gave them voting rights. The war and its resolution led to a substantial increase in federal power.[34]

Immigrants at Ellis Island, New York Harbor, 1902

After the war, the assassination of Lincoln radicalized Republican Reconstruction policies aimed at reintegrating and rebuilding the Southern states while ensuring the rights of the newly freed slaves. The resolution of the disputed 1876 presidential election by the Compromise of 1877 ended Reconstruction; Jim Crow laws soon disenfranchised many African Americans. In the North, urbanization and an unprecedented influx of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe hastened the country's industrialization. The wave of immigration, lasting until 1929, provided labor and transformed American culture. National infrastructure development spurred economic growth. The 1867 Alaska purchase from Russia completed the country's mainland expansion. The Wounded Knee massacre in 1890 was the last major armed conflict of the Indian Wars. In 1893, the indigenous monarchy of the Pacific Kingdom of Hawaii was overthrown in a coup led by American residents; the United States annexed the archipelago in 1898. Victory in the Spanish–American War the same year demonstrated that the United States was a world power and led to the annexation of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines.[35] The Philippines gained independence a half-century later; Puerto Rico and Guam remain U.S. territories.

World War I, Great Depression, and World War II

An abandoned farm in South Dakota during the Dust Bowl, 1936

At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the United States remained neutral. Most Americans sympathized with the British and French, although many opposed intervention.[36] In 1917, the United States joined the Allies, helping to turn the tide against the Central Powers. After the war, the Senate did not ratify the Treaty of Versailles, which established the League of Nations. The country pursued a policy of unilateralism, verging on isolationism.[37] In 1920, the women's rights movement won passage of a constitutional amendment granting women's suffrage. The prosperity of the Roaring Twenties ended with the Wall Street Crash of 1929 that triggered the Great Depression. After his election as president in 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt responded with the New Deal, a range of policies increasing government intervention in the economy. The Dust Bowl of the mid-1930s impoverished many farming communities and spurred a new wave of western migration.

Soldiers of the U.S. Army 1st Infantry Division landing in Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944

The United States, effectively neutral during World War II's early stages after Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland in September 1939, began supplying materiel to the Allies in March 1941 through the Lend-Lease program. On December 7, 1941, the Empire of Japan launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, prompting the United States to join the Allies against the Axis powers. Participation in the war spurred capital investment and industrial capacity. Among the major combatants, the United States was the only nation to become richer—indeed, far richer—instead of poorer because of the war.[38] Allied conferences at Bretton Woods and Yalta outlined a new system of international organizations that placed the United States and Soviet Union at the center of world affairs. As victory was won in Europe, a 1945 international conference held in San Francisco produced the United Nations Charter, which became active after the war.[39] The United States, having developed the first nuclear weapons, used them on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August. Japan surrendered on September 2, ending the war.[40]

Cold War and protest politics

Martin Luther King, Jr. delivering his "I Have a Dream" speech, 1963

The United States and Soviet Union jockeyed for power after World War II during the Cold War, dominating the military affairs of Europe through NATO and the Warsaw Pact. The United States promoted liberal democracy and capitalism, while the Soviet Union promoted communism and a centrally planned economy. Both supported dictatorships and engaged in proxy wars. American troops fought Communist Chinese forces in the Korean War of 1950–53. The House Un-American Activities Committee pursued a series of investigations into suspected leftist subversion, while Senator Joseph McCarthy became the figurehead of anticommunist sentiment.

The 1961 Soviet launch of the first manned spaceflight prompted President John F. Kennedy's call for the United States to be first to land "a man on the moon," achieved in 1969. Kennedy also faced a tense nuclear showdown with Soviet forces in Cuba. Meanwhile, the United States experienced sustained economic expansion. A growing civil rights movement, symbolized and led by African Americans such as Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., and James Bevel, used nonviolence to confront segregation and discrimination. Following Kennedy's assassination in 1963, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 were passed under President Lyndon B. Johnson. Johnson and his successor, Richard Nixon, expanded a proxy war in Southeast Asia into the unsuccessful Vietnam War. A widespread countercultural movement grew, fueled by opposition to the war, black nationalism, and the sexual revolution. Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and others led a new wave of feminism that sought political, social, and economic equality for women.

As a result of the Watergate scandal, in 1974 Nixon became the first U.S. president to resign, to avoid being impeached on charges including obstruction of justice and abuse of power; he was succeeded by Vice President Gerald Ford. The Jimmy Carter administration of the late 1970s was marked by stagflation and the Iran hostage crisis. The election of Ronald Reagan as president in 1980 heralded a rightward shift in American politics, reflected in major changes in taxation and spending priorities. His second term in office brought both the Iran-Contra scandal and significant diplomatic progress with the Soviet Union. The subsequent Soviet collapse ended the Cold War.

Contemporary era

The World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001

Under President George H. W. Bush, the United States took a lead role in the UN–sanctioned Gulf War. The longest economic expansion in modern U.S. history—from March 1991 to March 2001—encompassed the Bill Clinton administration and the dot-com bubble.[41] A civil lawsuit and sex scandal led to Clinton's impeachment in 1998, but he remained in office. The 2000 presidential election, one of the closest in American history, was resolved by a U.S. Supreme Court decisionGeorge W. Bush, son of George H. W. Bush, became president.

On September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda terrorists struck the World Trade Center in New York City and The Pentagon near Washington, D.C., killing nearly three thousand people. In response, the Bush administration launched a "War on Terrorism". In late 2001, U.S. forces led an invasion of Afghanistan, removing the Taliban government and al-Qaeda training camps. Taliban insurgents continue to fight a guerrilla war. In 2002, the Bush administration began to press for regime change in Iraq on controversial grounds.[42] Lacking the support of NATO or an explicit UN mandate for military intervention, Bush organized a Coalition of the Willing; coalition forces preemptively invaded Iraq in 2003, removing dictator Saddam Hussein. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina caused severe destruction along much of the Gulf Coast, devastating New Orleans. On November 4, 2008, amid a global economic recession, Barack Obama was elected president. He is the first African American to hold the office.

Government and elections

The west front of the United States Capitol, which houses the United States Congress

The United States is the world's oldest surviving federation. It is a constitutional republic and representative democracy, "in which majority rule is tempered by minority rights protected by law."[43] The government is regulated by a system of checks and balances defined by the U.S. Constitution, which serves as the country's supreme legal document. In the American federalist system, citizens are usually subject to three levels of government, federal, state, and local; the local government's duties are commonly split between county and municipal governments. In almost all cases, executive and legislative officials are elected by a plurality vote of citizens by district. There is no proportional representation at the federal level, and it is very rare at lower levels.

The south façade of the White House, home and workplace of the U.S. president

The federal government is composed of three branches:

The House of Representatives has 435 voting members, each representing a congressional district for a two-year term. House seats are apportioned among the states by population every tenth year. As of the 2000 census, seven states have the minimum of one representative, while California, the most populous state, has fifty-three. The Senate has 100 members with each state having two senators, elected at-large to six-year terms; one third of Senate seats are up for election every other year. The president serves a four-year term and may be elected to the office no more than twice. The president is not elected by direct vote, but by an indirect electoral college system in which the determining votes are apportioned by state. The Supreme Court, led by the Chief Justice of the United States, has nine members, who serve for life.

The state governments are structured in roughly similar fashion; Nebraska uniquely has a unicameral legislature. The governor (chief executive) of each state is directly elected. Some state judges and cabinet officers are appointed by the governors of the respective states, while others are elected by popular vote.

All laws and governmental procedures are subject to judicial review, and any law ruled in violation of the Constitution is voided. The original text of the Constitution establishes the structure and responsibilities of the federal government and its relationship with the individual states. Article One protects the right to the "great writ" of habeas corpus, and Article Three guarantees the right to a jury trial in all criminal cases. Amendments to the Constitution require the approval of three-fourths of the states. The Constitution has been amended twenty-seven times; the first ten amendments, which make up the Bill of Rights, and the Fourteenth Amendment form the central basis of Americans' individual rights.

Parties, ideology, and politics

Barack Obama taking the presidential oath of office from U.S. Chief Justice John G. Roberts, January 20, 2009

The United States has operated under a two-party system for most of its history. For elective offices at all levels, state-administered primary elections choose the major party nominees for subsequent general elections. Since the general election of 1856, the major parties have been the Democratic Party, founded in 1824, and the Republican Party, founded in 1854. Since the Civil War, only one third-party presidential candidate—former president Theodore Roosevelt, running as a Progressive in 1912—has won as much as 20% of the popular vote.

Within American political culture, the Republican Party is considered center-right or "conservative" and the Democratic Party is considered center-left or "liberal". The states of the Northeast and West Coast and some of the Great Lakes states, known as "blue states", are relatively liberal. The "red states" of the South and parts of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains are relatively conservative.

The winner of the 2008 presidential election, Democrat Barack Obama, is the 44th U.S. president. All previous presidents were men of solely European descent. The 2008 elections also saw the Democratic Party strengthen its control of both the House and the Senate. In the 111th United States Congress, the Senate comprises 57 Democrats, two independents who caucus with the Democrats, and 41 Republicans; the House comprises 255 Democrats and 178 Republicans (two seats are vacant). There are 26 Democratic and 24 Republican state governors.

Political divisions

The United States is a federal union of fifty states. The original thirteen states were the successors of the thirteen colonies that rebelled against British rule. Early in the country's history, three new states were organized on territory separated from the claims of the existing states: Kentucky from Virginia; Tennessee from North Carolina; and Maine from Massachusetts. Most of the other states have been carved from territories obtained through war or purchase by the U.S. government. One set of exceptions comprises Vermont, Texas, and Hawaii: each was an independent republic before joining the union. During the American Civil War, West Virginia broke away from Virginia. The most recent state—Hawaii—achieved statehood on August 21, 1959. The states do not have the right to secede from the union.

The states compose the vast bulk of the U.S. land mass; the two other areas considered integral parts of the country are the District of Columbia, the federal district where the capital, Washington, is located; and Palmyra Atoll, an uninhabited but incorporated territory in the Pacific Ocean. The United States also possesses five major overseas territories: Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands in the Caribbean; and American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands in the Pacific. Those born in the territories (except for American Samoa) possess U.S. citizenship. American citizens residing in the territories have many of the same rights and responsibilities as citizens residing in the states; however, they are generally exempt from federal income tax, may not vote for president, and have only nonvoting representation in the U.S. Congress.[44]

Alabama Alaska Arizona Arkansas California Colorado Connecticut Delaware Florida Georgia Hawaii Idaho Illinois Indiana Iowa Kansas Kentucky Louisiana Maine Maryland Massachusetts Michigan Minnesota Mississippi Missouri Montana Nebraska Nevada New Hampshire New Jersey New Mexico New York North Carolina North Dakota Ohio Oklahoma Oregon Pennsylvania Rhode Island South Carolina South Dakota Tennessee Texas Utah Vermont Virginia Washington West Virginia Wisconsin Wyoming Delaware Maryland New Hampshire New Jersey Massachusetts Connecticut West Virginia Vermont Rhode Island Map of USA with state names 2.svg
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Foreign relations and military

Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the United Kingdom and President Obama

The United States exercises global economic, political, and military influence. It is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and New York City hosts the United Nations Headquarters. Almost all countries have embassies in Washington, D.C., and many have consulates around the country. Likewise, nearly all nations host American diplomatic missions. However, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Bhutan, Sudan, and the Republic of China (Taiwan) do not have formal diplomatic relations with the United States.

The United States enjoys strong ties with the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, and Israel. It works closely with fellow NATO members on military and security issues and with its neighbors through the Organization of American States and free trade agreements such as the trilateral North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. In 2008, the United States spent a net $25.4 billion on official development assistance, the most in the world. As a share of gross national income (GNI), however, the U.S. contribution of 0.18% ranked last among twenty-two donor states. In contrast, private overseas giving by Americans is relatively generous.[45]

The president holds the title of commander-in-chief of the nation's armed forces and appoints its leaders, the secretary of defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The United States Department of Defense administers the armed forces, including the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force. The Coast Guard is run by the Department of Homeland Security in peacetime and the Department of the Navy in time of war. In 2008, the armed forces had 1.4 million personnel on active duty. The Reserves and National Guard brought the total number of troops to 2.3 million. The Department of Defense also employed about 700,000 civilians, not including contractors.[46]

Military service is voluntary, though conscription may occur in wartime through the Selective Service System. American forces can be rapidly deployed by the Air Force's large fleet of transport aircraft, the Navy's eleven active aircraft carriers, and Marine Expeditionary Units at sea with the Navy's Atlantic and Pacific fleets. Outside of the United States, the military operates 865 bases and facilities,[47] with personnel deployed to more than 150 countries.[48] The extent of this global military presence has prompted some scholars to describe the United States as maintaining an "empire of bases."[49]

Total U.S. military spending in 2008, more than $600 billion, was over 41% of global military spending and greater than the next fourteen largest national military expenditures combined. The per capita spending of $1,967 was about nine times the world average; at 4% of GDP, the rate was the second-highest among the top fifteen military spenders, after Saudi Arabia.[50] The proposed base Department of Defense budget for 2010, $533.8 billion, is a 4% increase over 2009 and 80% higher than in 2001; an additional $130 billion is proposed for the military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.[51] In September 2009 there were about 62,000 U.S. troops deployed to Afghanistan, and as of February 2010 there were 98,000 U.S. troops deployed to Iraq.[52][53] As of October 9, 2009, the United States had suffered 4,349 military fatalities during the Iraq War,[54] and 869 during the War in Afghanistan.[55]

Economy

Economic indicators
Unemployment 9.7% (January 2010) [56]
GDP growth 5.9% (4Q 2009) [-2.4%(2009)] [57]
CPI inflation 2.6% (January 2009 – January 2010) [58]
Public debt $12.303 trillion (January 5, 2010) [59]
Poverty 13.2% (2008) [60]
Household net worth $54.2 trillion (4Q 2009) [1.3% 2009] [61]

The United States has a capitalist mixed economy, which is fueled by abundant natural resources, a well-developed infrastructure, and high productivity.[62] According to the International Monetary Fund, the U.S. GDP of $14.4 trillion constitutes 24% of the gross world product at market exchange rates and almost 21% of the gross world product at purchasing power parity (PPP).[4] The largest national GDP in the world, it was about 5% less than the combined GDP of the European Union at PPP in 2008. The country ranks seventeenth in the world in nominal GDP per capita and sixth in GDP per capita at PPP.[4]

The United States is the largest importer of goods and third largest exporter, though exports per capita are relatively low. In 2008, the total U.S. trade deficit was $696 billion.[63] Canada, China, Mexico, Japan, and Germany are its top trading partners.[64] In 2007, vehicles constituted both the leading import and leading export commodity.[65] China is the largest foreign holder of U.S. public debt.[66] After an expansion that lasted just over six years, the U.S. economy has been in recession since December 2007.[67] The United States ranks second in the Global Competitiveness Report.[68]

In 2009, the private sector is estimated to constitute 55.3% of the economy, with federal government activity accounting for 24.1% and state and local government activity (including federal transfers) the remaining 20.6%.[69] The economy is postindustrial, with the service sector contributing 67.8% of GDP, though the United States remains an industrial power.[70] The leading business field by gross business receipts is wholesale and retail trade; by net income it is manufacturing.[71] Chemical products are the leading manufacturing field.[72] The United States is the third largest producer of oil in the world, as well as its largest importer.[73] It is the world's number one producer of electrical and nuclear energy, as well as liquid natural gas, sulfur, phosphates, and salt. While agriculture accounts for just under 1% of GDP,[70] the United States is the world's top producer of corn[74] and soybeans.[75] The New York Stock Exchange is the world's largest by dollar volume.[76] Coca-Cola and McDonald's are the two most recognized brands in the world.[77]

In the third quarter of 2009, the American labor force comprised 154.4 million people. Of those employed, 81% had jobs in the service sector. With 22.4 million people, government is the leading field of employment.[78] About 12% of workers are unionized, compared to 30% in Western Europe.[79] The World Bank ranks the United States first in the ease of hiring and firing workers.[80] Between 1973 and 2003, a year's work for the average American grew by 199 hours.[81] Partly as a result, the United States maintains the highest labor productivity in the world. In 2008, it also led the world in productivity per hour, overtaking Norway, France, Belgium and Luxembourg, which had surpassed the United States for most of the preceding decade.[82] Compared to Europe, U.S. property and corporate income tax rates are generally higher, while labor and, particularly, consumption tax rates are lower.[83]

Income and human development

Inflation adjusted percentage increase in after-tax household income for the top 1% and four quintiles, between 1979 and 2005 (gains by top 1% are reflected by bottom bar; bottom quintile by top bar)[84]

According to the United States Census Bureau, the pretax median household income in 2007 was $50,233. The median ranged from $68,080 in Maryland to $36,338 in Mississippi.[60] Using purchasing power parity exchange rates, the overall median is similar to the most affluent cluster of developed nations. After declining sharply during the middle of the 20th century, poverty rates have plateaued since the early 1970s, with 11–15% of Americans below the poverty line every year, and 58.5% spending at least one year in poverty between the ages of 25 and 75.[85][86] In 2007, 37.3 million Americans lived in poverty.[60]

The U.S. welfare state is now among the most austere in the developed world, reducing both relative poverty and absolute poverty by considerably less than the mean for rich nations.[87][88] While the American welfare state does well in reducing poverty among the elderly,[89] the young receive relatively little assistance.[90] A 2007 UNICEF study of children's well-being in twenty-one industrialized nations ranked the United States next to last.[91]

Despite strong increases in productivity, low unemployment, and low inflation, income gains since 1980 have been slower than in previous decades, less widely shared, and accompanied by increased economic insecurity. Between 1947 and 1979, real median income rose by over 80% for all classes, with the incomes of poor Americans rising faster than those of the rich.[92][93] Median household income has increased for all classes since 1980,[94] largely owing to more dual-earner households, the closing of the gender gap, and longer work hours, but growth has been slower and strongly tilted toward the very top (see graph).[87][92][95] Consequently, the share of income of the top 1%—21.8% of total reported income in 2005—has more than doubled since 1980,[96] leaving the United States with the greatest income inequality among developed nations.[87][97] The top 1% pays 27.6% of all federal taxes; the top 10% pays 54.7%.[98] Wealth, like income, is highly concentrated: The richest 10% of the adult population possesses 69.8% of the country's household wealth, the second-highest share among developed nations.[99] The top 1% possesses 33.4% of net wealth.[100]

Science and technology

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin during the first human landing on the Moon, 1969

The United States has been a leader in scientific research and technological innovation since the late 19th century. In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell was awarded the first U.S. patent for the telephone. Thomas Edison's laboratory developed the phonograph, the first long-lasting light bulb, and the first viable movie camera. Nikola Tesla pioneered alternating current, the AC motor, and radio. In the early 20th century, the automobile companies of Ransom E. Olds and Henry Ford promoted the assembly line. The Wright brothers, in 1903, made the first sustained and controlled heavier-than-air powered flight.[101]

The rise of Nazism in the 1930s led many European scientists, including Albert Einstein and Enrico Fermi, to immigrate to the United States. During World War II, the Manhattan Project developed nuclear weapons, ushering in the Atomic Age. The Space Race produced rapid advances in rocketry, materials science, and computers. The United States largely developed the ARPANET and its successor, the Internet. Today, the bulk of research and development funding, 64%, comes from the private sector.[102] The United States leads the world in scientific research papers and impact factor.[103] Americans possess high levels of technological consumer goods,[104] and almost half of U.S. households have broadband Internet access.[105] The country is the primary developer and grower of genetically modified food; more than half of the world's land planted with biotech crops is in the United States.[106]

