Transportation


Once you become settled, you’ll want to explore the area. There are several transportation options.


Public and Campus Transportation

Most U.S. cities have a public transportation system of buses and trains.

  • The system usually serves the city itself and neighboring towns.
  • You can always pay per ride.
  • Most public transportation allows you to buy a pre-paid monthly pass. This is a good option for people who ride it every day. Many times, these passes are discounted for students.

If you live off-campus, public transportation is a great way to get to class. No matter where you live, it’s a great way to get to work, shops and restaurants. In many major cities, public transportation can get you to the airport at a fairly low cost.

For other ways to get to the airport, find the name of a nearby shuttle or van service.  This can be found in a phonebook or on the Internet. Search for your city and “airport shuttle.”

These services are more affordable than taxis. But, they run on a schedule. They are also shared with other people who are going to or coming from the airport.

Most U.S. colleges and universities have a shuttle or bus service that students can use to travel:

  • Around campus
  • To nearby, off-campus places like
    • Student housing
    • Supermarkets
    • Shopping malls

Usually, campus shuttles and buses are free for students to use. The driver will ask you to show your Student ID when you board.

Like any bus or train, all public transportation runs on a schedule. If you are going to use public or campus transportation to get somewhere, always check the schedule. This will help you get to your destination and back home on time.

Many public transportation systems have an online “trip planner” that will help you schedule your ride. These can typically be found through a general Internet search.


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Taxis

In major cities, taxis are an excellent way to get most places. They’re especially helpful if you’e in a hurry. If you miss the train or bus, calling or hailing a taxi on the street is usually a reliable (but more expensive) option.

In smaller towns, you will have to call a taxi to pick you up. As mentioned earlier, taking a taxi to the airport is more expensive. But it is reliable and private. Keep the name and number of a local taxi written down and kept somewhere secure, like your wallet. That way, if it is late and you have missed the last bus or train, you will be able to call for a taxi to bring you home.


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Bicycling

Bicycling is a very popular method of transportation in cities and small towns. It is easy and inexpensive to buy a new or used bike from any of the following sources:

  • A bicycle shop
  • Another student (advertisements for used items like these can be found posted around campus or on websites like craigslist.org)
  • Large retail stores like Walmart, Target, Sam’s Club and Costco

There are many things to remember when you ride a bike. The most important is safety.

  • Always ride your bike with a helmet. Buy a helmet at the same time you buy your bike. U.S. laws require bike riders to wear a helmet when riding.
  • You must share the road with cars. Bikes are not allowed on sidewalks. Some U.S. cities have a separate bike lane that runs alongside lanes for cars. But sometimes cars drift into bike lanes. As long as you are on a road, be alert to cars and drivers around you.
  • There are signals you can use to communicate with drivers to indicate your direction. An overview of these signals can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hand_signals.
  • Some cities and towns have separate bike paths that do not allow cars. However, pedestrians often use these paths. Continue to exercise caution.
  • Buy a bicycle lock. Bikes that are left outside without being securely fastened are easily stolen. You can usually find a bike lock in the same place where you buy a helmet.

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Cars

In some U.S. towns, you might need a car to get around. In smaller towns, trains and buses might not get you everywhere.Buying a car might seem like a scary task. But if you have the right information, it’s not so overwhelming.

Getting a license

Before you get a car, you might want to get a U.S. driver’s license.

You might already have a driver’s license from your home country. Having a U.S. license will help with any driving issues such as traffic tickets and car insurance.

Your driver’s license from your home country may not be acceptable in the U.S. This rule varies by state. Ask your university to give you information about your state’s driving laws for international students.

Your state might allow foreign licenses. However, local police officers might not recognize your foreign license. Even if your state allows it, a police officer might still stop you on the road. Then, you’d have to explain foreign license laws police. It is better to avoid having to do this.

Your foreign license might be hard for others to recognize, too. You might have to present identification to get into a bar or club. The person checking your ID (usually called the bouncer) might not accept it.

A U.S. driver’s license is a form of identification (ID) that’s easy to carry around. You won’t have to carry around your passport.

You might also be required to get a U.S. license if you have lived here for a while. Find out when, or if, your home license expires.  That is a good time to get a U.S. license. Otherwise, you’d have to return to your home country to get a new one.

You cannot drive with an expired license. If you get caught doing so, the penalty can be serious.

