No matter where you study, you'll need to figure out how to get around your new home to run errands, grocery shop, go to the movies and handle ordinary day-to-day activities.
Each international student has unique transportation needs, so consider your own situation before coming to this country. Will you live in a college dormitory where you can walk or ride your bike to most classes? If so, then you may be fine without a car - especially if the community offers excellent public transportation. Were you planning to live off-campus in an apartment or house further away from the school? If that's the case, you may need to arrange for a car as soon as you arrive.
This section helps explain various transportation options in the United States:
To determine whether you can get by without a car, you should research your prospective school(s) carefully. How convenient is the area's public transportation system? Does the community offer a comprehensive subway or bus system?
Some cities, such as New York and Boston, have good public transportation systems. If you are studying in these cities, you might find it more convenient to walk or grab a train then to drive. In fact, a parking space in either city can be extremely expensive and may not be worth the trouble.
In other cities and smaller communities, you may find the public transportation system isn't adequate for your needs. That's why you'll want to check with the school first before you make any final decisions.
If you travel by bus or train, remember to make personal safety a top priority. For instance, avoid traveling by night unless it's absolutely necessary, or you are with a group.
Have your exact fare ready when you arrive at the station. This way you can avoid opening your wallet in a crowd. Know where your purse and bags are located at all times. By paying close attention to your surroundings, you can avoid getting into potentially dangerous situations.
Schedules and Fares
Gather schedules for the subway trains and buses in your area. But keep in mind that these schedules may change periodically. You'll want to keep abreast of any revisions by checking at the stations regularly.
If you travel often by public transportation, you might want to purchase a prepaid pass. This will usually save you money over the regular fare and is worth consideration.
You may need to change trains or buses to reach your final destination. If you need help with transfers or routes, ask the station official. In subway stations, the routes are usually illustrated on large signs, which are posted on the trains as well.
Driving in America
Whether you are driving with an international
driver's license or an American driver's license, you'll need to learn the rules of the road.
You may find these driving laws quite different from the rules of your country.
In fact, driving laws in the United States can differ somewhat from state to state. For instance, some states prohibit you from turning right at a red light. Others allow you to turn right, after you stop completely, if there isn't a "No Turn on Red" sign posted. As these rules can vary, it pays to do your homework.
Here's some advice to help you drive safely in America:
Always carry your drivers license, vehicle registration and proof of auto insurance (where required) in your car. These will be critical in case you are stopped by the police.
The Department of Motor Vehicles in each state issues current driving regulations. Contact your local office for the latest information.
Learn the various road signs and obey them. This
online guide to road signs will get you started.
Observe local speed limits. If you are caught driving over the speed limit, you are considered "speeding." You will be fined an expensive traffic penalty and the incident may raise your auto insurance rate. Remember, speed limits are in "miles per hour" or MPH, not in kilometers per hour (KPH). One mile equals approximately 1.6 kilometers. City speed limits are usually 25 mph (or 40 kph). Highways have a speed limit of 55 mph (or 88 kph). Interstate highways may allow speed limits of 65 mph (or 105 kph). Your best bet is to pay attention to the speed limit signs, just in case.
At a stop sign, always come to a complete stop. Otherwise, you may incur an expensive traffic fine. If you come to a four-way sign, remember that cars proceed in the order in which they arrived at the intersection. If you were the first to arrive, you are the first allowed to drive forward after everyone has stopped.
Use your turn signals to indicate whether you are changing lanes or turning left or right. Your left signal means you are turning left; your right signal means you are making a right turn. These signals should be used at least 25 feet before changing lanes or making a turn. This will alert other drivers to your intentions and help avoid an accident.
If an emergency vehicle such as an ambulance or fire truck is approaching with sirens and flashing lights, move your car to the side of the road. This will allow the vehicle to pass quickly.
Don't drink and drive. Not only are you putting yourself and others in danger. You also could put yourself at risk of losing your license or being thrown in jail. To be legally drunk in most states, you only need to have a blood alcohol concentration of 0.8 percent or higher.
Only park your car in legal parking spaces, at designated times. Otherwise, you might receive a parking ticket or find your car towed away.
For emergencies, carry jumper cables in your car trunk. These will prove invaluable if your car battery stops working. Other helpful items include a flashlight, first-aid kit, spare tire, warm wool blanket and car maps.
When you first arrive in this country, some states will allow you to drive with your native country's driver's license
for a limited time. But it's also a good idea to get an international driver's license before you leave home. This document is actually an English language supplement to your own license. The drivers' organization in your country can inform you on the necessary procedures for ordering one.
Your best bet, however, is to get a local driver's license rather than rely on your international driver's license. Here's why:
Many states require you to convert your driver's license to an US license within 10-90 days upon arrival. Other states such as California do not even honor international driver's licenses. In that state, you must bring your native license and not all are considered valid.
Many auto insurance companies will not insure international students without an US driver's license.
Driver's licenses are the primary form of photo identification in the United States. They are used for a wide variety of things such as cashing checks, boarding airline flights and purchasing alcoholic beverages (to prove you are of legal drinking age). You'll find they come in handy for more reasons than simply driving.
Getting a Driver's License
Want to apply for a driver's license? Your first stop will be the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office in your area.
