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Area Codes -- North Carolina has various area codes: 828 for Asheville and Banner Elk, 919 for Chapel Hill, Durham, and Raleigh; 704 for Charlotte; 252 for the Outer Banks; 910 for Wilmington, and 336 for Winston-Salem.

ATMs -- These are found in every city and town of the tri-state area, especially at banks, but at many other outlets as well, including convenience stores.

Automobile Organizations -- Motor clubs will supply maps, suggested routes, guidebooks, accident and bail-bond insurance, and emergency road service. The American Automobile Association (AAA) is the major auto club in the United States. If you belong to a motor club in your home country, inquire about AAA reciprocity before you leave. You may be able to join AAA even if you're not a member of a reciprocal club; to inquire, call AAA (tel. 800/222-4357; www.aaa.com). AAA is actually an organization of regional motor clubs, so look under "AAA Automobile Club" in the White Pages of the telephone directory. AAA's nationwide emergency road service telephone number is tel. 800/AAA-HELP (222-4357).

Business Hours The following are general open hours; specific establishments may vary. Banks: Monday to Friday 9am to 3pm (some are also open Sat 9am-noon). Most banks and other outlets offer 24-hour access to automated teller machines (ATMs). Offices: Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm. Stores: Monday to Saturday 10am to 6pm, and some also on Sunday from noon to 5pm. Malls usually stay open until 9pm Monday to Saturday, and department stores are usually open until 9pm at least 1 day a week.

Car Rentals To rent a car in the Carolinas and Georgia, you need a major credit or charge card and a valid driver's license. Sometimes a passport or an international driver's license is also required if your driver's license is in a language other than English. You often need to be at least 25 years of age, although some companies rent to younger people (they may add a daily surcharge). Be sure to return your car with the same amount of gasoline that you started out with; rental companies charge excessive prices for gas. Keep in mind that a separate driver's license is required in most states to drive a motorcycle.

Drinking Laws -- The legal age for purchase and consumption of alcoholic beverages is 21; proof of age is required and often requested at bars, nightclubs, and restaurants, so it's always a good idea to carry ID when you go out. Although local laws can vary, in general, no alcohol is served at bars, restaurants, or nightclubs between 4am and 12:30pm on Sunday. In addition, alcoholic beverages are not sold on Sunday in liquor stores, convenience stores, or grocery stores. Do not carry open containers of alcohol in your car or any public area that isn't zoned for alcohol consumption. The police can fine you on the spot. And nothing will ruin your trip faster than getting a citation for DUI (driving under the influence), so don't even think about driving while intoxicated.

Driving Rules -- Speed limits are posted on tri-state highways. In addition, the law requires the driver and front-seat passenger to wear seat belts while the car is in motion. Children 4 and under must be buckled into safety seats in the back seat; those 5 to 12 must sit in the back seat if the front seat is equipped with air bags.

Electricity -- Like Canada, the United States uses 110-120 volts AC (60 cycles), compared to 220-240 volts AC (50 cycles) in most of Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Downward converters that change 220-240 volts to 110-120 volts are difficult to find in the United States, so bring one with you.

Embassies & Consulates -- All embassies are located in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C. Some consulates are located in major U.S. cities, and most nations have a mission to the United Nations in New York City. If your country isn't listed below, call for directory information in Washington, D.C. (tel. 202/555-1212) or check www.embassy.org/embassies.

The embassy of Australia is at 1601 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20036 (tel. 202/797-3000; www.austemb.org). There are consulates in New York, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

The embassy of Canada is at 501 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20001 (tel. 202/682-1740; www.canadianembassy.org). Other Canadian consulates are in Buffalo (New York), Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, and Seattle.

The embassy of Ireland is at 2234 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202/462-3939; www.irelandemb.org). Irish consulates are in Boston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and other cities. See the website for a complete listing.

The embassy of New Zealand is at 37 Observatory Circle NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202/328-4800; www.nzembassy.com). New Zealand consulates are in Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and Seattle.

The embassy of the United Kingdom is at 3100 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202/588-7800; www.britainusa.com). Other British consulates are in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle.

Emergencies -- Dial tel. 911 to report a fire, call the police, or get an ambulance. This is a nationwide toll-free call (no coins are required at a public telephone).

If theft or an accident has left you stranded, check the local telephone directory for a nearby office of the Traveler's Aid Society (www.travelersaid.org), a nationwide, not-for-profit social service organization that is geared to helping travelers in distress. If you're in trouble, seek it out.

In Georgia, the Council for International Visitors, 34 Peachtree St., Ste. 1200, Atlanta, GA 30303 (tel. 404/832-5560), can provide a wide variety of help to international visitors in more than 42 languages. Offices are also located in North Carolina (322 Hawthorne Lane, Charlotte, NC 28204; tel. 704/342-2248) and South Carolina (1 Poston Rd., Ste. 103, Charleston, SC 29407; tel. 843/852-9880).

