Business Hours -- Most museums are open daily 10am to 5:30pm; some, including several Smithsonians, stay open later in spring and summer. Most banks are open from 9am to 5pm weekdays, with some open Saturdays as well, for abbreviated hours. Stores typically open between 9 and 10am and close between 8 and 9pm, Monday to Saturday.
Customs -- For customs information, consult your nearest U.S. embassy or consulate, or the U.S. Customs website, https://www.cbp.gov. In Washington, D.C., the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency has an office at 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20229 (tel. 877/227-5511).
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. Grocery stores, convenience stores, and other retailers can sell beer and wine 7 days a week. D.C. liquor stores are now open on Sunday. Bars and nightclubs serve liquor until 2am Sunday through Thursday and until 3am Friday and Saturday.
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 here in the nation’s capital. To find yours, you can call directory information at tel. 202/555-1212 or check www.embassy.org/embassies.
Family Travel -- Field trips during the school year and family vacations during the summer keep Washington, D.C. crawling with kids all year long. More than any other city, perhaps, Washington is crammed with historic buildings, arts and science museums, parks, and recreational sites to interest young and old alike. The fact that so many attractions are free is a boon to the family budget. Look for boxes on family-friendly hotels, restaurants, and attractions in their appropriate sections.
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 is 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.
Medical Requirements -- Unless you’re arriving from an area known to be suffering from an epidemic (particularly cholera or yellow fever), inoculations or vaccinations are not required for entry into the United States.
Newspapers & Magazines -- Washington’s preeminent newspaper is the Washington Post, available online and sold in bookstores, train and subway stations, drugstores, and sidewalk kiosks all over town. These are also the places to buy other newspapers, such as the New York Times, and Washingtonian magazine, the city’s popular monthly full of penetrating features, restaurant reviews, and nightlife calendars. The websites of these publications are: www.washingtonpost.com, www.nytimes.com, and www.washingtonian.com.
Also be sure to pick up a copy of Washington City Paper, a weekly publication available free all over the city, at CVS drugstores, movie theaters, you name it, but also online at www.washingtoncitypaper.com.
Passports -- See Entry Requirements & Customs.
Smoking -- The District is smoke free, meaning that the city bans smoking in restaurants, bars, and other public buildings. Smoking is permitted outdoors, unless otherwise noted.
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. The sales tax on merchandise is 5.75% in the District, 6% in Maryland, and 6% in Northern Virginia. Restaurant tax is 10% in the District, 6% in Maryland, and varied in Virginia, depending on the city and county. Hotel tax is 14.8% in the District and averages 6% in Maryland and 6.3% in Virginia.
Time -- The continental United States is divided into four time zones: Eastern Standard Time (EST)—this is Washington, D.C.’s time zone—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 (HST), 10am in Denver (MST), 11am in Chicago (CST), noon in Washington, D.C. (EST), 5pm in London (GMT), and 2am the next day in Sydney.
Daylight saving time (summer time) is in effect from 2am on the second Sunday in March to 2am 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, so come that first Sunday in November, the clock is turned back 1 hour.
Tipping -- 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 big mess for 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 and bartenders 15% to 20% of the check, tip checkroom attendants $1 per garment, and tip valet-parking attendants $1 per vehicle.
As for other service personnel, tip cab drivers 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 of D.C., but they can be found in hotel lobbies, bars, restaurants, museums, and service stations, and at many sightseeing attractions. Starbucks and fast-food restaurants abound in D.C., and these might be your most reliable option. Restaurants and bars in resorts or heavily visited areas may reserve their restrooms for patrons.
Visas -- See Entry Requirements & Customs.
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.