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Travel Guide > North America > USA

USA Money & Shopping

  
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Currency

The official U.S. currency is the United States dollar ($), divided into 100 cents (¢). Conversion rates vary daily and are available online Foreign currencies are almost never accepted, although some major hotel chains may accept travelers cheques in other currencies. Canadian currency is sometimes accepted at larger stores within 100 miles of the border, but discounted for the exchange rate. (This is less of an issue nowadays with the stronger Canadian dollar.) Watch for stores that really want Canadian shoppers and will accept at par. Often, a few Canadian coins (especially pennies) won't be noticed, but less so the further south you go. Now that the Mexican peso has stabilized, it is somewhat accepted at some locations at border towns (El Paso, Laredo, etc), but you're better off exchanging your pesos in Mexico, and using US dollars instead, to ensure the best exchange rate.

Common American bills are for $1, $5, $10, $20, and $50 with $2 and $100 bills considerably less common. All bills are the same size. All $1, $2, and $100 bills, and older $5, $10, $20, and $50 bills are greenish and printed with black and green ink. Newer versions of the $5, $10, $20, and $50 bills incorporate different gradations of color in the paper and additional colors of ink. As designs are updated every 5-10 years, you will currently find up to three different designs of some bills in circulation. Almost all vending machines accept $1 bills and a few accept $5 bills; acceptance of larger bills ($50 and $100) by small restaurants and stores is less common. No US banknotes have been devalued in the last 80 years. Coins also haven't been devalued, and coins from as early as the 1940s are still found in circulation. While almost never seen, any currency over 25 years old and coin over 40 likely has collector value.

The standard coins are the penny (1¢, copper color), the chunky nickel (5¢, silver color), the tiny dime (10¢, silver color) and the quarter (25¢, silver color). None of these coins display the numeral of their value, so it is important to recognize the names of each. The size doesn't necessarily correspond to their relative value: the dime is the smallest coin, followed by the penny, nickel, and quarter. Half dollar (50¢, silver) and dollar ($1, silver or gold) coins exist, but are rarely used. Coin-operated machines usually only accept nickels, dimes, and quarters.

Currency exchange

Currency exchange centers are rare outside the downtowns of major coastal and border cities, and international airports, however many banks can also provide currency exchange services. 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 $2.50 for use with cards issued by other banks (often waived for cards issued outside of the U.S., but banks in one's home country may charge their own fees). Smaller ATMs found in restaurants etc. often charge higher fees (up to $5). Some ATMs (such as those at Sheetz gas stations and government buildings such as courthouses) have no fee.

Major credit and debit cards such as Visa and MasterCard are widely used and accepted, even for transactions worth only a few dollars. Although technically prohibited, some independently-owned stores specify a minimum amount of money (usually $10) for credit card use, as credit-card transactions cost them around 30-50 cents (this practice is also common at bars when opening a tab). Other cards such as American Express and Discover are also accepted, but not as widely. Almost all sit-down restaurants, hotels, and shops will accept credit cards. Authorization is made by signing a paper sales slip or a computer pad. When making large purchases, it is typical for the shop to ask for photo identification, even though Mastercard and Visa prohibit such a practice in the U.S. Shops may also ask for photo identification for foreign issued cards.

Gas station pumps, selected public transportation vending machines, and some other types of automated vending machines often have credit/debit card readers. Some automated vending machines accepting credit cards ask for the zip code of the US billing address for the card, which effectively prevents them from accepting foreign cards. At gas stations you can use a foreign issued card by paying the station attendant inside.

Sales tax

There is no nationwide sales tax (such as VAT or GST), the only exception being motor fuels (gasoline and diesel). As a result, state/local taxes (see below) on major purchases cannot be refunded by customs agents upon leaving the United States.

However, most states have a sales tax, ranging from 2.9% to nearly 10% of the retail price; 4-6% is typical. Sales tax is almost never included in posted prices (except for gasoline/diesel, 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. Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon have no sales tax; Alaska has no state sales tax, but allows local governments to collect sales taxes. Regional price variations, indirect hotel and business taxes, etc. will usually have more impact on a traveler's wallet than the savings of seeking out a low-sales-tax or no-sales-tax destination. Many cities also impose sales taxes, and certain cities have tax zones near airports and business districts that are designed to exploit travelers. Thus, sales taxes can vary up to 2% in a matter of a few miles.

At least two states, Louisiana and Texas, will refund sales tax on purchases made by international travellers taken out of the state.