Transportation

The Interstate Highway System, which extends 46,876 miles (75,440 km)[107]

Everyday personal transportation in America is dominated by the automobile. As of 2003, there were 759 automobiles per 1,000 Americans, compared to 472 per 1,000 inhabitants of the European Union the following year.[108] About 40% of personal vehicles are vans, SUVs, or light trucks.[109] The average American adult (accounting for all drivers and nondrivers) spends 55 minutes driving every day, traveling 29 miles (47 km).[110]

The civil airline industry is entirely privately owned, while most major airports are publicly owned. The four largest airlines in the world by passengers carried are American; Southwest Airlines is number one.[111] Of the world's thirty busiest passenger airports, sixteen are in the United States. It is also home to the busiest airport in the world, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.[112] While transport of goods by rail is extensive, relatively few people use rail to travel, within or between cities.[113] Mass transit accounts for 9% of total U.S. work trips, compared to 38.8% in Europe.[114] Bicycle usage is minimal, well below European levels.[115]

Energy

A coal mine in Wyoming. The United States has 27% of global coal reserves.[116]

The United States energy market is 29,000 terawatt hours per year. Energy consumption per capita is 7.8 tons of oil equivalent per year, compared to Germany's 4.2 tons and Canada's 8.3 tons. In 2005, 40% of this energy came from petroleum, 23% from coal, and 22% from natural gas. The remainder was supplied by nuclear power and renewable energy sources.[117] The United States is the world's largest consumer of petroleum.[118] For decades, nuclear power has played a limited role relative to many other developed countries, in part due to public perception in the wake of the 1979 Three Mile Island accident. In 2007, several applications for new nuclear plants were filed.[119]

Demographics

Largest ancestry groups by county, 2000

The United States population is projected by the U.S. Census Bureau to be 308,884,000,[2] including an estimated 11.2 million illegal immigrants.[120] The United States is the third most populous nation in the world, after China and India. Its population growth rate is 0.98%,[1] compared to the European Union's 0.11%.[121] The birth rate of 13.82 per 1,000, 30% below the world average, is higher than any European country's except Albania and Ireland.[122] In fiscal year 2008, 1.1 million immigrants were granted legal residence.[123] Mexico has been the leading source of new residents for over two decades; since 1998, China, India, and the Philippines have been in the top four sending countries every year.[124] The United States is the only industrialized nation in which large population increases are projected.[125]

The United States has a very diverse population—thirty-one ancestry groups have more than a million members.[126] White Americans are the largest racial group; German Americans, Irish Americans, and English Americans constitute three of the country's four largest ancestry groups.[126] African Americans are the nation's largest racial minority and third largest ancestry group.[126][127] Asian Americans are the country's second largest racial minority; the two largest Asian American ethnic groups are Chinese American and Filipino American.[126] In 2008, the U.S. population included an estimated 4.9 million people with some American Indian or Alaskan native ancestry (3.1 million exclusively of such ancestry) and 1.1 million with some native Hawaiian or Pacific island ancestry (0.6 million exclusively).[127]

Race/Ethnicity (2008)[127]
White 79.8%
African American 12.8%
Asian American 4.5%
Native American and Alaska Native 1.0%
Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander 0.2%
Multiracial 1.7%
Hispanic (of any race) 15.4%

The population growth of Hispanic and Latino Americans (the terms are officially interchangeable) is a major demographic trend. The 46.9 million Americans of Hispanic descent[127] are identified as sharing a distinct "ethnicity" by the Census Bureau; 64% of Hispanic Americans are of Mexican descent.[128] Between 2000 and 2008, the country's Hispanic population increased 32% while the non-Hispanic population rose just 4.3%.[127] Much of this growth is from immigration; as of 2007, 12.6% of the U.S. population was foreign-born, with 54% of that figure born in Latin America.[129] Fertility is also a factor; the average Hispanic woman gives birth to three children in her lifetime. The comparable fertility rate is 2.2 for non-Hispanic black women and 1.8 for non-Hispanic white women (below the replacement rate of 2.1).[125] Minorities (as defined by the Census Bureau, all those beside non-Hispanic, non-multiracial whites) constitute 34% of the population; they are projected to be the majority by 2042.[130]

About 82% of Americans live in urban areas (as defined by the Census Bureau, such areas include the suburbs);[1] about half of those reside in cities with populations over 50,000.[131] In 2008, 273 incorporated places had populations over 100,000, nine cities had more than 1 million residents, and four global cities had over 2 million (New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston).[132] There are fifty-two metropolitan areas with populations greater than 1 million.[133] Of the fifty fastest-growing metro areas, forty-seven are in the West or South.[134] The metro areas of Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, and Phoenix all grew by more than a million people between 2000 and 2008.[133]

Leading population centers
Rank Core city Metro area pop.[133] Metropolitan Statistical Area Region[135]
New York City
New York City

Los Angeles
Los Angeles
1 New York 19,006,798 New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA MSA Northeast
2 Los Angeles 12,872,808 Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA MSA West
3 Chicago 9,569,624 Chicago-Naperville-Joliet, IL-IN-WI MSA Midwest
4 Dallas 6,300,006 Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX MSA South
5 Philadelphia 5,838,471 Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD MSA Northeast
6 Houston 5,728,143 Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX MSA South
7 Miami 5,414,772 Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL MSA South
8 Atlanta 5,376,285 Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA MSA South
9 Washington, D.C. 5,358,130 Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV MSA South
10 Boston 4,522,858 Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA-NH MSA Northeast
based on 2008 U.S. Census Bureau estimates


Language

Languages (2006)[136]
English (only) 224.2 million
Spanish, incl. Creole 34.0 million
Chinese 2.5 million
French, incl. Creole 2.0 million
Tagalog 1.4 million
Vietnamese 1.2 million
German 1.1 million
Korean 1.1 million

English is the de facto national language. Although there is no official language at the federal level, some laws—such as U.S. naturalization requirements—standardize English. In 2006, about 224 million, or 80% of the population aged five years and older, spoke only English at home. Spanish, spoken by 12% of the population at home, is the second most common language and the most widely taught second language.[136][137] Some Americans advocate making English the country's official language, as it is in at least twenty-eight states.[6] Both Hawaiian and English are official languages in Hawaii by state law.[138] While neither has an official language, New Mexico has laws providing for the use of both English and Spanish, as Louisiana does for English and French.[139] Other states, such as California, mandate the publication of Spanish versions of certain government documents including court forms.[140] Several insular territories grant official recognition to their native languages, along with English: Samoan and Chamorro are recognized by American Samoa and Guam, respectively; Carolinian and Chamorro are recognized by the Northern Mariana Islands; Spanish is an official language of Puerto Rico.

Religion

A Presbyterian church; most Americans identify as Christian.

The United States is officially a secular nation; the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion and forbids the establishment of any religious governance. In a 2002 study, 59% of Americans said that religion played a "very important role in their lives," a far higher figure than that of any other wealthy nation.[141] According to a 2007 survey, 78.4% of adults identified themselves as Christian,[142] down from 86.4% in 1990.[143] Protestant denominations accounted for 51.3%, while Roman Catholicism, at 23.9%, was the largest individual denomination. The study categorizes white evangelicals, 26.3% of the population, as the country's largest religious cohort;[142] another study estimates evangelicals of all races at 30–35%.[144] The total reporting non-Christian religions in 2007 was 4.7%, up from 3.3% in 1990.[143] The leading non-Christian faiths were Judaism (1.7%), Buddhism (0.7%), Islam (0.6%), Hinduism (0.4%), and Unitarian Universalism (0.3%).[142] From 8.2% in 1990,[143] 16.1% in 2007 described themselves as agnostic, atheist, or simply having no religion.[142]

Education

Some 80% of U.S. college students attend public universities such as the University of Virginia, a World Heritage Site founded by Thomas Jefferson.[145]

American public education is operated by state and local governments, regulated by the United States Department of Education through restrictions on federal grants. Children are required in most states to attend school from the age of six or seven (generally, kindergarten or first grade) until they turn eighteen (generally bringing them through twelfth grade, the end of high school); some states allow students to leave school at sixteen or seventeen.[146] About 12% of children are enrolled in parochial or nonsectarian private schools. Just over 2% of children are homeschooled.[147] The United States has many competitive private and public institutions of higher education, as well as local community colleges with open admission policies. Of Americans twenty-five and older, 84.6% graduated from high school, 52.6% attended some college, 27.2% earned a bachelor's degree, and 9.6% earned graduate degrees.[148] The basic literacy rate is approximately 99%.[1][149] The United Nations assigns the United States an Education Index of 0.97, tying it for 12th in the world.[150]

Health

The United States life expectancy of 77.8 years at birth[151] is a year shorter than the overall figure in Western Europe, and three to four years lower than that of Norway, Switzerland, and Canada.[152] Over the past two decades, the country's rank in life expectancy has dropped from 11th to 42nd in the world.[153] The infant mortality rate of 6.37 per thousand likewise places the United States 42nd out of 221 countries, behind all of Western Europe.[154] U.S. cancer survival rates are the highest in the world.[155] Approximately one-third of the adult population is obese and an additional third is overweight;[156] the obesity rate, the highest in the industrialized world, has more than doubled in the last quarter-century.[157] Obesity-related type 2 diabetes is considered epidemic by health care professionals.[158] The U.S. adolescent pregnancy rate, 79.8 per 1,000 women, is nearly four times that of France and five times that of Germany.[159] Abortion, legal on demand, is highly controversial. Many states ban public funding of the procedure and restrict late-term abortions, require parental notification for minors, and mandate a waiting period. While the abortion rate is falling, the abortion ratio of 241 per 1,000 live births and abortion rate of 15 per 1,000 women aged 15–44 remain higher than those of most Western nations.[160]

The Texas Medical Center in Houston, the world's largest medical center[161]

The U.S. health care system far outspends any other nation's, measured in both per capita spending and percentage of GDP.[162] The World Health Organization ranked the U.S. health care system in 2000 as first in responsiveness, but 37th in overall performance. The United States is a leader in medical innovation. In 2004, the nonindustrial sector spent three times as much as Europe per capita on biomedical research.[163]

Unlike in all other developed countries, health care coverage in the United States is not universal. In 2004, private insurance paid for 36% of personal health expenditures, private out-of-pocket payments covered 15%, and federal, state, and local governments paid for 44%.[164] In 2005, 46.6 million Americans, 15.9% of the population, were uninsured, 5.4 million more than in 2001. The main cause of this rise is the drop in the number of Americans with employer-sponsored health insurance.[165] The subject of uninsured and underinsured Americans is a major political issue.[166] A 2009 study estimated that lack of insurance is associated with nearly 45,000 deaths a year.[167] In 2006, Massachusetts became the first state to mandate universal health insurance.[168]

Crime and law enforcement

Homicide rate by country 2.svg

Law enforcement in the United States is primarily the responsibility of local police and sheriff's departments, with state police providing broader services. Federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the U.S. Marshals Service have specialized duties. At the federal level and in almost every state, jurisprudence operates on a common law system. State courts conduct most criminal trials; federal courts handle certain designated crimes as well as certain appeals from the state systems.

Among developed nations, the United States has above-average levels of violent crime and particularly high levels of gun violence and homicide.[169] In 2007, there were 5.6 murders per 100,000 persons,[170] three times the rate in neighboring Canada.[171] The U.S. homicide rate, which decreased by 42% between 1991 and 1999, has been roughly steady since.[170] Gun ownership rights are the subject of contentious political debate.

The United States has the highest documented incarceration rate[172] and total prison population[173] in the world. At the start of 2008, more than 2.3 million people were incarcerated, more than one in every 100 adults.[174] The current rate is about seven times the 1980 figure.[175] African American males are jailed at about six times the rate of white males and three times the rate of Hispanic males.[172] In 2006, the U.S. incarceration rate was over three times the figure in Poland, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) country with the next highest rate.[176] The country's high rate of incarceration is largely due to sentencing and drug policies.[172][177]

Though it has been abolished in most Western nations, capital punishment is sanctioned in the United States for certain federal and military crimes, and in thirty-six states. Since 1976, when the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty after a four-year moratorium, there have been more than 1,000 executions.[178] In 2006, the country had the sixth highest number of executions in the world, following China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, and Sudan.[179] In 2007, New Jersey became the first state to legislatively abolish the death penalty since the 1976 Supreme Court decision, followed by New Mexico in 2009.

Culture

American cultural icons: apple pie, baseball, and the American flag

The United States is a multicultural nation, home to a wide variety of ethnic groups, traditions, and values.[7][180] Aside from the now small Native American and Native Hawaiian populations, nearly all Americans or their ancestors immigrated within the past five centuries.[181] The culture held in common by most Americans—mainstream American culture—is a Western culture largely derived from the traditions of European immigrants with influences from many other sources, such as traditions brought by slaves from Africa.[7][182] More recent immigration from Asia and especially Latin America has added to a cultural mix that has been described as both a homogenizing melting pot and a heterogeneous salad bowl in which immigrants and their descendants retain distinctive cultural characteristics.[7]

According to Geert Hofstede's cultural dimensions analysis, the United States has the highest individualism score of any country studied.[183] While the mainstream culture holds that the United States is a classless society,[184] scholars identify significant differences between the country's social classes, affecting socialization, language, and values.[185] The American middle and professional class has initiated many contemporary social trends such as modern feminism, environmentalism, and multiculturalism.[186] Americans' self-images, social viewpoints, and cultural expectations are associated with their occupations to an unusually close degree.[187] While Americans tend greatly to value socioeconomic achievement, being ordinary or average is generally seen as a positive attribute.[188] Though the American Dream, or the perception that Americans enjoy high social mobility, plays a key role in attracting immigrants, some analysts find that the United States has less social mobility than Western Europe and Canada.[189]

Women now mostly work outside the home and receive a majority of bachelor's degrees.[190] In 2007, 58% of Americans age 18 and over were married, 6% were widowed, 10% were divorced, and 25% had never been married.[191] Same-sex marriage is contentious. Some states permit civil unions in lieu of marriage. Since 2003, several states have permitted gay marriage as the result of judicial or legislative action, while voters in more than a dozen states have barred the practice via referendum.

Popular media

The world's first commercial motion picture exhibition was given in New York City in 1894, using Thomas Edison's Kinetoscope. The next year saw the first commercial screening of a projected film, also in New York, and the United States was in the forefront of sound film's development in the following decades. Since the early 20th century, the U.S. film industry has largely been based in and around Hollywood, California. Director D. W. Griffith was central to the development of film grammar and Orson Welles's Citizen Kane (1941) is frequently cited as the greatest film of all time.[192] American screen actors like John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe have become iconic figures, while producer/entrepreneur Walt Disney was a leader in both animated film and movie merchandising. The major film studios of Hollywood have produced the most commercially successful movies in history, such as Star Wars (1977) and Titanic (1997), and the products of Hollywood today dominate the global film industry.[193]

Americans are the heaviest television viewers in the world,[194] and the average viewing time continues to rise, reaching five hours a day in 2006.[195] The four major broadcast networks are all commercial entities. Americans listen to radio programming, also largely commercialized, on average just over two-and-a-half hours a day.[196] Aside from web portals and web search engines, the most popular websites are Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, Wikipedia, Craigslist, and eBay.[197]

The rhythmic and lyrical styles of African American music have deeply influenced American music at large, distinguishing it from European traditions. Elements from folk idioms such as the blues and what is now known as old-time music were adopted and transformed into popular genres with global audiences. Jazz was developed by innovators such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington early in the 20th century. Country music developed in the 1920s, and rhythm and blues in the 1940s. Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry were among the mid-1950s pioneers of rock and roll. In the 1960s, Bob Dylan emerged from the folk revival to become one of America's most celebrated songwriters and James Brown led the development of funk. More recent American creations include hip hop and house music. American pop stars such as Presley, Michael Jackson, and Madonna have become global celebrities.[198]

Literature, philosophy, and the arts

Writer Jack Kerouac, one of the best-known figures of the Beat Generation

In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, American art and literature took most of its cues from Europe. Writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, and Henry David Thoreau established a distinctive American literary voice by the middle of the 19th century. Mark Twain and poet Walt Whitman were major figures in the century's second half; Emily Dickinson, virtually unknown during her lifetime, is now recognized as an essential American poet.[199] A work seen as capturing fundamental aspects of the national experience and character—such as Herman Melville's Moby-Dick (1851), Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), and F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (1925)—may be dubbed the "Great American Novel."

Eleven U.S. citizens have won the Nobel Prize in Literature, most recently Toni Morrison in 1993. Ernest Hemingway, the 1954 Nobel laureate, is often named as one of the most influential writers of the 20th century.[200] Popular literary genres such as the Western and hardboiled crime fiction developed in the United States. The Beat Generation writers opened up new literary approaches, as have postmodernist authors such as John Barth, Thomas Pynchon, and Don DeLillo.

The transcendentalists, led by Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, established the first major American philosophical movement. After the Civil War, Charles Sanders Peirce and then William James and John Dewey were leaders in the development of pragmatism. In the 20th century, the work of W. V. O. Quine and Richard Rorty brought analytic philosophy to the fore of U.S. academics. John Rawls and Robert Nozick led a revival of political philosophy.

In the visual arts, the Hudson River School was a mid-19th-century movement in the tradition of European naturalism. The 1913 Armory Show in New York City, an exhibition of European modernist art, shocked the public and transformed the U.S. art scene.[201] Georgia O'Keeffe, Marsden Hartley, and others experimented with new styles, displaying a highly individualistic sensibility. Major artistic movements such as the abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning and the pop art of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein developed largely in the United States. The tide of modernism and then postmodernism has brought fame to American architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Philip Johnson, and Frank Gehry.

One of the first major promoters of American theater was impresario P. T. Barnum, who began operating a lower Manhattan entertainment complex in 1841. The team of Harrigan and Hart produced a series of popular musical comedies in New York starting in the late 1870s. In the 20th century, the modern musical form emerged on Broadway; the songs of musical theater composers such as Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, and Stephen Sondheim have become pop standards. Playwright Eugene O'Neill won the Nobel literature prize in 1936; other acclaimed U.S. dramatists include multiple Pulitzer Prize winners Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, and August Wilson.

Though largely overlooked at the time, Charles Ives's work of the 1910s established him as the first major U.S. composer in the classical tradition; other experimentalists such as Henry Cowell and John Cage created an American approach to classical composition. Aaron Copland and George Gershwin developed a unique synthesis of popular and classical music. Choreographers Isadora Duncan and Martha Graham helped create modern dance, while George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins were leaders in 20th century ballet. Americans have long been important in the modern artistic medium of photography, with major photographers including Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, and Ansel Adams. The newspaper comic strip and the comic book are both U.S. innovations. Superman, the quintessential comic book superhero, has become an American icon.[202]

Food

A strip mall, with restaurants featuring Italian-, American-, and Chinese/Japanese-based cuisine

Mainstream American culinary arts are similar to those in other Western countries. Wheat is the primary cereal grain. Traditional American cuisine uses ingredients such as turkey, white-tailed deer venison, potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, squash, and maple syrup, indigenous foods employed by Native Americans and early European settlers. Slow-cooked pork and beef barbecue, crab cakes, potato chips, and chocolate chip cookies are distinctively American styles. Soul food, developed by African slaves, is popular around the South and among many African Americans elsewhere. Syncretic cuisines such as Louisiana creole, Cajun, and Tex-Mex are regionally important.

