International Travellers Guide to PAX '09
This thread is a sequel to the one I created for PAX '08. As the title says it offers up some advice to those that are travelling to PAX '09 that live outside the borders of the United States of America.
As per last year, I'm writing this guide with a heavy UK bias so forgive me for this for that is where I'm from. I will try to encompass as many other nations as is possible and would appreciate any corrections and additions. This year it has been enhanced as it is based on my own personal experience at PAX '08. I've emphasised what was important and deleted what was completely useless.
So without further ado, here is the tips for those travelling to PAX from beyond the shores of the USA:
1) Check your Passport and visa requirement.
We are strangers in a strange land and as such must have a valid pass port to gain entry into the US. Note that there is a Visa Waiver system for people from the UK. Read on to find out more:
VISA WAIVER PROGRAMME
The visa waiver programme has undergone a very big change as of August 2008! From now you can apply for a waiver to a visa entry to the US online. This is compulsory prior to travelling to the US. It is preferred that you do make your application out online at least 72 hours before leaving. The information you need to complete the form is as follows:
1) Passport No.
2) Passport issue date and expirary date.
3) Flight carrier.
4) Flight No.
5) City from which you are flying from.
6) Name and full address of hotel you are staying at whilst in the US.
For access the online form click on this link.
Those who do not meet the requirements for the visa-waiver scheme must obtain a U.S. tourist visa from an American Embassy or Consulate.
2) Travel Insurance
Now granted your stay in the US will be relatively short but you can never be too cautious. The US does not have a National Health system so any medical treatment you receive will be charged to you if you have no insurance, so do please take some out before leaving. Also make sure you read the fine print of your insurance docs and a copy of them so that you can access them easily!
There are some things to note when handling US currency. First, get a Cash Passport Card which can be charged up with cash prior to leaving. It can be used like a credit card and will allow you to withdraw cash from cash machines. You can also use your credit card to withdraw cash from holes-in-the-wall. I can personally vouch for this as I had one throughout PAX '08 and E3'09 and it worked on every cash machine I encountered.
For more information on Cash Passport Cards follow this link.
Remember to buy your currency as late as possible to take advantage of exchange rates. If you have never been to the US before you will notice that the bills are all the same size regardless of value. Annoying I know but true, be mindful of this. Click on this link to see what each bill looks like just to help you: US Bills
Also, If you do plan on using a credit/debit card while at PAX you must inform your issuing bank/company that you will be doing so. Banks have an automated fraud detection device that will block your card from working fully if you don't inform them that you plan to use your credit/debit card abroad. The best course of action is to call the number that is located on the back of the card.
4) Mobile AKA 'Cell' Phones
Provided your phone is a Tri-Band one it will work fine. Your carrier (02, Orange, Vodaphone & T-Mobile) will have global services but they cost a huge amount of money. You get charged for receiving calls and people calling you on it get charged international rates, as the phone is not a local one. To get over this buy an AT&T SIM card in the US that has a pay-as-you go deal attached to it. That way your phone becomes a local one and everyone is happy. I know I did this and it worked a treat on my Nokia N95. This method will only work if your mobile is unlocked! Alternatively you can buy a $15 (£7) pay as you go phone to tide you over however this may not be an option to those that cannot be seperated from their beloved Nokia N96.
Note that there is an AT&T in Pacific Place that will give you a SIM and not charge you for anything more than the money you put on your phone to use it. It is located on the lower ground floor and opens at around 9:30am. They are also next door to a GameStop Store.
On a final note, once you leave the US the number associated to this SIM card will revert back to AT&T after a period of time, depending on how much money you have slapped onto it. If you place $25 you get 60 days of ownership whilst if you stick $100 on it, that number is yours for 12 months. That's even if it is not used whilst you are outside the US. One final point, if you are using an iPhone or other smart phone all 3G online functionality will be shut down. No access to the internet will be allowed across a 3G network without paying a massive premium. Sending basic SMS messages is fine but is charged at 20 cents a shot, both sending and receiving. Please bear this in mind whilst you are at PAX. If you must gain access to Twitter and/or Facebook, find a WiFi network and use that. Do not try to use 3G!
