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U.S. Trade Show Tips for International Exhibitors

Whether you’re a seasoned exhibitor or you’re attending your first show, you’ve probably noticed that not all trade shows are created equal. In fact, there are substantial differences between trade shows in the United States and those held internationally. From the terminology used to the ordering processes and billing procedures, these distinctions can have a significant impact on how businesses approach, prepare for, and succeed at these events.

In this post, we’ll explore those differences, covering everything from the gap in exhibit space to the distinct terms, ordering processes, and billing methods characteristic of U.S. and international trade shows. Understanding these nuances is essential for businesses aiming to expand their reach, break into new markets, and maximize the return on their trade show investment. Let's get started!

US Travel & Visa Requirements
It's important to stay informed about the latest travel advisories and visa requirements for the United States. Planning ahead is a crucial step to ensuring a smooth travel experience.

Here are some authoritative sources for the most up-to-date information:

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides comprehensive health-related travel advisories.
  •, the official travel site of the USA, offers a wealth of information for planning your visit.
  • Check your trade show's website for international exhibitor information and trusted travel websites can provide additional insights and real-time updates.

For many international visitors, a visa may be required to enter the United States. This is particularly true for those planning to attend scientific conferences or engage in other business activities. It's advised to start the visa application process at least 90 days before your intended travel date to allow sufficient time for processing.

For detailed information on the Business Visitor Visa Type B-1, which is commonly used for those attending conferences, negotiations, and other business-related activities, please consult the U.S. government's official webpage: Business Visitor Visa Type B-1

Exhibit Booth Dimensions: Square Feet vs. Square Meters
One of the primary differences between U.S. and international trade shows is how the spaces are defined and sold. U.S. expos usually sell space in 10' x 10' increments or per square foot, while exhibitions worldwide typically use a 3m x 3m increment or square meter standard.  This might not seem like a significant difference, but it can affect how your pre-built designs or pop-ups fit into the allocated space. 

It's also crucial to keep in mind the conversion rate from between meters and feet.  One meter is equal to 3.28 feet.  A 3m x 3m square meter expo space is equal to 96.88 square feet.  A 10’ x 10’ booth space is equal to 9.29 square meters.

Pipe and Drape vs. Stands
Another unique aspect of U.S. trade shows is the use of a common pipe & drape measurement standard for shaping basic linear booths. Most international shows use hard-walled system stands, which often include electricity and lighting as part of the booth fee. For international exhibitors used to these standards, the pipe & drape configurations might be unfamiliar. Be sure to consider these differences when designing your display materials. 

When it’s time to order your exhibit booth, visit to find your event, create a log-in, and order products and services for your exhibit booth. If you need help our customer service team is available by phone or chat

Pavilions & Designated Areas
In U.S. shows, like-minded exhibitors and competitors are often interspersed throughout the event, whereas, in European shows, they are usually situated together in a specific pavilion or area. As an international exhibitor, you might prefer to have similar exhibitors situated together, but this is less common in the U.S. Be clear about your preferences when communicating your layout approach to the show organizers.

Union Labor
Now, let's talk about labor. Most U.S. trade shows require the use of union labor, which may come as a surprise if you're unfamiliar with this practice. You'll likely need to hire union employees for tasks like electrical, rigging, plumbing, and material handling.  You can use the union labor provided by the show, or use your own union labor.  When you provide your own union labor, this team is known as an Exhibitor Appointed Contractor, or EAC. Just be sure to submit an EAC request form at least 30 days before the trade show starts.

Billing for U.S. trade shows can also be a bit different. For GES shows, we allow third-party billing for international exhibitors. That means if a third party is financially responsible for all services, we will send all invoices to them. If the exhibitor has a third party who is financially responsible for labor and material handling, then we will NOT provide the estimates to the exhibitor. All billing will be discussed with the third party. We request that labor (other than Material Handling) be ordered prior to the show open date. The person who places the order will receive the estimate.  You can find order history and past invoices for orders placed online at

International Shipping
We recommend planning to ship your materials at least 30 days prior to the show and working with a shipping provider that specializes in trade show shipping. Renting items from the official services provider can save you on shipping and material handling costs. For GES shows, we offer exhibit rentals with custom fabric graphics, and GES Logistics can also provide quotes for international shipments.

Advanced Warehousing
For most GES shows, you can send booth materials to the advance warehouse up to 30 days before the show opens. For a fee, GES will store your items securely and transport them to the show site on move-In day. This option provides the peace of mind that comes with knowing your shipment will arrive on time. 

Material Handling 
Material handling, the cost of moving trade show booth items from the shipping provider to the booth space, is another aspect of show logistics. GES does not require exhibitors to place an order for material handling before the show, but if an order is placed, GES will provide an estimate based on the provided weight.

If you’re exhibiting at a show organized by GES in the U.S., check out our global exhibitor support page where you will find loads of helpful information, including tips for first-time exhibitors, a complete suite of exhibitor resources, and our online ordering guide. We hope to see you at a GES event in the near future!