Characteristic dishes such as apple pie, fried chicken, pizza, hamburgers, and hot dogs derive from the recipes of various immigrants. French fries, Mexican dishes such as burritos and tacos, and pasta dishes freely adapted from Italian sources are widely consumed.[203] Americans generally prefer coffee to tea. Marketing by U.S. industries is largely responsible for making orange juice and milk ubiquitous breakfast beverages.[204] During the 1980s and 1990s, Americans' caloric intake rose 24%;[203] frequent dining at fast food outlets is associated with what health officials call the American "obesity epidemic." Highly sweetened soft drinks are widely popular; sugared beverages account for 9% of the average American's caloric intake.[205]

Sports

Since the late 19th century, baseball has been regarded as the national sport; American football, basketball, and ice hockey are the country's three other leading professional team sports. College football and basketball attract large audiences. Football is now by several measures the most popular spectator sport.[206] Boxing and horse racing were once the most watched individual sports, but they have been eclipsed by golf and auto racing, particularly NASCAR. Soccer is played widely at the youth and amateur levels. Tennis and many outdoor sports are popular as well.

While most major U.S. sports have evolved out of European practices, basketball, volleyball, skateboarding, snowboarding, and cheerleading are American inventions. Lacrosse and surfing arose from Native American and Native Hawaiian activities that predate Western contact. Eight Olympic Games have taken place in the United States. The United States has won 2,301 medals at the Summer Olympic Games, more than any other country,[207] and 253 in the Winter Olympic Games, the second most.[208]

See also

References

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  172. ^ a b c "New Incarceration Figures: Thirty-Three Consecutive Years of Growth". Sentencing Project. December 2006. http://www.sentencingproject.org/Admin/Documents/publications/inc_newfigures.pdf. Retrieved 2007-06-10. 
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  177. ^ "The Impact of the War on Drugs on U.S. Incarceration". Human Rights Watch. May 2000. http://www.hrw.org/reports/2000/usa/Rcedrg00-05.htm. Retrieved 2007-06-10. 
  178. ^ "Executions in the United States in 2007". Death Penalty Information Center. http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/executions-united-states-2007. Retrieved 2007-06-15. 
  179. ^ "Executions Around the World". Death Penalty Information Center. 2007. http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/death-penalty-international-perspective. Retrieved 2007-06-15. 
  180. ^ Thompson, William, and Joseph Hickey (2005). Society in Focus. Boston: Pearson. ISBN 0-205-41365-X.
  181. ^ Fiorina, Morris P., and Paul E. Peterson (2000). The New American Democracy. London: Longman, p. 97. ISBN 0-321-07058-5.
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  184. ^ Gutfield, Amon (2002). American Exceptionalism: The Effects of Plenty on the American Experience. Brighton and Portland: Sussex Academic Press. p. 65. ISBN 1903900085. 
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  188. ^ O'Keefe, Kevin (2005). The Average American. New York: PublicAffairs. ISBN 1-58648-270-X. ISBN 158648270X. 
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  190. ^ "Women's Advances in Education". Columbia University, Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy. 2006. http://www.iserp.columbia.edu/news/articles/female_college.html. Retrieved 2007-06-06. 
  191. ^ "Table 55—Marital Status of the Population by Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin: 1990 to 2007". Statistical Abstract of the United States 2009. U.S. Census Bureau. http://www.census.gov/prod/2008pubs/09statab/pop.pdf. Retrieved 2009-10-11. 
  192. ^ Village Voice: 100 Best Films of the 20th century (2001). Filmsite.org; Sight and Sound Top Ten Poll 2002. BFI. Retrieved on 2007-06-19.
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Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to United States article)

From Wikiquote

This article is for quotes about the United States of America, also known as the USA and the U.S.

Contents

By native Americans

  • "America - a conservative country without any conservative ideology-appears now before the world a naked and arbitrary power, as, in the name of realism, its men of decision enforce their often crackpot definitions upon world reality. The second-rate mind is in command of the ponderously spoken platitude. In the liberal rhetoric, vagueness, and in the conservative mood, irrationality, are raised to principle. Public relations and the official secret, the trivializing campaign and the terrible fact clumsily accomplished, are replacing the reasoned debate of political ideas in the privately incorporated economy, the military ascendancy, and the political vacuum of modern America.
  • "In the United States… a handful of corporations centralize decisions and responsibilities that are relevant for military and political as well as economic developments of global significance. For nowadays the military and the political cannot be separated from economic considerations of power. We now live not in an economic order or a political order, but in a political economy that is closely linked with military institutions and decisions. This is obvious in the repeated “oil crisis” in the Middle East, or in the relevance of Southeast Asia and African resources for the Western powers…"
  • The American elite does not have any real image of peace — other than as an uneasy interlude existing precariously by virtue of the balance of mutual fright. The only seriously accepted plan for peace is the full loaded pistol. In short, war or a high state of war-preparedness is felt to be the normal and seemingly permanent condition of the United States.
  • "Ours is the only country deliberately founded on a good idea."
    • John Gunther
  • "If you take advantage of everything America has to offer, there’s nothing you can’t accomplish."
    • Geraldine Ferraro
  • "Sometimes people call me an idealist. Well, that is the way I know I am an American. America is the only idealistic nation in the world. "
  • "This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave."
  • "When an American says that he loves his country, he means not only that he loves the New England hills, the prairies glistening in the sun, the wide and rising plains, the great mountains, and the sea. He means that he loves an inner air, an inner light in which freedom lives and in which a man can draw the breath of self-respect."
  • "Without Jefferson the new nation might have lost its soul. Without Hamilton it would assuredly have been killed in body.""
    • James Truslow Adams, Jeffersonian Principles and Hamiltonian Principles p. xvii. (1932)
  • "It’s pathetic. It really is pathetic. It’s sad. We’re living in the dark ages in America"
  • "Patriotism is easy to understand in America; it means looking out for yourself by looking out for your country."
  • "Our country! In her intercourse with foreign nations, may she always be in the right; but our country, right or wrong!"
    • Steven Decatur
  • "America, the country where the vast majority of the pathetically stupid, embarrassingly white, and disgustingly rich men live"
  • "Our citizenship in the United States is our national character. Our citizenship in any particular state is only our local distinction. By the latter we are known at home, by the former to the world. Our great title is AMERICANS…"
  • "We are now finally no better than a backwater banana republic"
  • "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands. One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
    • The Pledge Of Allegiance
  • "Sure I wave the American flag. Do you know a better flag to wave? Sure I love my country with all her faults. I'm not ashamed of that, never have been, never will be."
    • John Wayne
  • "I shall know but one country. The ends I aim at shall be my country’s, my God’s and Truth’s. I was born an American; I live an American; I shall die an American."
  • "Americanism means the virtues of courage, honor, justice, truth, sincerity, and hardihood -- the virtues that made America."
  • "There are two Americas. One is the America of Lincoln and Adlai Stevenson; the other is the America of Teddy Roosevelt and the modern superpatriots. One is generous and humane, the other narrowly egotistical; one is self-critical, the other self-righteous; one is sensible, the other romantic; one is good-humored, the other solemn; one is inquiring, the other pontificating; one is moderate, the other filled with passionate intensity; one is judicious and the other arrogant in the use of great power."
  • "We are now in a budding police state formerly known as the US of A"
  • "The character of our enemies testifies to America's greatness."
  • "We do not consider ourselves threatening. Puzzled when vilified, we assume our accusers must be demented."
  • "Other countries may boast of this and that, but nobody can touch the United States for poisonous snakes. We have about twenty species, most of them deadly, and Europe has only five or six, none of them much good. We have fifteen kinds of Rattlesnakes alone and nobody else has even one." [Footnote: "There is a specie and South America, but it probably came from here."]
  • "Blood that has soaked into the sands of a beach is all of one color. America stands unique in the world: the only country not founded on race but on a way, an ideal. Not in spite of but because of our polyglot background, we have had all the strength in the world. That is the American way."
    • Ronald Reagan on August 10, 1988, while signing the Bill Providing Restitution for the Wartime Internment of Japanese-American Civilians, quoting himself at the funeral of Kazuo Masuda in December 1945
  • "If you're a real American that is, an American Indian you're lucky to be alive. For whether he really believed it or not, the white man has acted on the principle that "The only good Indian is a dead one". This was certainly one of the foundation stones upon which the white European invaders of North America and their descendants established and built the republic of the U.S.A."
    • Stetson Kennedy , Jim Crow Guide: The Way it Was, Ch.1 - No Room For Redskins, 1955
  • "Most of the American laws defining race are not to be compared with those once enforced by Nazi Germany, the latter being relatively more liberal. In the view of the Nazis, persons having less than one fourth Jewish blood could qualify as Aryans, whereas many of the American laws specify that persons having one-eighth, one-sixteenth, or 44 any ascertainable" Negro blood are Negroes in the eyes of the law and subject to all restrictions governing the conduct of Negroes."
    • Stetson Kennedy , Jim Crow Guide: The Way it Was, Ch.4 - Who is Colored Where , 1955

By naturalized Americans

  • "Too many of us look upon Americans as dollar chasers. This is a cruel libel, even if it is reiterated thoughtlessly by the Americans themselves"
  • "I wasn't born in America, but I got here as fast as I could."
    • Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO, 2008 Think Tank interview
  • "Whoever is fortunate enough to be an American citizen came into the greatest inheritance man has ever enjoyed. He has had the benefit of every heroic and intellectual effort men have made for many thousands of years, realized at last. If Americans should now turn back, submit again to slavery, it would be a betrayal so base the human race might better perish."
  • "The trouble with these people is that their cities have never been bombed and their mothers have never been told to shut up."
  • "America is the land of the uncommon man. It is the land where man is free to develop his genius -- and to get its just rewards."

By non-Americans

  • The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic and a killer
  • Thus the American presents a strange picture: a European with Negro behaviour and an Indian soul
    • Carl Jung, Civilization in Transition, tr. R. F. C. Hull, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1964, p.46
  • We have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, language.
  • America has everything; why should they want us?
  • I found America the friendliest, most forgiving, and most generous nation I had ever visited. We South Americans tend to think of things in terms of convenience, whereas people in the United States approach things ethically. This — amateur Protestant that I am — I admired above all. It even helped me overlook skyscrapers, paper bags, television, plastics, and the unholy jungle of gadgets.
  • America is a mistake, admittedly a gigantic mistake, but a mistake nevertheless.
  • Every Muslim, from the moment they realize the distinction in their hearts, hates Americans, hates Jews and hates Christians. For as long as I can remember, I have felt tormented and at war, and have felt hatred and animosity for Americans.
    • Osama bin Laden As quoted in Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden (2005) by Bruce Lawrence ISBN 1844670457
  • "Our every action is a battle cry against imperialism, and a battle hymn for the people's unity against the great enemy of mankind: the United States of America"
  • "While envisaging the destruction of imperialism, it is necessary to identify its head, which is no other than the United States of America"
  • "I believe the United States is a truly monstrous force in the world"
  • "The United States is now a country against its own people and against the people of the world. It is anti-democratic"
  • "The United States of America is a threat to world peace"
  • "There is no doubt that the United States now feels that they are the only superpower in the world and they can do what they like"
  • "The U.S. is really beyond reason now. It is beyond our imagining to know what they are going to do next and what they are prepared to do. There is only one comparison: Nazi Germany"
  • "There is only one possible route of action, Greenhouse gases have to be radically reduced and it has to happen worldwide. Until now, the US has kept its eyes shut to this emergency. (Americans) make up a mere 4 percent of the population, but are responsible for close to a quarter of emissions."
  • "The gigantic North American State, with the enormous resources of its virgin soil, is much more invulnerable than the encircled German Reich. Should a day come when the die which will finally decide the destinies of the nations will have to be cast in that country, England would be doomed if she stood alone."
  • "God has a special providence for fools, drunks, and the United States of America."
  • "Americans of all ages, all stations of life, and all types of disposition are forever forming associations...In democratic countries knowledge of how to combine is the mother of all other forms of knowledge; on its progress depends that of all the others."
  • "The people reign in the American political world as the Deity does in the universe. They are the cause and the aim of all things; everything comes from them, and everything is absorbed in them."
    • Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America
  • "In the United States the sovereign authority is religious, and consequently hypocrisy must be common; but there is no country in the world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America; and there can be no greater proof of its utility and of its conformity to human nature than that its influence is powerfully felt over the most enlightened and free nation of the earth."
    • Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America
  • "I've got nothing against any individual American, except that there aren't any. They're always Irish-American, African-American - there's never an American-American you can blame!"
  • The American loses no opportunity to acquire wealth. Gain is the subject of all his conversations, and the motive for all his actions. Thus, there is perhaps no civilized nation in the world where there is less generosity in the sentiments, less elevation of soul and of mind, less of those pleasant and glittering illusions that constitute the charm or the consolation of life. Here, everything is weighed, calculated and sacrificed to self-interest.
    • Chevalier de Beaujour
  • In this country, more than any other, esteem is based on wealth. Talent is trampled underfoot. How much is this man worth? they ask. Not much? He is despised. One hundred thousand crowns? The knees flex, the incense burns, and the once-bankrupt merchant is revered like a god.
    • the Baron de Montlezun
  • They are escaped convicts. His Majesty is fortunate to be rid of such rabble. Their true God is power.
    • Oliver Sharpin, The American Rebels, 1804.
  • In the five centuries since Columbus discovered the New World, savagery has been part of American life. There has been the violence of conquest and resistance, the violence of racial difference, the violence of civil war, the violence of bandits and gangsters, the violence of lynch law, all set against the violence of the wilderness and the city.
    • Andrew Sinclair, the Sunday Times, 1967

See also

External links

Wikipedia
Wikipedia has an article about:

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to United States of America article)

From Wikitravel

North America : United States of America
noframe
Location
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Flag
Image:us-flag.png
Quick Facts
Capital Washington, D.C.
Government federal republic
Currency US dollar (USD)
Area 3,755,241 miles2 (9,631,418 km2)
Population 301,139,947 (July 2007 est.)
Language English, Spanish (spoken by a sizable minority), Hawaiian (in Hawaii), Creole (in Louisiana), various indigenous and other languages
Religion Christian 78% (Protestant 52%, Roman Catholic 24% Mormon 2%) other 10%, none 9%, Jewish 2%, Muslim 1% (2002)
Electricity 120V / 60Hz
Calling Code +1
Internet TLD .us, .edu, .gov, .mil (most sites use .com, .net, .org)
Time Zone UTC -4 to UTC -10

The United States of America[1] is a large country in North America, often referred to as the "USA," the "U.S.," the "United States," "America," or simply "the States". It has a land area of about 9.6 million sq km (about half the size of Russia and about the same size as China). It also boasts the world's third largest population after China and India, with over 300 million people. It includes both densely-populated cities with sprawling suburbs, and vast, uninhabited and naturally beautiful areas. With its history of mass immigration dating from the 17th century, it is a "melting pot" of cultures from around the world.

Understand

The United States is not the America of television and movies. It is large, complex, and diverse. Due to the distances involved, traveling between regions can be time-consuming and expensive.

Geography

The contiguous United States or "Lower 48" (the 48 states other than Alaska and Hawaii) are bounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, with much of the population living on these two coasts. Its only land borders are shared with Canada to the north, and Mexico to the south. The U.S. also shares maritime borders with Russia, Cuba, and the Bahamas.

The country has three major mountain ranges. The Appalachians extend from Canada to the state of Alabama, a few hundred miles west of the Atlantic Ocean. They are the oldest of the three mountain ranges and offer spectacular sightseeing and excellent camping spots. The Rockies are, on average, the highest in North America, extending from Alaska to New Mexico, with many areas protected as national parks. They offer hiking, camping, skiing, and sightseeing opportunities. The combined Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges are the youngest. The Sierras extend across the "backbone" of California, with sites such as Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park, then give way to the even younger volcanic Cascade range, with some of the highest points in the country.

The Great Lakes define much of the border between the United States and Canada. More inland seas than lakes, they were formed by the pressure of glaciers retreating north at the end of the last Ice Age. The five lakes span hundreds of miles, bordering the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, and their shores vary from pristine wilderness areas to industrial "rust belt" cities. They are the second-largest bodies of freshwater in the world, after the polar ice caps.

Climate

The overall climate is temperate, with notable exceptions. Alaska has Arctic tundra, while Hawaii and South Florida are tropical. The Great Plains are dry, flat and grassy, turning into arid desert in the far West and Mediterranean along the California coast.

In the winter, the northern and mid-western major cities can see as much as 2 feet (61 cm) of snow can fall in one day, with cold temperatures. Summers are humid, but mild. Temperatures over 100°F (38°C) sometimes invade the Midwest and Great Plains. Some areas in the northern plains can experience cold temperatures of -30°F (-34°C) during the winter. Temperatures below 0°F (-18°C) sometimes reach as far south as Oklahoma.

The climate of the South also varies. In the summer, it is hot and humid, but from October through April the weather can range from 60°F (15°C) to short cold spells of 20°F (-7°C) or so.

The Great Plains & Midwestern states also experience tornadoes from the late spring to early fall, earlier in the south and later in the north. States along the Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico, may experience hurricanes between June and November. These intense and dangerous storms frequently miss the the U.S. mainland, but evacuations are often ordered and should be heeded.

The Rockies are cold and snowy. Some parts of the Rockies see over 500 inches (1,200 cm) of snow in a season. Even during the summer, temperatures are cool in the mountains, and snow can fall nearly year-round. It is dangerous to go up in the mountains unprepared in the winter and the roads through them can get very icy.

The deserts of the Southwest are hot and dry during the summer, with temperatures often exceeding 100°F (38°C). Thunderstorms can be expected in the southwest frequently from July through September. Winters are mild, and snow is unusual. Average annual precipitation is low, usually less than 10 inches (25 cm).

Cool and damp weather is common in the northwest (the state of Washington and its vicinity). Rain is most frequent in winter, snow is rare, especially along the coast and extreme temperatures are uncommon. Rain falls almost exclusively from late fall through early spring along the coast.

Northeast cities are known for summers with temperatures reaching into the 90s or more, with extremely high humidity, usually 80%. This can be a drastic change from the Southwest. High humidity means that the temperature can feel hotter than actual readings. The Northeast also experiences snow, and at least once every few years there will be a dumping of the white stuff in enormous numbers.

The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas
The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas

America was once populated by people who are believed to have migrated from northeast Asia. In the United States their descendants are known by uncomfortable appellations such as Native Americans, or American Indians. While the Indians are often portrayed living a singular, usually primitive lifestyle, in fact, prior to European arrival, the continent was densely populated with sophisticated societies. The Cherokee, for example were part of the overarching Mississippian culture which built huge mounds and large towns that covered the landscape while the Anasazi built sophisticated cliff-side towns. The primitive existence depicted of Native Americans is generally the result of mass die-outs triggered by Old World diseases - in effect a post-apocalyptic people.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, parts of the region were colonized by European nations including Spain, France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Russia, and/or their religious missionaries. The British colonies in Virginia and Massachusetts were the kernel of what we now know as the United States of America. By the early 18th century, 13 colonies ranged along the Atlantic coast from Georgia to Maine. Their growth drove the Native American population westward, until the Native American population was decimated by European diseases such as smallpox.

