Backpacking United States of America

Looking for important travel information while backpacking around United States of America? Here you will find information on working in United States of America, entry visas, United States of America hostels, and much more.

Table of Contents

Facts About United States of America

Tourism in the States is a massive industry and millions of backpackers and tourists visit every year. Most tourists already have an idea what to expect due to the proliferation of American culture abroad. The US is a truly huge place with plenty of things to do in every state. In general the US is very welcoming of tourists although if you can’t speak English or Spanish you won’t find many Americans who can speak your language. However with even the most basic tourist English you will be able to enjoy life the American way and that means BIG!!!

  • Currency: $ US dollar, 100 cents to the dollar
  • Time Zone: Spans 6 time zones ranging from GMT -5 to GMT -10
  • Language: English
  • Telephone Services: Country code +1, International Dialling Code 011
  • Emergency Numbers: 911


The climate varies considerably from region to region, in general you can expect it to get warmer further south and colder further north.

Things to see and do

There are countless possibilities of things to do whilst in the US. Normal tourist site of particular fame are the statue of liberty, the great lakes and the Rockies. However there are many, many things to do in all regions. See our local pages for more information.


Travel is easy with buses, trains and internal flights all readily available and budget deals are normally easy to find. Of particular value are the Greyhound bus and Amtrak rail services. Car Rental is also widely available at all major airports and many other locations.

Visit World Airports Codes site to find out transfer options at USA’s leading airports and transport hubs such as Philadelphia International AirportJohn F Kennedy International Airport and Hartsfield Jackson International Airport. The site also covers all other airports across the United States.


Budget accommodation is also readily available in the US, even the cheapest motels will provide quite a good standard of living with almost all rooms having their own en-suite bathroom and most boasting a TV. For more advice on accommodation see our local state pages for more information.

The Hostel Handbook for the USA and Canada is a great resourse for backpakcers in North America. The list includes HI locations and all independent hostels. It’s updated every year so the information is current. It includes a great section on travel tips and budget travel resouces. A new print version comes out every February but you can order the book or browse the information on their website.


The US has an excellent private healthcare system, while you will need to make sure you have comprehensive travel insurance the standard of medical care is amongst the highest in the world. There are no shots or injections required when visiting the US from abroad.

Useful Links

Homepage for the US Embassy in the UK, contains information regarding application for Visas.

Amtrak is the USA’s national rail service and a great way to travel around.

Greyhound is an excellent point-to-point coach service in the US. They offer flexible travel passes and you can book online.

The office of travel and tourism can provide local tourist advice

Entry Visas for United States of America

Valid passports are required for entry by everyone except nationals of Canada. If you hold a EU passport or are a British Foreign national you will not require a Visa for a stay up to 90 days long. If you are going to be staying in the US for longer than 90 days or are intending to work in the US you will need to obtain a Visa from a local US Embassy. A list of all US Embassies is located on, which also carries information relating to what kind of Visas are available and who is eligible. In general nationals of EU countries should have no problem obtaining the necessary documents.


In Britain US interests are represented by US Embassy in London, located at:

Embassy of the United States of America
24 - 31
Grosvenor Square
Tel: 0207 499 9000

There is a large British presence in America, the Embassy is located at:

British Embassy
3100 Massachusetts
Washington DC
Tel: (202) 588 6500 or 588 7800.
Fax: +(1)(202) 588 7850

In addition there are UK Consulates in New York, Atlanta, Anchorage, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, Nashville, New Orleans, Orlando, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Portland, Puerto Rico, Salt Lake City, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and St Louis.

Foreigner Work Permits in United States of America

Most who go travelling will either have saved up enough to fund their time abroad, or hope to do so whilst away. Plans to work in restaurants, bars, ski resorts etc. in the USA this may sound flexible and readily available, but such casual work is in fact illegal without an h3-B Temporary Worker Visa, a B-1 Voluntary Work Visa, or a Q Visa, which can involve a long application process. Despite these restrictions many people still choose to work illegally in the USA, which can lead to deportation and possible refusal of return to the country. A  safer option is to find a job through an agency or organisation.

Here at the backpacking site we have pages of information to help you find temporary work in the USA in a variety of different fields as well as advice on obtaining the relevant paperwork. Simply select one of the options from the links below or from our navigation menu in the panel to the right to get started right away!

  • BUNAC : Information of BUNAC and other camp based organisations
  • Au Pair: Information for those wanting to become an au pair in the USA
  • Internships : Information on internships in the USA
  • Voluntary Programs : Information on voluntary programs in America

United States of America Hostels

Hostels are a cheap form of accomodation, and so they are essential to backpackers and other budget travellers. We have compiled a list of hostels in Usa to help you plan your journey. If you are looking for a hostel in Usa, you’ve come to the right place.



BUNAC (British Universities North America Club) and Camp America are probably the most publicised job organisations for gap year students. BUNAC offers opportunities working with children on a summer camp in the USA, for example as a counsellor. Camp America is similar in offering placements during summer months for teaching, cooking, and cleaning etc. in a children’s summer resort. Both organisations provide flights, food, accommodation, and spending money. The total cost of registration, insurance, and visa fees with BUNAC amounts to just over $200, but working for up to nine weeks with them can earn you a minimum of $670 (approx. $$425).