Places for shopping

Shopping malls

America is the birthplace of the shopping mall, and suburbs in particular have miles and miles of strip malls, or long rows of small shops with shared parking lots, usually built along a high-capacity road (the "strip"). Large cities still maintain central shopping districts that can be navigated on public transport, but pedestrian-friendly shopping streets are uncommon and usually small.

Outlet centers

The U.S. pioneered the factory outlet store, and in turn, the outlet center, a shopping mall consisting primarily of such stores. Outlet centers are found along major Interstate highways outside of most American cities.

Major retailers

American retailers tend to have some of the longest business hours in the world, with chains like Wal-Mart often featuring stores open 24/7 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week). Department stores and other large retailers are usually open from 10 AM to 9 PM most days, and during the winter holiday season, may stay open as long as 8 AM to 11 PM. The U.S. does not regulate the timing of sales promotions as in other countries. U.S. retailers often announce sales during all major holidays, and also in between for any reason or no reason at all.

Garage sales

On weekends, it is not uncommon to find families selling no longer needed household items in their driveway, garage, or yard. If you see a driveway full of stuff on a Saturday, it's likely a garage sale. Check it out; one person's trash may just be your treasure. Bargaining is expected and encouraged.

Flea markets

Flea markets (called "swap meets" in Western states) have dozens if not hundreds of vendors selling all kinds of usually inexpensive merchandise. Some flea markets are highly specialized and aimed at collectors of a particular sort; others just sell all types of items. Again, bargaining is expected.

Auctions

Americans did not invent the auction but may well have perfected it. The fast paced, sing-song cadence of a country auctioneer, selling anything from farm animals to estate furniture, is a special experience, even if you have no intention of buying. In big cities head to the auction chambers of Christie's or Sotheby's auctioneers, and watch paintings, antiques and works of art be sold in a matter of minutes at prices that go into the millions.

Costs

Unless you live in Australia, Canada, Europe or Japan, the United States is generally expensive, but there are ways to limit the damage. Many Europeans come to the United States for shopping (especially electronics). While prices in the United States are lower than in many European countries, keep in mind that you will be charged taxes/tariffs on goods purchased abroad. Additionally, electronics may not be compatible with standards when you return (electrical, DVD region, etc.). As such, the savings you may find shopping in the United States may easily be negated upon your return. A barebones budget for camping, hostels, and cooking your food could be $30-50/day, and you can double that if you stay at motels and eat at cheap cafes. Add on a rental car and hotel accommodation and you'll be looking at $150/day and up. There are regional variations too: large cities like New York and Los Angeles are expensive, while prices go down in the countryside. Most U.S. cities have suburbs with good hotels that are often much more affordable than those in the city center and enjoy lower crime rates. Thus, if you plan to rent a car and drive between several major cities on a single visit to the U.S., it is usually a better idea to stay at safe suburban hotels with free parking, as opposed to downtown hotels that charge exorbitant parking fees.

If you intend to visit any of the National Parks Service sites, such as the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone National Park, it is worth considering the purchase of a National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass This costs $80 and gives access to almost all of the federally administered parks and recreation areas for one year. Considering the price of admission to many parks is at least $20 each, if you visit more than a few of them, the pass will be the cheaper solution. You can trade in receipts from individual entries for 14 days at the entrance to the parks to upgrade to an annual pass, if you find yourself cruising around and ending up visiting more parks than expected.

Many hotels and motels offer discounts for members of certain organizations which anyone can join, such as AAA (formerly the American Automobile Association). If you're a member, or are a member of a club affiliated with AAA (such as the Canadian Automobile Association, The Automobile Association in the UK, or ADAC in Germany), it's worth asking at check-in.

Tipping

Tipping in America is widely used and expected. While Americans themselves often debate correct levels and exactly who deserves to be tipped, generally accepted standard rates are:

  • Hairdressers, other personal services: 10-15%
  • Bartenders: $1 per drink if inexpensive or 15% of total
  • Bellhops: $1-2 per bag ($3-5 minimum regardless)
  • Hotel doorman: $1 per bag (if they assist), $1 for calling a cab
  • Shuttle bus drivers: $2-5 (optional)
  • Private car & limousine drivers: 15-20%
  • Housekeeping in hotels: $1-2 per day for long stays or $5 minimum for very short stays (optional)
  • Food delivery (pizza, etc.): $2-5, 15-20% for larger orders
  • Bicycle messengers: $3-5
  • Taxis: Tips of 10-20% are expected in both yellow cabs as well as livery cabs. A simple way of computing the tip is to add 10% of the fare and round up from there. Thus, if the meter reads $6.20, you pay $7 and if the meter reads $6.50, you pay $8. Always tip more for better service (for example, if the cabbie helps you with your bags or stroller). Don't tip at all if the service is lousy (for example, if the cabbie refuses to turn on the AC on a hot day). For livery cabs, tip 10-20% depending on the quality of the service but you don't need to tip at all if you hail the cab on the street and negotiate the fare in advance (leave an extra dollar or two anyway!).
  • Full-service restaurants: 15-20%. Many restaurants include a mandatory service charge for larger groups, in which case you do not need to tip an additional amount - check the bill.