The southern areas, because of a longer growing season, had richer agricultural prospects, especially for cotton and tobacco. As in Central and South America, African slaves were forced to cultivate large plantations. The northern colonies developed as mercantile societies modeled after the "home" country, Britain.

In the late 18th century, colonists declared independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776. They achieved their freedom in a War of Independence also known as the Revolutionary War. The colonies formed a federal government, with its Constitution inspired by Enlightenment-era ideas about individual liberty. In the late 18th and early 19th century, this government expanded westward to the Pacific Ocean.

The United States acquired territories in the Midwest as new states, and in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 acquired a former French territory along the Mississippi River. Florida was purchased in 1813 from the Spanish; American settlers in Texas rebelled against the Mexican government, setting up a republic that was absorbed into the union. The Mexican-American War of 1848 won the northern territories of Mexico, including such states as California, Arizona, and New Mexico, giving the continental US the rough outlines it has today. The Native Americans were concentrated in the west by treaty, military force, and by the inadvertent spread of European diseases.

In mid-1800s, many Americans were calling for the abolition of slavery. The industrializing North didn't need slaves anyway, and favored national abolition. Southern states, on the other hand, believed that individual states had the right to decide whether or not slavery should be legal. The Southern states, fearing domination by the North, decided to secede from the Union, sparking the American Civil War. It was one of the bloodiest conflicts in history, costing hundreds of thousands of lives. The North won. Slavery was abolished, but the former slaves by and large remained an economic and social underclass in the South.

The US purchased Alaska from the Russians in 1867, and Hawaii was annexed in 1898. The Spanish-American War gained the first "colonial" territories: Cuba (granted independence a few years later), the Philippines (also later granted independence) and Puerto Rico (which voluntarily remains a US territory).

In the Eastern cities of the United States, Southern and Eastern Europeans, and Russian Jews joined Irish refugees to become a cheap labor force for the country's growing industrialization. Many Southern African-Americans fled rural poverty for industrial jobs in the North. Other immigrants, including many Scandinavians and Germans, moved to the now-opened territories in the West and Midwest, where land was available for free to anyone who would develop it. A network of railroads crisscrossed the country accelerating development.

With its entrance into World War I near the end of the conflict, the United States established itself as a world power. Real wealth grew rapidly in this period. In the Roaring 20s stock speculation created an immense "bubble" which, when it burst in October of 1929, contributed to economic havoc, known as the Great Depression. Socialists and Communists seized the opportunity to win converts.

At the end of 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, a military base in the Pacific, plunging the United States into World War II. In alliance with the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union, the U.S. defeated the fascist regimes in Italy, Germany, and Japan. At the end of this war, the United States was the dominant economic power in the world, responsible for nearly half of the world's production. It was the only force capable of containing the Communist Soviet Union, giving rise to what is now known as the Cold War.

After WWII, America experienced far greater affluence. A civil rights movement emerged that eliminated most institutional discrimination against African-Americans during the 1960s; a revived women's movement also led to wide-ranging changes in American society. Post WWII saw a shift to an economy primarily based on technology rather than agriculture. Today, many of the leading technology companies are based in the United States (especially on the Pacific Coast). The U.S. also took the lead in military and space technology, especially beginning in the 1960s.

The 1950s saw the beginnings of a major shift of population to the suburbs and largely contributed to the United States giving rise to the car culture and the convenience of fast food restaurants. The Interstate Highway System, constructed primarily from the 1960s - 1980s, became perhaps the most comprehensive freeway system in the world. Major chain stores began popping up in cities across the country, and some later spread to foreign countries. The American consumer culture, as well as Hollywood movies and many forms of popular music, has arguably established the United States as the cultural center of the world.

The South's famous Bourbon Street, New Orleans, Louisiana
The South's famous Bourbon Street, New Orleans, Louisiana

Because of its size and because its citizens are descended from diverse immigrants, there is no single universal American culture. Visitors to the South will find a far different culture from those traveling to California or New York City.

Holidays

The US has a number of holidays - official and/or cultural - of which the traveler should be aware. Note that holidays observed on Mondays are usually treated as weekend-long events. (A weekend consists of a Saturday and a Sunday.) Federal holidays—i.e., holidays observed by the US federal government—are indicated in bold italics.

  • New Year's Day (January 1) - most businesses closed; brunches and football parties.
  • Martin Luther King Day (third Monday in January) - many government offices and banks closed; speeches.
  • Chinese New Year (January - variable date) - chinese cultural celebration
  • Super Bowl Sunday (usu. first Sunday in February) - the most-watched sporting event of the year; supermarkets, bars, and electronics stores busy; big football-watching parties.
  • St. Valentine's Day (February 14) - private celebration of romance and love.
  • Presidents Day (third Monday in February) - (officially Washington's Birthday) - government offices and banks closed; many stores have sales.
  • St. Patrick's Day (March 17) - Irish-themed parades and parties.
  • Easter (a Sunday in March or April) - Christian religious observances.
  • Passover (one week around Easter) - Jewish religious observances.
  • Memorial Day (last Monday in May) - most non-retail/tourism businesses closed; some patriotic observances; trips to beaches and parks; beginning of summer tourism season.
  • Independence Day / Fourth of July (July 4) - most businesses closed; patriotic parades, cookouts and trips to beaches and parks, fireworks at dusk.
  • Labor Day (first Monday in September) - most businesses closed; cookouts and trips to beaches and parks; traditional ending of summer tourism season.
  • Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (autumn) - Jewish religious observances.
  • Columbus Day (second Monday in October) - many government offices and banks closed; sales.
  • Halloween (October 31) - trick-or-treating, parades, and costume parties.
  • Veterans Day (November 11) - government offices and banks closed; some patriotic observances.
  • Thanksgiving Day (fourth Thursday in November) - government offices and most businesses closed; family dinners, on Friday major Christmas shopping begins.
  • Christmas (December 25) - most businesses and restaurants closed the evening before and all day; exchanging gifts, Christian religious observances.
  • New Year's Eve (December 31) - many restaurants and bars open late; lots of parties, especially in big cities.

For more information

The Federal government of the USA sets foreign policy, while the states deal with tourism. As such, the Federal government provides the best information about legal requirements for entry, while information about places to visit and see will be provided by the state and local tourism bureaus. Contact information is available in the individual state entries. At state borders, highway rest stops usually serve as Visitor's Centers and often offer travel and tourism information and material, almost all of which is available online. If you call or write the state Commerce department, they can also mail you information. Nearly every rest stop in the country has free maps of the state in which it is located.

Regions

The United States is composed of 50 states, as well as the city of Washington, D.C., a federal district and the nation's capital. Below is a rough grouping of these states into regions, from the Atlantic to the Pacific:

Map of the USA
Map of the USA
New England (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont)
Home to gabled churches, rustic antiques, and steeped in American history, New England offers beaches, spectacular seafood, rugged mountains, frequent winter snows, and some of the nation's oldest cities, in a territory small enough to tour (hastily) in a week.


Mid-Atlantic (Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania)
Ranging from New York in the north to Washington, D.C., the Mid-Atlantic is home to some of the nation's most densely populated cities, as well as historic sites, rolling mountains, the New Jersey Pine Barrens, the Lehigh Valley, and seaside resorts like the Long Island beaches and the Jersey Shore.
South (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia)
The South is celebrated for its hospitality, down-home cooking and its blues, jazz, rock 'n' roll, and country music traditions. This lush, largely subtropical region includes cool, verdant mountains, agricultural plantations, and vast cypress swamps.
Florida
Northern Florida is similar to the rest of the South, but not so the resorts of Orlando, retirement communities, tropical Caribbean-influenced Miami, the Everglades swamp, and 1200 miles of sandy beaches.
Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Wisconsin)
The Midwest is home to farmland, forests, picturesque towns, industrial cities, and the Great Lakes, the largest system of freshwater lakes in the world, forming the North Coast of the U.S.
Texas
The second biggest state in the nation, it's like a whole other country (and in fact, once was). The terrain ranges from southeastern swamplands to the cattle-ranching South Plains to the sandy beaches of South Texas to the mountains and deserts of West Texas.
Great Plains (North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma)
Travel westward through these supposedly flat states, from the edge of the eastern forests through the prairies and onto the High Plains, an enormous expanse of steppes (shortgrass prairies) as desolate as in the frontier days.
Rocky Mountains (Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming)
The spectacular snow-covered Rockies offer hiking, rafting, and excellent snow skiing as well as deserts, and some large cities.
Southwest (Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah)
Heavily influenced by Spanish and Mexican culture, this area is home to some of the nation's most spectacular natural attractions and some flourishing artistic communities. Although mostly empty, the region's deserts have some of the nation's largest cities.
California
Like the Southwest, California has a history under Spanish and Mexican rule and is heavily influenced by Spanish and Mexican culture. California offers world-class cities, deserts, rain forests, snowy mountains, and beautiful beaches. Northern California (around the Bay Area) and Southern California (around Los Angeles) are culturally distinct.
Pacific Northwest (Washington, Oregon)
The pleasantly mild Pacific Northwest offers outdoor pursuits as well as cosmopolitan cities. The terrain ranges from spectacular rain forests to scenic mountains and volcanoes to beautiful coastlines to sage-covered steppes and deserts.
Alaska
One fifth as large as the rest of the United States, Alaska reaches well into the Arctic, and features mountainous wilderness.
Hawaii
A volcanic archipelago in the tropical Pacific, 2,300 miles south west of California (the nearest state), laid-back Hawaii is a vacation paradise.

Politically, the U.S. is a federation of independent states each with its own rights and powers (hence the name); see list of American states for a full listing. The U.S. also administers a motley collection of non-state territories around the world, the largest of which are Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Caribbean plus American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands in Oceania.

White House south facade, Washington, D.C.
White House south facade, Washington, D.C.

The United States has over 10,000 cities, towns, and villages. The following is a list of nine of the most notable. Other cities can be found in their corresponding regions.

  • Washington, D.C. - The national capital, and a multi-cultural community.
  • Boston - The capital of Massachusetts, best known for its colonial history, its passion for sports, and university students.
  • Chicago - The "Windy City", heart of the Midwest, transportation hub of the nation, notable for its massive skyscrapers and other architectural gems.
  • Los Angeles - The United States' 2nd largest city; home of the film industry, palm-fringed neighborhoods, mountains, beaches, freeways, pollution, and sunshine.
  • Miami - Miami attracts sun-seeking northerners and strivers from Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • New Orleans - "The Big Easy" is known for its quaint French Quarter and annual Mardi Gras celebration.
  • New York - The United States' largest city, home of the financial services and media industries, with world-class cuisine, arts, and a diverse population.
  • San Francisco - Gateway to the California coast, wine country, and Yosemite National Park.
  • Seattle - Known for Microsoft and Starbucks, and has 5 distinct climates within 200 miles of the city center, including 14,000' peak Mt. Rainier, temperate rain forests, Pacific Ocean, and arid desert.

These are some of the largest and most famous destinations outside of major cities.

See United States National Parks for a list of all national park areas.

Get in

The United States has exceptionally onerous and complicated visa requirements. Read up carefully before your visit, especially if you need to apply for a visa, and consult the official United States Visas [2] site for current information.

The US territories of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands have slightly looser entry requirements from the rest of the country; see those pages for details.

Visa-free entry

Welcome!
Welcome!

Citizens of the 35 countries within the Visa Waiver Program [3], as well as Canadians, Mexicans living on the border (holding a Border Crossing Card) and Bermudans (with British Overseas Territories passports) do not require advance visas for entry into the United States. In the case of Canadians and Bermudans, the entry period is normally for six months maximum. However, since 2009, even visa-free travelers must now apply for Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) approval online [4] before their flight, preferably 72 hours before travel. ESTA approval is free and, once granted, is valid for two years (or until your passport expires).

Travel under the Visa Waiver Program is limited to 90 days for tourism or business purposes only; neither employment nor journalism is permitted with a Visa Waiver. The 90-day limit may not be extended nor will travel to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean reset the 90-day limit.

As of December 31, 2008, the countries under the Visa Waiver Program are Andorra, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brunei, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom.

Citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau may enter, reside, study, and work in the US indefinitely with only a valid passport.

Visa Waiver Program Requirements

Passports issued after October 26, 2005 need digital photographs embedded on them, and passports issued after October 26, 2006 must be biometric passports, which have a chip embedded with the user's information. Some countries, e.g. France, did not have biometric passports available at that date, meaning that citizens from these countries with newer passports but not biometric passport have to obtain a tourist visa, which can be a cumbersome, costly and time-consuming process. If you have a non e-passport issued after October 26, 2006 and you are from a Visa Waiver country, try having your government exchange it for an biometric passport, explaining that you wish to travel to the U.S.

Entry under the VWP from air or sea also requires entry via an approved carrier. It is a somewhat safe assumption that most major airlines and sea carriers are approved, but make certain that the carrier is approved to carry Visa Waiver visitors. Notably, however, this means that flying private aircraft or chartering a vessel to the United States requires a full visa.

Travelers must also have a return/onward ticket out of the United States. If the return/onward ticket terminates in Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, or any Caribbean island, the traveler must be a legal resident of that country/territory. If traveling by land, there is a $7 fee when crossing the border.

The I-94W form (see below) has a checklist of conditions that may deny visa waivers. Most of these are not a problem for most visitors ("Have you ever been or are you now involved in espionage, sabotage, terrorist activities, genocide?"), but the important one is that if you have ever been denied a US visa for any reason or overstayed on a previous visa, you will be denied entry. Having a criminal history with convictions for "crimes of moral turpitude", controlled substance (drug) offenses, or jail terms of more than five years total are also disqualifying factors.

Obtaining a visa

For the rest of the world, the visa application fee is US$131 (as of 1 January 2008; not refundable). The Immigration and Nationality Act states that all persons requesting entry into the United States as non-immigrants are presumed to be immigrants until they overcome that presumption by showing evidence of "binding ties" to your home country as well as sufficient proof that your visit will be temporary. When the US rejects visa applications, it is usually because the applicant does not have enough binding ties to his own country to convince the consular officer that he or she is not planning to be an immigrant. Face-to-face interviews (where the official needs to be convinced that you are not a "potential immigrant") at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate are required for many nationalities, and waits for interview slots and visa processing can add up to several months.

Depending on your nationality and the category of visa you are requesting, you may need to pay an additional fee (ranging from US$7 to US$200) only if the visa is issued. This is called a reciprocity fee, and is charged by the US to match the fees charged by other countries on US citizens.

Do not assume anything. Check on documentation requirements with the United States State Department [5] or with the United States consulate nearest you. If coming to the country with a car, be sure to have documents showing car insurance, rental agreements, driver's license, etc., before trying to enter the U.S.

Statue of Liberty, New York City
Statue of Liberty, New York City

Arriving in the United States

Before arrival, you will receive either a white I-94 (if entering with a visa) or green I-94W (if entering on a visa waiver) form to complete.

If you are not a citizen or resident of the United States, you will go through a short interview at immigration, where the official will try to determine if the purpose of your visit is valid. Of most concern to immigration officials is that you have the funds to support yourself, and that you do not intend to work. Be prepared to show proof. If you are on a business visit, have an invitation letter from the company you are visiting, or the registration details of the conference you are attending. If you are a tourist, you may need to demonstrate you have funds available to you. In both cases proof of onward travel may be required. Usually, the determination of admissibility is made in a minute or less, however if there are any doubts, you may be referred to further questioning in a more private area. At this stage they will likely search your possessions, and may read any documentation, letters or diaries in your possession. Once they decide to let you in, you are fingerprinted and a digital photograph is taken. As in most countries, assume that customs official are humorless about any kind of security threat; even the most flippant joke implying that you pose a threat can result in lengthy interrogation.

For non-residents, your entry forms will need to state the street address of the location where you will be staying; this should be arranged in advance. The name of your hotel, hostel, university, etc. may not be sufficient; you must provide the street name and number. If staying in multiple locations, provide the address where you will be spending the first night of your stay. If it is a hotel, have a reservation under your name. If it is a private address, make sure that the people there know that they are expecting you that day, as if your plans are doubted border control officials may phone them and ask them for the name of the guest they are expecting.

For technical and scientific fields of work or study, processing non-immigrant visa application can take up to 70 days, as it can require 8 weeks for receiving an approval from authorities in Washington. This especially applies to military and dual-purpose fields which mentioned in a so-called technical alert list (a copy can be found at [6]).

At customs

Travelers should avoid bringing meat or raw fruit or vegetables into the U.S., but may bring cooked nonmeats, such as bread. See APHIS [7] for details. The U.S. Customs process is straightforward. Most articles that are prohibited or restricted in any other country are prohibited or restricted in the USA. The only rule that is unique to America is that it is generally prohibited to bring in goods made in countries on which the U.S. has imposed economic sanctions, e.g., Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Myanmar (Burma). Besides their personal effects which will go home with them, visitors are allowed to import $200 of merchandise duty free, including 1 liter of alcohol (21 and older only) and 1 carton of cigarettes. If you are bringing in more than US$10,000 or its equivalent, you must declare it on your customs form and you will be given a special form to fill out. At immigration, the officer usually puts some sort of a tick mark on your customs declaration form to alert the customs officer of any need to search you or your luggage. After you are admitted into the U.S. and you retrieve your bags, you will proceed to the secondary inspection area (customs checkpoint). Hand your customs declaration to the officer. Most of the time, the officer will point you to the exit and that will be it. The officer may ask you some routine questions and then let you go. The officer may refer you to the x-ray to have your bags inspected, or may refer you for a manual search of your bags. Customs has the right to search your person and your bags, but any search more intrusive than a bag search is rare, and is usually indicated only if some sort of probable cause has been established through questioning or during the bag search to suggest suspicious activity.

After customs

Since all inbound citizens, nationals, and visitors must pass through immigration and customs at their first point of entry, this obviously presents a problem for persons whose final destination is another airport inside the United States. The standard solution at nearly all major hubs is that after you exit U.S. Customs, there is a special exit for travelers with "Connecting Flights." This takes you to a conveyor belt manned by airport baggage handlers who will take your baggage from you and check them through to your final destination. From there, you enter the secured departure area of the airport and proceed to the gate for your connecting flight.

Leaving the United States

There are additional pilot security measures dubbed US-VISIT [8] requiring you to leave your fingerprint and photograph at a kiosk even while leaving. This is applicable at a majority of land, sea, and air entry ports. Check the list, as most of the ports of entry are covered.

Airline or border staff will take the I-94(W) card stapled in your passport from you on departure, but you should check and insist on it. If you leave the country with it still in your possession, contact U.S. officials about how to return it and update your departure records to avoid entry hassles in the future. US Customs and Border Protection has information [9] about what to do if your slip is not collected. You should retain this card if you are traveling by land to Mexico or Canada and you will return to the U.S. within your allowed stay.

Most visitors from outside Canada and Mexico arrive in the United States by plane. While many medium sized inland cities have an international airport, there are limited flights to most of these and most travelers find themselves entering the U.S. at one of the major entry points along the coasts:

  • From the west Los Angeles, San Francisco, Honolulu are the primary points of entry from Asia and other transpacific points of departure. Seattle has some international flights, and Portland (Oregon) has a daily flight to Tokyo. Of course, if you arrive in Honolulu, you must take another flight to get to the mainland. Foreign airlines are not allowed to transport passengers to/from Hawaii or Alaska and the other 48 states (except for refueling and in-transit). If you are flying into the west coast to transit to another destination, San Franscisco airport has a free frequent skytrain linking terminals and short security queues, compared to Los Angeles which will see you exposed to the elements catching a shuttle bus or walking between terminals.