You should be aware however that BUNAC has considerable demand for places in Summer Camps, there is particularly a lot of competition for the counsellor places which are slightly higher paid and lead to a position of greater responsibility. In addition the application procedure is lengthy and involves several stages of training and interviews.

It is worth noting that whilst BUNAC provide assistance for arranging visas they are not always able to obtain them on their own, for instance to take part in an American camp you will be required to collect your visa from the embassy in London in person. It is also worth noting that whilst BUNAC is a great way to see America cheaply you will be working too. However if you act responsibly and take the work serioiusly you will be able to have fun and most BUNAC participants spend a couple of weeks at the end of their work doing their own thing and enjoying the tourist life in America.

Useful Links

BUNAC has been established for over 40 years and is one of the most popular ways for students and young people to earn their way whilst visiting America.

Camp America is a similar organisation to BUNAC that runs over 12,000 camps throughout America

Alliances Abroad offers teach, working and voluntary programs in the US and at more exotic destinations

Au Pair

Becoming an au pair to an American family is another way to work legally, as it is organised through an agency. The Au Pair in America (APIA) organisation is widely recognised, but most agencies offer similar opportunities. US law regulates that au pairs in the USA earn $139.05 (approx. $88) for a week’s work, usually about 45 hours. Accommodation and food are both provided by the host family. Au pairs are required to enrol in a educational course for a few hours a week whilst working, this funded by the host family. The main requirements for au pairing are that you are aged between 18 and 26, hold a full clean driving licence, and have had experience of caring for children. A J1 visa is needed for this type of work, which allows you to stay in the country for a year. The US Embassy can be contacted for all details about this type of visa as well as those already mentioned.

As an au pair your chief duty will of course be the care of children but your duties may also extend to light housework such as washing clothes or cooking for the children. You should be willing to help the family out in tight spots with any other housework that needs doing but don’t let yourself become a domestic servant as well as an au pair without your consent! As a bonus however a lot of the time the children will be attending nursery or school so you could well have a reasonable amount of spare time to yourself. To get the most out of the experience you should be creative and fun with the children and also make the most of your free time in ways that don’t jeapordise the standard of care you provide. Getting steaming drunk the night before you are due to look after the children is unlikely to go down to well! Nevertheless you will have ample time to do whatever you want on your days off and the workload is never too high, with accomodation and food also provided this is a very attractive option for working in the US.

Useful Links

APIA is by far the most well known and respected au pair organisation in the US.

GoAuPair is a Federally recognised au pair organisation that also allows you a say in choosing your host family.


Internships are useful for gaining experience in a specific workplace environment whilst travelling. They usually last a year, but can be difficult to obtain because of US employment laws and restrictions concerning work permits. Nevertheless, organisations such as CCUSA and Alliances Abroad work to place students in internships, ranging from positions in national parks and resorts to social and clerical work, amongst others. As with au pair schemes, CCUSA requires you to hold a J1 visa, but the work placements are usually for only about five months so this would not suffice for a whole year of work-based travelling. Furthermore, although such organisations arrange flights, insurance and visas, it may be more difficult to find accommodation, particularly on a long-term basis.

Another excellent source of internships is through private sponsorship with a company, many international companies are happy to invest in potential employees by sending you to work in another location for a year. Sometimes you will have to make a commitment to the company, for example promising to work for them for a year or two after graduation but if you manage to land one of these lucrative internships it could well be a good investment.

Other large companies organise competetive internship schemes, these usually involve sitting numerous exams and aptitude tests as well as a lengthy interview process. These kind of internships are generally at highly desirable companies such as those in the fortune 500. Those applying should expect heavy competition but with large potential rewards both in terms of generous pay but also for the CV boosting potential employment at these sort of companies offers.

Useful Links

Alliances Abroad Organise various internship schemes as well as camp based work and voluntary programs.

CCUSA are an organisation which specialises in finding internships in the USA for foreign students.

Voluntary Work

For those who want something a bit different in their year abroad, volunteering could be the answer. It is perhaps more of a feel-good experience, but financial backing for accommodation, food etc. is vital before undertaking such work, although some volunteer organisations provide a small amount of  pocket money  each month. Camphill Village USA Inc works with adults with mental disabilities and asks that volunteers stay for at least six months. For those more interested in conservation and cultural work, Concordia organises shorter term projects, and also provides accommodation. The range of volunteer work is vast and all depends on what your personal interests are. Many volunteer organisations help with financial worries by offering accommodation, often with a host family. If not, it is essential to find accommodation that is not only cheap but somewhere that wont make your year abroad wish you were back home!

Many GAP and year abroad programs are based around voluntary work and these organised programs will sometimes subsidise some of your costs. These kinds of programs allow the development of a wide skill base that most people might otherwise not acheive, this makes voluntary work particularly attractive to employers so you could find your CV enriched from the process. This obviously shouldn’t be your prime motivation especially as many programs can be a lot of hard work, most travellers who come back after completing these programs recommend it as an incredibly enriching experience simply for its own sake.

Useful Links

Camphill Village offers programs working with mentally disabled adults, the programs generally last about 6 months.

Concordia run shorter term conservation schemes.

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