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

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 offices.


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 warranty period.

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 the sale.

Getting a Driver's License and Obeying Traffic Laws

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.

Automobile Insurance

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.

Renting a Car

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 community newspaper.

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 community.

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 helmets.

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.

Leisure Travel

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 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.
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