Gasoline -- At press time, in the U.S., the cost of gasoline (also known as gas, but never petrol), is abnormally high. Taxes are already included in the printed price. One U.S. gallon equals 3.8 liters or .85 imperial gallons. Fill-up locations are known as gas or service stations.

Holidays -- Banks, government offices, post offices, and many stores, restaurants, and museums are closed on the following legal national holidays: January 1 (New Year's Day), the third Monday in January (Martin Luther King Day), the third Monday in February (Presidents' Day), the last Monday in May (Memorial Day), July 4 (Independence Day), the first Monday in September (Labor Day), the second Monday in October (Columbus Day), November 11 (Veterans Day/Armistice Day), the fourth Thursday in November (Thanksgiving Day), and December 25 (Christmas Day). The Tuesday after the first Monday in November is Election Day, a federal government holiday in presidential-election years (held every 4 years, and next in 2012).

Hospitals & Medical Centers -- No matter where you go, you will rarely be far from a hospital or medical center, or emergency clinic. The major hospital facilities in the Carolinas and Georgia include the following: Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, 1600 Tullie Circle NE, Atlanta, GA (www.choa.org); Duke University Medical Center, Erwin Road, Durham, NC (www.mc.duke.edu); Mission Hospitals, 509 Biltmore Ave., Asheville, NC (www.missionhospitals.org); Medical University of South Carolina, 171 Ashley Ave., Charleston, SC (www.musc.edu); Pitt County Memorial Hospital, 2100 Stantonsburg Rd., Greenville, NC (www.uhseast.com); St. Joseph's Hospital of Atlanta, 5665 Peachtree Dunwoody Rd. NE, Atlanta, GA (www.stjosephsatlanta.org); University of North Carolina Hospitals, 101 Manning Dr., Chapel Hill, NC (www.unchealthcare.org); and Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, Medical Center Boulevard, Winston-Salem, NC (www.wfubmc.edu).

Internet Access -- Most hotels in the tri-state area provide Internet access. Cybercafes are found in large cities such as Atlanta or Charlotte. Rural areas are not as well connected, of course. To find a cybercafe in your destination, try www.cybercafe.com.

Legal Aid -- If you are "pulled over" for a minor infraction (such as speeding), never attempt to pay the fine directly to a police officer; this could be construed as attempted bribery, a much more serious crime. Pay fines by mail, or directly into the hands of the clerk of the court. If accused of a more serious offense, say and do nothing before consulting a lawyer. Here the burden is on the state to prove a person's guilt, and everyone has the right to remain silent, whether he or she is suspected of a crime or actually arrested. Once arrested, a person can make one telephone call to a party of his or her choice. International visitors should call their embassy or consulate.

Lost & Found -- Be sure to tell all of your credit card companies immediately if you discover your wallet has been lost or stolen and file a report at the nearest police precinct. Your credit card company or insurer may require a police report number or record of the loss. Most credit card companies have an emergency toll-free number to call if your card is lost or stolen; they may be able to wire you a cash advance immediately or deliver an emergency credit card in a day or two. Visa's U.S. emergency numbers are tel. 800/847-2911 and 410/581-9994. American Express cardholders and traveler's check holders should call tel. 800/221-7282. MasterCard holders should call tel. 800/307-7309 or 636/722-7111. For other credit cards, call the toll-free number directory at tel. 800/555-1212.

If you need emergency cash over the weekend when all banks and American Express offices are closed, you can have money wired to you via Western Union (tel. 800/325-6000; www.westernunion.com).

Mail -- At press time, domestic postage rates were 27¢ for a postcard and 42¢ for a letter. For international mail, a first-class letter of up to 1 ounce costs 94¢ (72¢ to Canada and Mexico); a first-class postcard costs the same as a letter. For more information go to www.usps.com and click on "Calculate Postage."

If you aren't sure what your address will be in the United States, mail can be sent to you, in your name, c/o General Delivery at the main post office of the city or region where you expect to be. (Call tel. 800/275-8777 for information on the nearest post office.) The addressee must pick up mail in person and must produce proof of identity (such as a driver's license or passport). Most post offices will hold your mail for up to 1 month, and are open Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm, and Saturday from 9am to 3pm.

Medical Conditions -- If you have a medical condition that requires syringe-administered medications, carry a valid signed prescription from your physician; syringes in carry-on baggage will be inspected. Insulin in any form should have the proper pharmaceutical documentation. If you have a disease that requires treatment with narcotics, you should also carry documented proof with you -- smuggling narcotics aboard a plane carries severe penalties in the U.S.

For HIV-positive visitors, requirements for entering the United States are somewhat vague and change frequently. For up-to-the-minute information, contact AIDSinfo (tel. 800/448-0440 or 301/519-6616 outside the U.S.; www.aidsinfo.nih.gov) or the Gay Men's Health Crisis (tel. 212/367-1000; www.gmhc.org).

