Getting Around in The US: Transportation Options for International Students
Are you an international student planning to study in the United States? Learn about the various transportation options available to you, including rail, bus, plane, and car rentals. Discover cost-effective ways to get around while studying abroad in this comprehensive guide.
The United States of America (USA) is one of the most preferred destinations for international students to pursue their education. Initially, the trend was just for Master’s in the US, but over time, students have started going there for Bachelor’s as well as secondary studies too. While most international students happen to have some or the other acquaintance living in the US, there are just so many who are the first ones in the family to touch the foreign shores. For international students like them, it is essential to understand the options for getting around in the US so that they may calculate and manage their overall cost of living in the US. In this blog, we will be discussing the following transportation options to commute in USA.
Getting around in the US by Rail
Getting around in the US by Bus
Getting around in the US by Plane
Getting around in the US by Cycle
It is important to mention here that commuting in US is convenient if one has a car because of the extensive road connectivity. Yet, there are multiple inexpensive and cost-effective public transportation alternatives too which you can explore. In this blog, let us explore these cost-effective options for getting around the USA.
Getting around in the US by Rail
If you want to choose the option of a train for getting around in the US, there are multiple options you can look at. The best of the intra-city network is offered in the major cities of New York, Chicago, Seattle, and Washington. The students can take either local train passes or buy a ticket daily. Given, the number of passengers who commute daily though, we suggest that a train pass would be a better option
Rail service in the US, by and large, is run by the government. There are several types of services available to cater to different needs. Local trains, inter-state, coast-to-coast and national rail services are some of the options.
The New York city subway is a very popular rapid transit system that operates round-the-clock, every day. It has 28 routes, out of which 25 pass through Manhattan and the rest are shuttle services. Each route has a colour that indicates the Manhattan trunk line of that service. Some of the trains are completely local and stop at all points, while some are express trains. You can read in detail about subway services here.
Regional Rail Services :
They provide service concentrated to a particular city or a state. For instance, Long Island Railroad caters to the Long Island suburbs of the New York city, UTA FrontRunner covers the Wasatch front of Utah and Virginia Railway Express (VRE) runs in the Northern Virginia. The BART rail cars are in service in the San Fransisco area.
The below links will provide more information on regional rail services:
It is essential though that you reserve your journey on the train instead of taking a ticket right away. Not only does a prior reservation brings down the cost, but it also ensures that you get the seats for sure.
The list of the major local travel trains can be accessed on here.
In addition to these, there are light trails or city cars as well which one can use for intra-city travel in the US. The details of the same can be accessed on this link.
National Rail Service :
US has an extensive network of inter-state travel trains too. The national rail system, called the Amtrak trains can be booked conveniently from the Amtrak website. Amtrak also has train passes which are relatively cost-effective. We shall discussion about Amtrak trains in detail in the following section
The trains are excellent, very cost-effective and cover most of the essential destinations. However, if you are running short on time, the Amtrak network might not be such a good option. The Amtrak covers the east coast states from Virginia and onwards. The West Coast isn’t included, though. The frequency isn’t as much either with the cross-country routes being covered by two or three trains at the maximum. Amtrak has several local trains at disposal as well, but these do not include all the stops in between and mostly run end to end. However, to work its way around, Amtrak also has a network of shuttle buses to cover the areas where the trains do not go.
The USA Rail Pass covers the Amtrak network for the number of days as mentioned in the plan. The plans are usually as under :
15 days-8 segments for $489
30 days-12 segments for $669
4 days-18 segments for $859
The California Rail pass gives the following options for daily commute :
7 days-21 day period for $159
The passes can be purchased from www.amtrak.com
PS: We would also like to mention about the BART railcars which went into production in the year 2018. These revolutionary rail cars will be completely technology enabled and will aim to solve almost all the concerns which an average train has. They will have more priority seating, will be easy to use by the differently-abled and will be really cost effective too. These Railcars also have space to keep your bikes in it which is especially helpful if you have to engage in multi-vehicle travel The Government is hopeful to increase the current fleet of 775 cars to 1000 soon and also to increase the number of cabins to 10. You can read more about the BART cars here!
