Electricity, Phone, Internet, TV, Radio, Public Transportation, Banking, Postal and Other Services in The United StatesAre you planning an extended visit to the United States—to work, to study, or even relocate permanently to the country? If so, you will definitely need to know how to find and access the various local services in America. To help you with this, below we have listed and explained many of the services you will need while living in the country, including banking services; transportation (by air, rail and bus); postal services; television, phone and internet providers; and the various grocery and retail outlets, where you can buy food, clothing and a variety of other merchandise.
United States Local Services: BankingBanks in America
The United States is home to scores of large national banks with branches nationwide. Below are just a few of the banks you may encounter upon visiting the United States:
Bank of America
Capital One Bank
There are also scores of smaller banks scattered throughout the various communities of the U.S., many of which also have branches across several different states. Some of these include BBVA Compass, U.S. Bank, Nationwide Bank, Commerce Bank, and Farmers and Merchants Bank.
Finding the Right Bank for You
Finding a bank with which to do business is one of the highest priorities upon arriving in the United States, and with literally hundreds of choices, it’s important that you consider the following before signing on the dotted line:
Location and Distribution
If you plan to travel and/or stay in one of the United States’ larger cities—New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, San Francisco, etc.—you’ll find hundreds of different banking institutions to choose from, including large national banks, like Bank of America, Chase and Wells Fargo, and many smaller community bank branches scattered throughout the various neighborhoods of the city. Less populated areas of the United States, however, may offer only a few bank choices, thus limiting the type and scope of banking services available to you.
While choosing a nearby bank branch certainly has its advantages, the nearest branch may not always offer the types of services you desire from a bank. For instance, if you plan to travel throughout the country, you will definitely want to choose a bank with a large network of Automated Teller Machines (ATMs). This will ensure that you will always have free and easy access to your money regardless of where you travel. While most banks allow you to access money at ATMs outside of their network, you can almost always expect to pay a hefty fee for this service, sometimes as high as $5 per transaction. Therefore, before choosing a bank, make sure you research the types of services they offer (and the cost for those services).
For most people, the days of having to visit a bank every few days to deposit or withdrawal funds are long gone. Today, most banks offer a wide variety of convenient services aimed at attracting a greater base of customers. Below are just a few of the services you should look for before deciding on a bank to do business with:
- Free checking. Free checking is an attractive option offered by some banks in America, but definitely not all (some banks charge as much as $20 for a book of 25 checks). If you plan to write several checks a month or more, to pay for things like rent, bills and even groceries, you should definitely look for a bank that offers free checking.
- ATM/Debit Card. An ATM debit card not only allows you to withdrawal your account funds from an Automated Teller Machine, it works just like a Visa or MasterCard and is accepted anywhere that accepts this form of payment. This card will limit the amount of checks you need to write each month, and because these cards are accepted almost everywhere in the United States, you will not have to risk your safety and security by carrying large amounts of cash when you travel.
- Telephone and Internet Banking. Telephone and Internet banking has revolutionized the banking industry, allowing people to perform a wide range of banking activities from the comfort of their home or office, including checking their balances, transferring money from one account to another, and paying their bills online. Most of the larger and medium-sized banks now offer telephone and Internet banking, but some of the smaller banks have yet to invest in these systems.
- First Deposit Bonus. To earn your business, many of the small and medium size community banks in the United States now offer new customers a one-time deposit bonus, ranging from $50-$200, depending on the amount of your first deposit. This perk should definitely be considered when choosing between banks that offer roughly the same services.
- Charges. Ever since the government of the United States began cracking down on some of America’s less-than-overt banking practices, many banks have begun charging for services that were once free, including ATM usage, checks, and ATM/debit cards. As a result, it is very important that you read the fine print with regard to these charges before making any commitment.
Banks in America
The United States is home to scores of large national banks with branches nationwide. Below are just a few of the banks you may encounter upon visiting the United States:
Bank of America
Capital One Bank
There are also scores of smaller banks scattered throughout the various communities of the U.S., many of which also have branches across many different states. Some of these include BBVA Compass, U.S. Bank, Nationwide Bank, Commerce Bank, and Farmers and Merchants Bank.
United States Local Services: TransportationThe ability to get around while visiting or living in the United States can be crucial to your success, and the manner in which you do that will depend on the area in which you settle. Some areas of the U.S have very sophisticated systems of public transportation, while others have very little public transport whatsoever. In New York, for example, there is an underground system of rail transport, popularly dubbed “the subway,” that reaches all parts of the city. There are also buses and thousands of taxis to help people get where they need to go on a daily basis. Other areas of the country, most notably Los Angeles, have less in the way of public transportation, and because the city is so widely spread out in terms of geographic area, most people depend on private automobiles to get them around. To help you become more familiar with the transportation services available in the United States, below we have broken down those services into three areas: Air travel, Rail services and Buses.