Newspapers & Magazines -- National newspapers include the New York Times, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal. National newsweeklies include Newsweek, Time, and U.S. News & World Report. In large cities, most newsstands offer a small selection of the most popular foreign periodicals and newspapers.

North Carolina's major dailies are the News & Observer (Raleigh) and the Charlotte Observer (Charlotte). There are also local papers in Asheville, Durham, Fayetteville, Greensboro, and Winston-Salem. The North Carolina Folklore Journal is available by subscription. (Contact the North Carolina Folklore Society, Department of English, Appalachian State University, Boone, NC 28608, for publication schedule and subscription rates.)

Police -- Call tel. 911.

Taxes -- The United States has no value-added tax (VAT) or other indirect tax at the national level. Every state, county, and city may levy its own local tax on all purchases, including hotel and restaurant checks and airline tickets. These taxes do not appear on price tags.

Telephones -- Many convenience groceries and packaging services sell prepaid calling cards in denominations up to $50; for international visitors these can be the least expensive way to call home. Many public pay phones at airports now accept American Express, MasterCard, and Visa credit cards. Local calls made from pay phones in most locales cost either 25¢ or 35¢ (no pennies, please). Most long-distance and international calls can be dialed directly from any phone. For calls within the United States and to Canada, dial 1 followed by the area code and the seven-digit number. For other international calls, dial 011 followed by the country code, city code, and the number you are calling.

Calls to area codes 800, 888, 877, and 866 are toll-free. However, calls to area codes 700 and 900 (chat lines, bulletin boards, "dating" services, and so on) can be very expensive -- usually a charge of 95¢ to $3 or more per minute, and they sometimes have minimum charges that can run as high as $15 or more.

For reversed-charge or collect calls, and for person-to-person calls, dial the number 0 then the area code and number; an operator will come on the line, and you should specify whether you are calling collect, person-to-person, or both. If your operator-assisted call is international, ask for the overseas operator.

For local directory assistance ("information"), dial tel. 411; for long-distance information, dial 1, then the appropriate area code and 555-1212.

Telegraph, Telex & Fax -- Telegraph and telex services are provided primarily by Western Union (tel. 800/325-6000; www.westernunion.com). You can telegraph (wire) money, or have it telegraphed to you, very quickly over the Western Union system, but this service can cost as much as 15% to 20% of the amount sent.

Most hotels have fax machines available for guest use (be sure to ask about the charge to use it). Many hotel rooms are wired for guests' fax machines. A less expensive way to send and receive faxes may be at stores such as the UPS Store.

Time -- The continental United States is divided into four time zones: Eastern Standard Time (EST), Central Standard Time (CST), Mountain Standard Time (MST), and Pacific Standard Time (PST). Alaska and Hawaii have their own zones. For example, when it's 9am in Los Angeles (PST), it's 7am in Honolulu (Hawaii Standard Time, or HST), 10am in Denver (MST), 11am in Chicago (CST), noon in New York City (EST), 5pm in London (Greenwich Mean Time, or GMT), and 2am the next day in Sydney.

Daylight saving time is in effect from 1am on the second Sunday in March to 1am on the first Sunday in November, except in Arizona, Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. Daylight saving time moves the clock 1 hour ahead of standard time.

Tipping -- Tips are a very important part of certain workers' income, and gratuities are the standard way of showing appreciation for services provided. (Tipping is certainly not compulsory if the service is poor!) In hotels, tip bellhops at least $1 per bag ($2-$3 if you have a lot of luggage) and tip the chamber staff $1 to $2 per day (more if you've left a disaster area for him or her to clean up). Tip the doorman or concierge only if he or she has provided you with some specific service (for example, calling a cab for you or obtaining difficult-to-get theater tickets). Tip the valet-parking attendant $1 every time you get your car.

In restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, tip service staff 15% to 20% of the check, tip bartenders 10% to 15%, tip checkroom attendants $1 per garment, and tip valet-parking attendants $1 per vehicle.

As for other service personnel, tip cabdrivers 15% of the fare; tip skycaps at airports at least $1 per bag ($2-$3 if you have a lot of luggage); and tip hairdressers and barbers 15% to 20%.

Toilets -- You won't find public toilets or "restrooms" on the streets in most U.S. cities but they can be found in hotel lobbies, bars, restaurants, museums, department stores, railway and bus stations, and service stations. Large hotels and fast-food restaurants are often the best bet for clean facilities. Restaurants and bars in resorts or heavily visited areas may reserve their restrooms for patrons.

Useful Phone Numbers -- U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory tel. 202/647-5225 (manned 24 hr.)

U.S. Passport Agency tel. 202/647-0518

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention International Traveler's Hot Line tel. 404/332-4559

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.