The application process and laws vary by state, so always check with your local DMV. You may be able to make an appointment ahead of time, which is highly recommended. To obtain a license, you might also need a social security number. Check with your local
DMV and find your local social
Regardless of where you live, you will probably need to take the following tests:
test. Before you are tested, pick up a free instruction book of the local driving laws at your DMV, and memorize them ahead of time. You may be able to take this written test in your native language. If so, you should consider it. These questions can be a confusing for someone whose first language isn't English. When you turn in your test, however, remind the official that you took the test in another language so it isn't graded for English answers.
test. Bring along your eyeglasses or contact lenses. If you don't pass the vision test, you won't receive your license. You will be required to wear these corrective lenses every time you drive.
tests. Your driving will be tested as well. So, bring a car to your appointment. The instructor will sit in the passenger seat and give you commands, such as turn left or park the car there. You will be judged on how well you performed various driving techniques, such as whether you used signals before turning, or looked in your rearview mirror before switching lanes.
Additionally, you will be expected to have your picture taken, pay your application fee and submit your application form.
When you pass the test, be sure to keep your license information accurate. If you change your address or name, report the new information to your state DMV. If you lose your license, you'll need to report it to the DMV right away to attain a new
If you fail the test, you may take it again on another day. It's usually free of charge.
Are you considering buying a car? Here's advice for buying either a new or used vehicle in the United States:
Depending on your budget, there are a wide variety of domestic and imported cars available. These can be purchased at car dealerships, which are located in cities and towns around the country.
Each year, Consumer
Reports reviews new and used vehicles objectively. You may want to read its car reports, before making a decision. Another good bet is to ask friends and family members about their experiences.
Keep in mind that you not only want a reliable car, you also want one with a high resale value. That's important, because a new car loses value the minute you drive it away from the dealership. You want a car that will recoup as much of its original value as possible when you try to resell it. A car with a high resale value tends to retain a higher value, even after years of use.
If you decide to buy a used vehicle, you have several options.
You can buy it from a car dealership. Used cars sold at dealerships tend to include a limited warranty, but they may be more expensive than buying a car from individuals who have advertised in the newspaper. In this case, an individual may offer a lower price on the vehicle, but will probably not offer a warranty.
Whether you buy from a dealer or an individual, have a mechanic look at the car before you buy it. You might want to research whether your state has a "lemon law." These lemon laws provide protections to consumers after they buy a used car.
To make sure you aren't paying too much, check the
"blue book" value of the car. This service is provided by Kelley Blue Book, which generates millions of online pricing reports for new and used cars every month.
Typically, a five-year-old car will cost anywhere between $5,000 to $8,000. An older car might cost a lot less. Be sure to factor in extra maintenance repairs - an older car will need more maintenance than a new one.
Planning to buy a car? Then you'll need to buy auto insurance too.
Most states in this country require proof of auto insurance. If you are caught driving without auto insurance, you may be heavily fined or sent to jail. Even if you can legally drive without insurance in a certain state, buy at least basic auto insurance. Any car accident can lead to expensive repairs and medical bills. Avoid these devastating costs by purchasing adequate auto insurance coverage at a reasonable rate.
Before you purchase car insurance, you will need a valid
There are two basic types of auto insurance:
Liability Insurance: In case of an accident, this insurance pays for the damage you cause to others and their vehicles. Medical costs for the injured person are included in this coverage.
Physical Damage: When you cause an accident, this coverage pays for the damage to your vehicle. It also covers repairs in other cases, such as fire or theft. The current market value of your car determines how much coverage you'll need. For example, a new luxury car will require a higher level of insurance coverage than a more modest, used vehicle.
Typically, the driver causing the accident is in charge of paying the costs. In some states, "no-fault" insurance is required. This means you must insurance your car and your insurance company must pay for the damages, regardless of who caused the accident.
Other types of insurance coverage include:
Uninsured Motorists: Some states require this coverage; others don't. Basically, this insurance pays for accident costs caused by an uninsured motorist.
Underinsured Motorists: If your accident is caused by someone who doesn't have enough insurance coverage to adequately pay for the damages, this coverage will help pay the remaining charges.
How Much Insurance?
Basically, the more insurance coverage you buy, the higher the costs. You can reduce your rate by taking advantage of certain discounts for factors, such as a safe driving record and anti-theft features. Your insurance agent will review a number of items before recommending a package. These include:
Your driving record (in this country and your native country)
The age and model of your vehicle (not surprisingly, expensive sports cars require more
Your location (some areas are considered higher risk than others)
Your primary use for the car (business or personal) and the amount of time daily you expect to drive
The number of safety features (such as anti-lock brakes or airbags) on your vehicle
The type of anti-theft feature on your car
The amount of liability insurance you require
Here are some other insurance terms to know about:
Deductibles: In case of an accident, this is the amount you must pay first before the insurance company will handle the remainder of the damages. A higher deductible means lower monthly payments, but be prepared to pay this deductible before your insurance takes effect.
Liability Limit: The maximum amount your insurance company will pay.
Once you have car insurance and a driver's license, you must register your vehicle with the local Department of Motor Vehicles office. Your insurance agent can assist you with this important step. Always keep proof of your auto insurance and vehicle registration in your car, in case you are stopped by the police.
In addition to auto insurance, you
may want to strongly consider joining an emergency road service. For a annual fee, you
may receive a wide array of services. These include:
Towing your car to the nearest repair station
Opening your door if you lock the car keys inside
Starting up your car battery if it malfunctions
Changing a flat tire
Providing maps and travel guides to various locations
Offering discounts on hotels, motels and travel destinations
Selling auto insurance, and more