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United States of America travel guide

About United States of America

From the soaring skyscrapers of New York City to the dramatic mesas of Arizona, the United States of America is a place of staggering beauty and extraordinary diversity. Nothing prepares you for your first glimpse of Manhattan’s iconic skyline, the yawning expanses of the Grand Canyon or the neon-lit excesses of Las Vegas, just some of the country's many highlights.

You could easily spend a lifetime in the US and still feel like you’ve just scratched the surface. It’s epic on every scale. After all, this is a place where you can watch the thunderous spectacle of Niagara Falls, trek through the soaring Black Hills of South Dakota and cruise along California’s glorious Pacific Coast; where you can ski at Lake Tahoe, go cattle ranching in the Midwest and imbibe live jazz in New Orleans. The options, it seems, are endless.

The USA’s manmade landscapes are nearly as spectacular as the natural ones. New York City boasts some of the most impressive skyscrapers on the planet (think Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, Rockefeller Centre), although the skylines of Seattle, Chicago, LA and Vegas are no less recognisable.

The American people are similarly diverse; from the colourful Cubans of the southeast to the gun-slinging wranglers of Texas and hardy Inuits of Alaska, the country is a melting pot of cultures. Generations of immigrants have shaped the national identity in everything from food and language to music and manners.

Once derided for being boring, the resurgent capital, Washington, D.C, boasts hip new bars, chic boutiques and a burgeoning culinary scene, which are welcome diversions in this theatre of politics. In spring, the city turns pink with cherry blossom – the legacy of a peace offering sent by Japan.

The glorious East Coast retreat of Cape Cod is also not to be missed. Looking around this exquisite peninsula it’s easy to see why the founding fathers, who stepped off the Mayflower here, chose to make this extraordinary land their home. "God bless America," they sang. And God blessed her indeed.

Key facts


9,826,675 sq km (3,794,100 sq miles).


324,118,787 (UN estimate 2016).

Population density:

32.5 per sq km.


Washington, DC.


Federal republic.

Head of state:

President Joe Biden since 2021.

Head of government:

President Joe Biden since 2021.

Baggage Rules

Electronic devices mustn’t contain empty rechargeable batteries. For more information visit the Department of Homeland Security website.


Travel Advice

This travel advice also covers American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and United States Virgin Islands.

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) provides advice about risks of travel to help British nationals make informed decisions. Find out more about FCDO travel advice.

Before you travel

No travel can be guaranteed safe. Read all the advice in this guide as well as support for British nationals abroad which includes:

  • advice on preparing for travel abroad and reducing risks
  • information for women, LGBT+ and disabled travellers

Follow and contact FCDO travel on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You can also sign up to get email notifications when this advice is updated.

Travel insurance

If you choose to travel, research your destinations and get appropriate travel insurance. Insurance should cover your itinerary, planned activities and expenses in an emergency.

This advice reflects the UK government’s understanding of current rules for people travelling on a full ‘British citizen’ passport from the UK, for the most common types of travel.

The authorities in the USA set and enforce entry rules. If you’re not sure how these requirements apply to you, contact the US embassy or consulate in the UK.

COVID-19 rules

Countries may restrict travel or bring in rules at short notice. Check with your travel company or airline for changes.

If you test positive for COVID-19 while in the USA, you may need to stay where you are until you test negative. You may also need to seek treatment there.

Visit TravelHealthPro (from the UK’s National Travel Health Network and Centre) for general COVID-19 advice for travellers.

Passport validity

If you are visiting the USA your passport should be valid for the proposed duration of your stay. You don’t need any additional period of validity on your passport beyond this.

Global Entry programme

The US Customs and Border Protection programme Global Entry allows pre-approved travellers through border control faster at some US airports. If you’re a British citizen, you can register to get a UK background check on GOV.UK. If you pass the background checks, you’ll be invited to apply for Global Entry.

Visa requirements

You will need either an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) visa waiver or a visa to enter or transit the USA as a visitor.

You are not normally eligible for an ESTA visa waiver if you have been in the following countries on or after March 2011:

  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • Libya
  • North Korea
  • Somalia
  • Sudan
  • Syria
  • Yemen

You cannot apply for an ESTA visa waiver if you have travelled to or been in Cuba after 1 January 2021. You must instead apply for a US visa.

You cannot apply for an ESTA visa waiver if you:

  • have been arrested (even if the arrest did not result in a criminal conviction)
  • have a criminal record
  • have been refused admission into, or have been deported from the USA
  • have previously overstayed under an ESTA visa waiver

Check the US State Department website for more information on US visas.

Applying for a visa

Visit the US Embassy for details on how to apply for a visa.

US visa appointments

Visa appointments at the US Embassy in London are limited. Plan your application as far ahead as possible before travel. If you need to travel urgently, you can request an expedited interview through the US Embassy’s appointment service provider.

Visit the US Embassy’s website for more information on visa appointments.

