INTERNATIONAL TRAVELERS

PASSPORT & VISA REQUIREMENTS

All persons, including U.S. citizens, traveling by air between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda are required to present a valid passport, Air NEXUS card, or U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Mariner Document, or an Alien Registration Card, Form I-551, if applicable. International visitors who need a visa to travel to the US must apply for one at an American embassy or consulate. For more information visit travel.state.gov.

What is the customs process?

You must complete customs and immigrations formalities at the first point of arrival in the U.S., whether or not it’s your final destination.

Do I need travel insurance?

There is no compulsory or government plan in the U.S. You are advised to purchase travel and health insurance in case of an emergency.

Do I need to fill out an ESTA application for visa-free travel?

Yes, all eligible international travelers who wish to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program must apply for authorization. Note: Anyone assisting international clients coming to the United States should be aware of a significant number of Internet scams involving the new ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) procedures.                     

Clients should be directed to only use the official government site.

How do I make telephone calls?

When calling within the U.S. from one area code to another, dial 1, followed by the area code and the seven-digit telephone number.

What mobile carriers are supported in Washington, DC?

T-Mobile, AT&T, Straight Talk, and National Geographic Talk Abroad Travel Services (through Cellular Abroad) sell SIM cards along with pay as you go plans.

How do I rent a car in Washington, DC?

To rent a car within the United States, you will need to already have a driver’s license issued by your home country. See below for more information on obtaining this permit. Rental cars can be picked up at all Washington, DC major airports. It is recommended to make reservations in advance. American car rental companies include Alamo, Avis, Budget, Enterprise, Hertz, and National.

What is an International Driver’s Permit and how do I obtain one?

You will need to obtain an International Driver’s Permit to drive within the United States. This is not a license but simply a legal translation of your existing license.You must already have a driver’s license issued by your home country to receive this permit. Contact the government organization that issued your driver’s license for information on how to obtain the International Driver’s Permit. More information on how to obtain an international driver’s license can be found here.

What is the time zone in Washington, DC?

Washington, DC is in the Eastern Standard Time Zone (Greenwich Mean Time minus four hours during daylight saving time, from March through November, and minus five hours the rest of the year).

Which important phone numbers should I know in Washington, DC?

Here are some important phone numbers to keep handy during your Washington, DC visit.

  • Emergencies (police, fire or ambulance): 911

  • One-stop service for DC government services, numbers, and information: 311 or 202-737-4404

  • Directory assistance: 411

  • Metro Visitors Kit: 1-888-638-7646

  • Official Visitor Maps (available in Spanish, Portuguese, German, French, and Japanese): 1-800-422-8644

How much are the goods and service taxes?

  • DC Sales Tax is 5.75% (exemptions include groceries and prescription and non-prescription drugs).

  • Restaurant meals and drinks: 10%

  • Rental vehicles: 10%

  • Parking in commercial lots: 12%

  • Hotels: 14.5%

How can I use the post office to mail a package or letter?

Visiting a mailing or shipping office is the best way to ensure your letter or package arrives safely and on time. Make sure you have addressed the contents in advance. An agent will help you weigh and post your mailing or shipment. The United States Postal Service (USPS)United Parcel Service (UPS), and Federal Express (FedEx) are all send items internationally.

What local laws should I know?

If you're headed out for a night on the town, you should know that the drinking age in Washington, DC – and throughout the United States – is 21, and smoking is banned in public places throughout the city, including bars, restaurants, subways and taxis. Cigar smoking is permitted at cigar bars that register with the city. In Washington, DC, those who are 18 or older can purchase cigarettes and tobacco.

How can I use the Internet or stay connected during my stay?

3G Mobile Phones – You need to check that your phone operates on the same frequency of American phones. AT&T’s network runs on 850/1900 MHz. T-Mobile’s frequency runs on 1700/2100 MHz.

Public wireless internet can be found in most DC restaurants and coffee shops as well as hotel rooms for a charge.

Free public wirless internet is offered at DC Public Libraries. Visit dclibrary.org for locations.

Hotels – Hotel websites will list in what areas they offer complimentary service. You can purchase internet service on a daily rate if complimentary is not available.

National Mall – Internet coverage is available in front of the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, the Capitol Visitors Center, limited hotspots throughout the Smithsonian museums and the Enid Haupt Garden behind the Smithsonian Castle. Two additional outdoor hotspots include the Hirshhorn Museum and the plaza beside the National Museum of the American Indian.

What currency is used in Washington, DC?