It is important to keep in mind that waitstaff in many American restaurants make wages much below federal minimum wage. Indeed, there are some states that do protect waitstaff wages, but many, like Wisconsin, Ohio, or Oklahoma can pay waitstaff as low as $2.15/hour before taxes. In this way, a tip is not just to say "thank you" for service, it is an essential part of your server's wage.

Remember that while it is expected for you to tip normally for adequate service, you are never obliged to tip if your service was truly awful. If you receive exceptionally poor or rude service and the manager does not correct the problem when you bring it to their attention, a deliberately small tip (one or two coins) will express your displeasure more clearly than leaving no tip at all. However, if you receive poor service and tip less than customary, the waiter may confront you and ask for an explanation.

If paying your bill by cash, leave a cash tip on the table when you leave (there is no need to hand it over personally or wait until it's collected), or if paying by credit card you can add it directly to the charge slip when you sign it.

Tipping is not expected at restaurants where patrons stand at a counter to place their order and receive their food (such as fast-food chains). 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. Some tipping at a cafeteria or buffet is expected since the wait staff often clears the table for you and provides refills of drinks and such.

Certain individuals are not customarily tipped, and would likely refuse them, such as doctors and dentists. Never try to offer any kind of tip to a government employee of any kind, especially police officers; this could be construed as attempted bribery (a felony offense) and might cause serious legal problems.

Shops & Stores in USA

General/Other Store Gourmage Of Texas
Since April 2009, Gourmage of Texas, a foodie's delight has offered the New Braunfels area the crem de la crem of cheeses, chocolates, bread and charcuterie, and wine. Artisan cheeses, delectable coffees and the freedom to... more
 1 Fans, in New Braunfels
Art/Crafts/Antiques Store Downtown Antique Mall
The Downtown Antique Mall is housed in a refined and fascinating building dating back to the 1900's, the perfect setting for selling its variety of local wares. From Breweriana to furniture, to jewelry, pottery and antique... more
 1 Fans, in New Braunfels
 
Art/Crafts/Antiques Store Gruene General Store
Long ago, Henry Gruene opened the doors of his Gruene General Store to fulfill the needs of those in his small community. Today, known for its fascinating Texas trinkets and delectable local treats, it is one of the top pl... more
 1 Fans, in New Braunfels
Souvenir Store Armke's Made-in-Germany Store
Straight from Germany's Black Forest to the city of Prince Carl, interesting imports include ornate and unique beer steins to slosh around local brews, quirky cuckoo clocks and M.I. Hummel figurines. Armke's Made-In-G... more
 1 Fans, in New Braunfels
 
Convenience Store ABC Stores
ABC Stores are ubiquitous to Waikiki.   Begun as a small local family concern by  Sidney and Minnie Kosasa in 1964, ABC Stores now  number 78 in Hawaii, Guam, Saipan and Las Vegas.   Sidney a phamacist decided to open his ... more
in Waikiki
Bookstore Last Bookstore
The Last Bookstore is one of the last remaining brick and mortar locales for bargain book hunters. There is an "old soft shoe" comfort feeling about the place that makes it truly special in the hearts of avid boo... more
Low Budget, in Downtown
 
General/Other Store Starbucks
in Waikiki
Souvenir Store Goats On The Roof
There are lots of things you might expect to find on a roof; birds, bats, insects, maybe even Santa and a sleigh with eight reindeers. However, in Tiger, a small town in Rabun County Georgia near Clayton, you will find an ... more
Low Budget, in Tiger
 
Market New Braunfels Farm to Market
Every Saturday, downtown New Braunfels blooms in the richness of the Farm to Market. Fresh flowers, fruits and vegetables, arts and crafts and local vendors come out to show off their wares. Live music accompanies the arom... more
Low Budget, in New Braunfels
Fashion Store Dancing Pony Boutique
In the well beaten path of downtown New Braunfels, a boutique for the devoted fashionista awaits. The Dancing Pony boutique lines its walls with the most eye-catching accessories, that compliment the extensive collection o... more
in New Braunfels
 
These are just 10 of 43 Shops & Stores in USA. Show more.




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