Travel Advice: North America
The Foreign & Commonwealth Office website offers welcome travel advice on a country-by-country basis
Before you go
The Foreign & Commonwealth Office website offers welcome travel advice on a country-by-country basis. The increased security concerns in North America make it advisable to check the latest UK government advice before travelling:
In particular, US customs are more rigorous than they were previously. There can be significant delays and stringent security checks at the point of entry.
Most British Citizen passport holders do not need a visa to enter the USA. Instead, they can enter the country under the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP). From 26 October 2004 everyone wishing to enter the US without a visa needs to hold a machine-readable passport (check www.passport.gov.uk if in doubt about your passport).
Those needing a visa (i.e. non-British citizens or those without a machine-readable passport) should refer to the US Embassy website for details of how to apply:
Starting in September 2004, all passengers arriving at US ports and airports will have their digital photograph taken and ink-less digital scans taken of their index fingers.
The website of the Canadian High Commission in London states that to enter the country as a tourist “you must be in good health, law-abiding and have enough money to support yourself and your dependants during your stay.” British citizens, British Overseas Citizens and citizens of British dependent territories do not need a visa to enter Canada on holiday.
There are no reciprocal health care agreements between the UK and the USA or Canada. You are strongly recommended to buy comprehensive health insurance before travelling: health care costs for the uninsured in North America can be prohibitive.
Almost all visitors from Europe arrive by air. There are so many flights every day that bargain (or luxury) flights are always available. Try the websites of individual airlines or of specialised travel companies for details. Our list of Flight Sites offer links to travel companies offering cheap flights (www.uknetguide.co.uk/Travel/Flights/) or alternatively, you can browse the links to international airline websites.(www.uknetguide.co.uk/Travel/Flights/International_Airlines.html).
Those with the time (and money) can arrive by ocean liner:
Internal flights make the vast distances within the country more bearable. (Note that, because of security procedures, it is no longer possible to simply arrive at an airport and hop on the next flight.) Flights are usually cheaper if booked in advance.
Rail travel is less common. Amtrak’s website has all the details:
Those on a budget might consider coach travel (www.greyhound.com, for example).
Rental cars are widely available and perhaps the best way to see a country, which it can seem, was designed specifically for the car driver. Cars can be reserved in advance though there is seldom a problem arriving at a location and renting a vehicle.
An international driver’s licence is not always required (though it is advisable). Some agencies will rent only to drivers aged 25 and above. Insurance is vital but be warned – the cost of collision damage waiver (CDW) can push up what appears at first to be a bargain rental price.
All kinds of lodging are available. It is worth booking in advance at busy times of the year and in certain key locations; otherwise, it is possible usually to find suitable accommodation on arrival. It is often possible to negotiate a better price in person.
What to see
The USA is a large and exciting country (nearly 3,000 miles and six hours’ flying time from New York to Los Angeles). The number and variety of attractions on offer to tourists is huge.
There is no one, official, tourist information body for the USA. Given the size of the country, most holidaymakers will only manage to visit a small portion of the country. The tourist offices of each state (and many cities, national parks or other areas) are listed at http://www.usatourist.com/english/traveltips/state-tourist-offices.html
Commercial websites that offer an overview of the whole country – as well as more specific information on attractions, accommodation, travel and tips – include: www.usatourist.com www.theus50.com/
Canada prides itself on its beauty and sheer size: there are 39 national, over 1,000 provincial and nearly 50 territorial parks across the country. For official tourist information visit:
When to go
A small selection of seasonal highlights includes:
- The last week prior to Lent sees ‘Mardi Gras’ fever in New Orleans, Louisiana.
- Saint Patrick's Day (March 17th) is celebrated throughout the States.
- ‘Spring Break’ – if you’re planning a Spring holiday in Florida, beware the thousands of partying US students taking their traditional, over-the-top holiday.
- New England is a riot of reds and yellows in autumn as the many trees turn colour.
- November 25 (Thanksgiving Day) is the USA’s day for family reunions - and lots of food.
- December 31 – the biggest New Year’s Eve party takes place in Times Square, New York
As well as the need to be vigilant against terrorism, the fear of street crime is an issue in much of the USA. It is worth remembering that most tourists will never be the victims of any sort of crime. Take simple precautions such as sticking to popular, well-lit areas, locking car and hotel doors and removing expensive jewellery when outdoors.