What to know before going to the U.S. :
1. The VISA
To enter the American territory, it’s mandatory to own a biometric passport (all the ones delivered after 2009 are), and a valid VISA.
Concerning touristic or business stays not exceeding 90 days, you’ll be needing the ESTA. It’s simple : ONLY go on the official website. We insist because a scam is not exactly the dreamed start for a trip ! Indeed, numerous websites offer to deliver the VISA but all they actually do is collect your data and send them to the official website ; except it’ll cost you 55€ instead of 12€ ! We learnt about that only later, and it’s still hard for us to process it…
Once the demand sent, you’ll find the VISA in your emails a few hours later maximum. Print it. At the end of your trip, don’t throw it away because the ESTA is valid for 2 years.
2. The currency
This is the real puzzle ! As everyone knows, their currency is the American Dollar. Usually, we don’t have any problems with our card for young people delivered by our French bank, because even if the currency isn’t the same (England, Norway,…), the fact that we’re still in Europe allows us to pay without any trouble. There, it’s a whole other story. Therefore, there are some things you need to know :
When you withdraw dollars at the ATM, 2 commissions can be invoiced : the first one by your own bank, which is percentage of the withdrawn sum (contact your bank to know the rate), and a fixed commission ($3), taken by American banks.
Avoid withdrawing money in small ATM in hotels or shops ; prefer big banks.
Never change money in airports, because exchange offices have high commissions and unfavourable exchange rates. Rather go to the ones in town.
So, how to do ? You have several options :
If you own a classic bank card and you really haven’t planned things out at all before (as in calling your bank the morning of the departure…), then our advice is once you’re there, withdraw a good amount of money at once and pay cash as much as you can. This way you’ll only have to pay the commission once. Of course, we don’t advise you to walk around all day with all the cash on you ; leave some at your accommodation. If you’re like us, you’ll see that you don’t need to withdraw money that much, because you’ll already have booked ¾ of the reservations online beforehand.
Prepaid Travelex Card : it’s like a temporary credit card, adapted to your destination country currency. It costs 10€ and you can directly recharge it online (with an expense of 4,5% on the recharge sum, or free if the card is in dollar). Once your trip comes to an end, you can ask to get your money that’s still on the card back. We only learnt of its existence not long ago so we can’t really give you feedback on it, but its principle seems good.
Online banking : they are more and more numerous and understood that’s nowadays, it’s important to think about mobility. N26 and Revolut offer very tempting options ; watch the video by Bruno Maltor which explains it all. Here again, we can’t tell you about our personal experience because we can still benefit from the ‘Carte Jeune Mozaic’ (the card for young people) at our French bank (Crédit Agricole) for those under 26 years of age, so we’re enjoying it !
3. The jet lag
The time difference to England is minus 5 hours with the East Cost and 8 hours with the West Cost. It’s therefore important to think about how to adapt quickly. For our trip to New York, it happened to be quite easy as we took off at 10am from Montpellier and landed at 7pm at JFK ; we only had to last 6 more hours and not sleep on the plane. For the way back, it was the same but the other way around : we took off at 7pm from JFK and landed at noon at Montpellier ; we therefore slept on the plane (or at least tried!).
Sometimes, the flight schedules don’t work as well and it might be harder to adapt. Before your trip, go to your pharmacy to get melatonin to prevent or reduce the effects of jet lag. This molecule, also called ‘sleep hormone’, is naturally secreted by our body to indicate to the brain that it’s time to sleep (to make it simple!). It’s totally natural, so don’t hesitate to ask for more informations to your doctor or pharmacist.
4. Electrical outlets
The power sockets aren’t the same as in Europe, it’s therefore essential to buy an adapter like this one beforehand. Also, think about bringing a multi-socket : it’ll allow you to charge all your devices and portable chargers at the same time. But careful ! Check if it’s compatible with your adapter… Because we ended up with a completely useless multi-socket, quite annoying !
5. Phone package
Our phone package often includes everything for destinations in Europe ; less obvious with the American continent. Juliette, with hers, was able to do everything (call, text, internet) when Justine wasn’t because it would’ve meant a big extra cost. Think about connection sharing, it helps a lot !