Some are braving the West Coast Train Trip by flying to LAX and then taking the train from Los Angeles to Seattle. Others (me) are flying direct to Seattle from London. Taking 9.5 hours this is a long haul flight, more so than many other PAX attendees which means we have a lot of sitting around to do. The DS/DSi will last longer than your PSP but bring both (assuming you have both) as you'll need to break the trip up. Also charge them before you head off to the airport. You may want to bring on the reading material described below as well as the in-flight magazine doesn't have much in the way of video game related stuff in it, sadly. If you have a PSP get a spare battery for the flight, you'll need it!
6) Reading material
Whilst a variant of English is spoken in the US and indeed their magazines are written in it (despite the odd spelling issues), you'd be advised to take along the latest copies of The Edge, Retro Gamer
and Games TM
. None of these fine publications are readily available in the US outside Barnes and Noble and reading them whilst on the plane and in queues at PAX will make things a little more bearable. They can also be used as trading items/bribes as they are much sought after in the US.
If you want to be able to continue to charge your DS and/or PSP you need to bring an adaptor. The giant UK plugs don't fit too well in US sockets so do buy a power plug adaptor before you head off. Also note that whilst your DS/DSi/PSP/Laptop will work fine off of the 110v US power supply it won't work at all for any consoles, should you be even considering bringing one. Don't, it just won't work without some kind of step up transformer to bring it up to 240v. Then there's the PAL output which makes things even more complicated...
Note: UK DS & DSi Chargers will need a step up transformer to function. Follow this link to order yourself one: Stepup Transformer and Maplin sell on for £25 here.For Australians you can pick up a Stepdown transformer from Dick Smiths
Press the Spoiler button to see an image of a UK DS/DSi Charger plugged into a Step-up transformer:
Alternatively you can just buy a cheap 3rd party charger in Seattle, but you do carry the risk of voiding your warranty with Nintendo if you do so as it's a third party charger! You have been warned.
8) Drinking and ID
The drinking age is 21 in the US, not 18 as in the rest of the world. This can confuse many and result in some crest fallen British folk when they try to buy some alchohol. Those of you that are 21 and over will be asked for their ID prior to buying any alchohol. This can cause some issues as an ID is normally an Interstate Drivers Licence. Being from foreign climes we don't have such a thing. Suitable alternatives include a passport or your UK full drivers licence (not provisional) provided it has a picture on it. Either way you're going to have to explain to the clerk/barman what it actually is.
I personally had no problems with getting a drink using my European drivers license during PAX '08. Carrying around your passport is an exceptionally bad idea and the only alternative may be to get an International Drivers Permit. This is a valid drivers license in the US so the management will not be in breach of any local rules they have concerning recognised paperwork for age varification. To find out more about these permits, pop along to this web site:
International Drivers Permit
All tickets purchased from outside of the US must be picked up from the 'Will Call' area prior to entry. Sadly no details have been revealed to its location this year, so keep your eyes peeled on these forums for news on this.
Once you register you will pick up your badge from there. Just to restate, you will not receive your badge via the mail.
10) Telephone numbers
To dial for emergency services use 911, not 999. For directory enquiries use 411 or, if that doesn't work use 555-1212 or 1-555-1212.
PAX takes place in the late summer and whilst overcast most of the time the weather will be very pleasant. Usually hovering around 22-25 degrees C and no rain. Nevertheless there is a risk of rain so do be prepared for it. Never rained when I was at PAX '08 mind you. By all means check the BBC website weather section a week before you go.
Not something British people are used to, but it is somewhat endemic in the US. The list below will give you an idea of what tips you are expected to give:
*Food server: 15-20%, make sure to see if gratuity is included for larger groups. If you pay with a credit card, try and leave the tip in cash
*Bartender: $1 per drink is standard, but a few dollars more shows you appreciate a finely crafted cocktail or some bartenderly advice.
*Taxi: 10% of total fare, maybe a little extra if driver helps with baggage etc.
*Doorman: $1 for hailing a cab or helping with your baggage
*Bell staff: $1-2 per bag, esp if they are heavy
*Housekeeper: $2/night. think about it, these people make your bed