Area Codes -- The 312 area code applies to the central downtown business district and the surrounding neighborhoods, including River North, North Michigan Avenue, and the Gold Coast. The code for the rest of the city is 773. Suburban area codes are 847 (north), 708 (west and southwest), and 630 (far west). You must dial 1 plus the area code for all telephone numbers, even if you are making a call within the same area code.

Business Hours -- Shops generally keep regular American business hours, 10am to 6pm Monday through Saturday. Many stores in downtown Chicago stay open later at least 1 evening a week. Certain businesses, such as bookstores, are almost always open during the evening hours all week. Most shops are also open on Sundays, usually from 11am to 6pm. Malls are generally open until 7pm and on Sunday as well. Banking hours in Chicago are normally from 9am (8am in some cases) to 5pm Monday through Friday, with select banks remaining open later on specified afternoons and evenings.

Dentists -- The referral service of the Chicago Dental Society (tel. 312/836-7300; www.cds.org) can refer you to an area dentist. Your hotel concierge may also keep a list of dentists.

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Doctors -- Most hotels in Chicago keep a list of local doctors who are available to tend to guests; in case of health problems, your best bet is to contact your hotel's concierge or manager. Northwestern Memorial Hospital, 251 E. Huron St., a well-regarded downtown hospital, also has a physician referral service (tel. 877/926-4664), if you need to find a specialist. If you prefer to stay at your hotel, the service Chicago Express Doctors (tel. 312/929-4492; www.chicagoexpressdoctors.com) makes house calls (expect to pay a premium for the convenience).

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 bring ID when you go out. 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. Don't even think about driving while intoxicated.

In Chicago, beer, wine, and other alcoholic beverages are sold at liquor stores and supermarkets. Bars may sell alcohol until 2am, although some nightclubs have special licenses that allow alcohol sales until 4am.

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Electricity -- Like Canada, the United States uses 110 to 120 volts AC (60 cycles), compared to 220 to 240 volts AC (50 cycles) in most of Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Downward converters that change 220 to 240 volts to 110 to 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 do a search on the State Department’s site, www.state.gov. 

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

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The embassy of Canada is at 501 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20001 (tel. 202/682-1740; http:// travel.gc.ca/assistance/embassies-consulates/united-states). Canadian consulates are in a number of cities, including Chicago, 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.embassyofireland.org). Consulates are in Boston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and other cities. 

The embassy of New Zealand is at 37 Observatory Circle NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202/328-4800; www.nzembassy.com). Consulates are in Los Angeles and Honolulu.

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The embassy of the United Kingdom is at 3100 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202/588-6500; http://ukinusa.fco.gov.uk). Consulates are in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and San Francisco.

Emergencies -- For fire or police emergencies, call tel. 911. This is a free call. If it is a medical emergency, a city ambulance will take the patient to the nearest hospital emergency room. The nonemergency phone number for the Chicago Police Department is tel. 311. If you desire a specific, nonpublic ambulance, call Vandenberg Ambulance (tel. 773/521-7777).

Hospitals -- The best hospital emergency room in downtown Chicago is at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, 251 E. Huron St. (tel. 312/926-2000; www.nmh.org), a state-of-the-art medical center right off North Michigan Avenue. The emergency department (tel. 312/926-5188 or 312/944-2358 for TDD access) is located at 251 E. Erie St., near Fairbanks Court. For an ambulance, dial tel. 911, which is a free call.

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Insurance -- Although it’s not required of travelers, health insurance is highly recommended. International visitors should note that, unlike many European countries, the United States does not usually offer free or low-cost medical care to its citizens or visitors. Doctors and hospitals are expensive, and in most cases will require advance payment or proof of coverage before they render their services. Good policies will cover the costs of an accident, repatriation, or death. Europ Assistance offers global coverage and Generali Global Assistance (GGA) (tel. 800/777-8710; http://us.generaliglobalassistance.com) is the agent for Europ Assistance in the United States. Some credit card policies also include travel insurance, so check your policy before booking. 

Canadians should check with their provincial health-plan offices, or call Health Canada (tel. 866/225-0709; www.hc-sc.gc.ca) to find out the extent of your coverage and what documentation and receipts you must take home in case you are treated in the United States.

Travelers from the U.K. should carry their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) as proof of entitlement to free/reduced-cost medical treatment abroad (tel. 0844/567-8196; www.ehic.org.uk). Note, however, that the EHIC covers only “necessary medical treatment,” and for repatriation costs, lost money, baggage, or cancellation, travel insurance from a reputable company should always be sought. 

