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A Guide to Navigating U.S. Cities for International Students

There are many things to consider and research before beginning your study abroad adventure. One of the most important being how you will get around in your new city. Coming from Europe and Asia where transportation is abundant, you may be surprised by the amount of public transportation (or lack thereof). Depending on where your school is located in the U.S. Don’t get discouraged too quickly, as there can be many options available in the United States for easily accessible transportation services. It is important to research your options before you arrive so you know what to expect when you arrive. This will save you time, money, and the stress that comes along with traveling abroad.

Before coming to the U.S., you will need to book an international flight. Although this can be expensive, there are many websites to get the best deals on flights to your destination. It is recommended to book a flight about 3-6 months ahead of your arrival, if possible. This will give you the most options and the cheapest price for your ticket. Once this is set, you can start thinking about how you will travel domestically. The United States is a very diverse place with different methods of transportation. This post will highlight major regions in the U.S. and the most efficient ways to get around.

Northeastern region (New York City, Boston, New Jersey)

Your best bet for traveling in these parts of the country is definitely public transportation. Each of these cities has their own transit system which is highly efficient. New York is known for its superior underground train and bus system and can take you anywhere in the 5 boroughs, 24 hours a day. If you’re attending school in the city, you will definitely want to purchase a monthly unlimited pass which is currently about $116. For those of you attending school outside of the city, don’t fret because there is also the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) which runs to and from the city.
By Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York [CC BY 2.0   

Boston also has one of the best transportation systems in the country and is known as the “T”. This includes subway, bus, trolley car and boat service to just about everywhere in the Boston area. You will need to purchase a CharlieCard which will run you about $75 for a 30-day unlimited pass. 

New Jersey operates on it’s own transportation system called the New Jersey Transit and it includes rain, bus, or light rail. The NJ Transit is actually very favorable for students and participates in a University Partnership Program to allow students to receive discounts on their monthly passes and cheap rail fares. Click here to see all New Jersey universities who participate in the partnership program. You will need to purchase this through your university. Transportation in these cities might sound like a big expense, but you will actually save a lot of money compared to refilling your gas tank once a week!


The West Coast (Los Angeles, San Francisco)

Los Angeles is a big, spread out city with many diverse districts. Many L.A. residents will tell you that getting around without a car is a headache, but truthfully driving your own car can also be a headache due to traffic. There are a variety of ways to get around by using public transportation and the city is continuously working on making it easier to commute around L.A. without a car. Los Angeles operates a rail system, bus system, and the DASH.
The Metro Trip Planner is a great tool to use to tell you how to get to and from your destination, as well as bus numbers and schedules. If you’re attending California State University, there are many options to get you to and from school and it is the only university in Southern California to have a train station so close to the campus. For those of you attending University of Southern California, there are also plenty of ways to commute. All of this information can be found on USC’s transportation page

Public transport is the preferred method for getting around San Francisco and the Bay Area. There are many options which are all efficient and reliable. The BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) is a great choice for University of California - Berkeley students and is the primary mode of transportation for travel between downtown San Francisco and the popular Mission District. This city has such a variety of transportation from its unique cable cars to its well-situated ferry service. The MUNI, BART, and CalTrain are all great ways that are easily accessible to many universities throughout San Francisco and the Bay Area.                              
    By Maurits90 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

South Florida (Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach)

South Florida is a metropolitan city that unfortunately lacks in public transportation. Miami and the surrounding cities is very much a driving culture, but there are a couple of options for those without a car. Students attending Miami-Dade County universities can obtain a College EASY Ticket which is not only a monthly bus pass, but it allows you to use the People Mover for a discounted price of about $56 per month. Uber is also a great service for getting around in Miami and parts of South Florida and is definitely accessible around most college campuses. Uber is a cheap pre-ordered taxi service that can get you from point A to point B at a reasonable price. You can also use the city taxi system, but they are going to be more expensive and a hassle to get on the spot.


Lastly, the priciest option for travel in the U.S. is going to be getting a personal car while you are abroad. This process can be complex, but if you get started early enough, this can be a great option for a student in a smaller city. In the United States, international students can drive with their home-country license for up to 1 year. 

By familiarizing yourself with all of these options before arriving, you can be sure to have an easier time getting around in the city you are studying abroad in. We hope this information will guide you in the right direction for transportation abroad in the United States. 

If you need more information on a specific city that wasn’t listed here, you always have the option of contacting a GradTrain coach to speak to one-on-one about any additional questions. They are here to make each aspect of your abroad experience easier and hassle free. We have coaches from all over the U.S. who have experience in getting around the cheapest, most efficient way in each city.