The United States is vast, covering more than 3,732,396 square miles (9,666,861 square kilometers).
It is composed of 48 mainland states and two additional states: the tropical islands of Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean, and Alaska, which reaches into the Arctic Circle about 500 miles (805 kilometers) north through Canada.
From the Pacific coast in the west to the Atlantic coast in the east, the contiguous U.S. stretches more than 3,000 miles (4,828 kilometers), a land of extraordinary geographical diversity.
Bounded by Canada in the north and by Mexico and the Gulf of Mexico in the south, the landscape includes great plains, volcanic mountains, vast deserts, and rolling hills.
American money works on the decimal system. The basic currency unit is the dollar, which is worth 100 cents.
Paper bills come in $1, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100 and larger denominations.
Coins come in 1-cent, 5-cent, 10-cent, 25-cent and 50-cent denominations and are of different sizes. They are known, respectively as the penny, nickel, dime, quarter and half-dollar.
Tipping is expected but know that service is rarely included in your bill.
In restaurants with table service, your server generally gets a 15% tip; 20% is courtesy if the service is exceptionally good.
Bartenders and cocktail servers, 10%;
hotel and airport porters, 1$ per item for carrying luggage;
chamber maids, 2$ after a stay of a few days;
doormen, 50 cents to 1$ for hailing a cab;
coat check personnel, 1$ per coat;
taxi drivers, 15% on the fare.
The international telephone access code is 1. The United States uses area codes, of which there are over 100. These codes are listed in the front of any white pages telephone directory.
To place a long-distance call within the country, dial 1 plus the area code and number.
The number for directory assistance is 555-1212 (preceded by 1 plus an area code); in some areas, you can also dial 411 for directory assistance.
To place an outgoing direct-dialed international call to a destination outside of North America, dial 011, plus the country code and number.
The 48 contiguous United States are divided into four time zones.
The outlying states of Alaska and Hawaii are 1 and 2 hours respectively behind the West Coast's Pacific time zone, which is itself 8 hours behind Greenwich mean time (GMT).
The East Coast of the United States, which includes major cities such as New York, Washington, D.C., and Boston, is 5 hours behind GMT, or 5 hours behind London, 7 hours behind Munich, and 15 hours behind Sydney.
With the exception of the states of Arizona, Hawaii, and Indiana, the United States observes daylight saving time from late April to late October, during which time the clocks are advanced by 1 hour.
Banking hours vary, but most banks are open at least 9 AM–4 PM, Monday–Friday. Many banks stay open even later than 4 PM and many keep hours on Saturday morning.
Store hours vary considerably. Most retails shops keep the following hours, at least: 9 or 10 AM–5 or 6 PM Monday–Saturday, closed on Sunday, and open on one or more weeknights past 6 PM.
Many stores are also open on Sunday, though their operating hours tend to be shorter.
A handful of stores (mostly grocery stores) are open 24 hours per day.
Climates in the United States vary greatly, ranging from desert to arctic.
Rainfall varies accordingly, but generally the United States has two relatively humid coasts separated by a drier interior that becomes more humid the farther east one travels.
The northeastern states, comprising New England and the northern states of the Middle Atlantic area, have a humid continental climate.
Winters are colder and snowfall is heavier as one travels farther inland and north, due to arctic air entering the region.
In the humid subtropical southern states of the Middle Atlantic region, summers can be very hot and humid.
The southern states have a humid subtropical climate characterized by long, hot, humid summers and mild winters.
Throughout most of the country, 911 is the number to call for all police, fire, and medical emergencies.
In a few areas, it is necessary to dial zero for an operator who can then connect you to the appropriate emergency department
Electric current in the United States is generally 110-120 Volts, 60 cycles on a flat, two-pin plug.
Bring an adaptor plug for electric razors, hair dryers, travel irons and other small appliances which can operate on 110-120 Volts.
If your appliances are rated for other voltages, you will also need a transformer. You can buy these devices easily from many shops and airport.
Roads are in good condition, renting a car is relatively easy, and gasoline is cheaper than in many other countries. (Note: all traffic drives on the right.)
Although it's not required, visitors who plan to drive in the U.S. are advised to obtain an international driving permit (available from automobile clubs in one's home country); otherwise, a valid national driver's license is acceptable documentation.
The American Automobile Association (AAA) offers reciprocal benefits for members of some automobile clubs in other countries.
In addition to maps and guidebooks, AAA can also provide auto insurance (required by most rental car agencies) for foreign visitors.
Contact AAA at 1000 AAA Drive, Heathrow, FL 32746, Tel. +1 (407) 444-7700 or, within the U.S., +1 (800) 222-4599 (toll-free).