Flying to the USA - What should i watch out for?
May 25, 2008 12:56 PM   Subscribe

Flying to the USA - What should i watch out for?

Were planning on flying to the US (probably boston area) for 2 weeks in the summer (from germany).
Is there anything i should know to make my stay as enjoyable as possible?
Also, i use trabber for finding cheap flights. Does anyone know any similar useful websites and tools?
posted by freddymetz to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite offers a powerful flight comparison engine.

You'll need your passports, naturally, and customs will be a bit annoying and you'll probably have to submit to the US VISIT so be prepared to be photographed and fingerprinted.

You'll need voltage adapters as well. Note that most AC adapter devices are dual-voltage and can be used on 220 or 110, but you'll need to check to make sure that it can take both inputs and further, you'll need an adapter to plug into US-style plugs. For devices that can't take 110, you'll need a converter.

As for Boston specifically, I've got nothing; I've yet to make it there, but others will be more than helpful, I'm sure.
posted by disillusioned at 1:09 PM on May 25, 2008

Take a pen on the plane because they will give you forms to fill out. You will need to have the address of where you are staying to hand, also for those forms.
If you are bringing mobile phones, make sure they will work in the US (it's a different GSM band than used in Europe or the UK). Even so, don't expect them to work reliably - you will find yourself switched back and forth between AT&T and T-mobile networks, and probably only one of the two will work properly.
All the money is the same size and colour; work out a system for not getting $1 and $100 bills all mixed together.
Carry your passports with you at all times; you are likely to need them (and be over 21!) to buy a beer. You will want to try a wide variety of beers because so many are excellent.
posted by nowonmai at 1:26 PM on May 25, 2008

Jetblue and Southwest have cheap-er fares, though nothing on the scale of EasyJet or RyanAir here. Seconding Kayak, but be aware that fares for Southwest and American airlines will not show up on kayak. Also try Expedia and travelocity.

In terms of hotels (and rental cars) I love Hotwire. You put in the city and zone you're interested in and they give you options - you can often get clean, fine rooms for $29 a night where I travel, or you can choose a three or four star hotel. The catch is you only find out what hotel you are getting after you give them your credit card information.

I can't think of anything you'd bring along with you (hair dryer, laptop, camera battery charger, phone) that won't be dual voltage, but do check. Frying electronics is always fun. If you don't arrive with adaptors, don't worry about it - they are available in every major airport I've been to and at most Radio Shacks, an electronics store which is ubiquitous here.

For Boston - consider not having a car and renting a bike instead. I have friends who have enjoyed that immensely.
posted by arnicae at 1:31 PM on May 25, 2008

First off, don't go on about how bad American beer is until you've had a microbrew or three.

Boston is pretty easy to get around thanks to the T. No need to rent a car, and you probably shouldn't, since the street system is a nightmare to get around. You'll be milling with the summer tourists, but it has a lot to do and see, lots of history, great museums. If you have the money, buy a Red Sox ticket from a broker.

If you want to get out of Boston, then you will probably need a car if you want to go anywhere not served by Amtrak.

Call for a meetup while you're here. Boston and Providence have lots of MeFites. Jessamyn is a few hours drive north in Vermont. The nice thing about meetups is you can meet people who will give you advice or just grab you and show you around town.

For the most part, all tourists are more than welcome in the US, especially when they're spending money.
posted by dw at 1:33 PM on May 25, 2008

For hotels, I go almost exclusively the route. You can name your own price and almost always get about half off. You can limit things to a specific part of town and you can restrict the star level to ensure that you're not put up in a Motel 6. It's rather great for that. If you don't get the price you'd like, often you'll get a counter-offer, or can rebid in 24 hours. It's the way to go, really.

Kayak DOES list American Airlines prices, btw, but no, not Southwest.
posted by disillusioned at 1:34 PM on May 25, 2008

You'll need to fill in a customs declarations form and an immigration form while on the plane. If you're eligible for the Visa Waiver Program (if you're a German citizen, for example), please make sure that the immigration form is the green one.

Tipping at restaurants is about 15-20%.

