Travelling to the USA? Take your travel money further on your trip with our tips on ways to pay in the US, how to get around and when to buy your US dollars.
US currency consists of bills in denominations of $100, $50, $20, $10, $5, and $1 and coins in denominations of $1, 25 cents (quarter), 10 cents (dime), 5 cents (nickel) and 1 cent (penny).
All of the bills are the same size, so make sure you don’t get them mixed up.
Getting the best exchange rate
Get more travel money for your trip without spending an extra pound by buying your currency when the pound is at a better exchange rate against the dollar.
Sign up to our Rate Alert service and we’ll let you know when the pound is having a good day.
Buy smaller amounts of currency throughout the year and by the time you travel you’ll have squirrelled away the spending money you need for your trip.
Manage your money on the go with ease and spend wherever you see the Mastercard® Acceptance Mark by loading a FairFX Prepaid Mastercard®.
Whatever you do don’t leave buying currency until the airport. Leaving your currency until the last minute can mean you end up with one of the worst rates in the country.
At the end of 2015, merchants began making the switch to devices that can accommodate chip and PIN. Be aware some smaller retailers may still not have made the move so make sure your card has an up-to-date signature on the back.
Some independent merchants do not accept credit cards, so check with merchants before loading up your basket.
There are approximately 425,000 ATMs in the USA so cash is easily accessible.
Commission charges & tipping
It is commonplace for restaurants and bars in the USA to authorise an additional service charge on the payment card before the transaction has finalised.
If you use your FairFX Card in restaurants and bars in the USA, you will see a separate transaction described as ‘Commission’ on your statement. The value of the commission transaction will be for 15% of your authorised transaction amount.
This ‘Commission’ amount will be held until the Merchant confirms the final transaction amount – this allows us to ensure sufficient funds are available on your card should you leave a tip.
Tipping around 15% is customary in bars and restaurants.
You can expect to pay between $10-$20 per person for lunch and $25-$40 for dinner at a mid-range restaurant. Tipping around 15% is customary. A glass of wine costs around $7, beer around $5.
Taxis are metered, with a starting charge of around $3, plus $2 to $3 per mile. They charge extra for waiting and handling baggage, and drivers will expect a 10% to 15% tip. Ridesharing companies will be cheaper.
Larger cities in the USA have comprehensive public transit systems which are usually cheap, safe and reliable, including New York, Chicago, Boston, Washington DC, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Other cities may have smaller networks serving downtown areas, but elsewhere public transport can be sparse and isn’t usually the most convenient way of getting around. Over two-thirds of states in America have adopted 511 as an all-purpose local transport telephone helpline.
If you try to use your FairFX Card in a subway ticket machine it may ask for your zip code, this can usually be overridden by typing in a code (in New York City you simply enter ‘99999’) – ask staff or consult the local transport system website to find out what to enter for where you are heading.
Taxis are plentiful in the US, while ridesharing companies such as Uber and Lyft have seen a surge in popularity as a more convenient and often cheaper alternative to taxis.
Remember sales tax
Sales tax can be confusing in the USA. The tax is not normally included in the price shown and the amount of sales tax on goods varies from state to state. In California, sales tax is 6.5% in the District of Columbia, 5.75% and in New York 4%. Check the sales tax rate before you travel to avoid surprises.
Any money loaded on the FairFX Card is not protected by the FSCS.