Note that the United States requires entry formalities even for international transit, and the current state of international affairs means that this is not going to change anytime soon. You must have a valid visa to enter the United States if required by your citizenship, even if you are immediately continuing on a flight to a different country. If your citizenship requires a visa to enter the U.S., avoid transiting through the U.S. unless you want to spend time and money to obtain a C-1 transit visa. Further, when booking flights to the U.S. note that you will be required to clear customs and immigration at your first U.S. stop, not at your final destination, even if you have an onward flight. Allow at least 2 hours of stop-over (ideally more than 3) at your first U.S. stop.

As of June 1, 2009, ALL persons wishing to enter the United States by land must possess a valid passport; NEXUS, FAST, or passport card; Laser Visa; or an "enhanced driver's license" (issued by certain US states & Canadian provinces)

Traffic travels on the right hand side (as it does in Canada and Mexico).

If you are entering under the Visa Waiver Program, you will need to pay a US$6 fee, in cash, at the point of entry. No fee is payable if you are simply re-entering and already have the Visa Waiver slip in your passport.

The US-Canada & US-Mexico borders are two of the most frequently crossed borders with millions of crossings daily. Average wait times are 0-30 minutes, but some of the most heavily travelled border crossings may have considerable delays—approaching 1-2 hours at peak times (weekends, holidays). Current wait times (updated hourly) are available on the U.S. customs service website [10]. The US-Mexico border is lucrative for drug trafficking, so vehicles crossing may be x-rayed or searched by drug-sniffing dog. If there is suspicion, your vehicle may be searched. Since this is an all-too-common event, expect little patience from border agents.

By boat

Entering the U.S. by sea, other than on a registered cruise ship, may be difficult. The most common entry points for private boats are Los Angeles and the surrounding area, Florida, and the Eastern coastal states.

Some passenger ferries exist between Canada and the U.S., notably from the Atlantic Provinces to New England, and from Victoria, British Columbia to Seattle.

Cunard offers transatlantic ship travel between the United Kingdom and New York City.

By train

Amtrak offers international service from the Canadian cities of Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal into the U.S.

By foot

There are many border crossings in urban areas which can be crossed by pedestrians. Crossings such as those in/near Niagara, Detroit, Tijuana, Nogales, & El Paso (not recommended at present due to drug/gang-related violence) are popular for persons wishing to spend a day on the other side of the border. In some cases, this may be ideal for day-trippers as crossing by car can be a much longer wait.

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California
The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California

The size of the U.S. and the distance separating major cities make air the dominant mode of travel for short-term travelers. If you have time, travel by car or rail can be interesting.

By plane

The quickest and often the most convenient way of long-distance intercity travel in the U.S. is by plane. Coast-to-coast travel takes about 6 hours from east to west, and 5 hours from west to east (varying due to winds), compared to the days necessary for land transportation. Most cities in the US are served by one or two airports; Many small towns also have some passenger air service, although you may need to detour through a major hub airport to get there. Depending on where you are starting, it may be cheaper to drive to a nearby large city and fly or, conversely, to fly to a large city near your destination and rent a car.

Major carriers compete for business on major routes, and travelers willing to book two or more weeks in advance can get bargains. However most smaller destinations are served by only one or two regional carriers, and prices there can be expensive.

Discount air carriers are becoming more dominant. Southwest Airlines [11] is the largest and best known.

There are a number of ways to save money when flying within the United States. See Cheap airline travel in North America.

By private plane

The advantages of private plane travel are:

  • You can fly directly to small, more remote airports that would be inaccessible by commercial flights.
  • You can fly at the time and schedule of your choosing, and on short notice.
  • You can bring pets on board the aircraft.
  • You can often avoid the hassles of airports and security and receive personalised service throughout your journey.

Air Charter refers to hiring a private plane for a one time journey. Jet Cards are pre-paid cards entitling the owner to a specific number of flight hours on a specified aircraft. As all expenses are pre-paid on the card, you need not to concern yourself with deadhead time, return flights, landing fees, etc.

The cost of chartering the smallest private jet begins at around $4000 per flight hour, with the cost substantially higher for larger, longer-range aircraft. While private flying is by no means inexpensive, a family of four or more can often fly together at a cost similar to or even favorable to buying first class commercial airline tickets, especially to smaller airports where scheduled commercial flights are at their most expensive, and private flying is at its cheapest.

By train

See also: Rail travel in the United States

Except for certain densely populated corridors, passenger trains in the United States can be surprisingly scarce and relatively expensive. The national rail system, Amtrak [12] (1-800-USA-RAIL), provides service to many cities, concentrating more on sightseeing tours than efficient intercity travel. Plan ahead to ensure train travel between your destinations is available and/or convenient. They have promotional discounts of 15% for students and seniors, and a 30-day U.S. Rail Pass for international travelers only. If you plan to buy a regular ticket within a week of traveling, it pays to check the website for sometimes significant "weekly specials".

Separate from Amtrak, many major cities offer very reliable commuter trains that carry passengers to and from the suburbs or other relatively close-by areas.

Amtrak offers many amenities and services that are lacking from other modes of transport. Amtrak offers many routes that traverse some of America's most beautiful areas. Travelers with limited time may not find travel by train to be convenient, simply because the country is big, and the "bigness" is particularly evident in many of the scenic areas. For those with ample time, though, train travel offers an unparalleled view of America's scenic beauty, without the trouble and long-term discomfort of a rental (hire) car or the hassle of flying.

Travelers choosing Amtrak should be prepared to pad their schedules somewhat. Since Amtrak does not own the rails on which they operate their trains, they must yield to the whim of the freight operators who do own them. In general it's a good idea to pad the schedule by 25% when planning connections with other trains or other transport modes, especially for those few Amtrak lines which cross the Canadian border. If you plan to board an Amtrak train at a location other than the train's initial place of departure, its usually a good idea to call ahead before you leave for the station to see if the train is running late. Expect to wait two hours; 6 or 8 hour delays are not unheard of.

A major Amtrak line in regular daily use by Americans themselves is the Acela Express [13] line, running between Boston and Washington, D.C.. It stops in New York, New Haven, Philadelphia and many other cities on the way. This line is electrified, with top speeds of 150 miles per hour (though the average speed is a good deal slower). The Acela Express has first class service, but can be quite expensive. Given the difficulty and expense of getting from the center of some of the major Northeastern cities to their respective airports, trains can sometimes be more convenient than air travel. There are also frequent, slower regional trains covering the same stations along the Northeast Corridor for lower fares.

All Amtrak trains in the northeast as well as all long-distance trains now require reservations. The only routes that don't require reservations are Hiawatha trains between Chicago and Milwaukee, Keystone Service trains between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, and Capital Corridor (Sacramento-Oakland-San Jose), and Pacific Surfliner (San Diego-Las Angeles-Santa Barbara) Trains in California. During usual American vacation times, some long-distance trains can sell out weeks or even months in advance, so it pays to book early if you plan on using the long-distance trains. Booking early also results in generally lower fares for all trains since they tend to increase as trains become fuller.

One major scenic long-distance train route, the California Zephyr, runs from Emeryville in the Bay Area of California to Chicago, via Reno, Salt Lake City and Denver. The full trip takes around 60 hours, but has incredible views of the Western deserts, the Rocky Mountains, and the Great Plains, things that you just cannot see if you fly. Many of the sights on this route are simply inaccessible to cars. The trains run only once per day, and they usually sell out well in advance.

Amtrak's single most popular long-distance train is the Chicago-Seattle/Portland "Empire Builder" train via Milwaukee, St. Paul/Minneapolis, Fargo, Minot, Glacier National Park, Whitefish, and Spokane. In FY2007, this train alone carried over 503,000 passengers.

Amtrak also provides reasonably speedy daily round trips between Seattle and Vancouver, Canada and several daily trips between Seattle and Eugene, Oregon on the Amtrak Cascades line.

Passengers traveling long distances on Amtrak may reserve a seat in coach (Economy class) or pay extra for an upgrade to a private sleeping compartment (there are no shared rooms), which also includes all meals in the dining car. Amtrak trains in the West feature a lounge car with floor to ceiling windows, which are perfect for sightseeing.

Bradt's USA by Rail [14] book (ISBN 9781841622552) is a guide to all Amtrak routes, with maps, station details and other practical advice.

By car

America's love affair with the automobile is legendary, and most Americans prefer car travel for getting to nearby cities in their state or region. The need for a car depends greatly on the cities or regions being visited. A car can be necessary even to get around in a city such as Phoenix or Dallas, while in places such as New York City, San Francisco, and Chicago driving a car is not only unnecessary, but discouraged. Travelers from outside the country may not sufficiently appreciate the need for an automobile here. However, in most medium-sized American cities, particularly in the west and south, cities are very spread out and public transportation thin. Taxis are often available, but except at airports you may have to phone for one and wait a half-hour or so to be picked up, and make similar arrangements to return. Even in some very large cities (such as Los Angeles and Atlanta), a private car is your most practical option. Gas stations have traditionally sold regional and national maps, although many drivers have begun to obtain driving directions on their home computers before beginning a journey; MapQuest and Google Maps are popular websites for obtaining directions. Drivers can obtain directions in the midst of their travels by calling 1-800-Free411, which will provide text message directions, or they can stop and ask locals for nearby directions. Generally, Americans are happy to give directions to travelers.

Great American Road Trip

A romantic appeal is attached to the idea of long-distance car travel; many Americans will tell you that you can't see the "real" America except by car. Given the dearth of public transportation within most American cities, the loss of time traveling between cities by car rather than flying, can be made up by the convenience of driving around within cities once you arrive. In addition, many of the country's major natural attractions, such as the Grand Canyon, are almost impossible to get to without an automobile. If you have the time, a classic American road trip with a rented car (see below) is very easy to achieve. Just keep in mind that because of the distances, this kind of travel can mean many long days behind the wheel, so pay attention to the comfort of the car you use.

Interstate System

There's always a road going your way
There's always a road going your way

The United States is covered with a convenient system of U.S. and Interstate highways. Interstates are always freeways (limited access; no grade crossings), while U.S. Highways may be freeways on some sections and not on others. These roads network between major (and minor) population centers, and can make it easy to cover long distances – or get to the other side of a large city – quickly. Primary Interstates have one- or two-digit numbers, with odd ones running north-south (e.g. I-5) and even ones running east-west (e.g. I-80). Three-digit interstate numbers designate shorter, secondary freeways. An odd first digit signifies a "spur" into or away from a city; an even first digit signifies a "loop" around a large city. The second two digits remain the same as the primary Interstate that travels nearby. The U.S. Highways are generally older routes that lead through town centers. In many cases, Interstates were constructed roughly parallel to U.S. Highways to expedite traffic that wishes to bypass the city.

Speed limits on the interstate highways can vary from state to state, as setting the speed limit is up to each individual state. For example, Interstate 70 from east to west is 65 miles per hour in Pennsylvania and Ohio, 70 miles per hour in Indiana, 65 miles per hour in Illinois, 70 miles per hour in Missouri and Kansas, and up to 75 miles per hour in Colorado and Utah.

The vast majority of interstates do not charge tolls, but those that do are also known as turnpikes. Tolls are also frequently levied for crossing notably large bridges or tunnels.

Commercial rest areas were outlawed on the interstate system by the federal government. As a result, the vast majority of rest areas are state-operated rest areas with public toilets, parking, tourist information, vending machines, and a small picnic area, but no restaurants, gas stations, or stores. The only exceptions, which do offer many commercial services, are on turnpikes that predated the interstate system and were grandfathered in. Therefore, on the vast majority of interstate highways, drivers must exit the highway at an interchange to access commercial services located on private lands off the highway.

Driving laws

As with the rest of North America, Americans drive on the right in left-hand drive vehicles and pass on the left. White lines separate traffic moving in the same direction and yellow lines separate opposing traffic. Right turn on red after coming to a complete stop is legal (unless a sign prohibits it) in nearly all states and cities, though New York City is a notable exception.

Most American drivers tend to drive calmly and safely in residential suburban neighborhoods. Freeways around big cities, however, can become really crowded with a significant proportion of "hurried" drivers - who will exceed speed limits, pass unsafely, or follow other cars at unsafely close distances. Enforcement of posted speed limits is somewhat unpredictable and varies widely from state to state. Not exceeding the pace of other drivers will usually avoid a troublesome citation. Beware of small towns along otherwise high-speed rural roads (and medium-speed suburban roads); the reduced speed limits found while going through such towns are strictly enforced.

Driving law is primarily a matter of state law and is enforced by state and local police. Fortunately, widespread adoption of provisions of the Uniform Vehicle Code, and federal regulation of traffic signs under the Highway Safety Act means that most driving laws do not vary much from one state to the next. All states publish an official driver's handbook which summarizes state driving laws in plain English. These handbooks are usually available both on the Web and at many government offices.

Traffic signs often depend on the ability to read English words. Drivers who can read English will find most signs self-explanatory. The country has gradually begun adopting signs with internationally understood symbols, with English "translations" for those not yet familiar with them. However, progress is very slow. Distances and speeds will almost always be given in miles and miles/hour, without these units specified. (1 mile = 1.6 km).

Car rental

Renting a car in the U.S. usually runs anywhere from $20 and $100 per day for a basic sedan, depending on the type of car and location, with some discounts for week-long rentals. The major rental agencies are Enterprise Rent-A-Car [15] (+1 800 RENT-A-CAR); Hertz [16] (+1 800 230 4898); Avis [17] (+1 800 230 4898); Thrifty Car Rental [18]; and Dollar Rent A Car [19]. There are no large national discount car rental agencies but in each city there is usually at least one. A couple discount car rental companies, usually restricted to areas of the country, are Advantage Rent A Car, E-Z Rent-A-Car [20] (+1 800 277 5171) and Fox Rent A Car. The internet or the Yellow Pages are the easiest ways to find them. One widespread chain is Rent-A-Wreck [21] (+1 800 944 7501). It rents used cars at significantly lower prices. Most rental agencies have downtown offices in major cities as well as offices at major airports. Not all companies allow picking up a car in one city and dropping it off in another (the ones that do almost always charge extra for the privilege); check with the rental agency when making your reservations.

One factor that can often influence the price of your car rental will be location. Sometimes renting a car at an airport location will cost 3 times as much as renting the same car (from the same company) at a downtown location. In other areas the airport location will be cheaper. On-line travel websites such as Orbitz or Expedia can be useful to compare the best prices and make reservations.

Most rental agencies accept an International Driver's Permit only when presented along with a valid driver's license from your country. You may wish to join some kind of auto club before starting a large American road trip, and having a cell phone is a very good idea. Most rental agencies have some kind of emergency road service program, but they can have spotty coverage for remote regions. The largest and most popular club in the United States is the American Automobile Association [22] (1-800-391-4AAA), known as "Triple A". A yearly membership runs about $60. AAA members also get discounts at many hotels, motels, restaurants and attractions; which may make it worth getting a membership even if you don't drive. Alternatively, Better World Club [23] (1-866-238-1137) offers similar rates and benefits as AAA with often timelier service and is a more eco-friendly choice (1% of revenue is donated to environmental cleanup programs). Note that some non-US automobile clubs have affiliate relationships with AAA, allowing members of the non-US club to take full advantage of AAA road service and discount programs. Among these clubs are the Canadian Automobile Association, The Automobile Association in the UK, and ADAC in Germany.

Also for international tourists, note that most American tourists renting cars are covered for loss or damage to the rental car either by their credit card or their own private vehicle insurance policy. Without appropriate loss/damage waiver cover, you could be liable for the entire cost of the car should it be written off in an accident. For international tourists without a US credit card, car rental excess cover included in International Credit Card Travel Insurance policies may not be applicable. Therefore purchasing loss/damage waiver cover and supplemental liability insurance is recommended and may add up to $30/day to the price of a rental. Often if you visit the car rental website and identify your country of origin, you may be given a quote which includes the loss/damage waiver and liability insurance.

Fuel

Gasoline ("gas") is sold by the gallon. The American gallon is smaller than the UK gallon, and equals 3.785 liters. The U.S. octane scale is different from that used in Europe; a regular gallon of U.S. gasoline is rated at 87 octane, the equivalent of about 92 in Europe. Diesel is not as common, but still widely used and available at most stations, especially those catering to truckers. Untaxed "offroad diesel", sold in rural areas for agricultural use, is dyed red and should not be used in cars, as there are heavy fines if you're caught.

Despite increasing petroleum prices worldwide and some increases in gas taxes, the American consumer-voter's attachment to his automobile, combined with abundant domestic oil reserves and relatively low taxes on gasoline, has kept retail fuel prices much lower than in many parts of the world. Prices fluctuate by region and season, generally ranging from around $2.30 to $3.00/gallon as of August 2009.

By bus

Intercity bus travel in the United States is widespread, but is not available everywhere. Many patrons use bus travel when other modes aren't readily available, as buses often connect many smaller towns with regional cities. The disadvantaged and elderly may use these bus lines, as automobile travel proves arduous or unaffordable for some. It's commonly considered a "lower class" way to travel, but is generally dependable, safe, affordable.

Greyhound Bus Lines [24] (+1 800 229 9424) has the predominant share of American bus travel. Steep discounts are available to travelers who purchase their tickets 7-14 days in advance of their travel date. Their North American Discovery Pass allows unlimited travel for ranges of 4 to 60 days, but you might want to try riding one or two buses first before locking yourself in to an exclusively-bus American journey. Greyhound buses typically runs in 5-7 hour segments, at which time all passengers must get off the bus so it can be serviced, even if it's the middle of the night. Continuing passengers are boarded before those just getting on. There are no reservations on Greyhound buses. All seating is on a first come, first served basis, with the exception of select cities, where you can pay a $5 US fee for priority seating.

Megabus [25] offers inexpensive daily bus service in the Midwest from their hub in Chicago to Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Kansas City, St. Louis, Ann Arbor, Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Columbus, Cincinnati, and Louisville.

Jefferson Bus Lines [26] (+1 800 767 5333) is another option, with service from Minnesota to Texas, including, but not limited to, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Winnipeg, Canada.

For bus service between large East Coast cities (particularly Washington, D.C., New York City, Philadelphia, and Boston), travelers can purchase deeply discounted (below Greyhound prices) tickets from a number of small operators, typically called "Chinatown bus" operators, because they usually enter and depart from the Chinatown area of the cities they serve. These type of services are also beginning to appear on the West Coast.

By recreational vehicle (RV)

Main article: Car Camping

Recreational vehicles – large, sometimes bus sized vehicles that include sleeping and living quarters – are a distinctly American way to cruise the country. Some RVers love the convenience of being able to drive their home anywhere they like and enjoy the camaraderie that RV campgrounds offer. Other people dislike the hassles and maintenance issues that come with RVing. And don't even think about driving an RV into a huge metropolis such as New York. Still, if you want to drive extensively within the United States and are comfortable handling a big rig, renting an RV is an option you should consider.

By motorcycle

The thrill and exhilaration of cross country travel are magnified when you go by motorcycle. Harley-Davidson is the preeminent American motorcycle brand and Harley operates a motorcycle rental program [27] for those licensed and capable of handling a full weight motorcycle. In some parts of the country, you can also rent other types of motorcycles, such as sportbikes, touring bikes, and dual-sport bikes. For those unexperienced with motorcycles, Harley and other dealerships offer classes for beginners. Wearing a helmet, although not required in all states, is always a good idea. The practice of riding between lanes of slower cars, also known as "lane-sharing" or "lane-splitting," is illegal, except in California where it is tolerated and widespread. Solo motorcyclists can legally use "high-occupancy vehicle" or "carpool" lanes during their hours of operation.