If you cannot get a U.S. license, look into getting an International Driving Permit (IDP). The IDP is a document that accompanies your foreign license. Alone, it will not permit you to drive. It will verify your foreign license. Keep these two documents together. The IDP is a document local police should recognize.

It’s good to know U.S. driving laws before you get a license. You’ll have to take a test to get a license.

U.S. driving laws and habits are different in each state. You can learn about them at a local driving school. You can also learn about these laws on your own by requesting a free booklet from your state’s department of motor vehicles (DMV). This agency has different names in different states.

  • Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV)
  • Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)
  • Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA)

Driving schools have flexible schedules. You can attend them between your classes and activities.

At driving school, you will learn about:

  • The basics of operating a car
  • State driving laws
  • How to share the road with other drivers
  • Driving safety
  • Your state’s driving test

At driving school, you’ll be in a classroom with other students.  You’ll also practice driving a car in private lessons with your teacher. These classes usually last a few weeks to a couple months depending on the program you choose.

It’s easy to find a driving school in a phonebook or on the Internet. Your school’s student services office can help you find one.

A driving test has  several parts. These parts vary by U.S. state. You will take the test at the DMV, RMV or MVA in your area.

Every state’s test has a road test. In the road test, an administrator will sit in the passenger’s seat while you drive. The administrator will judge your ability to operate a car. They’ll also see if you can obey traffic laws.

You’ll need a car to perform the road test. Before you take the test, make sure you can borrow a car from a friend or classmate.

In your road test, you’ll be asked to do things like:

  • Make a basic right-hand and left-hand turn
  • Brake at a stop sign
  • Parallel park
  • Use a car’s turn signals
  • Obey speed limits

You will be asked to take vision test. The state has to make sure you can see properly when driving. If you have glasses or contacts lenses for distance (not close reading), wear them the day of your driving test.

Some states will require you to take a written test. This will assess your knowledge of driving laws.


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Driving laws

Traffic Laws and Driving Violations

In driving school, you’ll learn about traffic laws. These might seem overwhelming. Some might seem easy to forget. Forgetting laws can get you into trouble.

The most common driving penalty is a written ticket. Tickets are requests for monetary fines. They are written by a police officer. Tickets are written for two types of violations:

  • Moving
  • Parking

Parking violations are different in each state. They include:

  • Double parking: Parallel parking next to an already-parked car.
    • This is illegal because your car will take up space in the street. It can get in the way of moving vehicles.
    • This also refers to taking up more than one parking spot with your car.
  • Parking with an expired parking permit
  • Parking at an expired meter
    • For street parking, you might have to put money in a meter. This determines how long you can park there. If the meter runs out of money, it’s expired.
  • Parking in a disabled spot
    • Some parking spots are reserved for persons with disabilities. To park there, you need a permit. If you park there without a permit, it’s a violation.
  • Parking next to a fire hydrant
  • Parking in spots reserved for emergency vehicles
    • These are spots reserved for fire trucks and ambulances.

For some parking violations, your car might be removed. Usually, a tow truck will remove your car. If this happens you need to call the local police station and figure out which towing company took your car – not an easy task. And then you will have to pay the towing company charges and a traffic fine to get your car back. This will become a very time consuming and expensive day.

If your car has been towed, look for signs nearby. There should be a sign with a phone number of the tow truck company. Call that number if your car was towed.

Moving violations are different in each state. They include:

  • Failing to obey stop signals, like:
    • Stop sign
    • Red traffic light
  • Speaking on a mobile phone while driving
  • Sending text messages while driving
  • Exceeding the speed limit
  • Driving without a seatbelt
  • Driving in the wrong direction
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs

The last two are major traffic violations. Major traffic violations lead to more than just a ticket. They could put you in jail.

These are very serious offenses. Driving in the wrong direction or under the influence can cause serious injuries or death. This applies not just to yourself, but others on the road.

There is no excuse for driving under the influence. If you have been drinking alcohol, your ability to drive might be impaired. Give your keys to a sober friend. Have them drive you home.

You might not be with someone else who can drive. Leave your car behind and take public transportation home. If possible, call a taxi to pick you up.

Keep the name and number of a taxi company stored in your wallet or mobile phone. If you don’t, most bars and restaurants will call one for you.

For minor violations, you can of dispute a ticket in court. You probably won’t need a lawyer for minor violations.

When you receive a ticket, it will come in an envelope. You can mail in payment for your fine. Or, you can request an appeal. At the appeal, you can explain to a judge in traffic court why you think you shouldn’t have gotten a ticket.

