Poll for Britons Who Have Been to the US

If you’re a Briton and you’ve visited the US, may I ask a few questions?

Was clearing Customs difficult? Did they ask you a thousand invasive questions and strip-search your daughters? Or did they just look at your passport, ask a few cursory questions, and let you through?

Do Britons need a passport to come to the US, or do they let you in with just a birth certificate and/or driver’s license (which, IIRC, they do for Canadians)?

If you’ve rented a car, what was that like? Did the rental agent ask you if you were sure you could handle driving over here, etc.? Also, did it take you a long time to adjust to the driving? (FTR, when I went to Japan and had to switch sides, I had it nailed in about an hour).

Finally, did you take home anything “exotic”? Is there anything you can get in America that you can’t get in Great Britain?


I’m Australian, not British, but the answers are going to be pretty much the same. I’ve visited the US twice in the last year or so, both times arriving from Britain.

Clearing immigration was fine. You fill out your card during the flight, hand it in to the officious looking person in the booth (for the love of god, stand BEHIND the yellow line!), and answer a few simple questions. What job do you do, why are you there, where are you staying, how long will you be in the country - that sort of thing.

UK subjects DO need a passport. You won’t need to arrange an entry visa if you’re staying for 90 days or less (and you must have a return ticket, although I’ve never had to show it). They’ll just stamp your passport on the way in.

I didn’t have anything to declare at customs and walked straight through.

I didn’t drive in the US, but I’ve been in the car with Americans in Britain. I only wet myself once, and that incident involved a roundabout. (Hey, look kids, Big Ben! Parliament!). Most people seem to have no problems whatsoever. Get insurance anyway.

Things you can get in the US that you can’t get in Britain:[ul][li]“Outback Steakhouse” menus. Laugh? I nearly wet myself![/li][li]Foam hats in the shape of the Statue of Liberty’s head.[/li]Astronaut pens. Like in the Seinfeld episode. They write upside down! Get one from the National Air and Space Museum.[/ul]Customs didn’t seem to have a problem with any of them.

Here’s some more information on the visa requirements:


Clearing immigration and customs is not a problem, but the queues take so long (the record for me is >2 hours between getting off the plane and leaving the airport(SFO)). I was pretty annoyed that the family before me hadn’t filled out their forms and did it at the desk.

I haven’t driven, but some colleagues have, with no real problems. In fact, my experience is that drivers are better behaved than in the UK. Except maybe in Florida.

What do I take home? Gameboy games since they’re portable and a good bit cheaper. Jellybeans, since they’re not always easy to find and are pretty expensive here. On the whole it’s the food I find most different and so most interesting. E.g it’s easy to find micro-breweries and decent pubs, at least where I’ve been, whereas here it’s getting harder (lots of chains that are more into image than good beer), and finding a vegetarian Chinese restaurant was something to remember, since the concept mystifies all Chinese I know.

Slight hijack, tho’ I’m following this with interest as my mother visits the States in a few weeks. But jellybeans, Sir Doris? I’m sure I can buy them fairly easily (and inexpensively). Well, I can post you some, 'cos I’d love to see what the Post Office would make of such an odd package. :slight_smile:

Sorry, folks, you can return to the serious points now.

we’ve had several British relatives come to visit us, and continue on through to the States.

a) there were no problems renting a car (in Canada)

b) a passport is required, and possibly a Visa. For some relatives, they crossed for a couple of hours at Niagara Falls and were charged $5(?) each for the Visa that was good for 90 days. They walked across the bridge.

c) my in-laws are British citizens with landed immigrant status in Canada, and never had a problem crossing the border to the States (now they have their permanent resident (green card) for the US as well).

d) anyone can be stopped and strip-searched in crossing the border, as I was a victim in Detroit. They got uptight when my friend had a lighter in his pocket even though he had quit smoking a couple of months earlier. If I understand correctly, you have no rights while you are attempting to enter another country, and are at the whim of the customs/immigration agents…if they are having a bad day, chances are you will too…

I’m a Brit, been over to the States several times.

Passport required. Customs, as other posts. No real hassle as such, but can be time-consuming.

Driving - haven’t done it over there. Know Brits who have. None of them report any problem.

What can you get in the States you can’t get over here in Brit-land? I used to have a long list, but it’s getting shorter as Britain gets closer and closer to being just a far-away state.

I’m a great one for book shops, and I used to really love Borders Books whenever I went over there. Now we’ve got our own branch on Oxford Street in London. Only one, so far, but it’s a start, and almost as good as some of the branches I’ve been to in LA.

We still don’t have Koo-Ka-Roo, as found in and around LA, which is the only fast food joint I like. We still don’t have Jamba Juice, or anything nearly as good, and we don’t have Chilli My Soul either (not sure how many there are oer there either - I found one in Encino, LA, and loved it).

When I was in NY I found all sorts of great shops selling stuff I’ve never seen over here, like Exotica (on Christopher St) which sells all sorts of unusual African artefacts (yeah, Londoners, I know about the equivalents over here but that place was miles better and weirder).

What else? A far greater selection and range of fruit juices and blends, which I adored. I used to regularly cart home the largest bottles Trader Joe’s had for sale, and just enjoyed guzzling them all. Over here, the supermarkets have a far more limited range - do you want orange juice or orange juice?

IMHO, you also have far nicer, more interesting people that I’d much prefer talking to, and WONDERFUL women. At least two of the most wonderful women I’ve ever known were American, so I envy every American male. But I guess that’s slightly off thread!

I found customs at LAX much tougher than anywhere else I’ve visited. They wouldn’t let me through without the name of the hostel I was staying in – despite the fact that I hadn’t booked anywhere as I had planned all along to use the accommodation booking booth in the airport.

