The Southeast Pennsylvania Transport Authority (SEPTA) is the mass transit system for the Philadelphia region. The SEPTA system includes buses, trolleys (trams), local trains, and regional rail services that extend outside Philadelphia.
Even if you will only occasionally ride on public transport, it helps to have a SEPTA Key, which is a card you can use to pay for rides on any of the services. You can purchase or add funds to a SEPTA Key at any of these locations.
If you do not want to buy a SEPTA Key, you will need to have exact change ($2.50) for a single ride on the bus, trolley or local train network.
The only exception is the Regional Rail service, on which you do not need exact change and can pay with a credit/debit card.
We recommend installing the SEPTA App (from the App Store or Google Play) to help navigate the city by public transport.
Many Philadelphians rely heavily on rideshare services to get around if they do not have a car, especially for journeys that would otherwise be difficult on public transport. The most commonly-used rideshare services are Lyft and Uber.
Philadelphia has its own international airport, which is only a short trip from the city center. There are a couple of easy ways to get from the airport to your final destination:
SEPTA’s Airport Line runs from 5am to midnight every day of the week, with connections at various stops that can take you anywhere in the city.
If you use a rideshare service (e.g Uber, Lyft) to travel from the airport, there is a designated pickup location outside the baggage claim.
Taxis are also available outside baggage claim, and they can be cheaper than rideshare apps at certain times (depending on your destination). If using a taxi, ensure it is a verified service.
Note: If someone approaches you inside the airport with an offer for taxi services, they are likely to overcharge you for a ride. If you plan to travel by taxi, go directly to the taxi zone.
Rail and Bus Travel
For trips to cities up and down the East Coast or further inland, taking a train or bus can be a cheaper alternative to flying.
Amtrak operates from 30th St. Station and North Philadelphia Station
Megabus operates from 30th St. Station
Greyhound operates from 1001 Filbert St. in Center City
Chinatown Buses operate from 1001 Filbert St. in Center City
Many people choose to travel in Philadelphia by bicycle as it is a quick and cost-effective way of getting around. However, cycling in the city is not without its risks - it is important to know the rules and purchase safety equipment before going on the roads.
Indego Bike Share
If you only want to cycle occasionally, or only plan to go short distances within the city, then Indego is a good option. Indigo is a “bike share” program, which lets you borrow a bike from one location and drop it off at another. There are Indego stations all around Philadelphia, and the minimum cost for a 24 hour pass is $15 (+ tax). You can download the Indego app (from the the App Store or Google Play), or sign up here to
Pennsylvania law requires all bikes to at least be equipped with the following:
front white light;
rear red reflector;
functioning brakes; and
Buying and wearing a helmet is strongly advised, along with having a rear red light (the brighter the better). Most accidents are the result of careless drivers, so the more visible you can be as a cyclist, the less likely you are to get injured.
Some additional things to bear in mind:
Cyclists are expected to obey all the same street signs as cars.
Anyone over the age of 13 is not permitted to cycle on the sidewalk.
Cycling is permitted on any roads except highways.
If there is a bike lane, use it. If not, you are still permitted to be on the road.
For more information on cycling rules and recommendations, visit the website for the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.
Avoiding Bike Theft
Bikes get stolen frequently in Philadelphia, so it is important to always lock your bike even if you will only leave it for a few minutes. The best option to prevent your bike getting stolen is to use a U-lock, and to lock the bike to an immovable object through the rear wheel and the frame.
Take some photos after buying your bike and make sure you have a record of the make and model. If the bike gets stolen, you should report this to the police (by calling 911). You can also post pictures of the bike to the Facebook group Philadelphia Stolen Bikes, which has a large following.
Every state has different laws for drivers, so it is important to know the rules before getting behind the
Driving with a foreign license
If you have a valid driver license from your home country, you can use it to drive for up to one year after arriving in Pennsylvania. Some states require drivers from other countries to have an International Driving Permit (which must be obtained in your home country), and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) strongly advises getting one if you do not plan to apply for a US license. A benefit of getting a US driver license is that it makes car insurance much cheaper.
Applying for a PA Driver License
PennDOT will not issue a license for someone whose immigration documents (e.g I-20, DS-2019) are valid for six months or less. If you are in this situation but will take longer to complete your academic program, you will need to request an extension from your school’s immigration advisor before applying for a license.
People who have never driven in the USA are required to apply for a Learner’s Permit and take a driving test before being eligible for a full driver license. When you apply for a Learner’s Permit, you will also need to take a Knowledge Test, so you should study the PennDOT Driver's Manual if this applies to you.
You can find the steps for applying for a Learner’s Permit on the PennDOT website.
To apply, you need to go the PennDOT Driver License Center in person and bring the following documents:
I-20 or DS-2019
PassportSocial Security Number (SSN) or Social Security Administration “rejection letter”
If you do not have a SSN, ask your school’s international office for guidance on getting a rejection letter.
Two documents showing Pennsylvania residency
These can include rental agreements or utility bills. Find a full list here.
After receiving a Learner’s Permit you can schedule a driving test here, or by calling 717-412-5300.
Renewing your PA Driver License
International students must renew their driver licenses in-person at a PennDOT office. It is not necessary to retake a test, but the office will need to review your immigration documents. PennDOT uses the end date on your immigration document (e.g. I-20, DS-2019) to determine the expiration date of your driver license.
In order to renew your license in Pennsylvania, your immigration documents must be valid at least 12 months into the future. People who transition from studying to OPT, or from OPT to STEM OPT, often have difficulty renewing their driving license. PennDOT will not issue a driver license for a person on OPT or STEM OPT until their EAD (Employment Authorization Document - the employment card) has been processed.
Buying a Car
Buying a car is a serious investment, but depending on where you live and your personal circumstances it may be a necessary step at some point during your time in the USA.
You can buy a used or new car in a variety of ways:
You can buy new and used cars from dealerships;
Online retailers sell a huge variety of used cars; and
Individuals often sell their used cars directly to buyers.
Many people prefer to buy a car at a dealership, because dealerships will handle all the paperwork and make sure the transaction is completed legally. However, dealerships may seek to sell you extras that you don’t need, and they do not always have a comprehensive selection of used cars.
It is increasingly popular to buy a car online now, and there are a few retailers that have made the process easy and convenient:
Carvana and Carmax can deliver used cars to customers, and both companies let you return a car within a certain amount of time if it is not a good fit for you.
Carfax lists used cars that are available at local dealerships, and provides vehicle history reports so you can see whether a car has had extensive repairs in the past.
When buying a car through a dealership or online retailer, you may be able to “finance” the purchase of the vehicle instead of paying the whole cost up front. Financing a car basically means taking out a loan to pay for the car and then repaying the loan on a monthly basis. If you do not have a credit score score then you might not be able to use this option, or the interest you pay on the loan may be very high.
If you plan to buy a car directly from its previous owner, bear in mind that the process is not straightforward, and it helps to be familiar with the legal requirements before committing to a purchase. It is a good idea to refer to PennDOT’s guide for buying a used vehicle.
When buying a used vehicle, you should always plan to take it for a test drive, and ideally get the car inspected by a mechanic before you finalize the purchase.
It is mandatory to have Vehicle Liability Insurance in Pennsylvania. However, this type of insurance only covers the costs of damage or injury that you might cause to other people or their vehicles (not including your passengers) if you are involved in an accident while driving.
It is a good idea to have the following types of insurance in addition to Vehicle Liability Insurance:
Collision insurance covers damage caused to your car in an accident
Comprehensive insurance covers vehicle theft and damage from a variety of events outside your control (e.g. floods, vandalism).
You can compare car insurance rates here.