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New England for Non-US Visitors

What you need to know if you don't live in the USA and you come to travel in New England.

Patriots Day color guard in Concord MA.

American Culture

The history of the United States has formed its culture which, despite what you may see in movies and in the news, may be different from what you expect.

The USA welcomes up to 180 million foreign visitors annually, making it the world's second-most popular tourism destination (after France).

My country is a wonderful place, with its welcoming informality, a rainbow-mix of peoples with roots from everywhere else in the world, great and varied natural beauty (some of it preserved in national parks), myriad cultural and outdoor activities, and eagerness for novelty in every aspect of life.

But it can be a strange place as well, with health care costs far and away more expensive than any other country in the world, a financial system that can (and did, and will again) greedily wreck the world economy, and more annual deaths by firearms (50,000) than from auto accidents (43,000).

Thousands of words might describe the USA, but in a nutshell, Americans like stuff that is New, Quick, Easy, Safe and Cheap. You'll see these watchwords everywhere, all the time.

Novelty & Innovation, America's Religion

Something new and different: that's what Americans prize.

American innovation has brought the personal computer, the iPhone, the Internet, wonder drugs, and many other valuable things to the world.

But innovation is not the same thing as novelty.

Novelty is simply the quality of being new and different, and in American life novelty is far more important than quality, utility, propriety, or even healthy.

America's obsession with novelty is engendered by commercialism: it is usually more profitable to make and market something new than it is to make some well-known thing good, or useful, proper or healthy.

This fits well with Americans' obsession with complexity. We love complex things, and willingly favor complexity over quality. We happily pass up the highest-quality coffee for "coffee-based" beverages that are complicated mixtures of milk, alcohol, foam, spices and other flavorings. Do they taste as good as really good coffee? No? No matter. We like them.

In place of fine-quality wine or spirits, we enjoy complicated cocktails—especially new mixtures that have not been made before.

Appearance Trumps Substance

In our markets are fruits, vegetables, meats and many other products that are perfect in shape, color and character, but may have little flavor, and may have been produced using chemicals injurious to health. But they look beautiful, and so we buy and consume them.


Since the time of Henry Ford and his Model T, America has been married to the automobile. The country has more than 4 million miles (6.5 million km) of roads, and 282 million registered highway vehicles.

All countries have lots of cars, and traffic jams, these days, but auto dominance in America means that other modes of transport suffer: national and local passenger rail systems are often slow, limited, older, and starved for funds. Bicycles get little respect. (Americans will drive to a health club in order to "ride" several miles on a stationary "bicycle.")

Only air travel competes with car travel. On any given day, 45,000 flights take off in the USA: commercial airlines, general aviation, air taxis, air cargo, and military.

That's because the USA is a big country roughly the same size as the entire continent of Europe: it's 2,800 miles/4,500 km from New York City to Los Angeles—about the same distance as from London UK to Damascus, Syria; and 2,000 miles (3,200 km) from Eastport, Maine to Key West, Florida, about the same distance as from London to Athens, Greece.

It takes 40 hours to drive from Los Angeles to New York, but only 5 hours to fly.

You may well fly to New England (or New York City), but when you are in the region, a car gives you the most freedom, although there are some useful train, bus, and ship/ferry routes if you choose not to drive. More...


American hotelier Conrad Hilton developed the modern standardized urban hotel starting in 1925, the same year that the first motel opened in California. Except for country inns and bed-and-breakfast houses (B&Bs), most US lodgings are standardized, differing in décor and situation, but not in basic appointments and conveniences. This makes it easier to know what to expect, but standardization often takes the place of character. Here's more on lodging.

Food & Drink

Being a nation of immigrants, the USA doesn't have a traditional national cuisine beyond such ceremonial holiday items as roast turkey, corn bread, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving; hot dogs and hamburgers on the Fourth of July; and special cookies (biscuits) at Christmas.

But—being a nation of immigrants—America is rich in ethnic cuisines from around the world. It's no exaggeration to say that nearly every cuisine in the world has a place in America's diet, especially Italian, French, Mexican and Chinese, with Greco-Turkish, Japanese, Caribbean, and Middle Eastern not far behind.

Of course there are good regional cuisines based on the local produce: lobsters and clams in New England, king crab in the Pacific Northwest, Tex-Mex in the Southwest, crayfish and gumbo in the Gulf of Mexico states. Sample them in small local non-corporate restaurants.

Standardized restaurants—fast-food chains such as MacDonald's, Burger King, KFC and Pizza Hut, the table-service chain restaurants such as Applebee's, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Ruby Tuesday, etc.—have taken over the highways and shopping centers, driving out all but the hardiest local eateries and leaving a paucity of choice. As a rule, the simplest dishes at these places—salad bar, broiled meats and seafood, simple vegetables—are the tastiest and healthiest.

