5 Tips for Planning a Trip to the United States

April 18, 2022
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Are you planning a trip to the United States soon? You are in the right place: in this article, I share with you all the important information concerning the preparation for your stay in the USA. I will explain the administrative procedures (including how the famous ESTA application works) and I will advise you on the essential items to take in your luggage. The objective is to be as serene as possible for your departure.

Obtain a valid passport for the United States

It may seem obvious, but I prefer to recall it here just in case: it is necessary to have a valid passport to be able to enter the territory of the United States. Without this precious sesame, there is no point in reading the rest of the article because you would immediately be turned back at the border (or, more likely, the airline will not let you board the plane, which would be just as annoying).

To obtain a passport, if you do not have one today, you must contact your town hall which will tell you precisely the steps to follow (some town halls are equipped to issue biometric passports, others not). I refer you to this page of the Public Service website, then click on “first request” or “renewal” depending on your situation. There are other options, but they will be less frequent.

In terms of price, unfortunately obtaining a passport is expensive in France: €86 for the tax stamp at the time of writing these lines. Also plan a visit to a photographer who delivers validated traveler photos  for official documents (some photo booths in shopping centers are also certified). Finally, you will also need proof of address (of the EDF invoice type).

If you already have a passport, I invite you to check that it will still be valid for 6 months after your date of entry into the United States. This is the norm almost everywhere in the world now, and the United States is no exception. Otherwise, you will have to apply for renewal and wait to get your new passport before you can move on.

Once you have your passport in order, you can book your plane ticket and proceed to the next administrative step: submit your ESTA application.

Submit an ESTA application for the United States

A second essential step before being able to return to the territory of the United States: obtaining a travel blogs authorization called ESTA. It can be scary, but the principle is very simple: it just consists of asking the American authorities if you have the right to come and visit their country. They will respond to you within 72 hours. In the event of a positive response (and this will be the case if you have a classic traveler profile), they issue you a unique number, linked to your passport, which you must present to customs on the day of your arrival.

It is important to make your trip to the United States coincide with the timing during which this ESTA number is valid: I, therefore, advise you to file an ESTA application for a trip planned within a period ranging from 72 hours to 2 years. ; 72 hours being the usual duration to obtain a response, and 2 years is the validity period of the number assigned in the event of authorization being granted.

In other words, to do it right:

– do not plan a trip to the United States for tomorrow morning because you will not have time to obtain your ESTA (although there is a procedure for urgent requests, hey, you might as well not put pressure on yourself unnecessarily)

– do not apply for ESTA today for a stay that takes place in more than 2 years, because the number obtained will have had time to expire.

Also pay attention to the expiry date of your passport, because the ESTA number you will obtain is linked to it and will expire at the same time as your passport, if it expires in less than two years. Otherwise, you can make several mother daughter trips to the United States with the same ESTA number, if these trips take place within two years after obtaining the ESTA, and if the information you provided at the start is always valid (for example your name -so be careful in the event of marriage for example-, your address, and of course your passport number).

Prepare to complete the knowledge form

You might think that at this stage, everything is settled, and you can travel to the United States without any problem, but no: there are still two steps to go through. The first, on the plane, is to complete the knowledge form. It is a sheet of paper where you are asked to put your first and last names and to answer questions such as “are you linked to a terrorist enterprise”. Answer very seriously because although some questions may seem surprisingly naive, they are decisive for your entry into the country.

If I talk to you about the knowledge form in an article devoted to the preparations for a trip to the USA, it is because, in this form, you are asked to fill in the address where you will stay once there. Don’t make the mistake I made because the American customs officials rarely let me in for the most stupid reason in the world: while I was filling out the knowledge form, I did not have internet access allowing me to find the address of my accommodation.

And without an address to present, it is impossible to be authorized to enter the territory… So, during your preparations, when you make the reservation for your first hotel in the USA, remember to write down the exact references of this one in an easily accessible place afterward (so a piece of paper preferably, it avoids worries in the event of unloading of telephone or non- Internet access).

