Under the Visa Waiver Programme a large number of countries are exempt from visa requirements for non-working stays of less than 90 days. All other stays in the country require different visas.
To ensure you are aware of the full entry requirements for entering America contact your nearest embassy before travelling.
The currency used in Chicago/USA is the US Dollar (US$) which is divided in 100 cents (¢). Notes come in denominations of $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100. There are larger denominations but they are rarely used. Coins used are 1¢ (penny), 5¢ (nickel), 10¢ (dime), ¢25 (quarter), ¢50 and $1, although the last two aren't seen regularly.
Most businesses accept travellers cheques, and there you will be able to change them without any trouble. Even though it is so easy to change travellers cheques, make sure and have some cash with you when you first arrive.
English is the first language spoken in Chicago. Other languages, such as Chinese and Greek are spoke in different parts of the city, but not widely.
The change in weather between the different seasons in Chicago can be quite severe. In summer it can get extremely hot, but then in the winter temperatures can get very low.
Most visitors to Chicago aren’t covered medically so you will have to pay for any medical treatment received. Make sure to get travel insurance including health insurance before you go.
In case of an emergency you may need to visit:
Northwestern Memorial Hospital
251 East Huron Street (near Michigan Ave.)
Drugstores, for day to day medical products are all over the city.
Chicago is 6 hours behind GMT (5 during daylight saving months).
Opening hours for shops in Chicago are generally from 9am/10am to 6pm from Monday to Saturday and on Sundays from midday until 5.00pm. Offices open between 8am/9am-5.00pm from Monday to Friday. Banks are normally open from 9.00am to 3.00pm on weekdays and some open until lunch-time on Saturdays.
The two main tourist offices in Chicago are:
Chicago Water Works Visitor Center
163 East Pearson Street at Michigan
Open daily from 7.30am-7pm
Information on attractions/restaurant/office for cheap theatre tickets/shop selling City of Chicago merchandise
Chicago Cultural Center/Visitor Information Center
77 East Randolph Street (at Michigan Ave.)
Open 10am-6pm Mon-Fri, until 5pm on Saturday and from 11am-5pm on Sunday.
Information on attractions with loads of brochures, maps etc/starting point of many Chicago tours
There is no VAT in the US but every state, county and city reserves the right to levy its own local tax on all purchases. Sales tax in Chicago is 8.75%.
US Dollar travellers cheques are widely accepted in hotels and hostels. Sterling travellers cheques aren’t changed as widely so if you are bringing travellers cheques make sure they are US$.
Most businesses will accept traveller’s cheques denominated in US amounts, but you are better changing them in a bank. You will also need identification to do so.
The US uses 110 to 120 volts AC, 60 cycles. If you are using a European or an Australian appliance, you will need a 110-volt transformer and a plug adapter with two flat parallel pins. These adapters are difficult to find in the States so you are recommended to bring one with you.
When you are calling Chicago from overseas you need to dial the international access code, then 1, followed by the area code (312), followed by the local seven digit number. If you are in the same area code you just dial the local number.
If you are calling abroad from within the US you dial 011 (America’s international access code), followed by the country’s code, area code (remembering to drop the 0) and local number.
The world’s largest post office is in Chicago. You can find it at 433 W Harrison Street.
Tipping is customary all over America, usually around 15-20% of the bill. Most people in the service industry expect to receive tips. These include taxi drivers, waiters and waitresses, barmen, chamber maids, hotel bellboys and airport luggage porters.
In the US they take place on New Years Day (January 1st) Martin Luther King’s Birthday (Third Mon in January), President’s Day (third Monday in February), Memorial Day (last Monday in May), Independence Day (July 4th), Labour Day (first Monday in September), Columbus Day (second Monday in October), Veterans Day (11th November), Thanksgiving Day (fourth Thursday in November and Christmas Day (December 25th).
It is worth noting what America’s public holidays are before travelling as the majority of businesses, banks and shops shut for the day.