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The cost of travel insurance varies widely, depending on the destination, the cost and length of your trip, your age and health, and the type of trip you’re taking, but expect to pay between 5% and 8% of the vacation itself. You can get estimates from various providers through InsureMyTrip.com. Enter your trip cost and dates, your age, and other information for prices from more than a dozen companies. For information on traveler's insurance, trip cancellation insurance, and medical insurance while traveling, please visit www.frommers.com/planning.

Legal Aid -- While driving, 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. In the U.S., the burden is on the state to prove a person's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, 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. The international visitor should call his or her embassy or consulate.

Mail -- At press time, domestic postage rates were 35¢ for a postcard and 50¢ for a letter. For international mail, a first-class letter of up to 1 ounce costs $1.15; a first-class postcard costs the same as a letter. For more information go to www.usps.com.

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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 (driver's license, passport, etc.). Most post offices will hold mail for up to 1 month, and are open Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm, and Saturday from 9am to 3pm.

Newspapers & Magazines -- The Chicago Tribune (tel. 312/222-3232; www.chicagotribune.com) and the Chicago Sun-Times (tel. 312/321-3000; www.suntimes.com) are the city's two major daily newspapers. The Tribune focuses on sober, just-the-facts reporting; the Sun-Times is a scrappier, attitude-filled tabloid. Both have cultural listings, including movies, theaters, and live music, not to mention reviews of the latest restaurants. The Friday edition of both papers contains a special pullout section with more detailed, up-to-date information on special events happening over the weekend.

Time Out Chicago (tel. 312/924-9555; www.timeoutchicago.com) lists just about everything going on around town during the week, from art openings to theater performances; if you want to squeeze in as much culture as you can while you're here, I highly recommend picking up a copy. The Chicago Reader (tel. 312/828-0350; www.chicagoreader.com) is a free weekly that appears each Thursday, with all the current entertainment and cultural listings. Chicago magazine (www.chicagomag.com) is a monthly with an especially good restaurant review section.

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The Chicago Defender (www.chicagodefender.com) covers local and national news of interest to the African-American community. The Spanish-language La Raza (www.laraza.com) reports on stories from a Latino point of view. The Windy City Times (www.windycitytimes.com) publish both news and feature articles about gay and lesbian issues.

Packing -- In general, you should be prepared for rapid weather shifts while you're in town, especially in the spring and fall. Unless you'll be here in July or August, bring at least one jacket and warm sweater in case of a sudden cold front. The winds off the lake, in particular, can be frosty well into the spring. Your best bet is to bring a selection of long- and short-sleeved shirts that can be layered to adapt to changing temperatures (it's not unusual to start out the morning shivering only to be sweating by afternoon). If you're brave enough to venture to Chicago in the winter, make room for hats, gloves, scarves, and boots: You'll need them.

Chicago is a casual town, so standard tourist-wear is acceptable at all the city's museums and most of the restaurants and theaters. A few traditional fine-dining restaurants have a jacket requirement for men, but otherwise male travelers probably won't need to pack a suit.

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Police -- For emergencies, call tel. 911. This is a free call (no coins required). For nonemergencies, call tel. 311.

Smoking -- Smoking is banned in all public buildings in Chicago, including offices, restaurants, and bars. Hotels are still allowed to have smoking rooms available, though, so request one if you plan on lighting up.

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 will not appear on price tags.

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When visiting Chicago, be prepared to pay up: The local sales tax is 10.25%, the highest in the country, and the hotel room tax is 17.4%.

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); Chicago is in the Central time zone. Alaska and Hawaii have their own zones. For example, when it's 9am in Los Angeles (PST), it's 7am in Honolulu (HST),10am in Denver (MST), 11am in Chicago (CST), noon in New York City (EST), 5pm in London (GMT), and 2am the next day in Sydney.

Daylight saving time (summer 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.

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For help with time translations, and more, download our convenient Travel Tools app for your mobile device. Go to www.frommers.com/go/mobile and click on the Travel Tools icon.

Tipping: Tips are a very important part of certain workers’ income, and gratuities are the standard way of showing appreciation for the 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 bags) and tip the chamber staff $1 to $2 per day (more if you’ve left a disaster area). 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 $2 to $5 every time you get your car.

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In restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, tip service staff and bartenders 15% to 20% of the check, tip checkroom attendants $1 per garment, and tip valet-parking attendants $2 to $5 per vehicle.

As for other service personnel, tip cab drivers 15% of the fare; tip skycaps at airports at least $1 per bag; 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.

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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.