Frequently Asked Questions
Questions most frequently asked when travelling to the United States
- Am I allowed to lock my luggage?
- Can an Australian citizen (non-resident alien) claim back the 30% tax withheld by the U.S. government on gambling winnings from a U.S. casino?
- Do I need a visa to visit the United States?
- Do I need an international driver’s license to drive in the United States?
- How do I claim back the sales tax I paid while in the United States?
- How do I contact the U.S. Customs office?
- How do I get married in the United States?
- How do I know if my Australian passport is machine-readable?
- How do I take alcohol into the United States?
- How do I obtain a disabled parking permit in the United States?
- How do I take my medications with me on my trip to the United States?
- What can I take with me on the aeroplane?
- What else do I need to know about travelling to the United States?
- When are public holidays in the United States?
- When are school holidays in the United States?
Am I allowed to lock my luggage?
Transportation Security Administration officials are responsible for screening checked luggage. Either by choice or by chance, your luggage may be selected for examination. You may lock your luggage if you wish. However, if TSA screeners cannot open your checked baggage through other means, then they may have to break the lock.
TSA suggests that you help prevent the need to break your locks by using a TSA recognized locking mechanism. TSA is not liable for damage caused to locked bags that must be opened for security purposes.
TSA screeners will secure your bag if they need to open it for screening. If your bag has a TSA recognized locking mechanism, and TSA officials open your locked bag, they will re-lock the bag after the screening process.
TSA recognized locking mechanisms are available in retail outlets around Australia.
Can an Australian citizen (non-resident alien) claim back the 30% tax withheld by the U.S. government on gambling winnings from a U.S. casino?
No, an Australian citizen (non-resident alien: defined as a person who is not a citizen or resident of the United States) who has won money gambling on a holiday trip to the United States cannot claim back the 30% tax withheld by the United States government.
Do I need a visa to visit the United States?
Australians travelling to the United States on holiday for less than 90 days generally do not need a visa if certain conditions are met, however, from 12 January 2009 you will need to apply for an electronic travel authorization BEFORE departing Australia.
- Visa waiver program – info from U.S. Consular Services in Australia
- Electronic system for travel authorization (ESTA) – from U.S. Department of Homeland Security
- Important info about ESTA – from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Department of Homeland Security
- Visa waiver program – info from U.S. Dept. of State
- U.S. Dept. of State Bureau of Consular Affairs
Do I need an international driver’s license to drive in the United States?
An International Driving Permit serves as proof of validation of your Australian state license and as another form of photo identification. However, you must also carry your Australian state license. Some rental car agencies require an international driver’s license as part of the agreement. Contact your local Australian motoring association for more information.
- NRMA (NSW & ACT
- RAA (South Australia)
- RAC (Western Australia)
- RACQ (Queensland)
- RACT (Tasmania)
- RACV (Victoria)
Useful websites for Australians planning to drive overseas:
- AAA affiliate benefits
- State highway safety laws
- Depts. of Transportation by state
- IDP info on Smartraveller
- International Handbook for Motorists
- Vehicle importation regulations
How do I claim back the sales tax I paid while in the United States?
The U.S. government does not refund sales tax to foreign visitors.
You can only claim back the sales tax for purchases from selected stores in the state of Louisiana.
You cannot claim back sales tax from any other state. Each state in the U.S. has the right to charge its own local taxes, including a sales tax on certain purchases. The sales tax varies from state to state and from item to item. This sales tax is not the same as the GST in Australia or the VAT in the United Kingdom and cannot be claimed back except, as noted above, in Louisiana.
How do I contact the U.S. Customs office?
The nearest U.S. Customs office is the regional office in Singapore:
Customs and Border Protection
27 Napier Road
If you have questions about taking animal or plant material into the United States, please contact the local office of the Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service on (02) 6214-5857.
How do I get married in the United States?
The municipal clerk in the city where you wish to marry will know the requirements for marriage in that particular place.
