Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) are available in all urban areas covered in this book. Be aware that if the ATM is not owned by your bank, not only will that ATM likely charge you a service fee, but your bank may charge you one as well.
While ATMs have made travelers checks less essential, travelers checks do have the important advantage of accessibility, as some rural and less-developed areas covered in this book have few-to-no ATMs. You can purchase travelers checks at just about any bank.
Establishments in the United States only accept the national currency (the U.S. dollar). To exchange foreign money, go to any bank.
Generally, establishments that accept credit cards will feature stickers on the front entrance with the logo of the particular cards they accept, though this is not a legal requirement. The use of debit cards has dramatically increased in the United States. Most retail establishments and many fast-food chains are now accepting them. Make sure you get a receipt whenever you use a credit card or a debit card.
Unlike many other countries, service workers in the United States depend on tips for the bulk of their income. In restaurants and bars the usual tip is 15 percent of the pre-tax portion of the bill for acceptable service, 20 percent (or more) for excellent service. (For large parties, usually six or more, a 15–18 percent gratuity is automatically added to the bill.)
It’s also customary to tip bellboys about $2 per bag when they assist you at check-in and check-out of your hotel (some sources recommend a minimum of $5).
For taxi drivers, 15 percent is customary as long as the cab is clean, smoke-free, and you were treated with respect and taken to your destination with a minimum of fuss.
Visitors from Europe and Asia are likely to be disappointed at the quality of Internet access in the United States, particularly the area covered in this book. Fiber optic lines are still a rarity, and while many hotels and B&Bs now offer in-room Internet access—some charge, some don’t, make sure to ask ahead—the quality and speed of the connection might prove poor.
Wireless (Wi-Fi) networks also are less than impressive, though that situation continues to improve on a daily basis in coffeehouses, hotels, and airports. Unfortunately, many hot spots in private establishments are for rental only.
Generally speaking, the United States is behind Europe and much of Asia in terms of cell phone technology. Unlike Europe, where “pay-as-you-go” refills are easy to find, most American cell phone users pay for monthly plans through a handful of providers. Still, you should have no problem with cell phone coverage in urban areas. Where it gets much less dependable is in rural areas and on beaches. Bottom line, don’t depend on having cell service everywhere you go.
As with a regular landline, any time you face an emergency call 911 on your cell phone.
All phone numbers in the United States are seven digits preceded by a three-digit area code. You may have to dial a “1” before a phone number if it’s a long-distance call, even within the same area code.