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.
Use this guide to see important things that you should know when planning a trip here from overseas.
Know the Passport, Visa and Customs 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 immigration 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. 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 overseas visitors, so multilingual services are readily available. Do some online research in advance of your trip, so you can know what to expect.
The Smithsonian, White House Visitors Center, Kennedy Center, Library of Congress, Newseum, Mount Vernon, and other attractions offer brochures in several languages. Complimentary foreign language tours are available by appointment at the National Museum of African Art, Freer Gallery, Sackler Gallery of Art, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.
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. Use 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.
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.
Avoid Scams and Stay Safe
Washington DC is a relatively safe city, but you should secure your passport and other valuables in a hotel safe whenever possible. Keep your valuables close to you and be aware of your surroundings. Stay in well lit areas and with a group after dark.
Plan Some of Your Sightseeing in Advance
Many of Washington, DC’s attractions are open almost every day of the year and you can visit them at your leisure. There are a few popular sites that require reservations, tickets, and advance planning. There are plenty of free things to do in Washington DC all year-round. You will find free attractions, festivals and events, educational programs and much more.