In the process, also prepare to answer questions from customs officers. Sometimes they will be intimidating or destabilizing, either by the words used or by the almost threatening attitude of some who are more zealous than others. I’m starting to have a certain number of borders crossed on the clock, each time with an interrogation by the customs officers (including a customs officer when I arrived in Georgia – the country – who bluntly ordered me to show her the photos from my smartphone, she then called her superior and they both went through my photos, I let you imagine the degree of intrusion and the discomfort I felt…), and yet it is by far the American customs officers who make me the most anxious. Hence, too, my next piece of advice.

Take a few English lessons before you go

I encourage you to brush up on your English before going to the United States, either by taking a few private lessons if you can or via a language app (although I doubt their effectiveness in this context) or by immersing yourself in your old schoolbooks.

I recommend the private lesson because you can work with your teacher on the simulation of going through customs, to train you to understand the questions that the future customs officer will ask you and to formulate your answers. I’m telling you this because I had a bad time when I arrived in the USA, with a customs officer who had an accent to cut with a knife, which I understood very badly, who got annoyed as soon as I made him repeat or that I asked him to speak more slowly. So certainly, I was less good at English at the time than I am today, but still: years later I still have the little adrenaline rush when I remember this memory.

Ideally, take a native English speaker as a teacher, it will allow you to familiarize yourself with the accent (because if you take a French to teach you English, you will always have an easier time understanding him because his accent will never be 100% that of a native American, and even less of a “country” American like my customs officer during my first stay in New York).

In short, the English course is just advice that I give you based on my personal experience, it is not a legal obligation, unlike the passport and the ESTA that I mentioned above. See what you do with it!

Essential items to bring to the USA

I’m not going to give you a complete overview of the things to pack in your suitcase for your trip to the United States, it will too often depend on the season in which you are leaving, the places you will visit, the type of trip you are planning. to do, … On the other hand, in addition to the administrative documents that I mentioned above (the passport, the ESTA), some objects absolutely must be found in the luggage when you go to the United States, whatever type of trip you want to make.

This is an adapter and a multi-plug.

It’s quite stupid, but you still must think about it: the United States and Europe are not in agreement on the electrical system, the current in France for example is 220 volts, while in the USA it is 110 volts. In addition, the sockets have a different shape (you will not be able to fit the tip of a device purchased in France into an American socket, and vice versa). It will therefore be necessary to go through a plug adapter (it costs a few euros, look here for example).

So, check the voltage of your electrical appliances: I shot an electric razor in the United States because I did not check the voltage: it was not made to receive 110 volts … The tolerated voltage is generally written in all small on most devices (or their chargers). For example, for the Asus computer charger that I have on hand, it is written very small on the charger case “input 100-240v”, which means that the device can support an electrical load ranging from 100 volts to 240 volts (and which will therefore have no problem by plugging into American sockets).

In short, if you bring objects such as a hairdryer, straightener, electric razor, or even the various chargers for cameras, tablets, computers, or telephones, I honestly advise you to check the voltages. It doesn’t seem like much, but if you don’t want to have a complete (and sometimes permanent) breakdown of the device in question during your stay, I encourage you to check before you leave and purchase the necessary adapters if needed.

And for the multi-socket, the reason is simple: you will probably have several changes to make at the same time, in the evening, in your hotel room. For example, connecting the chargers of your two phones if you decide to us travel bloggers as a couple, or to connect a laptop and a straightener, etc. So instead of having as many adapters as devices, take a power strip on which you plug the adapter that will fit into the wall outlet, and then all you must do is plug your “French” devices into the power strip., classically.

It’s up to you to prepare your trip to the United States

We are coming to the end of this article. Normally, you now have all the cards in hand to calmly prepare your trip to the United States. It may seem difficult to understand, especially this ESTA story, but if you do it well in advance, you won’t have a problem. It only remains for me to wish you a good stay in the United States and an excellent discovery of this beautiful country!

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