Information for Everyday Life in the U.S.

Money Matters

The basic unit of exchange in the United States is the dollar ($), which is divided into 100 cents (¢). One dollar is commonly written as $1 or $1.00. There are four denominations of commonly used coins: 1 cent, 5 cents, 10 cents, and 25 cents. Americans usually refer to coins, not by their value in cents, but by their names. A one-cent coin is a penny, a five-cent coin is a nickel, a ten-cent coin is a dime, and a 25-cent coin is a quarter. U.S. paper money (often called bills: for example, a “one dollar bill”) comes in single-bill denominations of one dollar ($1.00), five dollars ($5.00), ten dollars ($10.00), twenty dollars ($20.00), fifty dollars ($50.00), and one hundred dollars ($100.00). You will immediately notice that, unlike in most other countries, U.S. bills are all mostly the same size and all the same color. They are differentiated from each other by the number value and with the portrait of a different U.S. historical figure on each denomination. At first, you may find this confusing and you will need to watch which bills you use carefully. However, you will become accustomed to the currency and will soon be able to differentiate easily between the denominations. U.S. coins also are marked with the coin’s value and each denomination is a different size.

Having a bankcard is very convenient, since it can be used all over the United States and even in other countries connected to the same banking system. Bankcards from other countries can also be used in the United States as long as they function on one of the banking networks used in the United States. Before leaving home, ask your bank if you can use your home country’s bankcard in the United States. This is especially useful if, in case of emergency, you need to rapidly get money from home.


In the United States, tips (gratuities) are not automatically added to bills, as is customary in some other countries. Even if tipping remains a personal choice, it is usually expected when certain services are provided. You should be aware that the people who commonly receive tips are paid a wage that is lower than those who do not receive tips. They depend upon tips for a significant part, sometimes the majority, of their income. The average tip is usually 15 percent, but it can vary depending on the extent and the quality of the service provided.

  • Eating Out: The expected tip in a restaurant is 15 or 20 percent in a good restaurant with excellent service. You should leave your tip on the table for the waiter or waitress as you leave. If you pay with a credit card, you can add the tip to the credit card charges before you total the bill. The restaurant then gives that amount in cash to your server. If you sit at a counter in a restaurant, the tip is usually smaller; 10 to 15 percent is sufficient. In a fast-food restaurant, the bill is paid when the food is ordered and no tip is expected. In a cafeteria or a self-service restaurant, you pay the cashier after having chosen your meal and, again, no tip is expected.
  • Taxi Drivers: It is customary to give 10 to 15 percent of the total fare.
  • Airport and Hotel Porters: It is customary to give $1.00 for each bag.
  • Barbers, Hairdressers, and Beauticians: They usually are tipped 10 to 15 percent of the bill.
  • Valet Parking: The attendant should usually receive $1.00 to $2.00.
  • Never offer a tip to public officials, police officers, or government employees. This is against the law in the United States. There is no need to tip hotel desk clerks, bus drivers, theater ushers, salespeople, flight attendants, or gas station attendants.

Using the Telephone

Telephone numbers in the United States have 10 digits, including a seven-digit set of numbers that is the prime telephone number. Preceding the seven-digit number is the three-digit “area code.” The area code serves a wide region, often a large part of a state. Usually you need to dial the area code only if the number is in an area with a code different than your own. However, some more populated areas now have more than one area code and require you to dial both the area code and prime telephone number even if you live in the same city.

In most communities in the United States, when you need police, the fire department, or paramedics in an emergency situation, you simply dial “911.” Once you have dialed 911, the operator will ask you what the emergency is, ask for your address, and then summon the appropriate help. Most of the time, the operator will stay on the line and give you support or advice until help arrives. It is very important to call 911 only in an emergency situation, and it is illegal to use it otherwise.

Mailing Address

Before you leave home, give your correct mailing address in the United States to family and friends who will be writing to you. Be sure to include the “zip code.” A zip code is a five-digit number identifying the postal zone in which the address lies. Some private citizens, businesses, and organizations use more precise, nine-digit zip codes. For example, the zip code for the U.S. immigration service district office in Helena, Montana, is 59626-0036.


Restaurants in the United States range from inexpensive “fast-food” to very expensive restaurants. Some restaurants feature specialties of the region, others specialize in “ethnic” foods from various regions of the world. While some of these ethnic restaurants are very authentic, others have adapted their food to suit American tastes. It is safe to eat in restaurants in the United States since they are regularly inspected for cleanliness and for compliance with health codes. It is also safe to drink water from a tap in the United States. Bottled water is usually available in American restaurants for an extra charge.

Getting a Driver’s License

If you plan to drive in the United States, you must have a valid driver’s license. If you have an international driver’s license, it is important to check whether the state where you are driving recognizes such a license, as not all states do. Check with the local office of the state motor vehicles department to get information on obtaining a state driver’s license. All information is adapted from “Getting Ready to Go: Practical Information for Living and Studying in the United States,” a publication of the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State.

To contact a customer service representative, please visit the GSS Contact Us page for full information or use contact information below:

  • Address: 95 Wireless Road,
    Bangkok 10330, Thailand
  • E-mail Inquiries:
    Email inquiries for both nonimmigrant and immigrant visas should be directed to:
  • Call Center representatives are available:
    Monday – Friday:  8:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. (excluding Thai and U.S. holidays)
    Local telephone: 02-105 4110; from the U.S. (703)-665-7349

Forbidden Items and Entry Regulations:

Embassy security procedures require that all visitors receive a security inspection. You will be allowed to check one cell phone at the Embassy gate but the US Embassy and the Embassy guards are not liable for any loss or damage to your cell phone while it is checked. You will NOT be allowed to enter the U.S. Embassy for your appointment carrying any of the following items:

  • Any other battery-operated or electronic devices such as computer tablets, digital diaries, pagers, cameras, audio/video cassettes, compact discs, MP3s, floppy disks, laptops, or portable music players.
  • Any oversize shoulder bags or purses.
  • Any oversize handbags and travel bags, large back-packs, briefcases, or suitcases. Applicants can only carry in clear bags containing papers needed for their appointment
  • Any food item (there is a coffee stand with snacks available for purchase).
  • Sealed envelopes or packages.
  • Cigarettes / cigars / match boxes / lighters.
  • Any sharp objects such as scissors, pen knives or nail files.
  • Weapons or explosive materials of any kind.

The list provided above is not exhaustive. Other items may be prohibited at the discretion of security staff. Other than the one allowed cell phone, the US Embassy will not accept the storage of any of the above prohibited items. You will have to make alternate arrangements to store these items before you enter the Embassy.

Only visa applicants with confirmed appointments will be granted access on to the Embassy compound. Accompanying persons are required to wait outside the Embassy entrance.

If you fail to follow these security requirements you may face delays or cancellations to your visit.