In the vast suburban supermarkets, 85% of the foods on sale are unhealthy because heavily-processed and -marketed foods are more profitable than simple, natural healthy foods.

Customs & Immigration

The US Department of Homeland Security, US Customs and Border Protection, has a Visa Waiver Program by which citizens of 40 countries to travel to the United States for business or tourism for stays of up to 90 days without a visa.

You apply for travel authorization online (preferably at least 72 hours before departure) via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). A fee of US$4 is charged to apply. The system processes your request immediately. If your application is approved, you pay an additional US$17, for a total cost of US$21. Your ESTA authorization is valid for two years or until the expiration of your passport if that is less than two years. More...

If your passport is not from one of the 40 countries, you should apply online for a US visa, or contact the nearest US Embassy or Consulate in order to apply for a visa.

Entering the USA

Immigration and customs inspections are carried out by the US Customs and Border Protection division of the US Department of Homeland Security.

What Not To Bring

Do not bring foodstuffs, especially fresh fruit, vegetables, seeds, plant cuttings, or other "plant propagative material" without specific permission obtained in advance. If it's important to you to bring in a specific food, or an animal, consult the US Customs and Border Protection website or contact a US embassy or consulate in your home country and ask how this can be accomplished.

It is legal to import and export currency or negotiable instruments (US dollars, other currencies, travellers checks, bearer bonds, etc.), but amounts of $10,000 or more must be declared to Customs officers. They will help you to fill in the currency import or export form.

Onward Travel After Entry

It's best to allow at least two hours between the arrival time of your international flight and any onward flight in order to complete Immigration and Customs formalities, retrieve your luggage, walk to your onward boarding gate, check in, etc.

Coming from Canada, Bermuda, Caribbean

Coming from Canada, US customs and immigration formalities are much faster, whether you come by road, rail, or air.

Some Canadian, Bermudian, and Caribbean airports have US customs and immigration officers who clear travelers even before they board their US-bound flights.

For complete information, see these websites:

US Customs & Border Protection

US Citizenship and Immigration Services

US Department of Homeland Security

Arrival by Air

Major airports for travel to New England include New York City's John F Kennedy International Airport (JFK), Newark International Airport (EWR), and Boston's Logan International Airport (BOS).

Arrival by Land

Here's official information on entering the USA by land.

Arrival by Sea

Boston and New York City are major points of entry for ships sailing in international waters. Other ports, such as Portland, Maine, receive foreign visitors as well. Here's official information on entering the USA.

Embassies & Consulates

An embassy is a diplomatic mission from one country's government to a foreign country's government, usually located in the foreign country's capital city.

Embassies of countries with diplomatic relations with the USA are in Washington DC, the US capital.

A consulate is the office of one country located in a foreign country to provide assistance to its citizens while traveling or doing business in the foreign country. Although a country can have only one embassy to another country, it may have one or more consulates, located in the foreign country's cities where consular services are most needed, usually the largest cities and most active ports.

Most countries have consulates in New York City, and also Permanent Missions to the United Nations. In Boston, 25 countries have consulates, and another 35 have honorary consulates. More...


Virtually all emergency services in the USA are reached by telephoning 911. Tell the emergency response agent your name, your location, and the nature of the emergency. The agent will contact emergency services such as doctor, ambulance, police, firefighters, Coast Guard, etc.


Federal holidays, observed in all 50 US states, and state holidays observed in New England, are:

January 1 - New Year's Day

January, 3rd Monday - Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

February, 3rd Monday - Washington's Birthday, also called Presidents' Day, commemorating the birthday of George Washington (February 22).

April 19, nearest Monday - Patriots Day, in Massachusetts and Maine, commemorating the battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775 that began the American War of Independence.

May 4 - Rhode Island Independence Day, a state holiday in Rhode Island.

May 17 - Evacuation Day, a public holiday in Suffolk County, Massachusetts (including Boston), celebrating the withdrawal (evacuation) of British troops from Boston in 1776. Rumor has it that the holiday is really in honor of Saint Patrick's Day because of Boston's considerable Irish immigrant heritage.

May, last Monday - Memorial Day, commemorating all who have died in military service for the USA.

June 17 - Bunker Hill Day, a public holiday in Suffolk County, Massachusetts (including Boston), celebrating the victory of American forces at the battle of Bunker (or Breed's) Hill, June 17, 1775.

July 4 - Independence Day, also called the Fourth of July, celebrating the publication of the Declaration of Independence (from Great Britain) on July 4, 1776.

August 8 - Victory Day, a state holiday in Rhode Island, first celebrated as "VJ Day," for the Allied victory over Japan in World War II.

