EXHIBIT GLOBAL has some things you should know:

Foreign and European companies exhibiting for the first time in the US may face a steeper learning curve than their US counterparts. There are many rules and regulations specific to each venue that are much more restrictive than what European exhibitors are accustomed to. Even for native English-speaker, the size of the Exhibitor’s Manual provided by Trade Show Management companies (Freeman, GES,.) can be daunting.

This blog is intended to give quick, general guidelines on the particulars of exhibiting in the US, but is far from being exhaustive as each show and convention centre have separate rules and regulations.

Remember to read your Exhibitor Manual!

How will you be traveling to the US?

International travel and accommodations add to the cost of exhibiting, make sure that you make arrangements early.

  • Entry and Visa requirements: if your country is part of the long list of visa waiver program (VWP) designated countries you will not need to apply for US visa for a stay of 90 days or less. However, you will need a machine-readable passport valid for at least 6 months and you must have authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prior to boarding a U.S. bound air or sea carrier.
  • Book your hotel early: and chose one close to the Convention Centre to avoid commuting and traffic jams. A lot of shows have a list of recommended hotels with preferred rates and it is also a good place to network after show hours. Remember to book early as rooms get sold out quickly. Websites such as are usually very good for booking accommodation, especially if you stick with a recognised hotel chain. They also offer a good rewards system after you have booked a certain number of room nights.

What is included with your booth space?
Your typical in-line booth comes as a pipe and drape kit consisting of a back curtain, side drapes held by metal poles with bases and a sign with your company name. Some shows will also include a 6′ table with 2 chairs and sometimes a standard carpet.

What are your Trade Show booth size requirements.
In-line booths (10’x10′, 10’x20′) have strict guidelines on what you can and can’t do when designing your exhibit. Most in-line booths have height restrictions of approx. 8′ and do not permit side walls to block your neighbour’s view. Show management may grant exceptions if your design is approved.

Designing your artwork using the Imperial system
Creative teams unfamiliar with the US imperial system can be confused with graphic templates and measurements. Always be careful of the difference between “ (inches) and ‘(feet) on a plan. Our designers are always on hand for any questions and are used to drawing up plans in both metric and imperial dimensions.

Where and how is your exhibit being shipped?
When shipping to the convention centre, you have 2 primary choices:

  • Advanced Warehouse: usually open for 2-4 weeks and close 1-2 weeks before the show starts. This is your best choice is you have planned ahead and given yourself enough time.
  • On-Site Delivery: your booth number has a specific time and date when the show organizer will accept incoming freight on the day of the setup. This can be a bit stressful as you may have to wait for your exhibit but also more expensive as freight forwarder will need to add cost when waiting in-line before reaching unloading dock. For common carrier (UPS or FedEx), expedited services will be required as Ground services do not guarantee a particular time of the day.

What are Drayage or Material Handling charges?
Drayage is the process of bringing your exhibit crate from the dock to your space. Once delivered to the dock or advanced warehouse, your exhibit is weighted by show contractor and billed (approx. $100-300) for every 100 CWT (100 lbs.). You want to make sure you minimize the weight, and have it packed to the nearest 100 lbs. You may avoid some drayage fees by bringing in hand carry items (or 2-wheeled baggage cart) unloaded from non-commercial vehicles.

How will your exhibit be setup?
Unlike in Europe, onsite construction is usually not available, so you cannot do substantial construction including painting. Your standard US trade show exhibit includes hardware and graphics components that are designed to be assembled and dismantled in 1 or 2 days maximum.

In most US convention centres, you are REQUIRED to hire a Union crew to setup and disassemble your booth if larger than 10’x10′ or 10’x20′. Even for small in-line exhibit spaces, you are often limited in your DIY ambitions: no ladder, no power tools, no paint. Labour hourly rates (approx. $100-200) are regulated by local Union contracts and vary with location, day and time of the job (overtime and Sunday double-overtime can be expensive).

What trade show labour crews do you need?
To complicate things, labour is categorized based on skills/job and must be hired separately: the carpenters build and dismantle your exhibit display, the riggers hang signs and displays from ceiling, the electricians install electrical services, the AV stagehands setup Audio, Video & Computer equipment, etc…

Is your exhibit in compliance?

  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): all exhibiting companies are required to be in compliance and are encouraged to be sensitive, and as reasonably accommodating as possible, to attendees with disabilities.
  • Fire Retardant: use only certified flame-proof fabrics for display. While a final determination rests with the fire prevention inspector, in most cases this does not apply to displaying your own products.

Will your 220V electrical and electronic items work in the US?

US AC power is 110 Volts and electrical components must be UL/NEC certified. Extension cords often require use of 12 gauge 3-plug outlet. However, you should be able to use your low voltage electronics (phone, laptop…) as they often include a dual 100-240V AC adapter. You will still need to bring a US plug adapter.

To conclude, the US is a large, fairly homogeneous market with tremendous potential not just for multinationals but also for small or medium foreign companies looking to quickly grow their international sales. Showcasing your organization at a trade show will provide valuable market insights and renew/instil the confidence needed for investing in the world’s largest economy.

While exhibiting here can be up to 5 times the cost in Europe when not carefully planned, EXHIBIT GLOBAL has been helping international (and US) clients navigating through the many steps required for a successful exhibit within budget. If you are planning or simply curious about exhibiting in the US, we can answer some of your questions and perhaps get you quickly started.

Feel free to contact me directly at

Managing Director
Exhibit Global