New York City, USA

Travellers must always familiarise themselves with the local area, cultures and customs. By reading this guide, you’ll be better prepared and be able to enjoy your trip with less hassle.

It is incredibly important to have your wits about you whenever travelling to a new location.

There are, of course, always levels of risk but we hope that this guide gives you a better understanding of what to look out for and how to minimise it.

Travelling anywhere in the world has its own fair share of risk attached and travelling to New York is no different. Many large cities throughout the world are prone to pickpockets and scams especially concerning tourists.

It is paramount to get travel insurance before your trip to the United States. There is no free healthcare available for tourists. The USA has the highest costs for medical care in the world. You should seek travel insurance that covers medical emergencies and evacuations. 

Travel insurance is also advised in the event of cancelled flights, lost baggage, theft, loss, legal protection and personal liability.

Company 1 & Company 2 both offer competitive rates for Travel Insurance.

Information

Emergency Number – 911

Time Zone – GMT-4
Currency – US Dollar ($)
Population – 8.41 million

Size – 783.8 km²
GDP – $1.751 trillion

Visas

The U.S. Department of State issues visas to foreign nationals traveling to the United States through its embassies or consulates, unless you are a citizen of any of the 39 countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program.

If you are a national of one of the 39 participating countries then you will need to fill out the ESTA form.

If you are not a national of one of the 39 participating countries then you will have to apply to the US embassy in your country and apply via the DS-160 Form.

Money

What is the currency?

The currency used in New York is the United States Dollar ($).

Note denominations include $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100 bills

Coins denominations include 1¢, 5¢, 10¢, 25¢, 50¢ cents

Where can I get it?

The easiest way to get cash in New York is via the ATM machines located around the city, although you may want to check the exchange rate charged by your bank first.

Alternatively, you can pay on your debit or credit cards at most restaurants, bars and attractions.

How do I exchange it?

You can exchange money in the airport but you will pay a higher exchange rate.

There are exchange shops scattered all over New York and next to the tourist hot spots such as Broadway, Empire State Building & Madison Square Garden to name but a few.

To get the best deals on exchange rates, we advise changing your local currency into dollars before you travel. XXX is reliable, trustworthy and delivers dirham’s within 24 hours.

If you don’t like the idea of carrying cash but still want a good exchange rate, then the XXX is a travel card with favourable exchange rates.

You can check exchange rates here

Tips & Gratuities

Tipping is a way of life in the United States and workers rely on tips to subsidise their wages.

Hotel doormen who hail a cab or bring cars for you from the valet should be tipped between $2-5.

You should tip housekeeping between $2-5 per day, depending on the services you’re requesting.

For table service at a restaurant, make sure to tip between 15-25% of the total bill, depending on how good the service is. If, however, you’re just heading to the bar or eating there, tip $1 to $2 dollars per drink or 15-25% of the total bill if you’re putting it on a card.

Small group tours with less than 15 participants should expect to tip $15 to $25 per person; medium groups with between 15 and 30 participants should tip around $10 per person; large groups with 30 or more participants should tip $5 each, and in all cases, the driver should be tipped between $5-10 dollars as well.

Taxi drivers should be tipped 10-20% of their fare, which should be calculated automatically on the screen.

Average costs

Pint of local Beer (Average Cost) – $7.20
Bottle of water (Average Cost) – $1.74
Coffee (Average Cost) – $4.75

The Law

The legal age for consuming alcohol in the United States is 21. Providing alcohol to someone under 21 is illegal.

Heavy fines are given out to those who litter the streets.

Jaywalking or crossing a road unlawfully or without regard for approaching traffic is illegal.

Drugs, including marijuana are illegal in New York punishable by two and a half years in prison.

Safety

Reliable Numbers

In an emergency, call 911. This number is free to call – only use it in a genuine emergency.

  • Only use registered taxis or a reputable company that can track you such as Uber
  • Try to avoid walking alone at night. Keep to well-lit main roads
  • Beware of wearing headphones – they reduce awareness of your surroundings.
  • In New York, cars drive on the right. To ensure you cross roads safely, only use designated crossings, only cross when the green light is showing.

Staying safe in bars and restaurants

It is paramount that travellers who are in unfamiliar cities are extra vigilant when in late night venues.

  • Make sure you keep your property out of sight and safely under the table.
  • Don’t accept drinks from strangers.
  • Check up on your friends by phone or text to make sure they got home safely and vice-versa.

Petty Theft

Petty theft can occur in New York as it can anywhere else in the world. The key here is to be prepared before your travel.

