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New York: Fast Facts

Area Codes -- Several changes have been made to area-code dialing in New York over the past several years. New area codes have been added in western New York, Long Island, New York City, and the Hudson Valley/Catskill region, bringing the state total to 14. In addition, callers in New York City are now required to dial the area code for both local and long-distance calls (1 + the area code + the seven-digit local number) whether calling another borough or calling across the street. For a list of New York State area codes, consult the phone book or go to

Business Hours -- Business hours in New York State don't differ much from those of the rest of the country, and are generally 9am to 5pm, with one notable exception: It may be a tired clichȳ, but they don't call New York City "the city that never sleeps" for nothing. Although some stores close at 7pm, many are open until 9pm, and a few as late as 11pm. Most restaurants serve until 11pm, and later on weekends. Some diners serve breakfast all night to bar-crawlers and club kids, and 24-hour convenience stores on every other block sell an assortment of items you might need during the night, such as groceries, beer, ice cream, cigarettes, and cold remedies.

Currency -- The most common bills are the $1 (occasionally called a "buck"), $5, $10, and $20 denominations. There are also $2 bills (seldom encountered), $50 bills, and $100 bills (the last two are usually not welcome as payment for small purchases).

Coins come in seven denominations: 1Ţ (1 cent, or a penny); 5Ţ (5 cents, or a nickel); 10Ţ (10 cents, or a dime); 25Ţ (25 cents, or a quarter); 50Ţ (50 cents, or a half dollar); the gold-colored Sacagawea coin, worth $1; and the rare silver dollar.

Customs -- What You Can Bring into New York State:Every visitor more than 21 years of age may bring in, free of duty, the following: (1) 1 liter of wine or hard liquor; (2) 200 cigarettes, 100 cigars (but not from Cuba), or 3 pounds of smoking tobacco; and (3) $100 worth of gifts. These exemptions are offered to travelers who spend at least 72 hours in the United States and who have not claimed them within the preceding 6 months. It is altogether forbidden to bring into the country foodstuffs (particularly fruit, cooked meats, and canned goods) and plants (vegetables, seeds, tropical plants, and the like). Foreign tourists may carry in or out up to $10,000 in U.S. or foreign currency with no formalities; larger sums must be declared to U.S. Customs on entering or leaving, which includes filing form CM 4790. For details regarding U.S. Customs and Border Protection, consult your nearest U.S. embassy or consulate, or U.S. Customs (tel. 202/927-1770;

What You Can Take Home from New York State:

Canadian Citizens: For a clear summary of Canadian rules, write for the booklet I Declare, issued by the Canada Border Services Agency (tel. 800/461-9999 in Canada, or 204/983-3500;

U.K. Citizens: For information, contact HM Customs & Excise at tel. 0845/010-9000 (from outside the U.K., 020/8929-0152), or consult their website at

Australian Citizens: A helpful brochure available from Australian consulates or Customs offices is Know Before You Go. For more information, call the Australian Customs Service at tel. 1300/363-263, or log on to

New Zealand Citizens: Most questions are answered in a free pamphlet available at New Zealand consulates and Customs offices: New Zealand Customs Guide for Travellers, Notice no. 4. For more information, contact New Zealand Customs, The Customhouse, 17-21 Whitmore St., Box 2218, Wellington (tel. 04/473-6099 or 0800/428-786;

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. In general, grocery and convenience stores sell beer and other products that are less than 6% alcohol by volume (like wine coolers). Many of these stores are open 24 hours, but state law forbids them to sell alcohol from 3am to noon on Sunday. Wine and spirits are sold at liquor stores, also called package stores. Hours vary, but by law they must remain closed from midnight to 8am Monday through Saturday. Some stores may be open from noon to 9pm on Sunday, but many are closed. All liquor stores are closed Christmas Day.

Restaurants and bars can't serve drinks before 8am Monday through Saturday, or before noon on Sunday. Closing time for bars, taverns, and nightclubs varies by county. Albany, Buffalo, and New York City bars close at 4am; in Rochester and Syracuse they close at 2am. In quieter areas, closing time comes as early as 1am. 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 DWI ("driving while intoxicated"), so don't even think about drinking and driving.

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 220-240 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 log on to

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

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

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

The embassy of New Zealand is at 37 Observatory Circle NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202/328-4800; 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; Other British consulates are in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, and Seattle.

Emergencies -- Call tel. 911 to report a fire, call the police, or get an ambulance anywhere in the United States. This is a toll-free call. (No coins are required at public telephones.)

Gasoline (Petrol) -- At press time, in the U.S., the cost of gasoline (also known as gas, but never petrol) is abnormally high. Gasoline in New York State is just above the national average, while filling the tank in New York City is about as expensive as you'll find in the country. 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, Jr., 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). 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 2008).

Hot Lines -- In New York City, the main hot line for all things metropolitan is tel. 311. For tourism matters and questions across the state, call tel. 800-CALL NYS. For issues of safety, call the Statewide Public Security Tips Hotline at tel. 866/SAFE-NYS, or 888/NYC-SAFE in New York City.