Children and young people

Under-18s must:

  • have a valid visa or ESTA visa waiver on arrival
  • be able to provide evidence about the purpose, location and length of their visit if asked by immigration officials
  • have written consent from one or both parents if travelling alone, with only one parent, or with someone who is not a parent or legal guardian

The US authorities can stop you entering the country if they have safeguarding concerns about a child. If this happens, the US authorities will take the child into their care. Their return from the USA could take months. The FCDO cannot speed up the return of British nationals who are under 18 from the USA.

The US Government provides information about children under-18 travelling to the USA. If you have any questions, contact the US Embassy.


There is a high threat of terrorist attack globally affecting UK interests and British nationals, including from groups and individuals who view the UK and British nationals as targets. You should remain vigilant at all times.

UK Counter Terrorism Policing has information and advice on staying safe abroad and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack. Find out how to reduce your risk from terrorism while abroad.

Terrorism in the USA

Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in the USA.

Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners. You should remain aware of your surroundings, keep up to date with local media reports and follow the advice of local authorities. Targets could include:

  • crowded areas
  • transportation networks
  • public events

The US Department of Homeland Security provides current alerts within the USA and its territories.


Protecting your belongings

Do not leave passports in rental cars, especially in the boot. Gangs may target vehicles of those who appear to be tourists.

Violent crime

Tourists are rarely involved in violent and gun crime, but take care in unfamiliar areas. Avoid walking through quieter areas alone, especially at night. You can find public advisories and information about recent incidents on the websites of local law enforcement authorities.

Incidents of mass shooting can happen but are a very small percentage of homicide deaths. Read the US Department of Homeland Security advice on what to do in an active shooter incident.

Research your destination before travelling and follow the advice of local authorities. Crime associated with illegal drugs is a major issue in Mexican states bordering Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas. Some foreign nationals have been victims of crime in the border regions, but there is no evidence to suggest they have been targeted because of their nationality.


Protests are common and can become violent. Follow the instructions of local authorities who may introduce curfews or emergency orders. If you do attend any peaceful protests, you should:

  • be mindful of your surroundings
  • move away if there are signs of trouble
  • follow the instructions of local authorities

Laws and cultural differences

US states may have different laws. Whilst you are in a state, you are subject to both that state’s laws as well as national (federal) law.

Personal ID

Always carry a passport showing that you have permission to enter or remain in the USA.

Alcohol laws

The national legal age for buying and drinking alcohol is 21 years. Some states have different laws. If you are under-21, check the relevant state laws before drinking or buying alcohol.

Illegal drugs and prison sentences

Possession or trafficking of illegal drugs in the USA can carry a long prison sentence and fine. Check state laws to make sure you comply with the laws on possession and use of controlled substances. The US Department of Justice website provides a list of all controlled substances.

LGBT+ travellers

The USA is a very diverse society and attitudes towards lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT+) people differ hugely across the country. Read our information and advice page for the LGBT+ community before you travel. You can find more detail on LGBT+ issues in the USA on the Human Rights Campaign website.

Transport risks

Road travel

If you are planning to drive in the USA, see information on driving abroad and check the driving rules in the state(s) you’ll be visiting.

Licences and permits

If you plan on driving in the USA, you may need a 1949 international driving permit (IDP) as well as a full valid driving licence.  IDP requirements vary in each state.  For more information, you can consult individual states’ Department of Motor Vehicles as well as the American Automobile Association (AAA).

You cannot buy an IDP outside the UK, so get one before you travel. You can buy an IDP in person from some UK post offices – find your nearest post office branch that offers this service. Provisional licences are not accepted.

If you have an older, paper UK driving licence you must take another form of photographic ID, such as your passport. You may need to show an IDP to your insurance company if you’re involved in an accident.

If you’re hiring a vehicle, check requirements with your rental company before you travel.

Vehicle safety

When travelling by car, you should:

  • check weather conditions before a long car journey, particularly in mountainous, isolated or desert areas where services may be limited
  • not sleep in your car by the road or in rest areas
  • avoid leaving any items on display in your car
  • stay on main roads
  • use well-lit car parks

If you’re in an accident, ask any other drivers involved to follow you to a public place and call the police.

Petrol stations

Petrol stations that do not display the price of fuel usually charge considerably more than the national average. They’re often found close to tourist destinations and airports, including near to Orlando International Airport. Make sure you know the price of fuel before using these services.

Air travel

Before you travel, check the security measures you’re likely to face at the airport on the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) website. Contact TSA Cares for assistance if you have a medical condition or disability and need assistance.

To monitor airport conditions in the USA, visit the Federal Aviation Administration website.

Extreme weather and natural disasters

Extreme Heat

Extreme heat is currently affecting many parts of the USA. Check the temperature in your area and visit the CDC website for information on how to take care of yourself.


Snowstorms during winter can disrupt critical infrastructure, and cause power cuts, or delays and cancellations in major transport hubs. Contact your travel company or airline before you travel.


