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Washington, DC Information for International Visitors

Washington, DC is a diverse city that welcomes many international visitors every year. Read on for some helpful travel tips.


DC offers direct flight connections to more than 30 international destinations, making it a popular destination for international tour groups. Here is some useful information to help your international delegates to feel right at home during their visit to the nation’s capital.

ESTA Scam Information: Anyone assisting international clients coming to the United States should be aware of a significant number of Internet scams involving the new ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) procedures. Clients should be directed to only use the official government site which is located at https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov.
Embassies: Many embassies offer guided tours with prior notification, and they’re an essential starting place for any international visitors who wish to tour the White House during their visit. Go to embassy.org to find contact information for each of the more than 150 embassies in DC.

Multilingual Services: The White House Visitors Center, Kennedy Center, Library of Congress, Newseum, Mount Vernon and other attractions offer brochures in several languages. The Smithsonian Institution provides multilingual information at the visitors center in the Castle Building.

Complimentary foreign language tours are available by appointment at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, Freer and Sackler Galleries of Art, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Click here for more information.

The Kennedy Center offers free tours on request in Spanish, German, French and Japanese. Tour scripts are available in 11 languages for self-guided tours. Click here for more information.

The Meridian International Center offers multilingual services at its information desk at Dulles International Airport, and staffs a telephone language bank. For details, call Meridian International Center at 202-667-6800 or meridian.org.

Tipping: Tipping is voluntary; gratuities are not automatically added to the bill except in some cases for large groups. Tipping guidelines: servers – 15%, for outstanding service – 20%; taxi drivers – 15%; doormen, skycaps and porters - $1 per bag.

Electricity: The electricity used in Washington, DC is standard electricity, which is 110 volts. Appliances brought from Europe, Africa and most of Asia and Latin America will require a voltage transformer.

Passport & Visa Requirements: All persons, including U.S. citizens, traveling by air between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda are required to present a valid passport, Air NEXUS card, or U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Mariner Document, or an Alien Registration Card, Form I-551, if applicable. International visitors who need a visa to travel to the US must apply for one at an American embassy or consulate. For more information visit travel.state.gov.

Customs: You must complete customs and immigrations formalities at the first point of arrival in the U.S., whether or not it’s your final destination.

Travel Insurance: There is no compulsory or government plan in the U.S. You are advised to purchase travel and health insurance in case of an emergency.

Telephones: When calling from one area code to another, dial 1, followed by the area code and the seven-digit telephone number.

Mobile Carriers: T-Mobile, AT&T, Straight Talk, and National Geographic Talk Abroad Travel Services (through Cellular Abroad) sell SIM cards along with pay as you go plans.

White House & Capitol Tours: Non-US citizens must contact their embassies in DC to inquire about White House tours. Contact information for embassies is available at www.embassy.org. International visitors may join public tours of the Capitol; tickets are offered on a first come, first served basis. See our Frequently Asked Questions for more information.

Car Rental Information: To rent a car within the United States, you will need to already have a driver’s license issued by your home country. You will also need to obtain an International Driver’s Permit. See below for more information on obtaining this permit. Rental cars can be picked up at all Washington, DC major airports. It is recommended to make reservations in advance. American car rental companies include Alamo, Avis, Budget, Enterprise, Hertz, and National.

International Driver’s Permit: You will need to obtain an International Driver’s Permit to drive within the United States. This is not a license but simply a legal translation of your existing license. You must already have a driver’s license issued by your home country to receive this permit. Contact the government organization that issued your driver’s license for information on how to obtain the International Driver’s Permit. More information on how to obtain an international driver’s license can be found here.

Time zone: Washington, DC is in the Eastern Standard Time Zone (Greenwich Mean Time minus four hours during daylight saving time, from March through November, and minus five hours the rest of the year).

Important Phone Numbers: Here are some important phone numbers to keep handy during your Washington, DC visit.

  • Emergencies (police, fire or ambulance): 911
  • One-stop service for DC government services, numbers, and information: 311 or 202-737-4404
  • Directory assistance: 411

Printed Washington, DC literature:

  • Metro Visitors Kit: 1-888-638-7646
  • Official Visitor Maps (available in Spanish, Portuguese, German, French, and Japanese): 1-800-422-8644

Goods And Service Tax: DC Sales Tax is 5.75% (exemptions include groceries and prescription and non-prescription drugs).

Other taxes:
Restaurant meals and drinks: 10%
Rental vehicles: 10%
Parking in commercial lots: 12%
Hotels: 14.5%

Postal Services: Visiting a mailing or shipping office is the best way to ensure your letter or package arrives safely and on time. Make sure you have addressed the contents in advance. An agent will help you weigh and post your mailing or shipment. The United States Postal Service (USPS) (www.usps.com), UPS (www.ups.com), and FedEx (www.fedex.com) are all able to help sent items internationally.

Local Laws: If you're headed out for a night on the town, you should know that the drinking age in DC —and throughout the United States—is 21, and smoking is banned in public places throughout the city, including bars, restaurants, subways and taxis. Cigar smoking is permitted at cigar bars that register with the city. In Washington, DC, those who are 18 or older can purchase cigarettes and tobacco.

Internet Access/Stay Connected: Provided is some essential information regarding 3G usage in the United States as well as locations to find wireless internet.

  • 3G Usage: You need to check that your phone operates on the same frequency of American phones. AT&T’s network runs on 850/1900 MHz. T-Mobile’s frequency runs on 1700/2100 MHz.
  • Public Wireless Internet: Wireless internet can be found in most DC restaurants and coffee shops as well as hotel rooms for a charge.

Free Public Wireless Internet:

  • Hotels: Hotel websites will list in what areas they offer complimentary service. You can purchase internet service on a daily rate if complimentary is not available.
  • National Mall: Internet coverage is available in front of the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, the Capitol Visitors’ Center, limited hotspots throughout the Smithsonian Museums, and the Enid Haupt Garden behind the Smithsonian Castle. Two additional outdoor hotspots will be available this Fall at the Hirschorn Museum and the plaza beside the Museum of the American Indian.

Currency: In Washington, DC and throughout the United States, the dollar is the standard currency. This converter (www.travelex.com/US/Currency-Converter) allows you to determine the value of other currencies compared with the dollar.

Below are some of the many places where you can exchange your currency for American dollars.

Travelex Currency Services:

  • Dulles International Airport Terminal
  • Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport
  • Reagan National Airport
  • Union Station

AAA Mid-Atlantic: 1405 G Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005
CXI Currency Exchange International: Fashion Centre at Pentagon City, 1st Floor Food Court
American Express Travel Service: 1501 K St., NW, Washington, DC 20005