Public transportation in the US might not seem as well developed as what you are used to in your home country. Depending on where you live, you can find some or all of the following options:
The subway system provides underground trains that usually operate 24 hours a day in some of the largest US cities. Route maps and schedules can be obtained from the ticket office, as well as postings in subway stations and often online as well. If taking the subway will become a regular method of transportation for you, you can save money by purchasing a multiple-ride ticket or monthly pass.
City-operated buses run specific routes in mid-size and large US cities. They operate on defined schedules that get them to certain mapped out locations around the city at precise times. Route maps and schedules are posted at bus stops, public buildings, and often online. You will need to study the routes and times to determine if you can get where you need to go at the appropriate time using the bus system. You can usually count on the buses running very close to their scheduled times.
Buses run primarily during the day, often ending their routes in the evening hours. You can get on or off a bus at designated stops, usually located every few blocks along the route. You must pay the fare by exact change in coins, or you can purchase multiple-ride tickets or monthly passes. Often bus companies offer student discounts, so always check.
Some colleges and universities run small shuttle buses in and around their campuses. Students can usually ride at no cost or for a small fee.
You can also find airport shuttles to get transportation to or from the airport.
As an attempt to provide a warm welcome or departure during a stressful transition, ISI staff and volunteers also often provide airport pick-ups and rides for international students arriving or departing in their area .
Sometimes you can find or arrange a carpool with others who need to go to the same destination as you at similar times. For example, several students could join together to get from their apartment complex to the university every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and then home again later those days. Usually this type of arrangement relies on one or more of the participants having a car, and everyone contributing an agreed upon amount of money to the driver for gas and maintenance on their vehicle. Check bulletin board listings at the university or talk to neighbors or co-workers who might be interested in working together to accomplish this kind of arrangement.
While you can call/find a taxi in most US towns and cities, they are a relatively expensive method of transportation in the US, more so than in other countries. If you plan to use a taxi, ask the estimated fare for the proposed ride before you agree to use the service. The driver often expects a 15% tip in addition to the metered fare, which is based on time, distance, and cost. You can also go online to a variety of sites like http://www.taxifarefinder.com/ or http://www.taxiautofare.com/us/Default.aspx to help you determine how much your fare from one location to another might cost.
Riding a bike is one of the best ways to get around on campus and nearby destinations. You can usually park much closer to classrooms and facilities than you could with a car. Always use caution when riding a bicycle as drivers don’t always pay attention to them. Although most states do not have laws requiring adult riders to wear helmets, all cyclists are encouraged to wear proper headgear to protect them in case of an accident.
You can purchase used bicycles from a variety of resources, including campus and online bulletin board listings, pawn shops, garage and yard sales.
With few exceptions, you can walk around US campuses and nearby neighborhoods safely, even at night. Check with campus security officials to ask about any areas considered particularly dangerous. You can also ask an American friend or fellow student to tell you which neighborhoods to avoid. For safety, walk with a friend. Women especially should not walk alone at night. Many campuses have programs that provide a safety escort when walking home at night. Contact the student office for this information.
Some reports estimate that as many as 90% of campus crimes involve alcohol and drugs. Regrettably, acquaintance rape and sexual assault take place far too often on school campuses. To minimize your risks, familiarize yourself with your surroundings, paying careful attention to areas that don’t have good lighting at night, as well as secluded areas to avoid when alone. Don’t walk alone at night unless absolutely necessary. Walk with purpose and project a confident image. Don’t take shortcuts. As a precaution, always give a copy of your class/activities schedule to a select group of family and friends so they have an idea of your whereabouts.
Sometime, international students decide to purchase a used car for transportation while in the United States. Depending on your location and the availability of public transportation, as well as your distance from your school and/or job, you may decide having a care makes sense. Be sure to consider the following factors in making this decision:
To drive a car in the US you must obtain a driver’s license from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in your location. This involves taking both a written test and vision test, as well as proving your driving on the road. If you do not pass the written or road test, you can try again on another day.
You can sign up for driving school, in which a trained professional will provide instruction for a fee. Or, you could ask a friend or ISI staff/volunteer with a license to help you learn.
You can prepare for the written test by studying the booklet of state laws for road safety available at the DMV office.
Each test will require payment of a fee, as well as the license fee. You can find out the specific fees on the DMV website or by calling the office.
When considering the cost of buying a car, you will need to factor in the cost of licensing, insuring, and maintaining (fixing) it. You must also pay for license plates, taxes, gasoline, and parking. Once you factor in all these costs, you might decide it would be cost less and be more convenient to live close to campus, where you can ride a bicycle or walk to classes.
All states require some level of auto insurance. Failure to comply can result in tickets, fines, and even court proceedings. Insurance pays for damages if you have an accident or your car is damaged or stolen.
To get insurance, contact an insurance agent about buying a policy (a contract that describes what amount of money the insurance company will pay for each type of damage). You will pay “premiums” to cover the vehicle for a certain amount of time, based on the policy coverage and whose fault the accident or damages were.
Liability insurance is the minimum required in most states. This type of insurance will pay for damages to the other person(s) and car(s) when you are responsible for the accident.
Collision insurance is not required, but will pay for damages to yourself or your car.
Comprehensive insurance covers damage caused by such things as weather, vandalism, or theft, and also covers any damage caused by another driver using your car with your approval.
Most insurance policies require you to pay a deductible. This is the amount you must pay for any damages before the insurance pays for the remainder of the cost. For example, if you have a $250 deductible on your collision insurance and you have an accident that causes $1,000 damage to your car, you would pay the first $250 and the insurance company would pay the remaining $750. The higher the deductible amount on the insurance policy, the lower your monthly premium payments.
Purchasing a Car
Before you buy any used car, you can have it inspected by a professional mechanic (other than the car dealer’s mechanic) to ensure its dependability. You can also reference a website called www.carfax.com to obtain a detailed history of the car to better inform you of what you are buying.
Before purchasing any new or used car, you should check its current market value at www.kbb.com or www.cars.com. The prices listed show market-value prices for all makes, models, and years of vehicles, but you should always factor in adjustments for damage, high mileage, market demand (if many people want that type of car, it will sell at a higher price), and so forth.
Once you feel ready to make your purchase, you may wish to ask an American friend who is familiar with the process to accompany you. You might also consider using the service of an auto broker who will charge you a fee to find the type of car you want at a price you are willing to pay. Someone knowledgeable can help you know what to look for in a car and help you bargain for an acceptable price, a common practice in negotiating for a vehicle in the US.