American enthusiasm towards motorcycles has led to a motorcycling subculture. Motorcycle clubs are exclusive clubs for members dedicated to riding a particular brand of motorcycle within a highly structured club hierarchy. Riding clubs may or may not be organized around a specific brand of bikes and offer open membership to anyone interested in riding. Motorcycle rallies, such as the famous one in Sturgis, South Dakota, are huge gatherings of motorcyclists from around the country. Many motorcyclists are not affiliated with any club and opt to ride independently or with friends. In general, motorcycling is seen as a hobby, as opposed to a practical means of transportation; this means, for example, that most American motorcyclists prefer not to ride in inclement weather. However you choose to ride, and whatever brand of bike you prefer, motorcycling can be a thrilling way to see the country.

Gateway Arch, St. Louis, Missouri in the Midwest
Gateway Arch, St. Louis, Missouri in the Midwest

A long history of hitchhiking comes out of the U.S., with record of automobile hitchhikers as early as 1911. Today, hitchhiking is nowhere near as common, but there are some nevertheless who still attempt short or cross-country trips. The laws related to hitchhiking in the U.S. are most covered by the Uniform Vehicle Code (UVC), adopted with changes in wording by individual states. In general, it is legal to hitchhike throughout the majority of the country, if not standing within the boundaries of a highway (usually marked by a solid white line at the shoulder of the road) and if not on an Interstate highway prohibiting pedestrians.

In many states Interstate highways do not allow foot traffic, so hitchhikers must use the entrance ramps. In a few states it is allowed or tolerated (unless on a toll road). Oklahoma, Texas and Oregon are a few states that do allow pedestrians on the highway shoulder, although not in some metropolitan areas. Oklahoma allows foot traffic on all free interstates, but not toll roads and Texas only bans it on toll roads - and on free Interstates within the city of El Paso. Oregon only bans it in the Portland metro area. Missouri only bans it within Kansas City and St. Louis city limits.

Hitchhiking has become much less popular due to increasing wariness of the possible dangers (fueled in part by sensational stories in the news media). International travelers to the U.S. should avoid this practice unless they have either a particularly strong sense of social adventure or extremely little money. Even many Americans themselves would only feel comfortable "thumbing a ride" if they had a good knowledge of the locale.

Craigslist [28] has a rideshare section that sometimes proves useful for arranging rides in advance. If you are open with your destination it's almost always possible to find a ride on C.L. going somewhere within the U.S.

Talk

Almost all Americans speak English. They generally use a standard accent (native to the Midwest), popularized in the 20th century by radio, TV and movies. In many areas, especially the South and Texas, in New England, in New York City, and in the upper Midwest, you'll find some distinctive regional accents and dialects. Nowhere should this pose any problem to a visitor, as Americans often admire foreign accents and most will approximate the standard accent to help you understand them, or try to speak your language if they can. You may occasionally need to repeat yourself in order to be understood. Some words with short vowel sounds can be hard for some Americans to understand, and without necessarily imitating an American accent it can help to lengthen them for understanding. If the travelers assistance desk don't understand you when you say locker, try lah-ker. If you have difficulty ordering the salad at Wendys, try sah-lid.

Many Americans are familiar with Spanish, or French, but few are fluent in languages other than English, unless they are from immigrant communities; Visitors are generally expected to speak and understand English. Even popular tourist sites may have signs only in English, or perhaps one or two other languages.

Spanish is the primary second language in many parts of the U.S. such as California, the Southwest, Texas, Florida, Chicago Metropolitan Area, and the New York Metropolitan Area. Spanish is also the first language of the U.S. territory Puerto Rico as well as a large minority of residents, mostly immigrants from Mexico or Latin America. The United States has the fifth largest Spanish speaking population in the world. Although it's rare to be in areas where no one speaks English, a good handle on Spanish can make communications easier in some areas.

French is the primary second language in rural areas near the border with Quebec, in some areas of Louisiana, and by immigrants from West Africa. Haitian immigrants primarily speak Haitian Creole, a separate language derived from French, as their second language, although a substantial number also speak French. Hawaiian is the native language of Hawaii, and in the various Chinatowns in major cities, Cantonese and Mandarin are common. Smaller immigrant groups also sometimes form their own pockets of shared language, including Russian, Italian, Greek, Arabic, Tagalog, Korean, Vietnamese, and others. Chicago, for instance, is the city with the second largest ethnic Polish population in the world, behind Warsaw. The Amish, who have lived in Pennsylvania and Ohio for generations, speak a dialect of German. Some Native Americans speak their respective native languages, especially on reservations in the west.

Lighthouse, Portland, Maine, in New England
Lighthouse, Portland, Maine, in New England

Itineraries

Here is a handful of itineraries spanning regions across the United States:

  • Music - Mid-size to large cities often draw big ticket concerts, especially in large outdoor amphitheaters. Small towns sometimes host concerts in parks with local or older bands. Other options include music festivals such has San Diego's Street Scene [29] or South by Southwest [30] in Austin. Classical music concerts are held year round and performed by semi-professional and professional symphonies. Boston, for instance, occasionally puts on free concerts in the Public Park. Many cities and regions have unique sounds. Nashville is known as Music City because of the large number of country artists that live in the city. It's home to the Grand Ole Opry, one of the most famous music venues in the country. Country music is popular throughout the U.S. but is particularly concentrated in the South and rural West. Seattle is the home of grunge rock. Many of the most popular bands are based out of Los Angeles due to the large entertainment presence and concentration of record companies.
  • Marching Band - In addition to traditional music concerts, a quintessential American experience is the marching band festival. One can find these events almost every weekend between September and Thanksgiving throughout the country and again from March to June in California. Check local event listings and papers to find specifics. Also notable is the Bands of America Grand National Championship held every autumn in Indianapolis. Those looking to see the best of the best should acquire tickets to the "finals" performance, where the ten best bands of the festival compete for the championship. This event is now held at the Lucas Oil Stadium. Both "street" or parade marching bands as well as "field" or show bands are found at almost every high school and university in America.
Baseball in Daytona Beach, Florida
Baseball in Daytona Beach, Florida
  • Professional sports - The United States has a professional league for virtually every sport, including pillow fighting. A few of the most popular leagues are:
    • MLB [31] - Major League Baseball is very popular and the sport of baseball is often referred to as "America's pastime" (being one of the most widely played in the country). The league has 30 teams (29 in the US and 1 in Canada). Season lasts from April to September with playoff games held in October. With 30 teams playing 162 games per team per season and the cheapest seats usually $10-20, this is possibly the best sporting event for international travelers to watch.
    • NBA [32] - The National Basketball Association is the world's premier men's basketball league and has 30 teams (29 in the US, and one in Canada). Season runs November to April, with playoffs in May-June.
    • NFL [33] - The National Football League, with 32 teams, is the leading promoter of American football in the world, a sport which has virtually nothing in common with football in the rest of the world (which Americans call "soccer"). The day of the championship game, called the Super Bowl, is an unofficial national holiday. Season lasts from September to December, with playoffs in January ending with the Super Bowl in February.
    • NHL [34] - The premier league for ice hockey in the world, featuring 30 teams (24 in the US and 6 in Canada). A slight majority of players are Canadians, but the league has players from many other parts of the world, mainly the United States, the Nordic countries (primarily Sweden and Finland), Russia, and the former Czechoslovakia. Originally in Northern markets, recent expansions have each major region covered with a NHL team.
    • NASCAR [35] - Viewed by many as a "regional sport" confined to the more rural areas of the South, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) has seemingly broken away from those misconceptions over recent years to become a major spectator sport across the country. While a majority of the tracks still reside in the Mid-Atlantic and South, NASCAR holds races all across the country, beginning with their marquee event, the Daytona 500, in mid-February and ending in late November.
    • MLS [36] - The 15-team Major League Soccer (14 in the US, and one in Canada) is the latest attempt to kick start American interest in soccer. While it may not be as popular with the media, MLS is still widely viewed and enjoyed. Foreign travelers can find particularly vibrant and familiar fan experiences in several cities, notably Washington, Chicago, Toronto, Houston, and Seattle.
  • Festivals and Fairs - A few days prompt nation-wide celebrations. They include Memorial Day, Independence Day (a.k.a. Fourth of July), and Labor Day. Other major holidays like Thanksgiving Day are marked by private festivities. Many towns and/or counties throw fairs, to commemorate the establishment of a town or the county with rides, games, and other attractions.
    • Memorial Day - commemorates the ultimate sacrifice made by America's war dead. It is not to be confused with Veteran's Day (November 11th) which commemorates the service of America's military veterans. It is the also the unofficial start of summer -- expect heavy traffic in popular destinations, especially National Parks and Amusement Parks.
    • Independence Day - Celebrates America's independence from Great Britain. The day is usually marked by parades, festivals, concerts, outdoor cooking and grilling and firework displays. Almost every town puts on some sort of festivity to celebrate the day. Large cities often have multiple events. Washington, D.C. celebrates the day on the Mall with a parade and a fireworks display against the Washington Monument.
    • Labor Day - The US celebrates Labor Day on the first Monday of September, rather than May 1st. Labor Day marks the end of the summer social season. Some places, such as Cincinnati throw parties to celebrate the day.
  • National Parks. There are numerous national parks throughout the United States, especially the vast interior, which offer plenty of opportunities to enjoy your favorite outdoor activities, including Recreational shooting, ATV riding, hiking, bird watching, prospecting, and horseback riding. In more urban areas, some national parks are centered around historic landmarks.
    • National Trails System is a group of twenty-one 'National Scenic Trails' and 'National Historic Trails' as well as over 1,000 shorter 'National Recreation Trails' for a total length of over 50,000 miles. While all are open to hiking, most are also open to mountain biking, horseback riding, and camping and some are even open for ATVs and cars.

Buy

Money

The official U.S. currency is the United States dollar ($), divided into 100 cents (¢). Conversion rates vary daily and are available online [37]. Foreign currencies are almost never accepted, although some major hotel chains may accept travelers cheques in other currencies. Canadian currency is sometimes accepted at larger stores within 100 miles of the border, but discounted for the exchange rate. Watch for stores that really want Canadian shoppers and will accept at par. Often, a few Canadian coins (especially pennies) won't be noticed, but less so the further south you go. Now that the Mexican peso has stabilized, it is somewhat accepted at some locations at border towns (El Paso, Laredo, etc), but you're better off exchanging your pesos in Mexico, and using US dollars instead, to ensure the best exchange rate.

Common American bills are for $1, $5, $10, $20, and $50 with $2 and $100 bills considerably less common. All bills are the same size. All $1, $2, and $100 bills, and older $5, $10, $20, and $50 bills are greenish and printed with black and green ink. Newer versions of the $5, $10, $20, and $50 bills incorporate different gradations of color in the paper and additional colors of ink. As designs are updated every 5-10 years, you will currently find up to three different designs of some bills in circulation. Almost all vending machines accept $1 bills and a few accept $5 bills; acceptance of larger bills ($50 and $100) by small restaurants and stores is less common. No US banknotes have been devalued in the last 80 years. Coins also haven't been devalued, and coins from as early as the 1940s are still found in circulation. While almost never seen, any currency over 25 years old and coin over 40 likely has collector value.

The standard coins are the penny (1¢, copper color), the chunky nickel (5¢, silver color), the tiny dime (10¢, silver color) and the quarter (25¢, silver color). None of these coins display the numeral of their value, so it is important to recognize the names of each. The size doesn't necessarily correspond to their relative value: the dime is the smallest coin, followed by the penny, nickel, and quarter. Half dollar (50¢, silver) and dollar ($1, silver or gold) coins exist, but are rarely used. Coin-operated machines usually only accept nickels, dimes, and quarters.

Currency exchange centers are rare outside the downtowns of major coastal and border cities, and international airports, however many banks can also provide currency exchange services. Most automated teller machines (ATMs) can handle foreign bank cards or credit cards bearing Visa/Plus or MasterCard/Cirrus logo; note, however, that many ATMs charge fees of about $2.50 for use with cards issued by other banks (often waived for cards issued outside of the U.S., but banks in one's home country may charge their own fees). Smaller ATMs found in restaurants etc. often charge higher fees (up to $5). Some ATMs (such as those at Sheetz gas stations and government buildings such as courthouses) have no fee.

Major credit cards such as Visa and MasterCard are widely used and accepted, even for transactions worth only a few dollars. Although technically prohibited, some independently-owned stores specify a minimum amount of money (usually $10) for credit card use, as credit-card transactions cost them around 30-50 cents (this practice is also common at bars when opening a tab). Other cards such as American Express and Discover are also accepted, but not as widely. Almost all sit-down restaurants, hotels, and shops will accept credit cards. Authorization is made by signing a paper sales slip or a computer pad. When making large purchases, it is typical for the shop to ask for photo identification, even though Mastercard and Visa prohibit such a practice in the U.S. Shops may also ask for photo identification for foreign issued cards.

Gas station pumps, selected public transportation vending machines, and some other types of automated vending machines often have credit/debit card readers. Some automated vending machines accepting credit cards ask for the zip code of the US billing address for the card, which effectively prevents them from accepting foreign cards. At gas stations you can use a foreign issued card by paying the station attendant inside.

Sales tax

There is no nationwide sales tax (such as VAT or GST), the only exception being motor fuels (gasoline and diesel). As a result, state/local taxes (see below) on major purchases cannot be refunded by customs agents upon leaving the United States.

However, most states have a sales tax, ranging from 2.9% to nearly 10% of the retail price; 4-6% is typical. Sales tax is almost never included in posted prices (except for gasoline/diesel, and in most states, alcoholic beverages consumed on-premises), but instead will be calculated and added to the total when you pay. Groceries and a variety of other "necessities" are usually exempt, but almost any other retail transaction – including restaurant meals – will have sales tax added to the total. Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon have no sales tax; Alaska has no state sales tax, but allows local governments to collect sales taxes. Regional price variations, indirect hotel and business taxes, etc. will usually have more impact on a traveler's wallet than the savings of seeking out a low-sales-tax or no-sales-tax destination. Many cities also impose sales taxes, and certain cities have tax zones near airports and business districts that are designed to exploit travelers. Thus, sales taxes can vary up to 2% in a matter of a few miles.

At least two states, Louisiana and Texas, will refund sales tax on purchases made by international travellers taken out of the state.

Places for shopping

Shopping malls. America is the birthplace of the shopping mall, and suburbs in particular have miles and miles of strip malls, or long rows of small shops with shared parking lots, usually built along a high-capacity road (the "strip"). Large cities still maintain central shopping districts that can be navigated on public transport, but pedestrian-friendly shopping streets are uncommon and usually small.

Outlet centers. The U.S. pioneered the factory outlet store, and in turn, the outlet center, a shopping mall consisting primarily of such stores. Outlet centers are found along major Interstate highways outside of most American cities.

Major retailers. American retailers tend to have some of the longest business hours in the world, with chains like Wal-Mart often featuring stores open 24/7 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week). Department stores and other large retailers are usually open from 10 AM to 9 PM most days, and during the winter holiday season, may stay open as long as 8 AM to 11 PM. The U.S. does not regulate the timing of sales promotions as in other countries. U.S. retailers often announce sales during all major holidays, and also in between for any reason or no reason at all.

Garage sales. On weekends, it is not uncommon to find families selling no longer needed household items in their driveway, garage, or yard. If you see a driveway full of stuff on a Saturday, it's likely a garage sale. Check it out; one person's trash may just be your treasure. Bargaining is expected and encouraged.

Flea markets. Flea markets (called "swap meets" in Western states) have dozens if not hundreds of vendors selling all kinds of usually inexpensive merchandise. Some flea markets are highly specialized and aimed at collectors of a particular sort; others just sell all types of items. Again, bargaining is expected.

Auctions. Americans did not invent the auction but may well have perfected it. The fast paced, sing-song cadence of a country auctioneer, selling anything from farm animals to estate furniture, is a special experience, even if you have no intention of buying. In big cities head to the auction chambers of Christie's or Sotheby's auctioneers, and watch paintings, antiques and works of art be sold in a matter of minutes at prices that go into the millions.

Bald Eagles in Homer, Alaska
Bald Eagles in Homer, Alaska

Unless you live in Europe or Japan, the United States is generally expensive, but there are ways to limit the damage. Many Europeans come to the United States for shopping (especially electronics). While prices in the United States are lower than in many European countries, keep in mind that you will be charged taxes/tariffs on goods purchased abroad. Additionally, electronics may not be compatible with standards when you return (electrical, DVD region, etc.). As such, the savings you may find shopping in the United States may easily be negated upon your return. A barebones budget for camping, hostels, and cooking your food could be $30-50/day, and you can double that if you stay at motels and eat at cheap cafes. Add on a rental car and hotel accommodation and you'll be looking at $150/day and up. There are regional variations too: large cities like New York and Los Angeles are expensive, while prices go down in the countryside. Most U.S. cities have suburbs with good hotels that are often much more affordable than those in the city center and enjoy lower crime rates. Thus, if you plan to rent a car and drive between several major cities on a single visit to the U.S., it is usually a better idea to stay at safe suburban hotels with free parking, as opposed to downtown hotels that charge exorbitant parking fees.

If you intend to visit any of the National Parks Service sites, such as the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone National Park, it is worth considering the purchase of a National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass [38]. This costs $80 and gives access to almost all of the federally administered parks and recreation areas for one year. Considering the price of admission to many parks is at least $20 each, if you visit more than a few of them, the pass will be the cheaper solution. You can trade in receipts from individual entries for 14 days at the entrance to the parks to upgrade to an annual pass, if you find yourself cruising around and ending up visiting more parks than expected.[39]

Many hotels and motels offer discounts for members of certain organizations which anyone can join, such as AAA (formerly the American Automobile Association). If you're a member, or are a member of a club affiliated with AAA (such as the Canadian Automobile Association, The Automobile Association in the UK, or ADAC in Germany), it's worth asking at check-in.

Tipping

Tipping in America is widely used and expected. While Americans themselves often debate correct levels and exactly who deserves to be tipped, generally accepted standard rates are:

  • Full-service restaurants: 15-20%
  • Taxi drivers, hairdressers, other personal services: 10-15%
  • Bartenders: $1 per drink if inexpensive or 15% of total
  • Bellhops: $1-2 per bag ($3-5 minimum regardless)
  • Hotel doorman: $1 per bag (if they assist), $1 for calling a cab
  • Shuttle bus drivers: $2-5 (optional)
  • Private car & limousine drivers: 15-20%
  • Housekeeping in hotels: $1-2 per day for long stays or $5 minimum for very short stays (optional)
  • Food delivery (pizza, etc.): $2-5, 15-20% for larger orders
  • bicycle messengers: $3-5

The important one here is restaurants. Theoretically, tipping waiters is optional, but in practice you should always leave a tip. In almost every state the minimum wage for waiters and waitresses is significantly lower than that for other jobs (maybe $2.50/hr rather than the standard $7.25/hr) and thus tips are the majority of a waiter's income. The rest of the service staff may also depend on their share of the tip as well. If you receive exceptionally poor service and the manager does not correct the problem when you bring it to their attention, a deliberately small tip (one or two coins) will express your displeasure more clearly than leaving no tip at all.

