Good to Know Before Leaving for New York

All you need to know: Internet - Gratuity - Weather & more

Categories: What to know
DOCUMENTS: ID (for domestic) ESTA+Passport (for international)
TELEPHONE: +1 (country code) | Area Codes: 212, 646, 917, 914, 718
HOW TO PAY: Cash, Credit Cards, Venmo
GOOD TO KNOW: Smoking (18+) - Alcohol (21+)  - Gratuities (20% to 25%)
PUBLIC TRANSPORT: MTA Subway System and Buses 

Before leaving for New York, here are some things you should know about the city.

If your destination is New York CIty, let's see together what you should know before traveling and what to expect once you arrive in the Big Apple. Some of this information is valid for the entire United States territory whereas some tips may be New York specific (i.e.: smoking laws ... other states are much more lenient with this subject.)


Entering the United States: Required Documents

If you are an international travelers from one of the approved 40 countries, you can visit the United States for up to 90 days (for tourism only) without applying for a Visa. You must have a valid passport and a valid ESTA (visa-waiver program) to enter the US. We have wrote a full article on this and you may read more at the following page.


What to bring, and not, on your Flight

Do not bring foods, some are prohibited, and others unnecessary. In New York City you will find everything you may need, even for those with severe food allergies and dietary restrictions. Do not leave valuable items, medicines, or anything vital to you, in your checked bag ... these items should be in your carry-on bag at all times. Unfortunately, 85% of checked bags get delayed, so just think if you checked bag contains you vital meds! On the other hand, all that is liquid, such as shampoos, creams, fragrances etc. should instead be placed in a checked bag, otherwise TSA personnel will remove them from your carry-on (unless you purchase TSA-approved container for clear liquid.)

Voltage, Adaptors & Electrical Sockets

When traveling there are some devices that are always with us – mobile phone, computer, camera, and video camera, and so on, and that require to be charged daily. You should know that in the United States, the voltage is different from other countries. Here, we have 110V and sockets are smaller than for example the European’s. Just a simple universal adapter available in any tech store will suffice, or buy it at the airport beofre your departure.

EDITOR'S NOTES: If you forget your adaptor, we suggest checking the store Best Buy or commercial pharmacies such as CVS and Wallgreens to buy adaptors in New York City.

Phone / Internet: Operators, Prefixes, Browsing the Internet

For all US mobile carriers, including those from Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and other US territories, your phone will work here just as well at no extra cost or fee. 

For all international visitors, you will have to activate roaming which allows you to make/receive calls and surf the internet while abroad, and consequently use all of your device’ applications. Roaming can be quite expensive, but in New York City you can easily find bars, cafes, and your Hotel where you can take advantage of the free Wi-Fi to check your social accounts, emails, and download applications you might need during your stay. However, before leaving home, we recommend checking that your phone is tri- or quadr-band or UMTS and inquire with your service provider for special plans offered for coverage in the United States such as incoming & outgoing calls, text messages, and data plan. Many international providers will require you to subscribe and activate the selected roaming plan before leaving for the US, otherwise they will charge you “a la carte” and that can be quite expensive.

To call your home country with your cell phone you have to first dial the International Area Code for your country (check online) and then the actual phone number, but if you have to make a call within the United States, you need to add +1 before the number.

Once you arrive at your destination, let's see what are the day-to-day habits in the city and what you  need to know about local laws in order to avoid fines, tickets or worse.

How to pay in the United States: Credit Cards - Prepaid Cards - ATM - Currency - Banks

The currency is the US dollar $ USD, if you decide to bring cash with you please remember to exchange currency in your home country; the exchange rates applied here in the States are not convenient, and you may actually have difficulties finding a national bank that will exchange currencies if you are not an established client. This means you will have to resort to those tourist exchange offices that unfortunately have high fees. In New York, as in the United States, the use of the credit cards is extremely common, even for a cup of coffee.

You can pay with credit cards at  restaurants, shows, shopping malls, museums and attractions, at the MTA vending machines for the subway fares, etc. ... You can literally pay almost everything using your credit card. With a prepaid credit card and/or your ATM debit card, you can withdraw cash at any ATM, but also make direct payments, even though in some instances prepaid cards do not seem to work when you swipe them at the store. Know that you will be asked for a photo ID to verify your identity, so bring your license/ID card or a copy of your passport. Before leaving check with your bank about the fees that they will debit for payments and withdrawals abroad, and inform them of your travel plans to avoid card blocks when they see unusual charges.

Even for domestic travelers, you should notify your bank that you will be visiting New York City, so they won't flag your transactions as fraud and block your card.

