Upon arriving in the United States you will soon need to make a
decision about transportation.
Although there are many choices, your decision will depend on many
factors including the city in which you reside, the location and
distance from your college or university, and the amount of money
you can spend.
Public transportation in the United States varies significantly from
city to city. Several of the major U.S. cities have a dependable,
comprehensive system. Others have very little public transport.
Depending on where you live in relation to your college or
university campus, public transportation can be the simplest, least
expensive, and most reliable way to get to school. If you live on
campus, you may find that you rarely need to get any place that you
cannot walk to; therefore, basic public transportation may be
sufficient. Make sure you get acquainted with your area's most
convenient form of public transportation. You can usually get a map
of the transit network at bus stops, at subway or tramway stops, at
the public transportation office, at some gas stations, or from your
university's information bureau. Many cities also have public
transportation information available on the Internet.
If you plan to live off-campus and will not have access to a car,
make sure you know how frequently your street or area is served by
public transportation, the times of scheduled stops, and the price
of travel. Take the price of transportation into account when
deciding where to live since it can affect your budget considerably.
If you need to take public transportation daily, it is recommended
that you get a monthly pass to save on transport expenses. These
passes are available at the public transportation office in your
city and often in other locations such as drugstores or post
It may seem to you that everyone in the United States has a car and
that everyone needs one. Certainly, cars can be convenient, but they
can also be very expensive to buy and maintain. Some things about
them can be inconvenient, such as parking and upkeep. Some
universities may not allow first-year undergraduate students to keep
a car on campus due to limited parking space.
If you decide to buy a car, take your time and look for deals on
good cars for less money. Research the cars you are considering to
be certain they are safe and reliable. You can purchase magazines
that will assist you with your research. When shopping for a car,
bring along someone who is knowledgeable about cars and how they are
sold in the United States. Most car dealers will negotiate prices
with the customer, so this will be a good time to practice your
bargaining skills or show your expertise.
The total cost of the car will depend on: the age of the car; the
options you choose (air conditioning, automatic or manual
transmission, power brakes and steering, and so on); and on the
brand or "make." Look at different brands and models, and compare
prices and the cost of options.
Used cars are less expensive than new cars. Of course, if the car is
older there is a risk of problems and repair costs. Used cars are
sometimes advertised on bulletin boards on campus and in newspapers,
or you can go to a used car lot. Even though the cost is almost
always higher, many people prefer to buy a used car from a dealer
because there is usually a 30- to 90-day "warranty" on the car. A
warranty is a guarantee to repair any problems that arise within the
To get a better idea of what you should pay for certain used car
models, consult with the Kelley Blue Book on-line at
When buying a used car, you should be able to obtain the owner's
permission to take the car to a garage (one not associated with the
seller) to be thoroughly checked before you decide to buy it.
Mechanics usually charge for this service, but this is a good
investment if it saves you from buying a car in bad condition. If
you purchase the car from a dealer, there should be a warranty on
the car and, therefore, no reason to take it to a mechanic.
When you complete the purchase of a used car, be sure that you get
from the previous owner the documents ("title" or transfer of
ownership papers, antismog certification, and so on) required by the
department of motor vehicles in the state where you buy the car.
Before you buy any car, contact the department of motor vehicles in
your state to find out about state requirements for owning a car.
You can either pay the total cost of a car when you purchase it or
you can sometimes finance it ("buy it on time" or "buy it on
credit"). Financing costs vary greatly, but they can add 20 to 30
percent to the purchase price. Before signing any papers committing
you to buy the car, be sure that you understand all the details of
If you plan to drive in the United States, you must have a valid
driver's license. It is a good idea to get a driver's license issued
in the state where you will live, since some states do not recognize
an international driver's license. Even those that do recognize an
international license will accept it for only one year after you
arrive in the United States. Check with the local office of the
state motor vehicles department to get information on obtaining a
state driver's license.