Getting Around in the US by Bus
As an international student in the US, if your travel plan involves multiple stops, we would suggest that you use bus travel for getting around in the US. Not only is the bus travel cheapest but the extensive road network allows the coaches to reach almost everywhere.
The buses ply amply in the main cities. However, if you have to go to the countryside or if your college is in the country, the frequency of buses will not be more than twice a day. Hence, plan accordingly. It is important to note here that most bus stations are in slightly dodgy locations. Therefore, even the locals prefer travelling during the day. Our advice will be that the international students follow the same practice too.
When it comes to fares, the average cost is 25¢ per mile for shorter journeys. However, if the overhaul is more extended, there will be several quantity discounts thrown in to make the fare affordable.
Commuter Buses :
Commuter buses generally ply in the large metropolitan areas. They usually cover 40 miles in one direction. A suburban area is connected to the downtown by an urban-suburban bus line.
This transportation service is used to supplement mass transit. They may be a mini buses or taxis that run on a route with more flexible pick-up and drop options. They come in handy for people with disabilities.
There are other options available for getting around in the US by bus. These include :
Coach USA provides local and commuter bus transit, scheduled intercity bus service, city sightseeing tour and charter bus service. Book your bus travel on their website.
The Megabus which is a low-cost service covering the North-east, and Midwest and can be booked on megabus.com
The PeterPan which covers the North-east region of the US and can be booked on peterpanbus.com
The Green Tortoise about which we will talk in the section below.
Greyhound is probably the oldest bus-service that people have been using for getting around in the US within the cities as well as inter-state too. Started in 1950, the GreyHound initially operated on smaller routes which came to be known as the GreyHound Lines. The bus line became not so popular after the road network expanded and people started using their own vehicles or the trains for inter-city travel.
However, over time, due to the increasing traffic and also the affordability options, Greyhound has started to be used again by many.
The Bus rapid transit or the BRT mode is a public transport system which combines the capacity and speed of the metro trains with cost-effectiveness of a road travel. The Major BRT systems that can be used for getting around in the US are
Green Tortoise is counter-cultural long-distance bus service. It offers quite some luxury in terms of cushions, bed bunks, fridge, music etc. all included in its nominal fare. The Green Tortoise covers the West and North-West part of the US. However, Green Tortoise isn’t a regular commute bus. It comes as a package mostly. These packages are as follows :
Coast to Coast coverage- 34 days for a price of $2816
Sample standard one way adults fares and trip times on Greyhound.
Fare ( $ )
Duration ( hr )
Boston - Philadelphia
Chicago - New Orleans
20 - 30
Los Angeles - San Francisco
7 - 13
New York - Chicago
18 - 23
New York - San Francisco
Washington, DC - Miami
25 - 30
The list of bus transit systems in the US can be accessed on this link.
Getting around in the US by Plane
Getting around the US using a flight used to be a lucrative option among the international students up until recently. This is because the recent fuel costs and trade wars that ensued have driven up the prices significantly. Having said that, Jet Blue and Southwest remain the regional airlines of choice given their reasonably cost-effective plans.
Planning your travel well in advance is a key to getting lesser-priced tickets. Mostly your ticket will be non-refundable and hence book only when you are 100% sure.
American Airlines offers an excellent option for international students to travel within the US through their air passes. These air passes come in especially handy for those students who have to or love to travel a lot. Such an option can be of great assistance, especially for those who are doing their internship. A typical air pass can be bought in advance and has just one condition- the to and fro has to be done through the same airline or at least through one of the members of the Star Alliance group. Each air pass comes with a set amount of air miles or several flights or discount coupons. Some of the air passes will allow for discounts on international travel too, but most of the offers are restricted to domestic travel only. Also, it is essential to note here that there is only so much that an air pass can help you with. Hence, if you are travelling to an expensive location such as Florida, you might want to explore other cost-effective options too.