If your phone package doesn’t include the United States, you have 2 options : once there, take a prepaid SIM card at one of their operators (T-Mobile, AT&T,…), but check that your phone isn’t blocked and actually accepts foreign countries SIM cards ; otherwise, take an extra option on your own phone plan for the duration of your trip.
If you’re in a city, it’s very easy to connect to lots of free wifi everywhere.
What to know before going to New York :
1. The transfer from JFK airport to Manhattan
There are several options but we chose the cheapest one, and also the least easy one, with one hour trip and one change.
Indeed when we landed, we went towards the Airtrain. There are several things to know that’ll help you not to get lost like us : you don’t have to buy the ticket before, but after when you arrive at your destination. Besides, the Airtrain route is a loop, it’s a one way thing. However, there are 2 different terminals : Howard Beach station from where you can take the tube (line A) going straight to Manhattan, and the Jamaica station, linked to the lines E, J, Z.
As said earlier, once you come off the Airtrain, you’ll have to buy the tickets to be able to come out : the ticket costs $5 + $1 the Mastercard. There’s also the $25 option which includes 10 journeys, but it’s more advantageous for 3 travellers or more… Up to you ! Personally, we don’t recommend the Airtrain + Tube option ($7.25) if you plan to get a week pass ; you’ll understand later.
2. The tube pass
The ticket itself costs $2.75 + $1 for the Mastercard that you have to get at the beginning.
For our 11 days stay, we therefore decided to take the $32 7 day pass ($1 Mastercard) and to decide later for the 4 remaining days. We were so happy with the offer that after thinking about it, we ended up taking an other 7 day pass again, as it happened to be more advantageous. It’s up for you to see how many times a day you use the tube. 2 things we discovered during our trip :
The week pass ends at midnight. For example : we validated our first journey on Thursday at 6pm ; we expected it to expire the next Thursday at 6pm… Nope ! It actually ends on Thursday at midnight. Cool !
If you take an other week pass when the first one expires, know that you’ll have to buy an other Metrocard too !
3. Pass for visits
There are several passes to visit New York. We chose the New York City Pass which is perfect for a first time in ‘the city that never sleeps’ because it includes indispensable spots to see. For 110€ (instead of 160€ for an individual ticket), it includes :
The ferry to the Statue of Liberty and the entrance to the museum, and a stop at Ellis Island or a cruise on the Circle Line.
1 day entrance and 1 night entrance on the same day at The Empire State Building.
An entrance at the Septembre 11th museum or at the Intrepied Sra, Air, Space Museum.
An entrance at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
An entrance at the Top of the Rock or Guggenheim Museum.
An entrance at the Natural History Museum.
The two other well-known passes are more expensive and more adapted to different profiles than ours. There is the New York Pass which gives access to 100 attractions from 1 to 10 days ; perfect if you’re passionate about museums and other guided visits. The Explorer Pass gives you access from 3 to 10 visits on a list of 80 attractions ; this pass is more for people who already know the Big Apple.
4. Public areas
What’s going to follow might seem obvious, but it has its importance to us !
During the summer, there’s air-conditioning in museums, tubes… and it’s veryyy cold ! So we always had a hoodie with us, which we recommend you do too.
We had the nice surprise to have access to free internet (more or less good) in each museum, and even in the street by connecting to the wifi of shops and cafes.
Besides, you’ll find in every museum a drinkable water fountain to fill up your bottles : a big satisfaction especially when we know the cost of life in New York… Which brings us to our last point !
5. The cost of life
We’d been warned in advance, but we still were quite surprised when we went in supermarkets and restaurants in New York. Eating correctly is so expensive ! An apple is the same price, sometimes more expensive even, than a hot dog… This is why we had brought a few things in our suitcase like coffee, tea, sugar, and cookies for breakfast, as well as pasta which always helps. But BE CAREFUL ! The regulations concerning what you can bring on the American territory are very strict, so you must consult them beforehand.
There you go, you are ready to go to New York ! You are able to discover our adventures and itinerary in New York -here- !
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