Chicago is one of the top international destinations in the U.S., and it's a great city for travel professionals and tour operators to sell. If you're booking a trip to Chicago, start your planning process here, with this helpful guide for international visitors. Need information on navigating the city? Looking for foreign language tours and activities? It's all here.

Before You Arrive

Chicago is ready and waiting for your clients, but before they start exploring, here are some quick facts to get them familiar with the city.

  • Chicago saw nearly 1.38 million overseas travelers in 2013
  • The city has 77 distinct neighborhoods representing more than 100 ethnic groups.
  • Time zone: Central Standard Time (CST), GMT -6:00
  • Tipping: Gratuity is not automatically added to the bill. Taxicab drivers, bartenders and waiters generally receive a 15% gratuity for standard service, though it is appropriate to leave a 20% gratuity to restaurant waitstaff for exceptional service, particularly in fine dining establishments. Hotel doormen and valet park attendants should be tipped about $2, and bellhops should be given $2 per bag. Chambermaids usually are given $2 per day, which can be left on the pillow.
  • Legal drinking and gambling age: 21 (photo ID or passport required)
  • Legal car rental age: 25

Visas & Requirements

Anyone traveling to the U.S. from another country must have a valid passport. Nationals are also required to have a visa-unless they are from a country that is part of the Visa Waiver Program. All visitors from a Visa Waiver Country need authorization to come to the U.S. through the U.S. government's Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).

Please visit our international page for more information on Visas and travel requirements.

Getting to & Around Chicago

International visitors to Chicago will feel welcome the moment they step off the plane. Two major airports serve the city: O'Hare International Airport and Midway International Aiport. Travelers arriving at O'Hare will experience the brand new International Terminal 5, featuring luxury retail and dining destinations – including 11 local Chicago brands – and redesigned TSA checkpoint and cutting-edge design.

Both airports offer foreign currency exchanges, and there are many other locations around the city. Read more about Chicago's foreign currency exchanges.

Transportation: Shuttles and taxis are available from both airports to downtown with rates from $40-50 (from O'Hare) and $30-35 (from Midway). Car rentals are also available, and groups can get to the city from both airports via Chicago Transit Authority buses and rail lines. The Blue 'L' Line takes groups straight to downtown from O'Hare ($5) and the Orange 'L' Line takes groups straight from Midway ($2.25). 

Read more about Chicago's transportation options.

We Speak Your Language

Chicago features a number of foreign language tours, as well as top attractions that offer tours and information in other languages. Here are just a few tours to choose from:

Free Chicago Greeter Walks: Locals know Chicago the best, so let one give your clients a free 2-4 hour walk in their native tongue. The Chicago Greeter service matches guides to each group based on their language and expertise. You can register online at 10 business days prior to the visit.

Bobby's Bike Hike: See Chicago from a bicycle seat. Bobby's offers private group tours in a variety of languages (French, Spanish, German, Dutch, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and more). Just call ahead to reserve your tour and get ready for an exciting adventure around Chicago.

Chicago Architecture Foundation: Get up close to Chicago's famed architecture with CAF, one of the top attractions in the city. A number of self-guided and specialty foreign language tours are offered, including Historic and Modern Skyscrapers (available in French, Spanish and Italian).

360 CHICAGO: Located in the heart of the city, 360 CHICAGO offers stunning views of the lake and skyline. Groups can learn about Chicago's history, architecture and natural scenery through multi-media audio tours, available in several different languages, including Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, French, Mandarin Chinese and Japanese.  

You can also view the Destination Management Companies page in the Travel Professionals Guide (pg. 110) for a list of DMCs that offer step on guides that speak a variety of languages. (Specific languages are indicated in the guide.)

Our travel professionals page offers even more helpful tips to help through the planning process. To stay up-to-date on everything going on in Chicago, sign up for our monthly e-newsletter