Passports are definitely required.

As for exotic items…I didn’t get any myself. Clothes were marginally cheaper (although I didn’t try to buy jeans, which can be a lot cheaper).

We got through customs in just a few minutes last time we landed in Orlando. Personally, I find some of the people at the desk to be rather abrupt and rude, but it’s one of those things you just have to put up with if you want to get through without being hassled. Passports were checked very thoroughly, and we were asked questions about where we live, how long we were staying and what we were in the US for.

We hired a Buick Century this time, and only ever having driven stick-shifts, were worrying ourselves silly over driving an automatic for the first time. We mastered it almost immediately, though. I hate driving on UK roads, but Florida’s roads were a pleasure to drive on. Although we had to constantly remind ourselves not to drive on the left! Miami, on the other hand, was a living nightmare.

As for things we can’t get back home - too many to list, but root beer and honey roasted peanuts are the things I miss most. Virtually impossible to get hold of here. Also, Hershey bars, Gatorade, Colgate shaving cream, Tide liquid, and Folgers coffee bags are all ten times better than what we can get back home. Cheap Marlboro, at $25 a carton versus £45 here, was enough to make me want to emigrate. Levis are half the price too, so I bought six pairs to bring back.

(Background: I’m a Brit who works for a small Canadian company, and have travelled to Canada maybe 30 times over the last 10 years or so)…

I am always struck by how hostile Canadian immigration officials are. I know it’s not their job to be welcoming, but (IME) they are in a league of their own compared to European or US counterparts. On my first trip they asked the purpose of my visit, and I stupidly answered honestly - a week’s work at head office. They shat conkers…. I was ushered into a small room and interrogated for about 20 minutes. I honestly expected to hear the snap of rubber gloves at one point (TMI, but my butt has just tightened involuntarily).

Anyway, to answer some of the other questions…

I rented a car while on holiday (in Canada again) with my then-fiance (now wife). Adjusting took about an hour, I guess. We were driving through the rockies on a straight road, no traffic, doing about 75 mph (whatever that is in kph). A few cars approaching. Something sticking out’ve the window of the 2nd car. Shit. In the mirror, 2nd car does a U-turn at speed, smoke etc, and is now about 500 yards behind, lights flashing. Fiance’s advice? “Don’t slow down - he’ll think you’re guilty”… !!!

Needless to say, much as I love and respect my wife and her opinions, in the interests of not wanting to feature on national TV I felt obliged to ignore her advice. In fact I pulled over and slowed down so fast that the patrol car locked all 4 wheels and ended up about 3 ft from our bumper.

Got away with “110$ lecture rather than a 110$ fine” because (I kid you not) after asking for my license and finding the 2 other speeding offences I’d clocked up over the years in England, he concluded that we were just plain used to driving faster over here. Can’t argue with that. I kissed his feet (figured it was the local custom and couldn’t hurt) and we drove sedately off.

Things I can get in the US/Canada? Well, eating out is much cheaper, and the food is better. After my first taste of hazelnut vanilla coffee, I was hooked faster than you can say crack cocaine and bring back loads each visit. (Sad, eh?)

Thanks everyone for your enlightening responses.

I myself have only dealt with Customs coming back home, and they’re certainly not the most patient people, but they can hardly be considered rude, IMHO. They’re extremelyconcerned about whether or not you’re bringing back any agricultural products (those grapefruit-sized Valencia oragnes I brought back from Spain: gone) and they get awfully persnickety about cigarettes (fortunately, I don’t smoke).

Hey kirk280980: I’ll gladly send you any and all of those things, provided you pay for them (+ postage). Although Customs officials on your side of The Pond may have some issues with the coffee and the cigarettes. Or maybe we can work out a trade. Let me know.

It looks like it’s almost easier than coming/going to hawaii from California. On the plane to HI they give you a form asking if you have any fruits/flowers or, get this, pets of any type.

On the way back from HI to California, you have to clear an Xray station at the airport where they search for fruits etc.

One thing my friends from england wanted to do here was buy lots of clothes.

Thank you, rastahomie for your kind offer. Although I miss all the things we can’t get here in the UK, the cost of getting such items shipped over is prohibitive to say the least. A friend of mine in Florida once offered to ship over a case of root beer, which I thought was a great idea until I heard how much it would cost for shipping alone… $145! Two dozen Hershey bars would have cost me $50 for shipping, making it the most expensive chocolate on earth. As much as I love the stuff, the shipping costs made my eyes water.

But, never mind - I shall be travelling to Canada in the next few months, and making a short detour to the US towards the end of my trip. Another opportunity to stock up! And I must say that the root beer and Colgate drought I have to endure makes me appreciate these things all the more when I can get hold of them. What a sad life I live :smiley:

“Two dozen Hershey bars would have cost me
$50 for shipping”

Wow, I ship to england a lot from the US, it shouldn’t be that much. Parcel Post, about $15.00.

Weird thing about shipping to UK is if its Toys, it costs twice as much as if it were just paper documents.

You guys have Cadbury’s, the food of the gods, and you want HERSHEY’S?!?


You can get Hershey’s fine in a lot of places in London (although they’re more expensive). I’ve only recently come off an addiction to the cookies and cream bars.

In the US you can get 10lbs of pure chocolate from Trader Joes for $16.00… :slight_smile:

I have to admit, Fretful, that Cadburys is probably my least favourite chocolate. There’s just something about it that doesn’t seem right to me. Most other Brits I know aren’t keen on Hersheys, but I love the stuff.

Having said that - the Cadburys chocolate sold in the US is gorgeous. Although, if I remember rightly, it’s actually made by Hersheys. It’s definitely not the same as the stuff you get back here, though.