It is important to learn and obey traffic laws and to understand
that they are enforced. People who break these laws can receive
fines, jail sentences, and/or the loss of driving privileges. All
laws that govern driver's licenses and all traffic laws are made by
each state. There are variations from state to state. When you apply
for a driver's license, you will be given a book with all the
traffic laws of the state in it. Learn these laws and obey them. In
fact, you will be required to pass a written test on these laws to
get a license. You also may be required to pass a driving, or
"road," test before you are granted a license.
In most of the United States,
automobile insurance is mandatory, but the amount of coverage
required varies from state to state. If a car is not insured, the
owner of the car is financially responsible for any accidents or
damage connected with the car. Also, legal problems resulting from
an accident can be complicated and very costly. Therefore, it is
very important to have at least the minimum amount of insurance
coverage. Ask your international student adviser about state
requirements and for advice on purchasing automobile insurance.
There are certain requirements and
restrictions connected with renting a car. For example, many
agencies require that individuals be at least 25 years old to rent a
car. Some will allow drivers who are younger, but for an additional
fee. If you want to rent a car, telephone or visit a rental car
agency. Most agencies are listed in the telephone directory's yellow
pages. Ask for information, procedures, and rates.
On many U.S. campuses and in many communities, bicycles provide
useful, inexpensive, and convenient transportation. Many communities
also have bicycle clubs that schedule group outings and competitive
races. Bicycle shops often sell new and used bicycles. Notices of
used bicycles for sale sometimes are posted by students on bulletin
boards and in classified advertising sections in the school or
Some universities and some city police departments require that
bicycles be licensed. Ask your international student adviser about
regulations and traffic rules for bicycles on campus and in the
Always lock your bicycle when you leave it, even for a few minutes,
as, unfortunately, it can be a popular target for thieves. You can
get advice on a secure locking system and on safety precautions from
a bicycle shop.
Motorcycles and other two-wheeled vehicles with motors are another
relatively inexpensive form of transportation. Most states require
that these vehicles be registered and that their drivers be
licensed. Most states also require drivers to wear protective
In addition, many universities and colleges require that motorcycles
and similar vehicles be registered with the campus security office.
Some institutions require that motorcycles have effective devices to
muffle the loud engine noise. Motorcycles usually must be parked in
spaces designated for two-wheeled vehicles.
The United States is a large country, the fourth largest in the
world. Different regions of the United States can almost seem like
different countries, with their varied climates, landscapes, people,
and customs. There are countless things to see, but distances can be
great and travel can be expensive.
The United States has several major national airlines as well as
many regional carriers. Because of the competition between airlines,
you may find that airfares are surprisingly low, particularly when
airlines offer sales. You can book tickets directly with the
airlines, through a travel agent, or through the Internet. There are
several popular websites that can help you find the lowest fare for
the trip you wish to make. Try https://www.expedia.com or
Amtrak, the U.S. national rail carrier, offers a USA Rail Pass to
permanent residents of foreign countries, but it must be purchased
outside the United States. The pass entitles you to unlimited travel
for one predetermined price for a specified number of days. For
information, contact a travel agency.
Bus travel is often the least expensive way to travel in the United
States and provides excellent opportunities for seeing the country.
Reservations are not required, but if you are considering traveling
or touring by bus, you should try to make arrangements with a travel
agent before you leave home. The major bus company serving the
United States is the Greyhound Bus Company. Greyhound sometimes has
special fares for touring the United States and it also has a
special touring fare called Ameripass, available for travel anywhere
in the United States. It may be purchased in the United States.
Contact a travel agency for more information.
Also consider the possibilities below when planning leisure travel:
- Most American transport companies (airlines, buses, and
trains) offer special travel deals for foreigners. The offer is
usually for travel anywhere in the country for a set fee and a
certain number of days. Usually, the ticket must be bought
before entering the United States. Contact your travel agent
before leaving home to find out about these special tickets.
- International students often get together to travel and
share the costs of renting a car and staying in hotels. You
probably will not be the only person who will want to see more
of the United States. Make sure you choose your travel
companions well for your own security and comfort.
- Your new American friends might invite you to visit their
family during vacation times. Again, for your security and
comfort, make sure you know the person well. This might be an
ideal way to see another part of the country, save money on
accommodations, and see how American families live on a daily
basis and celebrate certain holidays.