The Atlantic hurricane season normally runs from June to November. The Pacific hurricane season normally runs from May to November. They can affect coastal regions, Hawaii and Guam. The South Pacific tropical cyclone season normally runs from November to May and can affect American Samoa.

You should:


Earthquakes are a risk in:

  • Alaska
  • American Samoa
  • California
  • Guam
  • Hawaii
  • Nevada
  • Northern Mariana Islands
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Puerto Rico
  • Washington (state)
  • US Virgin Islands

To learn more about what to do before, during and after an earthquake, visit the Federal Emergency Management website.


Tornadoes can happen anytime depending on weather conditions. Read advice about what to do during and after a tornado from the US Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Volcanic eruptions in Hawaii

There is continuous volcanic activity on Hawaii’s Big Island. Monitor local media reports and follow the advice of local authorities, including any evacuation orders. Visit the State of Hawaii’s website for information and alerts on volcanic activity. To learn more about what to do before, during and after a volcano, visit the Federal Emergency Management website.


Forest and brush fires (wildfires) are a danger in many dry areas, particularly in canyons, hills and forests. High winds can mean fires spread rapidly.

You should:

  • monitor local media and weather reports
  • follow the advice of local authorities, including any evacuation orders
  • be careful in areas recently affected by wildfires, as there may be mudslides during heavy rainfall

For more information visit the National Interagency Fire Centre and Fire Research and Management Exchange System websites.

For more detail about wildfires in California, visit the CAL FIRE website.

Arctic travel

Parts of the USA are in the Arctic Circle, including some very remote areas of land and sea. Emergency medical assistance and search and rescue are limited in these areas. See Arctic travel safety advice.

Before you travel check that:

  • your destination can provide the healthcare you may need
  • you have appropriate travel insurance for local treatment or unexpected medical evacuation

This is particularly important if you have a health condition or are pregnant.

Emergency medical number

Dial 911 and ask for an ambulance.

Contact your insurance or medical assistance company promptly if you’re referred to a medical facility for treatment.

Vaccinations and health risks

At least 8 weeks before your trip check:

Altitude sickness is a risk in parts of the USA. More information about altitude sickness is available from TravelHealthPro (from the UK’s National Travel Health Network and Centre).

Mosquito bites

Take steps to avoid bites from mosquitoes and ticks – read guidance on TravelHealthPro. There are occasional outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases.

Zika virus is a risk in:

  • Florida
  • Texas (Cameron County and Hidalgo County only)
  • Puerto Rico
  • US Virgin Islands
  • American Samoa

For more information and advice, visit TravelHealthPro for Florida and Texas, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands and American Samoa.


The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or bought in the UK can be different in other countries.

You cannot take some prescription drugs into the USA. The US Food and Drug Administration provides information and advice on bringing medicines into the USA.

UK prescriptions are not valid in the USA. To get pharmacy drugs, you need a prescription from a US provider (available from an urgent care facility, emergency room or a doctor).

TravelHealthPro explains best practice when travelling with medicines.

The NHS has information on whether you can take your medicine abroad.

Healthcare facilities in the USA

Medical treatment is expensive and there are no special arrangements for British visitors.

Some hospitals ask non-US residents to pay a deposit when admitted. Send any requests for funds to your travel insurance provider first; only pay the hospital if you’re advised to do so by your travel insurance company. Your medical care won’t be affected while your claim is processed.

Medical facilities in American Samoa are basic and you may need medical evacuation by air ambulance to Hawaii, New Zealand or Australia.

Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.

COVID-19 healthcare in the USA

Isolation requirements will depend on the guidance in the state where you are. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has guidance on how to protect yourself and others.

Travel and mental health

Read FCDO guidance on travel and mental health. There is also guidance on TravelHealthPro.

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) cannot provide tailored advice for individual trips. Read this travel advice and carry out your own research before deciding whether to travel.

Emergency services in the USA

Telephone: 911 (ambulance, fire, police)

Contact your travel provider and insurer

Contact your travel provider and your insurer if you are involved in a serious incident or emergency abroad. They will tell you if they can help and what you need to do.

Refunds and changes to travel

For refunds or changes to travel, contact your travel provider. You may also be able to make a claim through insurance. However, insurers usually require you to talk to your travel provider first.

Find out more about changing or cancelling travel plans, including:

  • where to get advice if you are in a dispute with a provider
  • how to access previous versions of travel advice to support a claim

Support from FCDO

FCDO has guidance on staying safe and what to do if you need help or support abroad, including:

Contacting FCDO

Follow and contact FCDO travel on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You can also sign up to get email notifications when this travel advice is updated.

Help abroad in an emergency

If you are abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy or consulate in the USA.

You can also contact FCDO online.

FCDO in London

You can call FCDO in London if you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad.

Telephone: 020 7008 5000 (24 hours)

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