In Washington, DC and throughout the United States, the U.S. dollar is the standard currency. This converter allows you to determine the value of other currencies compared with the dollar.

Below are some of the many places where you can exchange your currency for American dollars:

  • Travelex Currency Services, Dulles International Airport Terminal

  • Travelex Currency Services, Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport

  • Travelex Currency Services, Reagan National Airport

  • Travelex Currency Services, Union Station

  • AAA Mid-Atlantic, 1405 G Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005

  • CXI Currency Exchange International, Fashion Centre at Pentagon City, 1st Floor Food Court

  • American Express Travel Service, 1501 K St., NW, Washington, DC 20005                                                                                                                                                     
  • Washington, DC is a popular destination for international visitors and offers a wide range of services to meet the needs of travelers from around the world. With direct flight connections from more than 30 international cities, getting to America’s capital city is getting easier each year. As the home to the federal government, Washington DC is a prime vacation destination with a wide variety of historic landmarks, museums, parks, and entertainment venues.                                                                                                                                                                                                               
  • Click through the following guide to see important things that you should know when planning a trip here from overseas. Know the Passport, Visa and Custom Requirements.
  • Foreign travelers to the United States are required to have a passport that is valid for at least 6 months after your planned departure. Citizens of some countries need a visa to travel to the U.S. and must apply for one at an American embassy or consulate. You must complete customs and immigrations forms at your first point of arrival in the U.S., whether or not it’s your final destination. All persons traveling by  air between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda are required to present a valid passport, Air NEXUS card, or U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Mariner Document, or an Alien Registration Card, Form I-551, if applicable. For more information, visit travel.state.gov.  International travelers who are seeking to travel to the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program are now subject to enhanced security requirements and will be required to pay an administrative fee. For details, visit esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta. Be sure to bring copies of your passport so that if it gets stolen or lost you can prove your citizenship. Contact Your Embassy to Gather Information.Many embassies offer guided tours and are a great place to get assistance with planning a visit to Washington DC. For contact information, See a Guide to the Foreign Embassies in DC. Visitors who are not U.S. citizens must contact their embassy in DC to inquire about taking a tour of the White House.
  • Assess Your Language Needs and Find Multilingual Services

Washington DC attracts a large population of oversees visitors, so multilingual services are  readily available. Do some online research in advance of your trip, so you can know what to expect. The SmithsonianWhite House Visitors CenterKennedy  CenterLibrary of CongressNewseumMount Vernon and other attractions offer brochures in several languages. Complimentary foreign language tours are available by appointment at the National Museum of African ArtFreer GallerySackler Gallery of ArtHirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

To arrange a guided tour of the city in a foreign language, contact The Guild of Professional Tour Guides. For tours in English, see a guide to the Best Sightseeing Tours in Washington DC

Learn About the U.S. Dollar and Where to Exchange Currency

The dollar is the standard currency in the U.S. The best place to exchange money is at an ATM since the conversion centers in the airports or around the city tend to charge higher fees. See a currency converter to determine the value of your currency compared with the dollar.

Currency Exchange Locations:

  • Travelex Currency Services: Dulles International Airport, BWI Airport,  Reagan National Airport,  Union Station, 1800 K Street NW Washington, DC
  • CXI Currency Exchange International: Tysons Corner Center, Potomac Mills Mall, Westfield Montgomery at Bethesda, Treasure Troves Jewelers (1305 G Street NW, Washington DC)

    Plan Your Transportation

    Driving in DC is difficult to navigate. If you are staying in the city you can easily get around using public transportation. To rent a car within the United States, you will need to have a driver’s license issued by your home country and you will also need to obtain an International Driver’s Permit. Rental cars can be picked up at all Washington, DC major airports. See 6 Reasons Not to Drive in Washington DC.

    For more information about transportation, see Getting Around Washington DC.

    Learn About Tipping Etiquette

    Tipping is expected in the U.S. The amount is usually based on the quality of service. Gratuities are not automatically added to the bill except in some cases for large groups. Tipping Guidelines: Restaurants – 15-20%; Taxi Drivers – 15%; Doormen, Skycaps and Porters - $1 per bag.

    Bring an Electricity Converter

    Electricity is 110 Volts in the United States. Appliances brought from Europe, Africa and most of Asia and Latin America will require a voltage transformer.

    Know the Local Drinking Laws

    If you're headed out for a night on the town, you should know that the drinking age is 21 throughout the U.S.  A customer must provide a valid photo I.D. if asked by the establishment to show it in order to be served alcohol. Read more about DC Drinking Laws and Regulations.