Essential Information for Living in America

From car breakdowns to gas leaks, we've all been through life's little dramas and usually come out the other end unscathed, but what about when you move to America, will you know what to do? Do you know which number to dial in an emergency? How much should you tip waiters? Where can you buy a stamp? These may not all be emergencies but it's often the little things that get overlooked and these little useful facts can often make all the difference.

Useful Telephone Numbers

The telephone system in America usually starts with the three digit area code followed by the main number. A number which starts with 800 is a toll-free number.

Dialing 0 will get you the operator whilst directory enquiries is 800-874-4000 for free numbers or call the state code you need plus 555-1212 for numbers in that state.

The emergency number in America for police, fire, paramedics and coastguard is 911.

Car Breakdowns

If you break down on a state highway then you should alert the state forces by raising your car bonnet and tying something white to your aerial or wing mirror. Wait at the side of the road for the patrol officer or find the nearest roadside telephone. Most highways are regularly patrolled so if you don't know where the nearest phone is then you are advised to wait where you are.

Tipping in America

Tipping for good service is a way of life in America and many workers rely on tips to boost their wages so don't skimp when it comes to tips, although you may be surprised at just how many people do expect tips!

These are just average indications of what is considered an inoffensive tip:
- Waiters 10-15% on average
- Taxi drivers 10-20%
- Porters – around $1 per bag with perhaps a little more if they are particularly attentive
- Bar staff, around $1 per drink served or a 10% tip if served at your table

CNN Money have a good guide to tipping in America.

Post Office

Air mail to the UK can take around 5-6 working days to reach its destination and vice versa. Ordinary mail can be posted in the dark blue mail boxes marked US Mail, also in hotel lobbies and on the side of major city buildings.

Stamps are available from chemists (drugstores), hotels, public transport stations, supermarkets and so on but you will pay extra for them so it's worth stocking up at the Post Office.

Alternatives to the Federal Post are FedEx and UPS and these services can be cheaper than federal mail if you open an account with them, particularly if you are going to be sending regular mail overseas.

Natural disasters

Here in the UK we may be prone to the odd flood but over in America you have hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, wildfires, winter storms, tsunamis, etc so if you happen to live in an affected area, you need to know what to do in an emergency. Visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency's website to see any declared disasters and to discover what to do in such an emergency.

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