- Download our Moving to Seattle Guide (PDF)
Seattle's public transport network is perhaps not as extensive as those in other major US cities. Though smaller, it's still efficient and makes getting around in Seattle easy. Traffic in Seattle isn't too intense.
In fact, it's highly regulated, and thanks to the city's small but well-maintained public transport network, extended commute times are only experienced during peak hours. Most large companies in Seattle provide passes for public transportation, which encourages people to travel using these systems rather than driving.
Public transport in Seattle
Public transport in Seattle is jointly managed by King County Metro and Sound Transit. Seattle's modes of public transport connect the city's suburbs to the downtown area. While there is a choice of transport options available, not all are necessarily fast or well-connected.
Fares for public transport vary according to the mode of transport and distance travelled. For expats wishing to use the public transportation system frequently, it's wise to invest in an ORCA pass. This pass is a cost-effective and convenient option for getting around Seattle and is valid on both King County Metro and Sound Transit services.
Operated by Sound Transit, the Link light rail system is limited but is a fast way to get around. Currently consisting of two lines (Central Link and Tacoma Link), extensions are planned for the future.
Although most Seattle residents don't use the service regularly, the Link light rail is useful for expats who travel for business and need quick access to the airport.
There are various types of buses in operation in Seattle, most of which fall under the King Country Metro Transit system. The bus network is fairly extensive, with connections to most areas of the city.
Seattle's Sound Transit Express is an additional bus system that doesn't fall under the King Country Metro Transit system. An express bus with limited stops, Sound Transit Express provides an easy, convenient and fast way to travel along the freeway to the suburbs.
The Seattle tram service consists of two lines: the South Lake Union Streetcar and the First Hill Streetcar. Trams arrive every 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the time of day.
Washington State operates the largest fleet of ferries in the US and runs both passenger and vehicle ferries. Services are regular, and it isn't uncommon to commute via the ferry.
Taxis in Seattle
Taxis are readily available in Seattle's city centre. One can hail a taxi on the street in the downtown area, but those travelling from outside the city centre should book their vehicle in advance. While commuting by taxi in Seattle is convenient, it can also be expensive.
Ride-hailing applications such as Uber and Lyft are also available in Seattle. Some prefer using these apps instead of regular taxis as they have more control over the route and cost of the ride.
Driving in Seattle
Driving in Seattle is relatively easy and should not be much of a challenge for new expats, as long as they have either a US or international driving licence. Peak-hour traffic can be a little aggravating, but unlike in most US cities, drivers aren't delayed for hours.
Parking can be an issue in Seattle's city centre, though, as it's extraordinarily pricey and limited. New arrivals must also account for insurance and vehicle maintenance when deciding to purchase a vehicle.
See Transport and Driving in the US for more on securing a driving licence in the country.
Cycling in Seattle
Ranked among the best US cycling cities, Seattle has an extensive network of bike trails, and the city's temperate climate is generally good for cycling. However, because of frequent rainfall and hilly topography, protective gear is suggested to avoid unexpected skids or accidents.
The city also has two bike-sharing schemes, Veo and Lime. The bike-sharing schemes allow residents to rent electric bikes through an app for up to 48 hours. Newcomers will simply have to pick up a bike at a bike-sharing station and find the nearest one to their final destination to drop it off.
Walking in Seattle
Seattle is a pedestrian-friendly city, and walking is a fun, free and healthy way to explore the city. There are clearly marked sidewalks (footpaths) and crosswalks (pedestrian crossings) where pedestrians have the right of way. Vehicles are obligated to stop for pedestrians obeying traffic rules.
"Owning a car is the best option for expats in Seattle. Public transport is good, but time consuming and not well networked."
Check out our interview with Indian expat Padmaja for more on moving to Seattle.
Are you an expat living in Seattle?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Seattle. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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