Are you there for business or fun? Boston is a great walking city, so do walk around when you're downtown. Try the Freedom Trail ($15 at the Visitor Information booth at the Boston Common), the Skywalk Observatory ($12 at the Prudential Tower) and the Museum of Fine Arts (pay-as-you-wish after 4pm on Wednesday).
posted by hellopanda at 1:48 PM on May 25, 2008

before choosing an airline based on price alone I'd suggest checking the skytraxx airline quality and reading up on them. this might save you from a nasty mistake or two.

here's a freebie: don't fly LTU.
posted by krautland at 1:54 PM on May 25, 2008

Remember to tip bartenders (a dollar a drink is standard).
posted by ob at 2:19 PM on May 25, 2008

Some travel tips from a guy who had a bad experience with Homeland Security in April. (See the video description).
posted by zaebiz at 2:21 PM on May 25, 2008

Remember to tip bartenders

However, in coffee stores like Starbucks, donations to the tip jar are optional.
posted by Rash at 2:39 PM on May 25, 2008

The government now reserves the right to copy your laptop hard drive, and they haven't been great about keeping private data from escaping.

So throw anything valuable on an external drive before you get here, then delete it off your main drive if you want to keep it private.
posted by ®@ at 2:59 PM on May 25, 2008

The government now reserves the right to...

are you trying to scare him?

cases of that actually happening are rare. so far this has been known to have happened to the CEO of BAA, who is involved in a corruption scandal and is being investigated by us district att's. your average customs official is pretty overworked (anyone been to LAX recently?) and not exactly the kind of person able to analyze your hdd without escalating your case upstairs... for which there would have to be a good reason.

my point being that unless you're a high-profile individual who has reason to be worried about his secrets this probably doesn't apply to you. exceptions apply for people who behave like jackasses at customs but that's true around the world.
posted by krautland at 3:19 PM on May 25, 2008

oh, I forgot: your german passport will only get you into the US visa free if it's the new machine-legible kind.
posted by krautland at 3:20 PM on May 25, 2008

You'll need to fill in a customs declarations form and an immigration form while on the plane. If you're eligible for the Visa Waiver Program (if you're a German citizen, for example), please make sure that the immigration form is the green one.

DO NOT LOSE the part of the form they staple/fix to your passport. If it's not collected on your way out of the country, you'll be counted as if you're still in the country, and then if it's not dealt with ASAP, as if you've overstayed the visa limit which will then lead to even bigger problems should you want to re-enter the country at a later date.

All the money is the same size and colour; work out a system for not getting $1 and $100 bills all mixed together.

I just put them in order. Make sure you pick out quarters (larger sized silver coins) and stash them in case you need to use public phones - especially in the airport in case of emergency.

re: Homeland Security/TSA, honestly, I've flown in and out of the US (from the UK) five times since 2005. Never had a problem. Move quickly, make sure you pack the right things in your hand luggage, be efficient, say hello/goodbye/please/thankyou and it will be fine.

Some notes on domestic flights: every asshole will have the largest possible piece of hand luggage, which means the overhead luggage bins fill up fast. Try and get an aisle seat, and move to and from the plane as quickly as possible. Otherwise rage may occur. One guy held up about 30 people on my last domestic flight, just to get his suitcase out.

Oh and they're nearly always delayed, so try and get connecting flights on the same airline with a gap of about 3 hours between them. Without my gap of 6 hours at Christmas, I would have been screwed.

Going through immigration can take between 30 minutes and an hour.

Never been to Boston so I'm not sure if they have many Asian supermarkets (usually Japanese or Korean), but if you see one, they have the best chocolate. Bypass anything with the Hershey's brand (it literally smells like vomit), and go straight to the Japanese stuff.

re: electronics, it's ridiculously cheap to buy them there. Hair straighteners can cost as little as $15 in Target. You could buy whatever you need and leave them in the hotel if necessary. Same goes for clothes!

Barnes & Noble can stock a really great selection of magazines, my local one in San Diego (when I'm there) carries from mainstream to little independent publications.

