Ready for a road trip? The famous Route 66 starts in Chicago.
Chicago runs on Central Time (CET.) It is 2 hours ahead of Los Angeles, 1 hour behind New York City, 4 hours behind London, and 11 hours behind Hong Kong.
The United States offers a Visa Waiver Program (ESTA) that allows visitors from certain countries to stay for up to 90-days. Click here to apply for the ESTA Visa. The process takes 10 minutes and is a good option for those seeking to work or study in the U.S.
For tourism, all countries are allowed entry into the United States except for the following:
- North Korea
For visits that are less than 90-days, there are options for leisure and work.
The B-1 Business Visa is specifically for coming to the States for meetings and/or conferences that are not for immediate employment in the U.S for a U.S company.
The B-S Tourism Visa is for leisure tourism for a stay of less than 90-days.
The DS-160 form must be completed to apply for these visas, and an interview with the U.S Embassy or consulate must be done. After the documents are submitted, and the interview is reviewed, the embassy or consulate will notify the submitter of whether or not their visa was accepted.
Non-U.S. citizen, non-U.S. immigrants must show proof of being fully vaccinated before boarding a flight to the U.S.
There are two major airports to fly into:
- Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD)
- Chicago Midway Airport (MDW)
Midway airport offers Uber, Lyft, and taxi pick-up area after baggage claim.
The cheapest and fastest way to reach downtown Chicago is to take the ‘L’ train system. Midway airport is on the Orange Line and the ride to downtown is only 25 minutes. You have to purchase a Ventra card before you get on the train which you can do at the airport station.
O’Hare International Airport offers Uber, Lyft, and taxi pick-up area after baggage claim.
O’Hare is on the Blue ‘L’ line. So you can easily reach downtown Chicago via train. The ride from O’Hare is a bit longer, roughly 45 minutes. So if you have a time crunch, I would recommend taking an Uber or Lyft instead.
The Chicago ‘L’, short for elevated, is the 4th largest system in the United States. It is an especially unique transportation system because most of the trains are above ground and it has blends in with the rest of the city architecture.
There are 8 different lines as the ‘L’ operates 24/7. In order to ride on the ‘L’, you will need to purchase a Ventra card. You can purchase day passes up to 30 days for $105 or you can also purchase single rides for around $2.50. You can also use the Ventra card for the bus system.
Click here to see all of the ‘L’ lines as well as information about each.
Chicago is a safe place to travel to for solo traveling if you stay alert and remember your street smarts.
Remember to be cautious about your surroundings. Be cautious about your drinks at bars, try not to “flash” your money around, and do not engage in other people’s business. You will be fine traveling in Chicago!
As a point of reference, the safest neighborhoods are: the Loop, Wicker Park, Lincoln Park, River North, Gold Coast, Lakeview, Hyde Park, and Streeterville (to name a few.) At night, the loop can become pretty deserted so be careful walking around. Try to avoid walking alone or take an Uber/taxi from place to place.
Chicago is also known as the Windy City, it can get COLD. The winters in Chicago are long and harsh, but it can still be a fun time to visit since there is good public transportation and a lot of indoor tourist attractions.
If you want to spend time outside, I would recommend visiting Chicago in the summer months. By March or St. Patty’s Day to Halloween, it is warm enough to plan outdoor activities.
English is the most popular language spoken in Chicago. As the 4th largest city in the country, however, there is a lot of language diversity. This is shown best through the different ethnic neighborhoods, for example, Greek Town, Little India, Mexican Quarters, Chinatown, etc. Because Chicago is so culturally vast, you will likely meet someone who speaks your native language, so don’t be worried if you don’t speak English fluently!
While Chicago is in the calmer Midwest, it is still a big and busy metropolis with similar etiquette rules that exist in other American major cities. Be mindful of oncoming pedestrian traffic and be aware of your space/how much you take up. When you are on the ‘L,’ stay out of people’s way whenever possible. Do not block the train doors and stand to the right of the escalator unless you are going to walk up to it.
Locals are known to be incredibly friendly, just like most Midwestern states in America.
Be kind to service workers! Those working in retail, or the food-service industry will show you respect as long as you do the same. When eating at a restaurant, do not snap, yell or obnoxiously wave at your waiter/waitress. A simple hand raise and smile will get their attention. Always tip well.
The United States currency is the US Dollar ($ USD,) nothing else is accepted in Chicago businesses. Luckily, currency conversion is available in multiple locations within the city. From banks to private currency exchange businesses, it will not be difficult for you to find somewhere to convert to USD.
Tipping. Is. Essential! It is considered improper to not tip when eating out so try to tip at least 20%. Also, it is customary to tip your taxi/Uber/Lyft driver when taking one.
Chicago’s standard voltage is 120 volts, with a two or three-pronged plug. For those traveling internationally, you should be prepared to bring an adapter. Here is what yours should look like:
Chicago tap water is safe and delicious, since lead pipes were banned in 1986. Due to EPA standards, the city must have clean and fresh tap water for its residents. Avoid buying plastic water bottles, but rather, refill your reusable bottle with the tasty tap water.
There is free Wi-Fi nearly everywhere in Chicago. Since it is a colder city, there is an abundance of cafés with cheap drinks and free, reliable Wi-Fi. The museums and ‘L’ stations also provide free Wi-Fi. If you have a smartphone you should be good! Do not worry.
Chicago Taxis are everywhere, but most often in the popular tourist neighborhoods. The minimum fare for any trip is $2.25, then for every 1/9 of a mile traveled it is $0.20. Uber and Lyft are readily available ride-share services in the city. Remember to tip the same amount you would for a taxi!
There is also the infamous Chi-Town Water Taxi. While these are more expensive and a bit slower, they are still worth the ride. If you want to see Chicago’s beautiful and unique architecture from a different perspective while still arriving at your final destination, take a water taxi! You can purchase a ticket and see the routes here.
Chicago is a very LGBTQ+-friendly city, there is even a specific neighborhood for the LGBTQ+ community: Boystown. Boystown is located in Lakeview and is a very inclusive and fun area. Unfortunately, much of the LGBTQ+ community has been pushed out to the Uptown and Edgewater areas due to gentrification. In these areas, you can find bars, clubs, shops all catered to the LGBTQ+ community.
In June, you can also visit Chicago for the annual pride parade which attracts over a million participants. There is even a LGBTQ+ Hall of Fame where you can learn more about the community’s history in the city.
Some general eco-friendly tips while traveling in Chicago: take public transportation (the ‘L’ is fantastic) and use a reusable water bottle!
A great way to reduce your carbon footprint is to avoid buying from fast-fashion businesses. Chicago has a plethora of different thrift/second-hand stores. From high-end consignment to the salvation army, these stores allow you to find loved, unique pieces and rehome them, rather than go into the nearest Forever 21 and buy a cheaply made, mass-produced item. Wicker Park and Logan Square are two neighborhoods where you can find the most thrift shops.
Millennium Park is the most famous tourist attraction in Chicago. Along with the Bean, you can enjoy the beautiful green space that blends in perfectly with the city skyline. Some others include: Lincoln Park, Humboldt Park, Grant Park, Jackson Park, and many more.