Tips are normally left as cash at the table when you leave (there is no need to hand it over personally or wait until it's collected), but if paying by credit card you can sometimes add it directly to the charge slip when you sign it. For larger parties (sometimes over 6, almost always over 10) it is common for "gratuity" of 18% or so to be added to the bill and included in the total. In this case, an extra tip is not necessary. This will be stated somewhere on the menu, but you should also review the bill carefully before paying to determine whether or not the tip is already included.

Tipping is not expected at restaurants (such as fast-food chains) where patrons stand at a counter to place their order and receive their food. Some such restaurants may have a "tip jar" by the cash register, which may be used at the customer's discretion in appreciation of good service. Some tipping at a cafeteria or buffet is expected since the wait staff often clears the table for you and provides refills of drinks and such.

Certain individuals are not customarily tipped. Doctors and dentists, for example, do not accept tips. Additionally, one should NEVER try to offer any kind of tip to a government employee of any kind, especially police officers; this could be construed as attempted bribery (a felony offense) and might cause serious legal problems.

Eat

The variety of restaurants throughout the US is remarkable. In a major city such as New York, it may be possible to find a restaurant from nearly every country in the world. One thing that a traveler from Europe or Latin America will notice is that many restaurants do not serve alcohol, or may only serve beer and wine. Another is the sheer number and variety of fast food and chain restaurants. Most open early in the morning and stay open late at night; a few are open 24 hours a day. A third remarkable fact is the size of the portions generally served by U.S. restaurants. Although the trend has moderated in recent years, portions have grown surprisingly large over the past two or three decades.

Smoking

A majority of states ban smoking in restaurants and bars by law, and many other restaurants and bars do the same by their own policy. Some have designated smoking areas. Check local information before lighting up.

Types of restaurants

Fast food restaurants such as McDonald's and Burger King are ubiquitous. But the variety of this type of restaurant in the US is astounding: pizza, Chinese food, Mexican food, fish, chicken, barbecued meat, and ice-cream only begin to touch on it. Alcoholic beverages are not served in these restaurants; "soda" (often called "pop" in the Midwest through the Northwest, or generically "coke" in the South) or other soft drinks are standard. Don't be surprised when you order a soda, are handed a paper cup and expected to fill it yourself from the machine (refills are often free). The quality of the food varies, but because of the strictly limited menu, it is generally good. Also the restaurants are usually clean and bright, and the service is limited but friendly. Tipping is not expected but you must clear your table after your meal.

Take-out food is very common in larger cities, for food that may take a little longer to prepare than a fast-food place can accommodate. Place an order by phone and then go to the restaurant to pick it up and take it away. Many places will also deliver; in fact, in some cities, it will be easier to have pizza or Chinese food delivered than to find a sit-down restaurant.

Chain sit-down restaurants are a step up in quality and price from fast food, although those with discerning palates will probably still be disappointed. They may specialize in a particular cuisine such as seafood or a particular nationality, though some serve a large variety of foods. Some are well-known for the breakfast meal alone, such as the International House of Pancakes [40] (IHOP) which serves breakfast all day in addition to other meals. A few of the larger chain restaurants include Red Lobster [41], Olive Garden [42], Applebee's [43] and T.G.I. Friday's [44], to name a few. These restaurants generally serve alcoholic beverages, though not always.

Very large cities in America are like large cities anywhere, and one may select from inexpensive neighborhood eateries to extravagantly expensive full-service restaurants with extensive wine lists and prices to match. In most medium sized cities and suburbs, you will also find a wide variety of restaurants of all classes. In "up-scale" restaurants, rules for men to wear jackets and ties, while once de rigueur, are becoming more relaxed, but you should check first if there is any doubt. This usually only happens at the most expensive of restaurants.

The diner is a typically American, popular kind of restaurant. They are usually individually run, 24-hour establishments found along the major roadways, but also in large cities and suburban areas. They offer a huge variety of large-portion meals that often include soup or salad, bread, beverage and dessert. They are usually very popular among the locals for breakfast, in the morning or after the bars. Diner chains include Denny's [45] and Norm's [46], but there are many non-chain diners.

No compendium of American restaurants would be complete without mentioning the truck stop. You will only encounter these places if you are taking an intercity auto or bus trip. They are located on interstate highways and they cater to truckers, usually having a separate area for diesel fuel, areas for parking "big rigs", and shower facilities for truckers who sleep in their cabs. These fabled restaurants serve what passes on the road for "plain home cooking": hot roast beef sandwiches, meatloaf, fried chicken, and of course the ubiquitous burger and fries -- expect large portion sizes!. In recent years the concept of the chain establishment has been adopted by truck stops as well, and two of the most ubiquitous of these, Flying J Travel Plazas and Petro Stopping Centers, have 24-hour restaurants at most of their installations, including "all you can eat" buffets. A general gauge of how good the food is at a given truck-stop is to note how many truckers have stopped there to eat.

Some bars double as restaurants open late at night. Note, however, that bars may be off-limits to those under 21 or unable to show photo ID proving they are not, and this may include the dining area.

American restaurants serve soft drinks with a liberal supply of ice to keep them cold (and fill the glass). Asking for no ice in your drink is acceptable, and the drink will still probably be fairly cool. If you ask for water, it will usually be chilled and served with ice, unless you request otherwise. In the majority of restaurants, soft drinks will be refilled for you at no extra charge, but you should ask if this is not explicitly stated.

Types of Service

Many restaurants aren't open for breakfast. Those that do (mostly fast-food and diners), serve eggs, toast, pancakes, cereals, coffee, etc. Most restaurants stop serving breakfast between 10 and 11 AM, but some, especially diners, will serve breakfast all day.

Continental Breakfast is usually a cheap way of getting food in the morning. Normally only cold foods such as cereal, breads, muffins, fruit, etc. are available. Milk, fruit juices, hot coffee and tea are the typical beverages. There is usually a toaster for your bread. Most frequently seen at hotels and motels.

Lunch can be a good way to get food from a restaurant whose dinners are out of your price range.

Dinner, the main meal. Depending on culture, region, and personal preference, is usually enjoyed between 5 and 9pm. Most restaurants will be willing to box up your leftover food. Making reservations in advance is a good idea if the restaurant is popular, "up-scale", or you are dining in a large group.

Buffets are generally a cheap way to get a large amount of food. For a single, flat, rate, you can have as many servings of whatever foods are set out. However, since food can be sitting out in the heat for hours, the quality can suffer. Generally buffets serve American or Chinese food.

Many restaurants serve Sunday brunch, served morning through early afternoon, with both breakfast and lunch items. There is often a buffet. Like most other meals, quality and price can vary by restaurant.

Rib tips in Memphis
Rib tips in Memphis

While many types of food are unchanged throughout the United States, there are a few distinct regional varieties of food. The most notable is in "the South" (actually the southeast), where traditional local fare includes grits (ground maize/corn), collard greens (a vegetable usually served boiled with a dash of vinegar), sweet tea (tea mixed with sugar and served with plenty of ice), barbeque(not unique to this region, but best and most common here), catfish(served deep-fried with a breadcrumb coating), cornbread, okra, and gumbo(a stew of seafood or sausage, rice, okra, and sometimes tomatoes).

Barbeque, BBQ, or barbecue is a delicious American specialty. At its best, it's beef brisket, ribs, or pork shoulder wood smoked slowly for hours. The brisket and ribs are usually sliced thin, and the pork shoulder can be shredded into a dish known as pulled pork. Sauce of varying spiciness may be served on the dish, or provided on the side. Various parts of the US have unique styles of barbeque. Generally, the best barbeque is found in the southeast, with the most distinct styles coming from Kansas City, Texas, Tennessee, and North Carolina. However, barbeque of some variety is generally available throughout the country. Barbeque restaurants differ from many other restaurants in that the best food is often served at very casual establishments. A typical barbeque restaurant may have plastic dinnerware, picnic tables, and serve sandwiches on cheap white bread. Barbeque found on the menu at a fancy chain or non-specialty restaurant is likely to be less authentic.

With a rich tradition of immigration, America has a wide variety of ethnic foods; everything from Ethiopian cuisine to Laotian food is available in major cities with large immigrant populations.

Chinese food is widely available and adjusted to American tastes. Authentic Chinese food can be found in restaurants in Chinatowns in addition to communities with large Chinese populations. Japanese sushi, Vietnamese, and Thai food have also been adapted for the American market in recent years. Fusion cuisine combines Asian ingredients and techniques with more traditional American presentation. Indian food outlets are available in most major US cities and towns.

Mexican/Hispanic food is very popular, but again in a localized version. Combining in various ways beans, rice, cheese, and spiced beef or chicken with round flatbread loaves called tortillas, dishes are usually topped with spicy salsa, sour cream, and an avocado mix called guacamole. Small authentic Mexican taquerias can be found easily in the Southwest, and increasingly in cities throughout the country.

Middle Eastern and Greek foods are also becoming popular in the United States. The "gyro" (known as "Doner Kebab" or "Schwarma" in Europe) is a popular Greek sandwich of sliced, processed lamb on a pita bread topped with lettuce, tomatoes and a yogurt-cucumber sauce. "Hummus" (a ground chickpea dip/sauce) and "baklava" pastries are frequently found in supermarkets.

Vegetarian food is easy to come by in big urban areas. As vegetarianism is becoming more common in the US, so are the restaurants that cater to them. Most big cities and college towns will have vegetarian restaurants serving exclusively or primarily vegetarian dishes. In smaller towns you may need to check the menu at several restaurants before finding a vegetarian main course, or else make up a meal out of side dishes. Meat-free breakfast foods such as pancakes or eggs are readily available at diners.

People on low-fat or low-calorie diets should be fairly well-served in the U.S., as there has been a continuing trend in calorie consciousness since the 1970s. Even fast-food restaurants have "lite" specials, and can provide charts of calorie and fat counts on request.

For the backpacker or those on very restricted budgets, American supermarkets offer an almost infinite variety of pre-packaged/pre-processed foods that are either ready or almost ready for consumption, e.g. breakfast cereal, ramen noodles, canned soups, etc.

Etiquette

It is usually inappropriate to join a table already occupied by other diners, even if it has unused seats; Americans prefer this degree of privacy when they eat. Exceptions are cafeteria-style eateries with long tables, and at crowded informal eateries and cafes you may have success asking a stranger if you can share the table they're sitting at. Striking up a conversation in this situation may be unwelcome, however.

Table manners, while varying greatly, are typically European influenced. Slurping or making other noises while eating are considered rude in most restaurants, as well as loud conversation (including phone calls). It is fairly common to wait until everybody at your table has been served before eating. Except in fast food restaurants, it is common to keep your napkin on your lap. Offense isn't taken if you don't finish your meal, and most restaurants will package the remainder to take with you, or provide a box for you to do this yourself (sometimes euphemistically called a "doggy bag", implying that the leftovers are for your pet). Visitors wishing to use this service option should ask the server to get the remainder "to go"; this term will be almost universally understood, and will not cause any embarrassment. Some restaurants offer an "all-you-can-eat" buffet or other service; taking home portions from such a meal is either not allowed, or carries an additional fee.

Many fast food items (sandwiches, burgers, pizza, tacos, etc) are designed to be eaten by hand.

Drink

Drinking customs in America are as varied as the backgrounds of its many people. In some rural areas, alcohol is mostly served in restaurants rather than dedicated drinking establishments, but in urban settings you will find numerous bars and nightclubs where food is either nonexistent or rudimentary. In very large cities, of course, drinking places run the gamut from tough local "shot and a beer" bars to upscale "martini bars".

While most American beer drinkers prefer light lagers – until the 1990s this was the only kind commonly sold – a wide variety of beers are now available all over the U.S. It is not too unusual to find a bar serving a hundred or more different kinds of beer, both bottled and "draft", though most will have perhaps a dozen or three, with a half dozen "on tap". Microbreweries – some of which have grown to be moderately large and/or purchased by one of the major breweries – make every kind of beer in much smaller quantities with traditional methods. Most microbrews are distributed regionally; bartenders will know the local brands. Nowadays all but the most basic taverns usually have one or more local beers on tap, and these are generally more characterful than the big national brands. Some brew pubs make their own beer in-house, and generally only serve the house brand.

Vineyards in Palisade, Colorado
Vineyards in Palisade, Colorado

Wine in the U.S. is also a contrast between low-quality commercial fare versus extremely high-quality product. California wines are some of the best in the world, and are available on most wine lists in the country. These are labeled primarily by the grape (merlot, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay). All but the cheapest wines are usually also labeled by region, which can be a state ("California", an area of a state ("Central Coast"), a county or other small region ("Willamette Valley"), or a specific vineyard ("Dry Creek Vineyard"). As a general rule, the narrower the region, the higher quality the wine is likely to be. The most prestigious California regions are Napa Valley, followed by Sonoma County. Other regions producing excellent wines, which may be better value for money since they are less famous, include Mendocino County, Santa Barbara County, and the Santa Cruz Mountains. Imports are widely available in better stores and establishments. All 50 U.S. states now support winemaking, with varying levels of success and respect. Oregon and Washington wines have been improving greatly in recent years, and can be bargains since they are not yet as well known as California wines. Michigan, and Colorado have recently been producing German-style whites which have won international competitions. In recent years, the Llano Estacado region of Texas has become regionally renowned for its wines. Sparkling wines are available by the bottle in up-scale restaurants, but are rarely served by the glass as they often are in western Europe. The best California sparkling wines have come out ahead of some famous brand French champagnes in recent expert blind tastings. The wines served in most bars in America are unremarkable, but wine bars are becoming more common in urban areas. Only the most expensive restaurants have extensive wine lists, and even in more modest restaurants wine tends to be expensive, even if the wine is mediocre. Many Americans, especially in the more affluent and cosmopolitan areas of the country, consider themselves knowledgeable about wine, and if you come from a wine producing country, your country's wines may be a good topic of conversation.

America's native spirit — bourbon, straight up
America's native spirit — bourbon, straight up

Hard alcohol is usually drunk with mixers, but also served "on the rocks" or "straight up" on request. Their increasing popularity has caused a long term trend toward drinking light-colored and more "mixable" liquors, especially vodka, and away from the more traditional darker liquors such as whiskey and bourbon that older drinkers favor.

Although laws regulating alcohol sales, consumption, and possession vary somewhat by state and county, the drinking age is 21 throughout the U.S. except in most of the outlying territories (where it is 18). Enforcement of this varies, but if you're under 30 you should definitely be prepared to show photo ID when buying alcohol in a store or entering a bar (which often refuse admittance to "minors" under 21). In some states, people who are under 21 are not even allowed to be present in bars or liqour stores. A foreign passport or other credible ID will probably be accepted, but many waiters have never seen one, and it may not even be legally valid for buying alcohol in some places. As a Driver's license is the most ubiquitous form of ID in the US and have a magnetic strip for verification purposes, some supermarkets have begun requiring them to purchase alcohol. In such cases, it is the cash register not the cashier which prevents such purchases. It's worth noting that most American ID's have the date of birth laid out as month/day/year, while frequently other countries ID's use year/month/day or day/month/year which may cause further confusion. Using false identification to misrepresent your age is a criminal offense in all 50 states, and while most alcohol vendors will simply refuse to sell or take a blatantly fake ID away, a few also call the police which may result in prosecution.

Selling alcohol is typically prohibited after a certain hour, usually 2 AM. In some states, most stores can only sell beer and wine; hard liquor is sold at dedicated liquor stores. Several "dry counties" – mostly in southern states – ban some or all types of alcohol in public establishments; private clubs (with nominal membership fees) are often set up to get around this. Sunday sales are restricted in some areas.

Most towns ban drinking in public (other than in bars and restaurants of course), with varying degrees of enforcement. Almost all communities have some sort of ban on "drunk and disorderly" behavior. Drunk driving comes under fairly harsh scrutiny, with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08% considered "Under the Influence" and many states considering 0.05% "Impaired". If you're under 21, however, most states define a DUI from 0.00-0.02%. Drunk driving checkpoints are fairly common during major "party" events, and although privacy advocates have carved out exceptions, if a police officer asks a driver to submit to a blood-alcohol test or perform a test of sobriety, you generally may not refuse (and in certain states such as New York it is a crime in its self). Penalties for DUI ("driving under the influence") or DWI ("driving while intoxicated"), can include thousands of dollars in fines and a jail sentence. It is also usually against the law to have an open container of alcohol within reach of the driver. Some states have "open bottle" laws which can levy huge fines for an open container in a vehicle, sometimes several hundred dollars per container.

The bright lights of Sin City, Las Vegas, Nevada
The bright lights of Sin City, Las Vegas, Nevada

Nightclubs in America run the usual gamut of various music scenes, from discos with top-40 dance tunes to obscure clubs serving tiny slices of obscure musical genres. Country music dance clubs, or honky tonks, are laid fairly thick in the South and West, especially in rural areas and away from the coasts, but one or two can be found in almost any city. Also, gay/lesbian nightclubs exist in nearly every medium- to large-sized city.

Until 1977, the only U.S. state with legalized gambling was Nevada. The state has allowed games of chance since the 1930s, creating such resort cities as Las Vegas and Reno in the process. Dubbed "Sin City," Las Vegas in particular has evolved into an end-destination adult playground, offering many other after-hours activities such as amusement parks, night clubs, strip clubs, shows, bars and four star restaurants. Gambling has since spread outside of Nevada to a plethora of U.S. cities like Atlantic City, New Jersey and Biloxi, Mississippi, as well as to riverboats, offshore cruises and Indian reservations. State lotteries and "scratch games" are another, popular form of legalized gambling. However, online gaming and wagering on sports across state lines remains illegal in the U.S.

Classic 1950s motel in Seligman, Arizona, along Route 66
Classic 1950s motel in Seligman, Arizona, along Route 66

By far the most common form of lodging in rural United States and along many Interstates is the motel. Providing inexpensive rooms to automotive travellers, most motels are clean and reasonable with a limited array of amenities: telephone, TV, bed, bathroom. Motel 6 [47] (+1 800 466-8356) is a national chain with reasonable rates ($30-$70, depending on the city). Super 8 Motels [48] (+1 800 800-8000) provides reasonable accommodations throughout the country as well. Reservations are typically unnecessary, which is convenient since you don't have to arbitrarily interrupt a long road trip; you can simply drive until you're tired then find a room. However, some are used by adults looking to book a night for sex or illicit activities and many are located in undesirable areas.

Business or extended-stay hotels are increasingly available across the country. They can be found in smaller towns across the midwest or in coastal urban areas. Generally they are more expensive than motels, but not as expensive as full-scale hotels, with prices around $70 to $170. While the hotels may appear to be the size of a motel, they may offer amenities from larger hotels. Examples include Marriott's Courtyard by Marriott, Fairfield Inns, and Residence Inns; Hilton's Hampton Inn and Hilton Garden Inn; Holiday Inn's Holiday Inn Express; Starwood's Element, and Hyatt Place.

Some extended-stay hotels are directed at business travelers or families on long-term stays (that are often relocating due to corporate decisions). These hotels often feature kitchens in most rooms, afternoon social events (generally by a pool), and serve continental breakfast. Such "suite" hotels are roughly equivalent to the serviced apartments seen in other countries, though the term "serviced apartments" is not generally used in American English.

Hotels are available in most cities and usually offer more services and amenities than motels. Rooms usually run about $80-$300 per night, but very large, glamorous, and expensive hotels can be found in most major cities, offering luxury suites larger than some houses. Note that many U.S. cities now have "edge cities" in their suburbs which feature high-quality upscale hotels aimed at affluent business travelers. These hotels often feature all the amenities of their downtown/CBD cousins (and more), but at less exorbitant prices.