I'm sure there's more. Like, don't ever think trying a Twinkie is a good idea. Vietnamese sandwich shops rule. IHOP (International House of Pancakes) is a great place to try for breakfast. The US is bigger than you think. Etc etc. You'll find out cool things when you get there no doubt!
posted by saturnine at 5:06 PM on May 25, 2008

If you don't want to pay $12 per person to go up to the top of the Prudential Tower, you can go to bar one floor below for free. One martini will cost you $12, but other drinks are less, and you get the same view. Oh, the fried calamari with preserved lemons and jalapeño peppers is really, really good.
posted by mollweide at 5:32 PM on May 25, 2008

Not sure if you're being polite. A lot of Europeans are afraid of homeland security, because a few people have been detained. If this is your concern, read on.

Most customs agents are not assholes, but a few are. They are asked to assess your risk of over staying your visa. If you aren't working, or if you are under employed, this can be a problem. They may well ask you about your employment situation, and your family status. If you know what they are thinking about it's not a problem. Yes, they actually think Europeans are desperate to immigrate.

Boston is absolutely lovely, so I think you'll have a good time. I highly recommend the Berkshire mountains. Rural MA is great, and I say this as a total outsider.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 6:22 PM on May 25, 2008

You can get more specific answers on the Massachusetts forum on
posted by thomas144 at 6:30 PM on May 25, 2008

re: electronics, it's ridiculously cheap to buy them there.

You will likely need a voltage converter for anything that isn't computer equipment, personal hygiene equipment, or battery-powered. I managed to blow up a power strip by plugging it into a German outlet with just a plug converter.
posted by oaf at 6:45 PM on May 25, 2008

I don't remember what the tipping situation was in Germany when I was there, but here you nearly always tip: restaurants 15% of the total, bars $1 per drink. Places like delis and starbucks, where the tip jar is open on the counter, you can just put in your change, if you've paid with cash, or nothing at all.

If you're taking a US flight, I'm not sure what the international flights are like but check, because they may not feed you. They certainly don't have as good food as Lufthansa does. Buy food in the airport so you don't starve.

I know when we were in Vienna we were dismayed and embarrassed to find Budweiser and Michelob flaunted as "American Import Beer". Those are the bottom of the barrel - go to a liquor store and ask where the microbrews are. Assuming you drink beer and are 21.

ATMs are great and should work fine to get you all the cash you need, so I wouldn't bother getting a big load of traveler's checks or anything like that. Also, everyplace takes plastic. I don't ever carry cash any more.

Things like streets, gas stations, and restrooms tend to be much dirtier over here. :(
posted by GardenGal at 7:32 PM on May 25, 2008

The one thing I know that has tripped up some of my relatives flying in from Sweden has been the U.S. restrictions on carrying liquids, gels, and aerosols through security in your carry-on luggage. If you want to carry things like toothpaste, lotion, or asthma medicine onto the aircraft, everything must be less than 3 liquid ounces and be carried in a clear plastic bag. The above link goes to the TSA regulations.

In my experience, the TSA agents take the "clear plastic bag for liquids" thing, plus people forgetting to throw away water and drink bottles before going into the security line, very seriously.

(Even if something goes wrong, though, it does not necessarily have to be an issue. I grabbed my husband's jacket once before a flight, and only realized it had a box cutter in the pocket after the security guard pulled me aside once I had gone through the x-ray. Being super surprised and extremely contrite allowed me to go through the x-ray just once more, and I was on my way. Phew! Being cheerful and polite goes a long way in resolving issues, just like in most places in the world...)
posted by gemmy at 9:38 PM on May 25, 2008

I'd tip 20 percent of the total at a restaurant to be on the safe side. Everyone I know in Western Mass tips 20. And foreign tourists have a bad reputation for not tipping enough.
posted by chowflap at 7:41 AM on May 26, 2008

Probably doesn't apply to you, but, when travelling to the US for work, it is best to say (if correct) that you're there for a "meeting", not "for business". The former is fine, the latter sparks questions of the nature of your visa. It's STUPID, I know. But my partner used the wrong words once, and had a hassle (but the bells rang, birds sang, and the gates opened up...once he mentioned the name of his company, which is an American Fortune 100 corp. Figures, don't it?)
posted by Goofyy at 8:07 AM on May 26, 2008

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