10 typical mistakes on a USA vacation

On your first trip to the United States, things can get awkward if you don't master the laws of American coexistence. Learn how to avoid common blunders when traveling to the United States.

"Why is everyone staring?" For many US visitors, putting their foot in their mouth comes by surprise when interacting with Americans for the first time.

Here are the 10 most common mistakes made by tourists to the USA and some valuable tips on how to avoid slipping up:

#1. Forgetting your ESTA

Travel to the USA with ESTA

The first blunder is waiting upon your arrival at the US border already! Besides the strange looks from fellow travelers and interrogations by the border officials, it can also become really expensive: you are not allowed to enter the United States without a travel permit - not even for a transfer!

Therefore, do not get on the plane without an ESTA permit! You can obtain the electronic travel authorization with minimal effort and at a much lower price than a US visa. Apply for an ESTA at least 72 hours before your trip.

The ESTA or visa requirement for the USA does not apply to Green Card holders! With a Permanent Resident Card, you can travel to and from the United States without restrictions and even permanently live and work in the US. You have a realistic chance to win one of the desired US immigrant visas by participating in the annual Green Card Lottery!

Enter the Green Card Lottery now

#2. Tipping too little

Tipping in the USA

In restaurants, for hotel services, or when paying tour guides in the USA, you should allow for a generous tip of at least 15 % - ideally even 20 %. Tipping too little is not a good way to make friends in the United States. Due to the low base salaries for certain professions, this small additional income is essential for the survival of service staff.

Tipping is easy with your travel credit card, and there is no need to carry change. There is an extra line on bills and receipts for you to enter the tip amount before signing for payment.

#3. Bringing certain foods to the USA

Entry requirements for the USA

The entry requirements for the USA hold many a surprise. For example, sweets that are sold along with non-edible toys are forbidden in the United States! So better leave all those exciting treats at home if you don't want to get into trouble at the border.

What is true for the USA also applies to most other countries: you must check visa and import regulations. For example, countries such as Canada, New Zealand, and Australia have strict rules that differ greatly from one another. To be safe, check our international online visa guides before traveling.

#4. Smoking and drinking

Alcohol and smoking in the USA

Alcohol laws in the USA are strict, and public consumption is prohibited in most places. If you still want to enjoy your beer outdoors, it has to be put in a bag. You're probably familiar with so-called "brown-bagging" from television.

And also, smokers have a hard time in the USA: the American non-smoker protection law was established to protect your fellow beings from "second-hand smoke." However, the law is interpreted differently in each US state.

To be on the safe side, only smoke in designated areas in the US.

#5. Not knowing dating rules

Dating rules in the USA

Did you lose your heart to an American? Congratulations! However, the dating rules in America can be quite a culture shock. Here's an overview:

  • The word "date" implies that it is about more than friendship.
  • It must be clear in advance who is footing the bill on a first date.
  • After the first date, you should get back to each other within three days.
  • On the third date, there is no doubt: you are now a couple and may kiss!
  • Never forget Valentine's Day!

When things get serious
You're head over heels in love and want to get married? Awesome! By marrying a US citizen, you also acquire the right to a family Green Card and can look forward to a super romantic American wedding!

#6. Being rude

Politeness in the USA

In most parts of the USA, there is a great emphasis on openness, friendliness, and a respectful way of communicating. It is completely normal for Americans to talk to strangers in public, have a little chit-chat, and then part ways again. Some rules of etiquette:

  • If someone approaches you on the street, stop briefly and respond in a friendly manner before moving on.
  • If you think your counterpart is in the wrong in a conversation, don't let them know.
  • Keep your opinions on politics, sex, and crime to yourself.

A lot of perceived rudeness is caused by a language barrier. With a little refresher course in English, you can minimize the risk of embarrassing language faux pas.

#7. Not respecting US cops

Traffic control in the USA

Police officers in the USA are a lot tougher than in many other countries. Therefore, it is important that you adhere to all applicable laws and traffic regulations in the respective US state.

Also, it is crucial to follow the rules of conduct for police checks in the USA. These are as follows:

  • Do not get out of the car before the officer tells you to.
  • Keep your hands on the wheel.
  • Turn off the engine and light the interior.
  • Open the car window completely.
  • After stopping, wait for the officer to step up to the car window.

If your English is not particularly fluent, let the police officer know at the beginning of the check. They will then be more considerate during the conversation.

#8. Misbehaving in a US restaurant

Restaurant visit in the USA

When dining in American restaurants, check the following rules to avoid putting your foot in your mouth:

  • Reserve a seat before you arrive at the restaurant.
  • After arriving, wait in the reception area until you are assigned a table.
  • When your dish is served, just start eating. Sayings like "enjoy your meal" are not common in the United States.
  • Eat fast foods like burgers, fries, and pizza with your hands.

Fun fact
Many Americans consider it blasphemy to eat fast food with a knife and fork. Former New York Mayor Bill de Blasio once suffered this fate when he was photographed eating pizza with cutlery. New York Magazine called this incident a "disaster."

#9. Using the metric system

Units of measurement in the USA

Meters, liters, and kilos won't get you far in the United States. Therefore, before talking to an American about temperatures, distances, or weights, take a moment to review the terms here:

American measurement units
1 inch 2,54 cm
1 foot 30,48 cm
1 yard 91,44 cm
1 mile 1,609 km
1 ounce 28,35 g
1 pound 453,59 g
1 quarter 12,7 kg
1 degree Fahrenheit -17,2 degree Celsius

#10. Disregarding holidays and the Flag Code

Holidays in the USA

You already learned in this article not to forget Valentine's Day. However, there are more rules that may cause embarrassment around the holidays:

  • Don't wear white pants after Labor Day on the first Monday in September.
  • Christmas festivities in the USA don't start on Christmas Eve but on Christmas Day.
  • On St. Patrick's Day, you are supposed to wear something green.
  • Do not say "Happy Memorial Day" to anyone! Many Americans are in mourning on this day.
  • The "Stars & Stripes" are under special protection (United States Flag Code), not only on holidays. Therefore, the US flag should not touch the ground or hang next to a billboard.

Flag Code rules and even some holiday customs are interpreted a bit more loosely these days. But especially when dealing with American seniors, you should be respectful.

Bonus tip: Keep your Green Card close

You just won a Green Card? That’s huge! With your new US Immigrant Visa, you are now allowed to live and work in the US and have almost the same rights as a US citizen!

But beware: you must carry your Green Card with you at all times! Under Section 264(e) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.), you may be fined up to $ 100 if you are caught without your Green Card.

Americans are proud of their nation and what they have accomplished together. Show your respect by learning about the USA's customs, culture, and laws before you travel. We wish you a great and embarrassment-free time in the United States!

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