Getting Around in the US By Car
Driving around in a car is a flexible option to choose from. Also, there are multiple car rental services available which you can try. While we will be listing some major car-rental services in the section below, there are numerous other local car rentals as well, which will offer even better options.
Usually, the International students who have just taken up a job go for car rental options. This is because it cuts down on their commute time as well as also allows them the flexibility to adjust their timings as per their job requirements.
However, driving in cars has its own set of disadvantages too, especially if you live in a bustling city with a decent population. If you ever happen to have a look at Google Maps’ satellite view of the traffic, you will see that the roads are mostly busy. Avoiding this traffic isn’t as tough though, and you can do it at will if you leave a bit early. A way pretty typical to almost every country
Renting a Car
You must have a valid driver’s license if you wish to rent a car for commuting in the US. Also, the age limit is usually set at about 25 years for obtaining a license quickly. You can get one after 18 years of age, but the insurance charges and even the rentals would be higher.
Also, another thing is that renting from an outlet within the city is pretty cheap. You will need an active international credit card, though. In case you do not, there will be a $500 deposit at a minimum that will have to be made. Most of the rental services have their websites where you can conveniently book your car. However, if you want to go local, the phone numbers can be found from the directories.
Price-wise, you can get a decent subcompact at $150 a week. The daily budgets for the same would be around $35-40 a week. In case you want to rent a smarter or expensive car, the rates can be as high as $250 a week. There are multiple on-the-spot as well as general discounts available as well which you may look for.
One caveat- always enquire about the car’s mileage before renting. The fuel prices aren’t as low, and if not chosen correctly, your cheaper rental can end up burning a massive hole in your wallet.
In addition to what we mentioned already, always read about the rental firm’s policies on Collision Damage or Liability Damage Waiver. If not checked correctly, you may end up paying a lot in case an accident or car damage happens.
In case your car breaks down on the road, most service providers have the option for on-spot car replacement. This means that they will come to you and replace the vehicle. Do make sure that you discuss the same with your car rental service provider too.
All in all, going around in the US using a rental car service is an excellent option. However, as an international student, you may want to let go of this unnecessary expenditure till of course, you have to travel daily necessarily.
Most students stay close to the campus for the same reason. A lot of others contribute to rent a car together. The latter usually has been a standard option for international students because it undercuts the overall pricing.
Car Rental Services
The major car rental service providers which you can use for driving in US are :
You can find a comparative study of the leading car rental companies in the US in this link.
Cycling is one of the most common options for commuting around in the US and is preferred by a lot of locals too. Given the fact that there are separate cycling lanes for the cycle commuters and these lanes are usually moving and not stuck like a typical traffic lane, cycles are a good option to try. In addition to just the cycling lanes, there are multiple cycling lock posts available across the cities. Thus, you can safely lock your cycle wherever you make a stop.
You can purchase your cycle or even rent it. The cost of renting a period comes to about $15-50 per day depending upon which cycle are you going for. There are special discounts for international students. A lot of US-based universities offer freecycling services too for their students. However, this facility is limited to using the cycle within and not more than 5 km from the college.
The non-profit organisation Adventure Cycling Association publishes its maps every year detailing the cycling routes across the country. A lot of states and cities have their cycling maps too. Make sure that you have a peek at them because just like any usual vehicle driver, a cyclist will have to follow the rules also. The website of ACA can be accessed on www.adventurecycling.org.
The United States of America is one of the largest countries in the world, with as many as 50 states, divided by different time zones. There are different options for commuting within the USA and this article aims to provide comprehensive details on the same. International students who travel to USA for their higher studies should be aware of what to look out for. Getting around in the US is not economical as compared to other developing countries. However, if you explore various options and see what works for you, you will still be able to figure out a cost-effective option to move around in the US.