  • Don’t leave your bag unattended anywhere in New York – this can lead to a security alert
  • Keep your purse or wallet close to your body and don’t carry too much cash.
  • When using an ATM, check that no one is looking over your shoulder and that the ATM hasn’t been tampered with. Cover the keypad so no one else can see your PIN number.
  • Keep your mobile phone, MP3 player, camera, and other gadgets out of sight in your pocket or handbag when not in use.
  • Record details of your electronic serial numbers (ESNs).
  • Inform your service provider and police if your phone or other valuables are stolen or lost. Dial 112 for the police

Taxi Safety

In general, taxis in New York are safe and there’s nothing to worry about, however, there are some do’s and don’ts to ensure your safety.

  • Don’t let an overly drunk friend travel alone
  • Always use registered taxi firms such as Uber
  • Try not to travel alone if you’re too drunk
  • Ensure your phone is charged before the night out
  • Ensure the vehicle is licensed and has an ID badge
  • Sit in the backseat instead of the passenger seat

Some taxis may not take card so make sure you have enough cash on you to pay for it, this is safer than having to pull over to an ATM to withdraw cash. Alternatively, you can use a pre-booking service or Uber.

Scams

Don’t be fooled by scam artists in New York. There are a number of sophisticated scams which have been reported by travellers. Remember, if it seems to good to be true, it usually is.

Below are some of the most popular scams in New York that you should be aware of.

Tickets for Free Attractions
Many museums and attractions are available to tour for free or have discounted prices on certain days of the week. However, tourists who do not know this are sometimes conned into paying for tickets that would otherwise be free.

One of the most common scams involves the free Staten Island Ferry. Travelers who have never boarded the ferry or are new to the city may be under the impression they need a ticket to board, even though the ferry is a free service that operates around the clock. Scam artists can often be found outside the Ferry terminals, offering to sell tickets they no longer need. Scammers will often negotiate on the price, happy to get rid of their “tickets” to an unknowing traveler.

Restaurant Rip-Offs
Some restaurants around Times Square were found to be adding on mandatory gratuities and adding another gratuity at the bottom of the bill stinging unaware tourists twice.

Before paying the bill, travellers should double check and make sure they are paying for only what they ordered, and not an extra tip.

Gypsy Cabs
Taxi’s or cabs that are not registered with the Taxi and Limousine Commission are referred to as Gypsy Cabs. The unscrupulous drivers usually coerce tourists to pay excessive amounts. This unfortunately is not restricted to Yellow Cabs, in 2018 500 Uber drivers were found to be making illegal pickups at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Areas of Caution

New York is generally considered a safe city to visit and the city centre does not have any areas in which you should avoid.

However, there are a number of places with high levels of violent crime that you should be aware of.

  • Times Square
  • Meatpacking District
  • Koreatown
  • Garment District
  • Union Square

Terror Alert

Attacks can be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers.

The current terrorist threat level is high in New York.

The most notable terrorist attack in New York took place on September 11th 2001 which claimed the lives of 2,996 and injured more than 6,000 others. To date, this is the deadliest terrorist attack in the world.

Travellers should not allow terrorism to deter them from visiting such beautiful cities but it is paramount that they remain vigilant and note local advice.

You can find updated information on threat levels and security risks in New York on the NYPD website.

Language

The most spoken language in New York is English with 64% of the population speaking it fluently.

As well as English, around 20% of the population speak Spanish with around 3% speaking Mandarin.

New Yorkers will be happy to help tourists but many will not speak any other languages other than English.

New York City is the most densely populated urban area in the U.S. with approximately 8.5 million inhabitants and a large number of these people, almost a third, are immigrants from other countries.

As a result, New York City has developed its own unique language that’s been heavily influenced by the city’s linguistic and cultural diversity combined with hip hop culture.

Common Slang Terms could be a good way to break the ice and make locals laugh. (BOOK) is a good read if you want to pick up on some New York slang whilst on your travels.

Summary

Of course, much of what we have covered is common sense. But now you should be aware of the risks posed to tourists whilst visiting New York.

As one of the worlds most popular tourist destinations, it is worth remembering that the city relies on tourists and therefore police carry out foot patrols throughout the city to ensure the safety of tourists and the local population.

As we have already highlighted, please ensure that you have valid travel insurance that covers you for loss, theft and medical cover in the event that something happens to you or your family.

So now that you are equipped with this information, please enjoy New York and let us know how you got on by tagging us at #totalguide.

If you believe we have missed some information that may help other travellers, please let us know at info@total.guide