Check out our website for detailed information especially for Australians wanting to get married in Las Vegas. Or alternatively, here are two official sites for all those wish to be married in Las Vegas regardless of citizenship or nationality.
- Getting married in the city of Las Vegas: marriage licenses
- Getting married in the city of Las Vegas: marriage process
How do I know if my Australian passport is machine-readable?
Australian passports have been machine-readable for many years. You may verify this and check on your own passport by contacting the Australian Passport Information Service on 131 232.
How do I take alcohol into the United States?
You must be 21 to bring alcoholic beverages into the United States.
There is no federal limit on the amount of alcohol someone may import into the U.S. for personal use, however, large quantities might raise the suspicion that the importation is for commercial purposes, and a CBP officer could require you to obtain an Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) import license before releasing it.
Please be aware that State ABC laws govern how much alcohol a person may import into their state without a license and those laws are enforced by CBP. You must check with the state ABC board where your shipment will enter the country to determine their limits.
Duty rates on alcoholic beverages are based on the percent of alcohol per liter in the product – not on units of packaging such as per bottle/case. Duty on wine and beer is generally low, $1-2 per liter, while fortified wines and spirits are considerably higher. Duty rates can be obtained in Chapter 22 “Beverages, Spirits and Vinegar,” in the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States.
Information on the Federal Excise Tax is available from the Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau.
How do I obtain a disabled parking permit in the USA?
Requirements for disabled parking permits for visiting overseas motorists vary from state to state. Many of the websites of individual state Departments of Motor Vehicles provide information and/or application forms for a disabled parking permit. Details on how to obtain a disabled parking permit for Las Vegas, Nevada is found at Nevada DMV.
- FOR ALL STATES
- Alabama MVD – disability access parking privileges
- Alaska DMV – disability parking permits
- Arizona – special license plates and placards
- Arkansas DFA – specialty plates and placards
- California DMV – disabled person parking placard or plates
- Colorado DMV – disabled person’s plates
- Connecticut DMV – disabled drivers
- Delaware DMV – handicapped plates or placards
- Florida DMV – disabled parking permits
- Georgia DOR – how to apply for a disability parking permit
- Hawaii DCAR – parking for persons with disabilities
- Idaho DMV – disability license plates and placards
- Iowa DOT – persons with disabilities parking law
- Illinois VSD – persons with disabilities license plates and placards
- Indiana IBOMV – application for disability parking placard or disability plate
- Kansas DMV – certification for disabled parking placard and/or plate
- Kentucky DMV – application for disabled persons special parking permit
- Louisiana DPS – mobility impaired frequently asked questions
- Maine BMV – application for disability plates/placards
- Maryland MVA – motorists with disabilities
- Massachusetts RMV – disabled placard/plate form
- Michigan DOS – disability parking placard application
- Minnesota DMV – disability parking
- Mississippi STC – disabled parking application
- Missouri DOR – disabled placards
- Montana MVD – disability permit application
- Nebraska DMV – handicapped parking permits
- Nevada DMV – disabled parking
- New Hampshire DMV – application for walking disability privileges
- New Jersey MVC – handicapped placards
- New Mexico MVD – certificate of eligibility for parking placard
- New York DMV – reserved parking for people with disabilities
- North Carolina DMV – handicapped placards/plates
- North Dakota DOT – application for mobility impaired parking permit
- Ohio BMV – application for disability placards
- Oklahoma DPS – handicapped parking placard application
- Oregon DMV – disabled person parking permit
- Pennsylvania DOT – persons with disability parking placard
- Rhode Island DMV – disability parking permit info
- South Carolina DMV – disabled placards and tags
- South Dakota DRR – disability parking
- Tennessee DOS – application for disabled person license and/or placard
- Texas DOT – disabled parking permits
- Utah DMV – disabled plates and placards
- Vermont DMV – disabled persons windshield placards
- Virginia DMV – disabled parking placard
- Washington State DOL – disabled parking
- West Virginia DMV – applications and forms
- Wisconsin DOT – disabled parking identification card
- Wyoming DOT – handicap instructions
- District of Columbia – disability information
How do I take my medications with me on my trip to the United States?