August 16 - Bennington Battle Day, a state holiday in Vermont, commemorating the Battle of Bennington (August 16, 1777), an important victory for American forces in the War of Independence.

September, 1st Monday - Labor Day, celebrating working men and women and their organizations (unions).

October, 2nd Monday - Columbus Day, commemorating the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas (October 12, 1492). Not celebrated in Vermont.

November, 4th Thursday - Thanksgiving Day, celebrating the harvest, especially that of the Pilgrims in Plymouth Colony in 1621 after a terrible winter when many died.

December 25 - Christmas Day, celebrating the birth of Jesus, and for some people a mid-winter solstice celebration.

Hotels & Lodging

Wherever you go in New England, use our partner for all of your hotel reservations: greatest lodging choice, easy-to-use website, lowest rates, and free cancellation!

New England Hotel Map (with Prices)

Enter your New England destination in "Where are you going?" (city, state, region, resort or hotel name).


Money & Travel Costs

Currently the USA is among the world's more expensive destinations to visit. New England is more expensive than many regions, and Boston is the third most-expensive city in the USA (after New York City and San Francisco), with the highest hotel prices in the country. As someone who visits Paris, France regularly, I find the French capital to be substantially less expensive than Boston for many travel costs. More...

Payments & Currency Exchange

You can change cash at international airports and a few banks, or you can use your home bank ATM cash card, to get money from a US money machine, but the rates of exchange may not be favorable.

Consider using an international payments system such as Wise (formerly TransferWise). Set up an account on their smartphone app and you can transfer money from your bank into any currency at good exchange rates and low fees. When you use your debit card, payment will be drawn from the type of currency used at the location, saving you many bank, card and transfer fees.My wife and I use Wise whenever we travel abroad.

Wise encourages its members (like me) to offer an incentive to others to join. As a Wise member, here's my incentive to you: Click on the red button, set up a Wise account through that link, and you can transfer up to US$600 (or equivalent) into your new Wise account for free (no fee):

No-Fee Transfer

(Full disclosure: I receive a commission from Wise if you set up your account through my button link, but you don't pay that commission—Wise does—and you get the free balance transfer. Once you're a Wise member, you can earn the same bonuses by encouraging your friends to join. Sound fishy? It's not. It's a common "customer acquisition" plan. Go to the Wise website any way you like and check it out, then come back to this page, click the button, and get the free transfer.) Thanks for supporting!


The USA is plagued with mass shootings daily because of its insanely loose gun laws, but most of these murderous incidents take place in states with looser gun laws than those in New England. Restrictions on private firearm ownership are strong in Massachusetts and most other New England states. That doesn't mean bad things can't happen. There is still crime involving firearms. But it's less of a danger than in many other states and, overall, it is a small risk in a country of 330 million citizens.

Click here for information on more common dangers and things to avoid.

Taxes & Tipping

When is a price not the price? When you purchase almost anything in the USA. The price you see for an item or service is not the final price you will pay. In most cases, sales or other taxes will be added as you pay.

For example, a souvenir bearing a price of $10 will cost you $10.07 in Massachusetts, which levies a 6.5% sales tax on many items. Why isn't the tax included in the price, as in other countries? Because the merchants selling you the item want to show you that they are not responsible for that part of the cost. This system benefits them, not you.


Tipping, the payment of an extra amount for good service—a gratuity, pourboire, etc.— is completely out of control in the USA. What started out as the custom of giving a little extra (a few coins, a few percent of the price) to low-income workers so they could buy a simple drink has now ballooned to the point where it is looked upon as bad form to tip less than 20% in a restaurant or for numerous other services; and in many cases customers feel they should pay 25%, 30% or even more. Restaurant bills may even bear suggested calculations for tips as high as 35%.

So when you receive the bill for your meal in a restaurant, it will be higher than you expect because of taxes added; then you're expected to calculate and add a tip, increasing the overall price of your meal by a substantial amount. In effect, you are paying the waiters' wages—something which, in most tourist countries, is done by their employer.

My recommendation is to add a tip of 15%, half again as much as the more-or-less traditional standard of 10%. Add this amount to the cost of your meal before the addition of sales tax. You needn't tip the government.

Public Toilets

Most cafés, restaurants and other food-service businesses with seating are required to provide toilet facilities ("restrooms") to their clients at no charge. In big cities and very busy cafés you may have to ask an employee for access.

Large stores, including supermarkets, usually provide public toilets for their customers.

Intercity and commuter trains usually have at least one toilet in one of the cars. Small commuter-train stations may have no facilities at all, but larger stations and termini have them.

Higher-priced intercity buses may have toilets on board. Check with the bus company in advance for information.