By Jacob Robinson, Student Brand Ambassador for the FCDO

The USA is a holiday destination that can appeal to everyone. Whether that be its contrasting climates, from the icy winters of Alaska to the sunny days in Los Angeles, and the plethora of activities available, there's something to entice everyone. Whether you're drawn to embarking on a classic road trip along Route 66 or prefer exploring vibrant cities like Chicago, New York, San Francisco, or New Orleans, the options are abundant. The USA is also famed for its natural landforms - the Appalachian Mountains and the Grand Canyon as just two examples. The list is endless - it’s a holiday destination which can suit anyone, regardless of what an ideal getaway looks like to you.

However, the fact that the USA’s local laws and customs can vary from state to state can be a surprise to some travellers. You could consider this rudimentary to take into consideration if you’re visiting on a trip soon, but it is always better to be prepared and aware. 

Before you travel, it’s worth checking the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO)’s travel advice for the USA. You can find out about entry requirements, health information and local laws and customs, and sign up to email alerts for travel advice for your destination. With email alerts, you get automatically notified of any changes to the advice, ensuring you'll be well-prepared.

How Can I Stay Out of Trouble?

Travel Insurance

Once you’ve paid for flights and accommodation, make sure to book your travel insurance straightaway. Booking your travel insurance as you soon as you’ve planned a trip, instead of waiting until the departure day, allows your group to be protected against events such as illness or cancellation. The FCDO has more information on what to look for in a travel insurance policy. Always declare any pre-existing medical conditions and ensure you understand what your policy covers. Medical care is expensive in the US so ensure you are fully covered and have access to funds for any medical treatment whilst you are away.

Drinking age

One of the biggest differences between the US and the UK is the legal drinking age. Although there are a few exemptions, the legal drinking age in the US is 21. To be sure, check the relevant state laws if you are under 21 before buying or consuming any alcohol. Rules about drinking in public also vary from state to state, and even differ for certain counties and cities! Violating what’s known as “open container laws” can get you in trouble, even worse if you are intoxicated in public. Inform yourself about the rules around drinking at your destination to avoid any trouble. 

Carrying a fake ID is not worth the risks - the unlawful possession of a driver’s licence or identification card can lead to heavy sentences or fines.


Around 20 US states in recent years have legalised some drugs for private use.

However, possession or trafficking of illegal drugs in the USA can carry a long prison sentence and fine. So, make sure to check state laws to ensure you comply with the laws on possession and use of controlled substances. The US Department of Justice website provides a list of all controlled substances.

Although some drugs have been made legal in a number of states, you should not assume you can take them to other states, where they might still be illegal. Also, the rules around drugs could be different when flying from state to state, as US airspace is governed by federal law, not state laws. And trying to take drugs back home to the UK is a big mistake, even if you bought them legally during your visit. 

Driving in the US

If you plan on driving in the USA, you may need a 1949 international driving permit (IDP) as well as a full valid driving licence.  As you might expect, IDP requirements vary in each state.  For more information, take a look at the guidance on the Department of Motor Vehicles’ website as well as the information from American Automobile Association (AAA).

You cannot buy an IDP outside the UK, so get one before you travel. Provisional licences are not accepted.

If you have an older, paper UK driving licence, you must take another form of photographic ID, such as your passport. You may need to show an IDP to your insurance company if you’re involved in an accident.

If you’re hiring a vehicle, check requirements with your rental company before you travel.

And it seems simple - but be wary of driving on the right-hand side!

What happens if I get into trouble?

The United Kingdom is a ‘mandatory notification country’ in the United States, so the closest British Embassy or Consulate should automatically be informed of your detention by the detaining authority regardless of whether or not you request this. However, it is always best to check that the Embassy or Consulate have been informed, as not all detention facilities are aware of their notification responsibilities.

If you are a British citizen arrested overseas, you are also entitled to support from Prisoners Abroad, who work closely with the FCDO to deliver their overseas support. If you or a loved one has been detained abroad, you can find more information on contacting Prisoners Abroad here. 

The right to a speedy trial is guaranteed to criminal defendants by the sixth amendment to the US Constitution. A “speedy trial” basically means that you must be tried for the alleged crimes within a reasonable time after being arrested. This reasonable time varies from state to state.

If you are a tourist in the US, you won’t have the right to work whilst you await your trial so if you are released on bail (which means you need to put up money as a guarantee) you will also need to be able to finance yourself while your case is being heard or face a return to prison. Prison conditions vary in the US but are similar to the UK.

Despite these various risks, the key takeaway is the ability to effectively mitigate them. Fortunately, the US largely shares similar laws with the UK, allowing British nationals to navigate the country with relatively few differences to consider. Nonetheless, it remains crucial to remain vigilant about potential risks. For further guidance on visiting the USA, check out the FCDO's full travel advice.

Are you Travel Aware?

The Travel Aware campaign is run in partnership with the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) to make people aware of information that might prove useful whilst travelling abroad.

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