CONSULATES AND EMBASSIES
All international embassies from other countries to the United States are located in Washington, D.C. There are a number of international embassy branch offices, called consulates, located in Seattle. See the link below for the full list. If your country does not have a consulate in Seattle, call directory information in Washington, D.C. (tel. 202-555-1212), for the number of your national embassy.
If you're a citizen of a foreign country, in most cases you'll need a visa to enter the United States. There are two categories of U.S. visas: immigrant and nonimmigrant. Immigrant visas are for people who intend to live permanently in the U.S. Non-immigrant visas are for people with permanent residence outside the U.S. but who wish to be in the U.S. on a temporary basis, for tourism, medical treatment, business, temporary work or study.
U.S. visa policy permits citizens of certain countries to travel to the U.S. without a visa. The United States has a Visa Waiver Program, and also allows travel without visas under certain criteria for citizens of Bermuda, Canada and Mexico. See the links below for more information.
BANKING AND MONEY
In the United States, the US Dollar ($) is the unit of currency and is divided into 100 cents. Notes are in denominations of $100, 50, 20, 10, 5 and 1.
Banking hours in the United States are generally Monday to Friday, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. There is some variation -- a few banks are also open on Saturday. It is best to call the bank first and make sure.
Use an ATM for pulling money from your bank account in U.S. denominations at the best current exchange rate. Before leaving home check with your local financial institution to verify if you are able to use your home bank card at some of these machines.
Banks may also exchange money, though they sometimes charge a fee to do so if you are not a customer. Any bank that is also a credit union will not charge an extra fee for currency exchange. Some banks and credit unions only exchange currency for those who have accounts at that bank or credit union. It is best to research beforehand and know where you will go for currency exchange.
There are also currency exchange stores, who specialize in currency exchange and may have a wider range of currencies available for exchange. They charge fees for their services.
If you need to exchange currency at the airport, there are various kiosks there run by different companies.
Credit cards and travellers checks are widely accepted in the United States, however it is best to check before buying to find out what type of payment is required by the store or service.
If you leave or enter the United States with more than $10,000 in monetary instruments of any kind, you must file a report, FinCen Form 105, with U.S. Customs at the time. Failure to comply can result in civil and criminal proceedings.
International Currency Converters:
PLUGS AND OUTLET STANDARDS
North America (including the United States and Canada) generally uses 120 voltage (60 HZ). Outlet sockets use either a Type A plug -- a class II ungrounded plug with two flat parallel prongs, or a Type B plug -- a class I plug with two flat parallel prongs and a grounding pin.
The best way to prepare for plugs and socket outlets different from your own country's is to bring along plug adapters/converters/transformers, which you can attach to extension cords or personal electronics plugs.
Adapters, converters and transformers are different from one another, and should be used for specific needs:
An adapter does not convert electricity -- it simply allows a dual-voltage appliance, a transformer or a converter from one country to be plugged into the wall outlet of another country.
Converters will step voltage up or down, and should only be used for "mechanical" electrical devices that are used for short periods of time, such as hair dryers, steam irons, small fans, etc.
Transformers are used for "electronic" devices such as CD players, laptops, televisions, fax machines, etc. that are used for longer durations of time. The wattage rating of the transformer must always be larger than the wattage rating of the appliance to be plugged into it.
The web sites listed below can help you figure out the wattage and plug/outlet types used by different countries -- this will help you to plan if you want to bring personal electronic devices on your trip abroad.