Narcotics and dangerous drugs are prohibited entry. There are severe civil and/or criminal penalties if imported. According to the CBP publication Welcome to the United States: a guide for international visitors:
A traveler requiring medicines that contain potentially addictive drugs or narcotics (e.g., some cough medicines, tranquilizers, sleeping pills, antidepressants, or stimulants) should:
- Carry drugs, medicines and similar products in their original containers.
- Carry only the quantity of such substances that a person with that condition would normally carry for personal use.
- Declare all drugs, medicines, and similar products to the CBP officer.
We also suggest you obtain either a prescription or written statement from your personal physician that the medicine is for use under a doctor’s direction and that it is necessary for your physical well-being while traveling.
Drug products that are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration may not be acceptable.
Other websites you may find useful:
- Catalog of FDA approved drug products
- Importation of prescription medicines/drugs
- I am travelling or living temporarily in the U.S. and need to have my prescription medicine sent to me. What should I do?
This advice applies to all medications taken into the United States by travelers.
Australian citizens should be aware of this advice from the Australian Government Health Insurance Commission on Taking & sending PBS medicines overseas.
What can I take with me on the airplane?
Some websites you may find useful:
- New aviation security measures for carry-on baggage at international airports
- Permitted & prohibited items
- Make your trip better using 3-1-1 for carry-ons
What else do I need to know about travelling to the United States?
Some websites you may find useful:
- U.S. Customs & Border Protection
- U.S.CBP travel information
- U.S.CBP travel info for international visitors
- U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security
- U.S. DHS U.S.-VISIT program
- U.S. Transportation Security Administration
- U.S.TSA air travel information
- Welcome to the United States: a guide for international visitors
If you encounter difficulties:
- DHS Traveler Redress Inquiry Program
- TSA Claims Management Office
- What can I do about always being stopped for questioning and inspection when clearing immigration and customs?
- Why was I (or my friend, relative, etc.) denied entry to the U.S.?
What public transportation is available in the United States?
You can drive, fly, ride a bus, or take a train.
Some websites you may find useful:
- Air Safe.com
- Airline contact information
- Airport webcam locator & web site directory
- Amtrak train network
- Distance calculator
- FAA flight delay information
- Flat seats
- Greyhound bus network
- Local & state transit links
- Seat expert
- Seat guru
- Traffic cameras
When are public holidays in the United States?
Technically, the U.S. does not observe any national holidays as each state has jurisdiction over its own holidays that are designated by legislative enactment or executive proclamation. In practice, however, most states observe the federal legal public holidays, even though the President and the U.S. Congress can legally designate holidays only for the District of Columbia and for federal employees.
Federal legal public holidays are New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
When a holiday falls on a Sunday or a Saturday, it is usually observed on the following Monday or the preceding Friday. Government and business closing practices vary. In most states, the office of the secretary of state can provide details for holiday closings.
The following are legal or public holidays in most states:
- New Year’s Day – January 1
- Martin Luther King Jr. Day – Third Monday in January
- Washington’s Birthday or President’s Day – Third Monday in February
- Memorial Day or Decoration Day – Last Monday in May
- Independence Day – July 4
- Labor Day – First Monday in September
- Columbus Day – Second Monday in October
- Veterans Day – November 11
- Thanksgiving – Fourth Thursday in November
- Christmas Day – December 25
Other websites you may find useful:
When are school holidays in the United States?
The dates of school holidays vary from state to state and from school district to school district, however, generally speaking, the following applies:
- The school year ends by mid-June at the latest and resumes in mid-August at the earliest. Most schools will be in session on or before the first Tuesday in September (after the Labor Day holiday which is the first Monday in September).
- Schools will close for a week during March or April, often around Easter but not always.
- Schools will close for two weeks in December, up to and including the New Year’s Day holiday.
The information contained above is obtained from and managed by the U.S. Department of State.