Air Travel in the United States
Most of America’s largest cities have one or more major airports, serving both national and international travelers. Below is a just a sample of the airports in America’s largest cities:
- New York City. LaGuardia Airport and JFK Airport
- Los Angeles (Area). Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Burbank Airport, John Wayne Airport
- Houston. George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Houston Hobby Airport, Ellington Airport.
- Chicago. O’Hare Airport (serving more passengers than any other airport in America.
- Philadelphia. Philadelphia International Airport, Northeast Philadelphia Airport.
Air travel in the United States is provided by both international and domestic carriers. International carriers based in America, which travel both within the United States and to places in Europe, Asia and other parts of the world, include:
- American Airlines
- United airlines
- Delta Airlines
- US Airways
The largest domestic carriers in the United States, which travel throughout the country as well as to places like Canada and Mexico, include:
- Southwest Airlines
- Alaska Airlines
Rail Travel in the United States
Oddly, in a country as large as the United States, there is a significant shortage of national passenger rail transport. Currently, the company known as Amtrak is the sole carrier for intercity passenger service within the United States. Amtrak offers service from coast to coast, serving both larger and smaller cities with its combination of rail and bus service. The exception to this shortage has been, and continues to be, the Northeast Corridor, which connects Washington and New York City with Boston and, jutting from those northern points, also other areas of Connecticut and Massachusetts. The corridor handles frequent train service, provided by both Amtrak and commuter trains.
The city of New York is very noteworthy for its high usage of passenger rail transport. In addition to the New York Subway System, which is essentially a short-haul metro system, despite its fairly extensive network and long lines, the city also plays host to the Long Island Railroad; and the Metro-North Railroad, the latter of which extends into Connecticut and links through the New Jersey Transit System to the Philadelphia-based Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority trains to points as far south as Newark, Delaware.
The New York Subway System is responsible for one-third of all the mass transit users in the United States. Other major cities with substantial rail infrastructure include Boston, Massachusetts, with its MBTA (nicknamed the “T”) rapid transit, light rail, and commuter rail networks; and Chicago, with its elevated passenger rail system, Metra, locally referred to as the “El.” The commuter rail systems of San Diego and Los Angeles, California, respectively the Coaster and Metrolink, meet each other in Oceanside, California, which is a terminus for both systems. Finally, the above and underground rail system of San Francisco, known as BART, has lines that extend throughout the Bay Area and east into Sacramento, California.
Bus Service in the United States
Bus Service in the United States is very prevalent throughout the country. There are several long distance bus carriers in America, carriers that travel between the various states and cities of America. The largest of these is Greyhound Bus Lines, serving more bus passengers than all of the other long-distance bus companies combined. Greyhound service is available in every U.S. State, while other long distance bus companies are limited to specific regions of the country.
Bus travel is a much more affordable, albeit more time consuming way to visit the various regions of the United States. In addition to Greyhound, other companies that may provide service in your specific area include: Coach America, Coach USA, DC2NY and Peter Pan Bus Lines.
Almost every city in the United States provides a metropolitan or local bus system that allows people to travel affordably throughout that city and into neighboring communities. By daily ridership, the largest of these metropolitan bus agencies include New York’s MTA system (2.6 million daily riders); the Los Angeles LACMTA (1.1 million); Chicago’s CTA (995,000), the Muni of San Francisco (485,000); and the Washington D.C.-based WMATA (441,000).
Postal Services in the United StatesThe largest provider of postal services in America is the United States Postal Service (USPS), a company that employs 700,000 workers to ensure that the 213 billion pieces of mail are delivered to the nation’s 146 million addresses each and every year. The USPS is an independent establishment of the executive branch of the United States government. It is not supported by tax dollars, but operates as a business, with total revenues of roughly $80 billion last year alone.
From the 1930s to the early 1960s, the volume of mail—particularly business mail—grew significantly, and the need for a better system became apparent. On July 1, 1963, the USPS introduced the ZIP code (Zone Improvement Plan) system. In 1967, the ZIP codes became mandatory on all mail.
When sending mail in the United States through the USPS it is important that you address your letters properly. This includes the full name of the recipient, the address, including any unit or apartment number, city and state; the zip code; and a return address. Letters that do not contain all of the following may not be delivered or, at the very least, will be delayed significantly. Below is just a sample of the manner in which your letter should be addressed. The recipient information should be written on the middle/right hand side of the envelope, while the return address should be listed in the far left-hand corner.
