Life in USA

Now that you are in US, you will quickly notice the differences in the overall social and cultural fabric of the country as compared to your home country. That is true. America has its own way of doing things. A newcomer will benefit by knowing these things in advance. We shall look at several aspects of U.S. life that are far different from the life in India. Having discussed these issues, we will move on to consider different approaches that can be followed to adjust to these changes.
HomeNew to USALife in USA

US – Currency

  • The currency of USA is the American dollar, and is written as $ or USD$.
  • Dollar bills are issued in denominations of $1, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100.
  • One dollar is divided into 100 cents.
  • You will find coins of 1 cent, 5 cents, 10 cents and 25 cents, known as penny, nickel, dime and quarter, respectively.
  • US dollar is widely accepted, and you can exchange your country’s currency for US Dollars at major airports, banks and private exchange companies.

Public Telephones

  • Public telephones in the US are a little different from the ones we have in our home country.
  • You won’t find any privately operated STD/ISD booths; rather you will find public telephones normally referred as payphones, set up at prominent public locations all over USA.
  • Making a call from a public phone is easy with clear instructions written instruments on making local, long distance, and international calls.
  • Generally, payphones do not receive incoming calls and this is marked on the phones.
  • The number of the payphone is printed on the top left corner.
  • A US phone number always consists of 10 digits (123)-456-7890. The first three digits are called area code, and the remaining seven digits are the telephone number.
  • When you dial a number with same area code as your own you do not have to dial the area code. For example if you are calling from 415-xxx-xxxx to 415-yyy-yyyy you do not need to put the area code 415.
  • Any number with 800, 888, and 877 as area code is called a toll free number. You do not have to pay anything for such numbers. For the convenience of the customers most of the companies/organizations have toll free customer support numbers.

Making an International Call

To make an international call you have to dial 011 + country code + area code + number. For example, to call Mumbai, India you need to dial 011-91-22 + the telephone number.

Making a Long Distance Call

To make a long distance call (other than your area code) you need to start with 1 + area code + number. For example, making a call from San Jose CA to San Francisco (area code 415) will be dialed as 1+ 415 + number.

Collect Call

Collect-call is the facility where the receiver of the call will be charged anywhere in the U.S. This can be a useful service if you are broke and want to make a call to someone who is ready to pay for the call. There are specific service providers that provide this service. For example, for AT&T use numbers like 1-800-COLLECT or 1-800-CALLATT and follow the instructions on the phone.

Drugstore/Pharmacy and Medicine

General medicine is available in most of the super stores. Some of these super stores also have their pharmacy counter and services.

Prescribed medicine can be obtained from your preferred pharmacy only. This is how it works. Ask your doctor to give you a prescription that can be filled in at your preferred pharmacy. You can then go to the pharmacy and pick up the prescription. If you have your medical insurance you need to pay the co-payment only for the prescribed medicines. You will not be charged the actual cost of the medicines.
Some of the drug stores are CVS Pharmacy, Walgreens, Rite Aid, etc.

Public Library

Almost all the city/towns have a public library. For book lovers these libraries are a blessing and may appear like a big treasure house of books, CD, video tapes, and other sources of knowledge.

  • There are hundreds of books on all the subjects of interest.
  • These libraries also have computers to facilitate internet services such as surfing the web free of charge for a limited period.
  • Other libraries provide free wi-fi facility for laptop users.
  • Some libraries provide you with a registration code to access online resources. You will also be allowed to create a login or user id for accessing the library’s resources.
  • Many libraries are interconnected. If you are looking for a book that is not available in the library itself, someone will assist in looking for the same books in other libraries as well. However, this facility is not available in all the libraries.
  • You are allowed to put a ‘hold’ on books already checked out. You will get a notification by phone or email when the books are ready to be collected from the library.
  • Each patron is allowed to take a limited number of books and CDs. The library may charge late fee or renewal fee.
  • The membership of these library can be obtained free of charge by showing proof of residency or a valid photo id.

Photo ID/Personal ID

Your driving license is considered as your photo ID. You may be asked for your ID when you

  • open a bank account,
  • apply for loan,
  • apply for any membership like private video libraries,
  • get a mobile phone subscription, and,
  • sometimes at stores when you use your credit card to make a payment.

Bank Checks

  • Your name is printed and/or address is printed on the left top of the checks.
  • You may any design your own checks or choose from the available palette of designs.
  • Some banks and credit unions give few blank checks when you open an account. These checks will have your name and address printed as well.

Credit History

Every person with a valid SSN (Social security number) has a credit history. A credit report is like a report card of your financial transactions. A credit bureau creates your credit report using information from banks, merchants, and other creditors. It gets created and maintained automatically. You do not have to register for it .You can obtain your credit report for some fee; few names of such credit bureau are Equifax and Experian.

Mail Service (Postal Services)

Postal services are commonly known as mail services and post is called mail. The general mail service for domestic purpose in the USA is known as a “First-Class Mail”. Any item that can be sent by mail must be marked as First-Class Mail. Each piece must weigh 13 ounces or less. The first class mail charges are 34 cents per stamp. Each additional ounce would cost you $0.21.

A letter to be posted to India up to 1 oz. (one oz.) will cost you 80 cents per stamp. Postage stamps can be purchased from any Super store, stamp vending machines, post office, and ATM machines. You can also order stamps online.
Checkout more details about US postal rates and services.


In the USA, toilets are referred to as restrooms or more colloquially as the “loo”. Almost all public places provide these facilities. You can use the restrooms free of cost. There may be very minimal charges (5 cents to 25 cents) if it’s a paid service at some places. You can always go to any nearest shop or gas station and use the restrooms.
While traveling by road you can see boards advertising rest rooms on the highway at regular intervals. That way you will notice that all the highways and freeways are well marked to avoid inconvenience.

Camera Film Processing

Americans are very fond of taking photographs and hence film processing is a big industry. Film processing services are available in most of departmental stores like Walgreens, CVS, Safeway, Wal-Mart, Target, etc.
Normally, you will find a drop box kind of counter, where you will need to provide required information about the film processing like size, number of copies required in addition to your name, address and pickup details. Usually this is given in an envelope or you may ask the store manager for the information and s/he will assist you. Alternatively you can upload the photos from your computer to the store’s website and fill in the pickup details. Later you can pick up the printed photos and pay at the counter itself.

Thrift Stores/Goodwill/Salvation Army

These stores are known by many names. They generally sell used items or second hand stuff. This is the place where you buy household items at a very low price.
These stores are also a very good alternative to dispose your old and used household stuff. You can donate your used items. Interestingly, you will get a receipt for your donations that can be used in your tax filing to claim tax exemption against the value of donations.

Measurement Differences and Units

Weights: Weight is measured in ounces and pounds.
1 ounce = 28 grams
1 pound = 0.45 kg
Distances: The basic units of distance are inch, foot, yard and mile.
1 yard = 0.9 meter
1 mile = 1.6 km
Temperature: In the United States, temperature is measured in Fahrenheit degrees.
1 Celsius is 1.8 Fahrenheit
C= (5/9)*(T-32)
F= (9/5)*C+32
C=temperature in degrees Celsius
F=temperature in degrees Fahrenheit
1 Ounce (OZ) Fluid = 29.57 ml
1 Gallon = 3.785 Liters


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