Legal Aid -- If you find yourself in need of legal representation, contact the New York State Bar Association's Lawyer Referral and Information Service (tel. 800/342-3661 or 518/487-5709;

Lost & Found -- Be sure to tell all of your credit card companies the minute you discover that 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 number is tel. 800/847-2911 or 410/581-9994. American Express clients should call tel. 800/221-7282 regarding traveler's checks and tel. 800/528-4800 regarding credit cards. 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;

Mail -- At press time, domestic postage rates were 26Ţ for a postcard and 41Ţ for a letter. For international mail, a first-class letter of up to 1 ounce costs 90Ţ (69Ţ to Canada and Mexico); a first-class postcard costs the same as a letter. For more information, go to 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 (driver's license, passport, and so on). 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.

Always include zip codes when mailing items in the U.S. If you don't know your zip code, visit

Maps -- The New York State Division of Tourism, P.O. Box 2603, Albany, NY 12220-0603 (tel. 800/CALL-NYS or 518/474-4116;, will mail you a free map, or you can download state and regional maps from its website. You can also find maps at state information centers, or ask for one at the rental-car company when you pick up your car. MapQuest ( can instantly plot your route online. Maps can also be purchased at most bookstores, gas stations, and rest stops.

Newspapers & Magazines -- The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today are sold at newsstands everywhere in New York City and are generally available in hotels and corner newspaper boxes throughout the state. Major cities have their own daily papers. The largest of these are the Buffalo News, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Syracuse Post-Standard, and Albany Times Union. In Manhattan, magazine stores carrying all kinds of domestic and international publications are located in most neighborhoods. In other cities, bookstore chains such as Barnes & Noble carry a wide selection of magazines.

Passports -- For Residents of Australia: You can pick up an application from your local post office or any branch of Passports Australia, but you must schedule an interview at the passport office to present your application materials. Call the Australian Passport Information Service at tel. 131-232, or visit the government website at

For Residents of Canada: Passport applications are available at travel agencies throughout Canada or from the central Passport Office, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Ottawa, ON K1A 0G3 (tel. 800/567-6868; Note: Canadian children who travel must have their own passport. However, if you hold a valid Canadian passport issued before December 11, 2001, that bears the name of your child, the passport remains valid for you and your child until it expires.

For Residents of Ireland: You can apply for a 10-year passport at the Passport Office, Setanta Centre, Molesworth Street, Dublin 2 (tel. 01/671-1633; Those under age 18 and over 65 must apply for a 3-year passport. You can also apply at 1A South Mall, Cork (tel. 021/272-525), or at most main post offices.

For Residents of New Zealand: You can pick up a passport application at any New Zealand Passports Office or download it from their website. Contact the Passports Office at tel. 0800/225-050 in New Zealand or 04/474-8100, or log on to

For Residents of the United Kingdom: To pick up an application for a standard 10-year passport (5-yr. passport for children under 16), visit your nearest passport office, major post office, or travel agency, or contact the United Kingdom Passport Service at tel. 0870/521-0410 or search its website at

Police -- In nonemergency situations, call the nearest police station. Local police precinct telephone numbers can be found in the blue "government" pages of the phone book. In an emergency, call tel. 911, a toll-free call (no coins are required at public telephones).

Smoking -- The legal age to purchase cigarettes and other tobacco products in New York State is 18. But you won't find many places left to smoke them, aside from your hotel room. A state law passed in 2003 prohibits smoking in almost all public venues and in the workplace. This includes bars and restaurants, although smokers can still light up in cigar bars, designated outdoor areas of restaurants, and some private clubs. The law does not affect Native American-run casinos, and smoking is still permitted there.

Taxes -- Sales tax in New York State varies between 7.25% and 8.75% (the state tax is 4.25%, and counties generally tack on another 3% or 4%). On top of the sales tax, hotel occupancy taxes can add as much as 5% to hotel and motel bills; an additional 5% typically applies to car rentals as well.

Telegraph, Telex & Fax -- Telegraph and telex services are provided primarily by Western Union. You can telegraph 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 even wired for guests' fax machines. A less expensive way to send and receive faxes may be at stores such as The UPS Store (formerly Mail Boxes Etc.).

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. New York State is located in Eastern Standard Time. So, for example, noon in New York City (EST) is 11am in Chicago (CST), 10am in Denver (MST), 9am in Los Angeles (PST), 8am in Anchorage (AST), 7am in Honolulu (HST), 5pm in London (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 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%.

Useful Phone Numbers -- U.S. Dept. 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 International Traveler's Hot Line: tel. 404/332-4559.

Visas -- For information about U.S. Visas go to and click on "Visas." Or go to one of the following websites:

Australian citizens can obtain up-to-date visa information from the U.S. Embassy Canberra, Moonah Place, Yarralumla, ACT 2600 (tel. 02/6214-5600), or by checking the U.S. Diplomatic Mission's website at

British subjects can obtain up-to-date visa information by calling the U.S. Embassy Visa Information Line (tel. 0891/200-290) or by visiting the "Visas to the U.S." section of the American Embassy London's website at

Irish citizens can obtain up-to-date visa information through the Embassy of the USA Dublin, 42 Elgin Rd., Dublin 4, Ireland (tel. 353/1-668-8777; or by checking the "Consular Services" section of the website at

Citizens of New Zealand can obtain up-to-date visa information by contacting the U.S. Embassy New Zealand, 29 Fitzherbert Terrace, Thorndon, Wellington (tel. 644/472-2068), or get the information directly from the website at

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