165 Center Blvd.
New York, New York 61345
Name: John Smith
Street Address: 1675 N. Main Street, Apt. #4
City, State, Zip Code Riverdale, California 92503
Once your letter has been addressed, you will need to affix the postage in the far right hand corner of the envelope. The current rate of postage in the United States is $.47 cents for letters up to one ounce in weight. Each additional ounce will cost you $.20 cents. Delivery times can vary between 3-7 days for standard mail service, but should you need your letter to arrive more quickly, you can also send it as “Priority Mail”—1-3 days for delivery—or “Express Mail”—delivered overnight.
The USPS also offers a variety of delivery services for packages and other parcels, with rates and delivery times varying depending on the weight of the package and the types of service selected (Standard Mail, Priority, Express, etc.), respectively.
Other Postal and Delivery Service Providers in the United States
While the USPS is by far the largest provider of mail and package delivery services, they are not the only option for sending letters and packages. The two largest alternate postal service providers are:
United Parcel Service (UPS)—(800) 742-5877
Both of these companies specialize in the delivery of parcels and packages and both provide a variety of service levels to meet the needs of their customers. Many businesses in the United States rely on these services for the sending and receipt of important company documents, picked up and delivered in the most expedient manner.
Television, Phone and Internet ServicesOne of the most important priorities for people relocating to the United States is to get and remain connected to the community around them and the world, via television service, phone and, of course, the Internet. To help you choose the right company with regard to these three means of communication, below we have provided some basic information on some of the largest television, phone and Internet providers in the U.S.
Television Providers in the United States
To get access to America’s gigantic selection of television programming you basically have two options: Satellite Television and Cable Television. The country's top cable companies and satellite companies offer services and packages to suit everyone. Whether you love movies, sports or network TV, these world-class companies make it easy to enjoy your favorite programming. Below we have provided some basic facts about these companies to help you choose just the right option for your particular interests.
Satellite Television Providers
Since 1994, DIRECTV has provided satellite services to its American customer base, and now serves more than 18 million subscribers worldwide. Programming is delivered to homes, airports, hotels, restaurants, hospitals, office buildings, airplanes, automobiles and portable electronic devices. It includes more than 265 channels of 100% digital picture and sound, exclusive programs and a comprehensive collection of sports programming. DIRECTV also offers over 130 high-definition channels and produces its own entertainment programming.
Dish Network has been around since 1996 and today serves more than 14.1 million customers. With high-quality programming and technology, DISH advertises the lowest all-digital price nationwide. Customers have access to hundreds of video and audio channels, comprehensive high-definition programming, international channels, DVR technology and interactive TV applications. DISH Network is available throughout the U.S. and Mexico.
U-Verse is a subsidiary of AT&T, America’s largest telephone company. The company currently serves more than 150 million customers (including phone customers). U-verse TV boasts 100% digital picture and sound. Programming includes popular sports, premium movie channels and international programming. Available with most plans, the Total Home DVR service includes an HD-ready receiver and access to more than 130 high-definition channels.
Cable Television Providers
Comcast, now known as Xfinity TV, was founded in 1963. Since that time it has grown to become one of the country's largest communications companies. Providing cable customers with an enhanced fiber-optic network, the company's digital cable plans include more than 140 channels and premium packages, as well as commercial-free music channels. In addition, Comcast offers 17,000 movies and TV shows via its ON DEMAND service. Customers who subscribe to Comcast's HD package can gain access to more than 3,000 high-definition services, including live shows, sports, news and movies with surround-sound technology.
The second-largest cable company in the United States (after Comcast), Time-Warner Cable serves more than 8 million customers in 28 states. Time Warner first created cable TV, and broadcast in 1949. By 2001, they had completed a nationwide hybrid fiber-coaxial cable network, which provides customers with digital cable, Video ON DEMAND and HDTV. Time Warner offers more than 100 free HD channels, local programming, premium movie channels, premium sports and free music channels. They also offer specialty programming, like bilingual TV packages, which include news, comedy, music, sports and family entertainment.
Telephone Providers in the United States
In terms of landline phones, the largest telephone provider in the country is AT&T. In fact, depending on the area in which you plan to live, this may be your only option for landline phone service. Some of the cable companies, such as Comcast and Time-Warner, also offer landline phone service through their fiber-optic network.
Advances in cellular telephone technology has led many residents in the United States (including this author) to abandon their landline phones altogether, in favor of their cell phone service. To help you get connected fast when you touch down in the States, below we have provided a list of Cellular Phone Companies, with a brief description of each.
Verizon Wireless is the largest cell phone carrier in the United States. The company operates a strong and wide-reaching 4G LTE network and a strong lineup of smart phones, feature phones, and basic handsets. A cooperative venture between Verizon Communications and Vodafone, Verizon Wireless was created in the year 2000 through a merger between GTE Wireless and Bell Atlantic. In a recent poll, Verizon was listed as the most dependable company in terms of getting and maintaining a signal—but keep in mind, it is also one of the most expensive carriers in the nation.