Smoking / Alcohol / Gratuities

Are you still smoking cigarettes? New York City does not like smoking (cigarettes) all that much, and it will be really difficult to find a place that doesn't have a no-smoking sign ... Ideally, you should not smoke in any indoor places, offices, museums, restaurants, theaters, hotel lobbies and rooms, etc.. Often, you will see that smoking is also banned in front of building entrances and public plaza. There will be a posted sign telling you how many feet from the entrance you have to go to smoke (Starbucks for example is one of them.) Do not smoke in city parks, however small or big the park is, and remember all residence buildings are smoking-free, and if this is not enough, the cost of cigarettes in NYC will make you laugh! A pack of cigarettes is approximately $18.00 ... No smoking if you are under 21, and when you buy cigarettes they will ask you for a photo ID to check your age.

A side note on on Cannabis: it is now legal for adults 21 and older to possess up to three ounces of cannabis and up to 24 grams of concentrated cannabis. Adults can smoke or vape cannabis wherever smoking tobacco is allowed with the exceptions of motor vehicles (even if they are parked) or outdoor dining areas.

EDIOR'S NOTE:  since NYC has passed the Marijuana bill, the odor of cannabis in the streets especially in touristy areas such as Times Square and Midtown West has increased exponentially. 

A Photo ID is also requested for the purchase of wine and spirits in stores that have the liquor license to sell alcohol; It's forbidden to drink for anyone under the age of 21, minors cannot be right in front of the counter at the bar in pubs, restaurants, bars and the Bar Attenders are required to immediately ask for your ID if you look younger than 35/40 years old. The same applies to restaurants, the waiter should ask an ID to those who order alcohol. It is illegal to drink on the street and you should never drink and drive under the influence. If you are under 21 and you have been drinking just one beer and you decide to drive, you can get into serious trouble ... New York State has a "Zero Tolerance" policy!

Why you should leave tips in New York. Tipping is used throughout the States

Now, let's discuss Gratuity/Tips. What we call Tips, or Gratuities, should always be left, unless something went wrong. We understand it can be a difficult concept for some people,  and it's not a common policy abroad, so let's try to explain why you should (almost always) leave a tip.

It is common in NYC, and the U.S., to leave a tip/gratuity whenever a service was provided. For example, we leave tips/gratuity to the wait staff in the restaurant, to the beautician at beauty salon, to the taxi driver, to the bartender at the bar; even at Starbucks or other Coffee Shops you will see a jar next to the cash register where you can leave something ... The Hotel personnel that will help you with the suitcases, the guy who delivers the shopping bags or groceries at home, and so on.

It's not just a reward that says that you appreciated the service rendered to you, but for many works tips and gratuity may make up from 40% to 70% of their income, and thus tipping is consider a vital part of the actual pay for the service received.

New Yorkers when we go to a restaurant, we tend to leave at least 18% in tips, and now, the avarage went up to 20% to 25% especially when we are very satisfied with the service received! If you don't know how much to tip, please take this list as guidance. Remember that by no means these numbers are set in stone, the whole idea of tipping is that the more satisfied you are, the more you should reward the person that provide that excellent service.

Bars & Pubs: 18% to 22%, or at least $2/4 for each drink for the bartender.
Taxi & Ubers: 18% to 22% - If the fare was already high, you may consider a 15% of the total run.
Mani/Pedi/Beauty Salons: 20% to 25% for manicure, pedicure, wax, facials, etc. We all love a good pedicure and foot massage after walking all day in the city.
Restaurants: 20% to 25% of the total before taxes. If you are a group of 6+ people, you may find the gratuity (tip) already included and is usually around 18% or 20% - It is up to you to decide whether to leave some extra dollars to the waiter, if you enjoyed his/her service.
Tour Guides: 15% to 25% of the total tour cost
Private Chauffeur: 15% to 25% of the total car service cost.

Again, tips are not just a reward, all these people because they work in fields were tips are considered extremely customary, have a much lower hourly-rate than everybody else. Just as an example, a waiter hourly-pay can be as low as $5.00 per hour because they keep the gratuities, so don’t forget them when you pay your tab!

To the Tour Guides who accompany you during our walking tours, it is customary to leave a tip, and if the tour is by car or bus, then it is customary to leave a tip to the driver as well. Depending if you are taking a group tour or have a private tour guide for just your family, we always recommend a gratuity of 15% to 25% and at the very east $10 per person.

Weather: Rainfall and Temperature. What to do in NYC

Choose the season for your New York trip based on climate, events and festivities. Tips on how to dress and what to wear in each season. What to do and see in:

Summer in  New York
Spring in  New York
Full in New York
Winter in New York

Transportation in New York City


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