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4 things to know before travelling to the United States

The United States of America is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world. California, New York and Florida frequently top the list of the most popular states for domestic travel. But, whether you are a national or international traveller, there are some tips and tricks that will be very useful to you and will make you an informed traveller.

Before flying

Make sure your passport is valid

Most travellers to the United States will need to have at least six months of validity on their passports. However, citizens of some countries only need a valid passport for the duration of their stay. Check the website of the government of your country of residence for the rules that apply to your case.

Know your visa status

It is important for travellers to the United States to understand the requirements for entering the country. The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows nationals of certain countries (such as the UK) to enter the United States for tourism or visiting purposes for a maximum period of 90 days without a visa. If you can enter the country with the VWP, you must apply for an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) authorization before travelling.

Requirements for travel under the VWP include possession of an electronic passport, citizenship of a member country, ESTA authorization, business, leisure or transit visits, and a maximum stay of 90 days in the United States. You must obtain permission to travel at least 72 hours before your flight (otherwise, you will not be able to board your flight). Thereafter, your ESTA authorization is valid for two years.

Buy a TSA approved lock

It’s a great idea to lock your luggage when you are flying! However, when travelling to the United States, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) applies strict baggage security guidelines. All checked baggage is screened and, if TSA inspectors believe that a bag should be physically inspected, they are allowed to break a lock and open a bag. A note will be placed in your luggage to let you know that this is what happened. To avoid losing a lock, it is preferable to use one approved by the TSA. These can be opened with a main key, which means that the TSA manager does not need to break yours.

Know the transit rules

If you have an international flight transiting through the United States (especially on flights to Canada or South America), you will need to clear U.S. customs. Technically, there is no “transit” in America, as all passengers must disembark and pass through immigration and customs. Remember that this means that you must meet the visa requirements for the United States, even if you stay only a few hours between two international flights and your luggage is checked in to your final destination.

Even if you are connecting to an American domestic flight, it is important to remember that your first port of entry will be the place where customs and immigration formalities pass through. In this spirit, you should allow at least two to three hours of break between flights (in international or national transit) to allow immigration, customs and baggage screening. Try to book flights with an airline to make sure you are in transit.