Transport in the United States
Updated 2023-10-04 09:36

There are various ways to move around in the United States. Destination, convenience, and budget will be important factors in helping you determine which is best for you. Most of the USA's largest cities have good public transportation systems. In midsize cities and rural areas, however, it can be almost non-existent. It is established that many Americans prefer to travel and commute to work by car. When traveling between cities or to a different region, there are many convenient and affordable options. Long-distance bus, train, and air travel are all widely used, but depending on where you are headed.

Public transportation in the US

The quality of public transportation in the US depends highly on where you live. Transport systems in large cities can include buses, subways, trams, and ferries, offering convenient options for urban commuters. Major cities such as NYC, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Washington DC, Newark, Philadelphia, and Seattle boast the country's most extensive public transport networks, which are relied upon by a significant portion of the population for their daily commutes.

Taxis are common in cities but are generally considered one of the more expensive ways to travel short distances, making them less practical for daily commuting. However, the emergence of rideshare services like Uber and Lyft has transformed the landscape, making paid car-transport services more accessible and popular. It's important to note that in the US, tipping drivers is customary, with at least a 10% tip of the total fare being considered appropriate.

For longer distances between cities, shuttles and buses provide intercity travel options. One of the most prominent intercity bus services is Greyhound, which serves most of the country at relatively low prices, making it an economical choice for budget-conscious travelers looking to cover longer distances.

Train travel in the US

The United States boasts an extensive railway network, encompassing more than 220,000 kilometers of tracks that cater to both freight and passenger transportation needs. While rail travel is not as popular as road travel, the nation's railways are significant in connecting various regions and are common for local commuting and long-distance journeys.

In the northeast region in metropolitan areas such as New York City, Washington DC, and Boston, commuter trains are a vital mode of transportation. These trains are woven into the daily routines of many residents, providing a convenient and reliable means for short or intercity travel. However, when considering longer journeys that span across states and regions, train travel's popularity diminished somewhat due to the nation's sprawling geography and the prevalence of other transportation options like air travel. Taking the train in the US may be very time-consuming or costly, depending on the route you are planning. Amtrak, the national passenger rail service, takes the lead in offering long-distance train travel experiences. While long-distance train routes can lack the speed and efficiency of air travel, they definitely provide a romantic, scenic perspective of the diverse American landscapes.

For those embarking on overnight trips, Amtrak's sleeping cars provide comfortable accommodation, and there are dining cars and other amenities available. It's important to note that due to the longer durations and limited availability, advanced booking is typically required for these long-distance journeys.

Air travel in the US

The truly vast expanse of the United States, spanning thousands of miles from coast to coast, makes air travel the most efficient means of covering long distances. When considering cost, time, and convenience, flights often emerge as the preferred option for many travelers.

Compared to the cost of gas, especially for extended journeys, and the potential for multiple stopovers necessary for long-distance train travel, airfares present a competitive alternative. While long-distance train fares and airline ticket prices can sometimes be comparable, air travel offers the advantage of rapid transit, enabling passengers to reach their destinations in a fraction of the time.

Within the realm of air travel, budget airlines play a significant role in providing cost-effective options for travelers. One notable example is Spirit Airlines, recognized for its low-cost model that allows passengers to choose from a menu of optional services, tailoring their travel experience to their needs and budget. Ticket prices with budget airlines and traditional carriers alike can vary significantly depending on the destination, time of travel, and the class of service chosen. Flying during peak travel seasons or booking last-minute tickets may result in higher prices. Conversely, planning trips during off-peak periods or taking advantage of advance purchase options can yield more budget-friendly fares.

Renting a car in the US

For those who have recently arrived in the United States, considering a short-term car rental could be a practical choice unless you reside in cities like New York City, Boston, San Francisco, and others where public transportation offers a more sensible option. Across nearly every city in the US, various rental agencies provide rental services. Rental prices can differ based on factors such as the vehicle type (larger vehicles like SUVs tend to be pricier than compact cars) and the package (like opting for unlimited mileage). Most agencies typically require a valid credit card, a driver's license, and sometimes an international license to rent a car. It's essential to note that car insurance is mandatory in the US. If not covered by your credit card company, you'll likely need to secure an insurance package through the rental agency.

Buying a car in the US

Should you desire to purchase a car in the United States, you have the option of selecting a new car or a second-hand vehicle, often referred to as a used car. Both new and used cars are available at dealerships, and purchasing a used car from an individual seller is also a common practice using websites like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. Regardless of the source, test-driving the vehicle before finalizing a decision is strongly advised, and you can take it to a garage to have it thoroughly checked out. Whether dealing with a new or used car, negotiating the price with the seller is customary. If you have the required funds available, you can directly pay the agreed-upon amount. Alternatively, securing a bank loan is an option if necessary. Many car dealerships offer their own in-house financing solutions to streamline the process.

Car sharing

Expats should also consider car-share services like Zipcar and Turo, which are convenient alternatives. These services allow individuals to rent vehicles for short periods, providing flexibility and ease of travel without the long-term commitment of car ownership. This can be particularly beneficial during the initial settling-in phase when purchasing a car might not be the most immediate priority. Car share options are available in numerous cities, allowing expats to efficiently navigate their new surroundings as they acclimate to life in the United States.


The viability of cycling varies hugely based on location and local infrastructure. Lots of parts of America are industrial and with big highways where cycling would be downright dangerous. In urban centers like New York City, San Francisco, and Portland, cycling is embraced as an eco-friendly and efficient way to navigate traffic and reach destinations quickly. These cities offer dedicated bike lanes, bike-sharing programs, and a growing cycling culture. In contrast, suburban or less bike-friendly areas might pose challenges due to limited cycling infrastructure and safety concerns. However, the popularity of cycling is steadily increasing across the nation, so things are improving. If you're in a big city, look out for bike and scooter-sharing programs like Citi Bike and Lime; these can be great for short journeys.

Useful links:

Top US budget airlines:

Southwest Airlines


Jet Blue


Top car rental agencies:




Greyhound Bus

Amtrak Trains

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