The second-largest provider in the U.S., AT&T has an extensive lineup of GSM devices, and it continues to grow its 4G LTE network. The current company came to be in 2007 when Cingular Wireless, which acquired the original AT&T Wireless in 2004, changed its name to AT&T. With a wide range of service plans and devices, AT&T has plans to suit everyone’s budget.
Sprint, through its merger with Nextel, came to be in 2005. It was the first carrier to offer a 4G network through WiMax technology, but it is now transitioning to LTE. As such, its 4G coverage is far behind that of AT&T and Verizon for the time being. Sprint carrier offers handsets of all stripes, including a few handsets with rugged designs for people who work in less than ideal environments.
Internet Service Providers in the United States
Now that you have your television and phone service connected, it’s time to think about Internet service for your desktop computer, laptop, tablet or other portable device. The Internet Service Provider (ISP) is your gateway to online communication and commerce, but not all providers offer the same speed and price. Below is a look at three of the largest ISPs in the United States.
As we mentioned above, Comcast is the largest cable provider in the United States, but it also serves more than 17 million Internet customers as well. With speeds up to 105 Mbps, Comcast’s fiber-optic Internet is the fastest available in the US, and the company also offers additional features, including Internet security and parental controls. Each account comes with 7 email accounts, but storage is limited to 10 MB each. Plans start as low as $29.99 a month for the first 6 months (and about $49.99 after 6 months).
AT&T offers DSL and dial up services, as well as fiber optic connections through its U-Verse service, to over 17 million customers. Typical DSL speeds are approximately 6.0 Mbps, while its fiber optic network can deliver speeds of up to 24 Mbps. Your subscription comes with 10 email accounts to help keep you and your family connected, and with prices starting at just $14.95 for DSL service and $19.99 for U-verse, AT&T is one of the cheapest options available for the type of speed it delivers.
With its recent acquisition of Qwest Communications, Century Link has become the third largest telecommunications company in the U.S. and has 6.4 million Internet subscribers. It offers DSL and fiber optic services with speeds up to 40 Mbps. Plans start at just $14.95/month for the first 6 months.
Grocery and Retail Services in the United StatesAs a visitor or new resident to the United States, you will definitely want to familiarize yourself with the grocery and retail outlets in your particular area. Depending on where you live, you will no doubt find a combination of large supermarkets, convenience stores, big-box retail outlets and scores of smaller businesses, with only a few employees, and specializing in a particular retail area, such as shoes, jewelry, etc.
Supermarkets in the United States
The United States is home to several large supermarket chains, specializing primarily on food items, including fresh meats, fruits and vegetables, as well as household items like cleaners, light bulbs and kitchen supplies. Below is just a brief list of some of the larger supermarket chains in America, with a very brief description of each.
- Albertsons. Albertsons operates 1,069 stores throughout the country. Besides the parent company, Albertsons also operates under the banners: Acme Markets, Jewel-Osco, Lucky, Shaw’s and Star Market.
- Kroger. The largest grocery chain in the United States, Kroger operates 2,460 stores. Many of these bear the Kroger name, but the company also operates under the names Pay Less Super Markets, Ralphs, Ruler Foods, Food 4 Less, Fry’s Food and Drug and QFC, among others.
- Safeway. Safeway is one of the most profitable grocery chains in the United States, operating 1,458 stores under the Safeway name and also as Carrs, Pavillions, Vons, Randalls and Tom Thumb.
Retail Outlets in the United States
Retail stores in the United States vary in size and by the type of merchandise they offer. Some specialize in specific goods, such as electronics or sporting goods, while others have a wide variety of merchandise, including clothing, toys, sports equipment, electronics, gardening supplies and more. Below is a look at some of the largest retail outlets in the United States.
- Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart is both the largest retail chain in the U.S. and the largest retail organization in the world. The company has stores across the country, including super Wal-Mart, which also functions as grocery store in addition to offering a variety of other merchandise.
- Costco. Costco is what’s known in America as a big-box store, offering groceries and a variety of other merchandise. The food and other supplies offered though Costco are in bulk format, and a membership card ($50 for each shopper) is required to purchase any items.
- Walgreens. Walgreens is a drug store that typically includes a pharmacy where people can fill prescriptions from a doctor. The store also carries a wide range of over the counter medications and medical supplies, as well as snacks and sundries.
- Best Buy. Best Buy, with stores across the United States, is the country’s largest supplier of electronic products. Some of the items in which they specialize include televisions, computers, cellular phones, appliances and all other types of electronic goods and merchandise.