In many rural areas, especially on the coasts and in New England, bed and breakfast (B&B) lodging can be found. Usually in converted houses or buildings with less than a dozen units, B&Bs feature a more home-like lodging experience, with complimentary breakfast served (of varying quality and complexity). Bed and breakfasts range from about $50 to $200 per night, with some places being much steeper. They can be a nice break from the impersonality of chain hotels and motels. Unlike Europe, most American bed and breakfasts are unmarked; one must make a reservation beforehand and receive directions there.

The two best-known hotel guides covering the U.S. are the AAA (formerly American Automobile Association; typically pronounced "Triple-A") TourBooks, available to members and affiliated auto clubs worldwide at local AAA offices; and the Mobil Travel Guide, available at bookstores. There are several websites booking hotels online; be aware that many of these sites add a small commission to the room rate, so it may be cheaper to book directly through the hotel. On the other hand, some hotels charge more for "drop-in" business than reserved rooms or rooms acquired through agents and brokers, so it's worth checking both.

There are also youth hostels across the U.S. Most are affiliated with the American Youth Hostel [49] organization (a Hostelling International member). Quality of hostels varies widely, but at $8-$24 per night, the prices are unbeatable. Despite the name, AYH membership is open to people of any age. Non-AYH hostels are also available, particularly in larger cities. Be aware that hostels are clustered in more touristy locations, do not assume that all mid sized towns will have a hostel.

Camping can also be a very affordable lodging option, especially with good weather. The downside of camping is that most campgrounds are outside urban regions, so it's not much of an option for trips to big cities. There is a huge network of National Parks [50] (+1 800 365-2267), with most states and many counties having their own park systems, too. Most state and national campgrounds are of excellent quality, with beautiful natural environments. Expect to pay $7-$20 per car on entry. Kampgrounds of America [51] (KOA) has a chain of commercial campground franchises across the country, of significantly less charm than their public-sector equivalents, but with hookups for recreational vehicles and amenities such as laundromats. Countless independently owned private campgrounds vary in character.

Learn

Short courses may be undertaken on a tourist visa. Community colleges typically offer college-credit courses on an open-admissions basis; anyone with a high school degree or its equivalent and the required tuition payment can generally enroll. In large cities, open universities may offer short non-credit courses on all sorts of practical topics, from ballroom dance to buying real estate. They are a good place to learn a new skill and meet people.

Studying full-time in the United States is an excellent opportunity for young adults seeking an advanced education, a chance to see a foreign country, and a better understanding of the U.S. and its people. It can be done independently by applying directly to a college for admission, or through the "study abroad" or "foreign exchange" department of a college in your own country, usually for a single term or one year. (Either approach requires, at minimum, an F or J student visa.) The latter is usually easiest; the two institutions will handle much of the arrangements, and you don't have to make a commitment to four years living in a strange country. Be forewarned, however: many state universities and private colleges are located in small towns, hundreds of miles from any big urban centers. Don't expect to spend your weekends in New York if your college is in North Dakota.

The types of schools vary dramatically. (In conversation, Americans tend to use the terms "school" and "college" inclusively: any college or university might be referred to as "school", and a university might be called "college".) State university systems are partially subsidized by state governments, and may have many campuses spread around the state, with hundreds of thousands of students. Private colleges are generally smaller (hundreds or a few thousand students), with a larger percentage of their students living on campus; some are affiliated with churches and may be more religious in character. Other kinds of colleges focus on teaching specific job skills, education for working adults, and providing inexpensive college-level education to local residents. Although nearly all colleges are open to students regardless of race, gender, religion, etc. many were originally established for a particular group (e.g. African-Americans, women, members of a particular religion) and may still attract primarily students from that group. Several private colleges remain female-only, there are a few male-only private colleges, and private religious colleges may expect students to practise the school's faith.

Colleges are funded by "tuition" charged to the student, which is often quite expensive, very commonly reaching into the tens of thousands of dollars per year. The most selective colleges (and hence, often the most desirable) run up to US$40,000-$50,000 dollars per year, including both tuition and "room & board" in that price. Most U.S. citizens receive substantial financial assistance from the federal government in the form of grants and low-interest loans, which are not available to non-citizens. Often financial aid for foreign students is provided by their home country. They may be eligible for privately-funded "scholarships" intended to provide educational opportunities for various kinds of students. Some U.S. banks offer loans to foreign students, which usually require a citizen to guarantee that they'll be repaid. Contact the Financial Aid Office of any college you are interested in attending for more information about the sources of aid available.

Almost all U.S. colleges and universities operate web sites (in the .edu domain) with information for prospective students and other visitors. Information on touring a handful of them has been collected into Touring famous universities in the U.S..

Work

Work in America is best arranged long before you enter the United States. Young people who are full time students of certain nationalities can apply for a J1 "Exchange Visitor" visa [52] which permits paid work as au pairs or summer work for up to 4 months in virtually any type of job. The United States Department of State has full information on applying for this type of visa including the precise categories that qualify.

The H-1B visa allows a limited number of skilled and certain unskilled employees to work in the United States. It is based on a petition filed by an American employer. The most common careers of hard-to-get H-1B visa holders are nurses, math teachers, and computer science professionals.

Paid work is generally not allowed on a B1/B2 visitor visa. Working unlawfully in the United States runs the very real risk of arrest, deportation, and ineligibility to re-enter the country. Illegal immigrants also run the risk of dangerous work conditions.

If you are seeking to adjust visa status or to enter the U.S. on a working visa you should first check the official government websites of the US Department of State[53], which issues visas abroad, and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services [54] which administers immigration programs within the United States. Unfortunately, con artists both in the U.S. and overseas often prey on people's desire to travel or work here. Keep in mind that visa applications do not usually require an attorney or other intermediary; be wary of and verify any "advice" offered by third parties.

Keep in mind that anyone entering under the Visa Waiver Program cannot adjust their status for any reason.

Stay safe

Crime

It is true that for an industrialized nation, the U.S. has a fairly high violent crime rate; however, most crime is concentrated in inner city neighborhoods. Few visitors to the U.S. experience any sort of crime. Much crime is gang- or drug-related, and it usually occurs in areas that are of little interest to visitors. You can all but ensure that you won't experience crime by taking common-sense precautions and staying alert to your surroundings.

Most American urban areas have homeless people. In some areas aggressive panhandling is a concern. If you feel you are being harassed, say NO firmly and walk away.

Security has increased along the United States - Mexico border due to increased illegal immigration and drug crime. Only cross the country's borders at official crossings.

Police

American police, though generally polite, professional, and honest, do tend to be quick on the trigger because of many unfortunate incidents where police officers were ambushed by fast-moving criminals. You will notice that police officers always keep their hands near their firearms until they are certain that the person they are talking to is not a threat.

Therefore, if stopped by a police officer, you should stay calm, be exceedingly polite and cooperative, avoid making sudden movements, and explain in advance what you are doing if you need to reach for your purse or wallet to present your identification. Do not attempt to offer a bribe under any circumstances; you will be arrested on the spot. If you need to a pay a fine, the officer can direct you to the appropriate police station, courthouse, or government office.

Natural disasters

The U.S. is a huge country with very varied geography, and parts of it are occasionally affected by natural disasters: hurricanes in June through November in the South including Florida, occasional tornadoes mostly in the Great Plains region, earthquakes in California and Alaska, and wildfires in summer on the West Coast, particularly California. See the regions in question for more details.

Because tornados are so common between the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachian Mountains, this area has earned itself the colloquial name Tornado Alley. The San Andreas Fault is a tectonic plate boundary running through California, an area prone to earthquakes.

Gay and lesbian

Attitudes toward homosexuality vary widely, even in locales with a reputation for tolerance or intolerance. Most Americans avoid public displays of affection; same-sex couples holding hands in public may get stares. Violence, however, is rare and extremely unlikely to happen to a traveler. In general, most Americans take a live-and-let-live approach to sexuality.

The U.S. has many gay-friendly destinations, where openly gay couples are common, including New York's Chelsea, Chicago's Boystown, San Francisco's Castro Street and Noe Valley, Washington's Dupont Circle, and Los Angeles' West Hollywood. Even outside of gay neighborhoods, many major cities are gay-friendly, especially in the Northeast and the West Coast. An increasing number of resort areas are known as gay-friendly, including Fire Island, Key West, Asheville, Provincetown, Ogunquit, Rehoboth Beach, Saugatuck, and parts of Asbury Park. In these areas it's generally not a problem to be open about one's sexual orientation. In many other smaller cities, there are neighborhoods where gay people tend to congregate.

Some gay-friendly businesses like to advertise themselves as such, say, with a rainbow flag or a small pink triangle or three-vertical-striped sticker in the window. Of course, chances are you'll also be welcome at any other public establishment. You will find that the rural areas of states, especially in the far South, will be much more unaccepting to homosexuals to the more modern cities on the East and West coasts.

Illicit drugs

Street drugs, including marijuana, are illegal throughout the U.S. Marijuana use is more widely accepted than other drugs (particularly on the West Coast), but generally not to the degree that it is in Canada or Western European countries. Although a few states have passed laws legalizing the medical use of marijuana, this will not protect any foreign citizen caught in possession. Outside of drug-using circles, most Americans frown upon illicit drug use regardless of quantity, and travelers would be wise to avoid using such substances in the United States. Penalties can be very severe, and can include mandatory minimum jail terms for possession of personal quantities in some states. Also, ANY drug possession near a school, however slight the quantity, will land you a heavy jail term. Attempting to bring any quantity into the U.S. poses a serious risk of being arrested for "trafficking".

Prostitution

Prostitution is illegal in all areas except at licensed brothels in rural Nevada counties. In other states, tolerance and enforcement of prostitution laws vary considerably, but be aware that police routinely engage in "sting" operations in which an officer may pose as a prostitute to catch and arrest persons offering to pay for sex.

911

During any emergency, dialing 911 at any telephone will connect you to the emergency services in the area (police, fire, ambulance, etc). Calls to 911 are free from payphones and any mobile phone capable of connecting with local carriers. Give the facts. The dispatchers will send help. Unless you are calling from a mobile phone, the 911 operator can almost certainly trace your line instantly and locate you.

With mobile phones it is more difficult, and in some states you may be connected to the regional office for the state police or highway patrol, which will then have to transfer you to the appropriate local agency once they talk to you and figure out what you need. Because of many horror stories of situations where mobile phone users became incapacitated (either by criminals or illness) after calling 911 and the operator could not locate them in time, in recent years more and more mobile phones have incorporated GPS devices that will display the user's precise geographical location to the 911 operator.

Never call 911 except to report a violent crime, a crime in progress, fire (in most places), or a medical emergency. Some cities have a 311 number for less urgent situations.

Stay healthy

The American health care system is world-class in quality, but very expensive for the uninsured. Americans generally use private health insurance, paid either by their employer or out of their own pocket; some risk paying high hospital bills themselves, or depend on government subsidized health plans. As a traveler, it is advisable to acquire health insurance with medical evacuation coverage before arriving in the U.S.; should you not do so and a medical incident occurs, you may face enormous hospital bills.

In a life-threatening emergency, call 911 to summon an ambulance to take you to the nearest hospital emergency room ("ER"), or in less urgent situations get to the hospital yourself and register at the ER's front desk. Emergency rooms will treat patients without regard to their ability to pay, but you will still be presented with a bill for all care. Do not use ERs for non-emergency walk-in care. Not only can this be 3-4 times more expensive than other options, but you will often wait many hours before being treated, as the staff will give priority to patients with urgent needs. In most areas, the charge for an emergency room visit starts around $500, in addition to any specific services or medications you may require. Most urban areas have minor emergency centers (also called "urgent care", etc.) for medical situations where a fully equipped emergency room would be excessive. However, their hours may be limited, and few are open overnight.

Walk-in clinics are another place for travelers to find routine medical care, letting patients see a doctor or nurse-practitioner without an appointment (but often with a bit of a wait). They are typically very up-front about fees, and always accept credit cards. To find one, check the yellow pages under "Clinics", or call a major hospital and ask. Make sure to tell the clerk you will be paying "out of pocket"; if they assume an insurance company will be paying for it, they may order tests that are not medically essential and in some cases bill for services that aren't actually provided.

Dentists are readily available throughout the United States (again, see the yellow pages). Dental offices are accustomed to explaining fees over the phone, and most will accept credit cards.

Most counties and cities have a government-supported clinic offering free or low-cost testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases; call the Health Department for the county you are in for more details. Many county clinics offer primary health care services as well, however these services are geared towards low-income residents and not foreign travelers. Planned Parenthood [55] (1-800-230-7526) is a private agency with clinics and centers around the country providing birth control and other reproductive health services for both females and males.

In 2009, the outbreak of Swine Flu has left many sick or even dead. Make sure you are taking any necessary precautions and to get vaccinated when possible.

  • It is polite to shake hands when meeting someone or being introduced. It is often omitted in less formal situations.
  • Unless it is really crowded, leave some personal space between yourself and others.
  • Social kissing as done in some parts of Europe is not practiced. Best to take your cues from others' behavior toward you.
  • As a result of its history of race-related discrimination and the modern push toward equality, Americans are exceptionally touchy about race issues. If you have to reference race, Black or African-American, Asian, Latino or Hispanic, Native American or American Indian, and White are acceptable terms.

Also see the section on tipping, and the section on smoking.

Contact

By phone

U.S. telephone numbers have a fixed format XXX-YYY-ZZZZ. The first three digits (XXX) are the area code, which is unique to a specific region of a state or sometimes a section of a city. You must sometimes dial "1" before the area code, if the area code differs from your phone's number. All of the digits must usually be dialed, even if "XXX" and "YYY" matches your phone's number. (In the smaller cities, XXX need not be dialed for local calls.) Calls to Canada and certain Caribbean islands can be dialed as if they were in the U.S. (some Caribbean islands are expensive); calls to other locations require an international access code (011). At some locations (businesses and hotels with internal phone systems), you will need to dial an access code (usually "8" or "9") to reach an outside line before dialing the number.

Numbers with the area code 800, 888, 877, or 866 are toll free within the U.S. Outside the country, dial 880, 881, 882, and 883 respectively, but won't be toll free. The area code 900 is used for services with additional charges applied to the call (e.g. "adult entertainment"). This is also true of "local" seven-digit phone numbers starting with 976.

Most visitor areas and some restaurants and bars have books with two listings of telephone numbers (often split into two books): the "white pages", for an alphabetical listing; and the "yellow pages", an advertising-filled listing of business and service establishments by category (e.g. "Taxicabs"). Directory information can also be obtained by dialing 411 (for local numbers) or 1-areacode-555-1212 (for other areas). If 411 doesn't work locally, try 555-1212 or 1-555-1212. Directory information is normally an extra cost call. As an alternative, directory information is available for free via 1-800-Free411, which is ad-supported. Information directories are also available online at each regional telephone company's web site (AT&T, Verizon, Bell South, and Qwest), as well as www.free411.com. Although each claims to have all the local phone numbers of the others, using the site of the region you are searching for yields the best results (i.e. AT&T for most of California, Verizon for the Northeast, etc.) Many residential land-line phones and all cellular (mobile) phones are unlisted.

Prior to the popularity of personal cell phones, pay phones were ubiquitous on sidewalks all over the United States, and commonplace in other places such as gas stations. Today, however, many phone companies have removed them or have increased their charges substantially. You will probably have to enter a store or restaurant to find one, though some are against the outer wall of such businesses, usually in front, or near bus stops.

Long-distance telephone calling cards are available at most convenience stores. Most calling cards have specific destinations in mind (domestic calls, calls to particular countries), so make sure you get the right card. Some cards may be refilled by phoning a number and giving your Visa/Mastercard number, but often operators refuse foreign cards for this purpose.

American mobile phone service (known as cell phones regardless of the technology used) is not very compatible with that offered elsewhere. While GSM has been gaining popularity, the U.S. uses the unusual 1900 and 850 MHz frequencies; check with your operator or mobile phone dealer to see if your phone is a tri-band or quad-band model that will work here. The two largest GSM network operators are T-Mobile USA [56] and AT&T [57]. Roaming fees are high and text messages may not always work due to compatibility issues between networks. Alternatives to using your own phone include renting one (most larger airports have a shop, with rental fees starting at $3/day) or buying a cheap local prepaid phone. Be aware, however, that prepaid mobiles in the U.S. are not nearly as common as in Europe; per-minute fees for prepaid service are generally high (usually around $0.25/minute).

Diamond Head & Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Hawaii
Diamond Head & Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Hawaii

First class airmail postcards and letters (if not oversized, or over one ounce/28.5 grams) are $0.75 to Canada and Mexico and $0.98 elsewhere. All locations with a USPS zip code are considered domestic, including Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, Federated States of Micronesia, U.S. Navy ships at sea, etc. Domestic postcards are $0.28, and small letters up to an ounce are $0.44. If you put a solid object like a coin or keys in an envelope, you'll pay a surcharge. Rates change annually in mid-May of each year.

You can receive mail sent both domestically and from abroad by having it addressed to you as "General Delivery." In other countries, this is often called Poste Restante. There is no charge for this service. You just go to the main post office, wait in line, and they will give you your mail after showing ID such as a passport.

John Doe
General Delivery
Seattle, Washington 98101-9999
U.S.A.

The last four digits of the ZIP (postal) Code for General Delivery is always '9999'. If the city is large enough to have multiple post offices, only one (usually in the center of downtown) will have the General Delivery service. This means, for example, if you're staying in the Green Lake district of Seattle (a few miles north of downtown), you cannot receive your mail at the Green Lake Post Office, and must travel downtown to get it. On the other hand, if you're completely outside of the city of Seattle, and in a smaller town with only one post office, you can have it sent there. UPS and FedEx also have a "Hold for Pickup" option.

By Internet

Most Americans have Internet access, mostly in their homes and offices. Internet cafes, therefore, are not common outside of major metropolitan, tourist and resort areas. However, in every city and large town there is at least one public library where computers equipped with free internet access are available to the public.

If you bring your own computer,

  • Many hotels provide in-room internet connections, sometimes wireless, sometimes included in the price of the room.
  • Many coffee shops, bookstores, libraries and other establishments provide free wireless internet access for laptop computers.
  • Some cities also have free WiFi connectivity. Some airports provide wireless access, usually for a fee.
  • If driving, in a pinch you can always park in a chain hotel parking lot, on a crowded suburban/urban residential street, or by a commercial strip by coffeeshops or libraries, and grab WiFi access from your car. Unlike Europe, most WiFi signals are not password protected and can be easily accessed. However, some local municipalities are outlawing this practice but enforcement is nearly non-existent due to the difficulty of identification.
  • The best bet for computer rental is a "photocopy shop" such as FedEx Kinko's, now in the process of rebranding as FedEx Office [58] (+1 800 2KINKOS/+1 800 254 6567), which is a national chain.
  • Some hotels have "business centers" where you can use a computer connected to the internet, fax a message, use a printer and make copies.
This is a usable article. It has information about the country and for getting in, as well as links to several destinations. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!

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Wiktionary

Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

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Proper noun

the United States of America

  1. A country in North America, sharing land borders with Canada and Mexico, stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, and including Alaska, Hawaii, and several territories.

Synonyms

Related terms

Translations

Derived terms

See also


Genealogy

Up to date as of February 01, 2010
(Redirected to United States article)

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