Welcome! – Bienvenidos! – Bienvenue!
Willkommen! – Bem-vindo! – Benvenuto!
歓迎 – 欢迎 – 환영 – добро пожаловать
Furry Weekend Atlanta is happy to extend a warm greeting to our international guests! We are glad you will be joining us this year and hope that you enjoy your trip to Atlanta and to the United States of America!
Please understand that, following the events of September 11, 2001, the transportation system in the United States is very sensitive to foreign visitors. This does not mean that foreign visitors are unwelcome, but that there are extra hoops they must jump through. Please follow all guidelines and instructions to the letter. Be prepared with at least three forms of current identification and full details about your travel plans including how you plan to get to your location and full contact information.
Under no circumstances are you to joke, AT ALL, with security or anyone else in a security zone or checkpoint area. Certain words, such as bomb, gun, fire, or other related words, will set off alarm bells with security people. Finish the humor before you get to the security area. If you listen carefully to what a security person tells you and do exactly as you are told, you should have no problems.
All non-residents of the United States will need a valid, current passport that has a machine-readable bar code on the front page. Most modern passports do, but if you are unsure you should check with your nearest United States embassy for verification.
The United States has visa agreements with certain countries in addition to our neighboring countries of Canada and Mexico. The state department has set up a list of countries with which these agreements are valid. If your country is not on that list, you will probably need a visa. If you are not sure, contact your airline or a travel agent; they should be able to assist you.
Visa waiver visitors should note that returning the green card stapled to their passport on entry is their responsibility. If it is not returned at the end of your visit, you might be deemed to have stayed in the US and then be refused entry in future.
All non-resident tourists entering the United States will be required to proof of hotel booking for the duration of your stay, and may be required to provide an address where they will be staying during their visit to the United States. The address of the hotel is:
The Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel
210 Peachtree St
Altnata, GA 30303
United States of America
Visitors arriving to Atlanta’s International Airport will arrive in the International Concourse E, where customs and immigration is located. After clearing customs, take the train to baggage claim to continue your journey to the United States.
If you will be driving to the United States, be sure to have documents including car insurance, rental agreements, drivers license, etc., before trying to enter the US, as the process has become more strict in the last few years.
The United States is covered with a convenient system of U.S. and Interstate highways. Interstates are always freeways (limited access; no grade crossings), while U.S. Highways may be freeways on some sections and not on others. These roads network between major (and minor) population centers, and can make it easy to cover long distances – or get to the other side of a large city – quickly. Primary Interstates have one- or two-digit numbers, with odd ones running north-south (e.g. I-75) and even ones running east-west (e.g. I-20). Three-digit interstate numbers designate shorter, secondary freeways. An odd first digit signifies a “spur” into or away from a city; an even first digit signifies a “loop” around a large city. The second two digits remain the same as the primary Interstate that travels nearby. The U.S. Highways are generally older routes that lead through the midst of town centers. In many cases, Interstates were constructed roughly parallel to U.S. Highways to expedite traffic that wishes to bypass the city.
Be aware that most signs in the United States are in English only, and some of them lack any kind of universal symbol for meaning. Additionally, speeds and measures in the United States are in the Customary or British system of measures (miles per hour, gallons of gas, etc).
Americans seldom speak languages other than English, unless they are from an immigrant community; visitors are generally expected to speak and understand English. Documentation on sights etc. is generally only available in English, though some sites have documentation in Chinese, French, German, Japanese etc. Product labels may be translated into French (because the same product is sold in Quibec) and Spanish, though some of these translations are badly done. n many parts of the U.S., such as California, the Southwest, Texas, Florida, Illinois, and New York, Spanish is the first language of a large minority of residents, mostly immigrants from Mexico or Latin America. Although it’s rare to be in areas where no one speaks English, a good handle on Spanish can make communications easier in some areas. In addition to English and Spanish, French is spoken in rural areas near the border with Canadian Quebec, in some areas of Louisiana, and by immigrants from West Africa and Haiti. Hawaiian is the native language of Hawaii and in the various Chinatowns in the US’s major cities, Chinese is common. Smaller immigrant groups also sometimes form their own pockets of shared language, including Russian, Italian, Greek, Arabic, Tagalog, and Vietnamese. Another pocket comprises a group that has been in the country for generations, the Amish, who live in Pennsylvania and Ohio and speak a variety of German, and some Native Americans speak their respective native languages, especially on reservations in the west.
The United States uses the U.S. Dollar as it’s currency. The dollar is divided into 100 cents. Coins represent sub-$1 amounts (the Penny is worth 1 cent, the nickel 5 cents, the dime 10 cents, and the quarter 25 cents). There are some rarer denomination coins in circulation such as half-dollars (50 cents) and dollar coins, but these are somewhat rare.
Most automated teller machines (ATMs) can handle foreign bank cards or credit cards bearing Visa/Plus or MasterCard/Cirrus logo; note, however, that many ATMs charge fees of about $1.50 for use with cards not from the bank operating the ATM (this is often waived for cards issued outside of the USA but then again, banks in one’s home country may charge their own fees). Smaller ATMs found in restaurants etc. often charge higher fees. Many banks can also provide currency exchange services, though certainly not for large amounts of money.
Most states have a sales tax, ranging from 2.9% to nearly 10% of the retail price; 4-6% is typical. The sales tax rate in Atlanta is 8.0%. Sales tax is almost never included in posted prices (except for gasoline, and in most states, alcoholic beverages consumed on-premises), but instead will be calculated and added to the total when you pay. Groceries and a variety of other “necessities” are usually exempt, but almost any other retail transaction, including restaurant meals, will have sales tax added to the total.
The United States is very big on tipping. While Americans themselves often debate correct levels and exactly who deserves to be tipped, generally accepted standard rates are:
- Full-service restaurants: 15-20%
- Taxi drivers, hairdressers, other personal services: 10-15%
- Bartenders: $1 per drink or 15% of total
- Bellhops: $1-2 per bag
- Hotel doorman: $1 per bag (if they assist), $1 for calling a cab
- Shuttle bus drivers: $1-2 (optional)
- Housekeeping in hotels: $1-2 per day (optional)
- Food Delivery (Pizza, etc.): $2-5, possibly more for very large orders
- Valet drivers: $2-$5. This person is driving your car, be generous.
The important one here is restaurants. Theoretically, tipping waiters is optional, but in practice you should always leave a tip. In many areas of the U.S. it is legal to pay waitstaff less than the mandatory minimum wage, so tips often form the majority of their income, and the tips are often shared with the rest of the service staff as well. If you receive exceptionally poor service that is not corrected when you complain, a deliberately small tip (one or two coins) will express your displeasure more clearly than leaving no tip at all. Tips are normally left as cash at the table when you leave (there is no need to hand it over personally or wait until the tip is collected), but if paying by credit card you can also add it directly to the charge slip when you sign it. For larger parties (sometimes over 6, almost always over 10) it is common for “gratuity” of 18% or so to be added to the bill and included in the total. In this case, an extra tip is not necessary. This will be stated somewhere on the menu, and you should also review the bill carefully before paying to be sure gratuity was not mistakenly added or omitted.
Tipping is not expected at restaurants (including fast-food chains and cafeterias) where patrons stand at a counter to place their order and receive their food. Some such restaurants may have a “tip jar” by the cash register, which may be used at the customer’s discretion in appreciation of good service.