Car Insurance

If you drive in the U.S., you need car insurance. Most U.S. states require you to have car insurance. Even if they don’t, it’s common sense. You need car insurance if you are going to drive in the U.S. even if you don’t have your own car.

Car insurance will help you pay for things like:

  • Damage from an accident that wasn’t your fault
  • Damage if your car was struck while parked

Car insurance will help to cover the cost of repairs. It can also help pay for damage to a car you rented or borrowed.

Different types of car insurance will cover different things. You will pay a bill to your car insurance company each month. The more you pay each month, the more coverage you will receive.

Choose your car insurance carefully. Don’t feel pressured to buy any more or less coverage than you need. There are websites and magazines that can help you find the best insurance.

Popular U.S. car insurance providers include:

The better driver you are, the less your insurance will cost. If you have a clean driving record, you are a more attractive candidate for car insurance. You will appear more reliable and less likely to need repairs.

Always be sure to practice safety first in any driving situation. Everyone seems to think they are a very good driver. Yet, accidents keep happening. Perhaps you are a good driver. That doesn’t mean the person next to you is. Stay alert when driving.


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Buying a car

You may have heard unpleasant stories about buying a car in the U.S. Most of them are untrue. But it’s good to know the facts before you buy a car.

If you plan to stay in the U.S, you might want a new car. You can also buy a used car. Either way, do research before you start shopping.

  • What make and model?
  • How many seats do you want your car to have?
    • Most cars have four seats.
    • Some cars only have two seats.
  • Will you be driving in the snow?
    • If so, you might want a car with four-wheel-drive or all-wheel drive. These are typically more expensive and use more gas. Many people in snowy states have cars with just 2-wheel drive and have good tires on the car for snowy weather.
  • Will you be using the car on highways?
    • If so, check out cars with a higher horse power.
    • These can travel well at high speeds.
  • Is there safe and convenient parking in your neighborhood. A small car is easier to park on the street than a big one.
  • Is there a lot of theft in your neighborhood?
    • If so, look for a less expensive model.
    • If you want a luxury car, find one with a good security system.

There are websites and magazines to help you figure out which car is best for you.  They have unbiased feedback from other drivers. These drivers have used different types of cars. It’s helpful to learn about other people’s experiences.

These magazines and websites are not trying to sell anything. They are a reliable source of facts. They also have information about people and companies who sell cars.

These magazines and websites include:

Leasing a Car

car dealership is a good place to look at cars. Car dealerships are centers that sell new and used cars.

Most car dealerships will let you lease a car. A lease lets you use a vehicle for 3 or 4 years. After that, you return the car without having to sell it.

If you don’t plan to stay in the U.S. after your studies, a lease is a good option. It’s also less expensive than buying a car.

Paying for a Car

Before you buy any car, find out if it has a warranty.

A warranty is an agreement between you and the seller that covers costs for some mechanical repairs.

Find out what your options are. It might cost you extra. Don’t feel pressured by the seller to make a decision that day.

Do not hurry when buying a car. Visit more than one seller or dealership. Look at different types of cars. Take as much time as you need to go over all the information. Car salespeople can be pushy and often want you to buy the car immediately. They might tell you the deal they are offering is good today only. That is usually the sign of a bad deal.

Once you’ve made your decision, you can figure how to pay.

You might already have money saved for a car. Or, you might have money saved for a down payment.A down payment is the amount of money you must pay for the car to drive it off the lot.

You might need a loan to pay for your car.  Meeting with a banker can help you learn how to finance your car. They’ll help you with:

  • Saving money for a down payment
  • Borrowing money to pay for the car
  • Setting up a monthly billing plan to pay for the car over time

You can learn more about American banks here [Link to finance section]. A banker can answer all your questions about paying for a car.

Maybe you don’t want to buy a car, but you have a license. There are ways to find a car for short trips.

Renting a Car

Some companies let you rent a car for a short time. This can be one day or a few weeks. You can reserve the car on the Internet. You can also call the company.

If you are under 25, you might not be allowed to rent the car. Or, you might have to pay extra.

If you do not have a U.S. license, you will need an IDP to rent a car.

Some car rental companies include:

Some major cities have programs called Car Sharing. Car sharing is similar to renting a car, but easier. Car Sharing is a better option for shorter trips that last less than a day. It’s a great option for running errands or going to special meetings.

To reserve these cars, visit their websites. The websites also explain how Car Sharing works.

Some Car Sharing companies are:


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