- Download our Moving to Washington DC Guide (PDF)
Washington, DC is home to one of the USA's most active populations, with many of the capital's residents choosing to walk or cycle to work if they live close to the city centre. The city does, however, have a solid public transport network to assist commuters, which includes various train and bus services.
New arrivals will find that most places in the city centre are located close to one another and sometimes walking, rather than driving or taking public transport, can actually be the quickest way to get somewhere.
Public transport in Washington, DC
Washington, DC's public transport network consists of train and bus services. This network is operated on an integrated ticketing system, which covers all modes of transport.
New arrivals who intend to travel in and around DC via public transport will need a SmarTrip card, which can be purchased online or at a station. The card can be used on the Metrorail as well as on the Metrobus and DC Circulator. It's also possible to load flat-rate passes onto the card, which gives commuters an unlimited number of trips within a certain period. Otherwise, SmarTrip cards can be topped up online, at any Metro station and at selected stores in the city.
For information about purchasing and using a SmarTrip card, visit WMATA SmarTrip.
The Metrorail lies at the heart of Washington, DC's public transport network. This system consists of six colour-coded lines, which run primarily underground to serve downtown, and overground to some of Washington's surrounding suburbs. The Metrorail operates until midnight daily and starts at 5am, 7am or 8am, depending on the day of the week.
While DC's metro is clean, safe and user-friendly, commuters often complain about the irregularity of services caused primarily by track maintenance and periodic breakdowns.
For maps and schedules of Metrorail, visit WMATA Maps and Schedules.
Washington, DC's bus system is helpful for commuters as it allows them to reach destinations not covered by the city's metro system.
The DC Circulator buses are shuttle services that operate on six fixed routes and follow a specific schedule. These shuttles primarily connect the main areas in the city centre with some popular residential neighbourhoods. The shuttles run approximately every 10 or 15 minutes.
For details on DC Circulator routes and schedules, visit DC Circulator.
DC's Metrobus service consists of hundreds of routes that cover the greater DC area and serves areas that commuters can't reach using the Metrorail or DC Circulator services. These buses operate daily, beginning in the early morning until 11pm or 1am on weekends, while specific late-night buses operate through the night on certain routes.
For information about Metrobus services, visit WMATA Metrobus.
Taxis in Washington, DC
There are a considerable number of cab companies to choose from in Washington, DC and taxis can be paid for with either cash or card. Taxis use a metered fare system and can be hailed on the street or ordered over the phone. Drivers are required to take passengers anywhere within the Metropolitan area of DC, but most drivers are reluctant to travel to Maryland and Virginia.
Ride-share services like Uber and Lyft also operate in Washington, DC. These services can be cheaper than using a regular taxi, and new arrivals will have the advantage of knowing the fare beforehand.
Cycling in Washington, DC
The residents of DC love to cycle, and new arrivals will find that cycling is a great way to get around the city.
The city has an excellent bike-sharing system. The Capital Bikeshare network consists of more than 6,100 bicycles that can be picked up and dropped off at any one of the 600 docking stations across the city.
The government has taken steps to make Washington, DC, more cyclist-friendly by increasing the number of dedicated cycle lanes as well as the amount of safe bicycle storage facilities. This has certainly paid off as the city was named a "Gold" Bicycle Friendly Community in 2018, and it is currently the third most bike-friendly city in the US. Bicycles can also be brought onto both the Metrorail and Metrobuses in DC.
- For information about the Capital Bikeshare network, visit Capital Bikeshare
- For details on cycling lanes and rules in Washington, DC, visit the DDOT Bicycle Program
Driving in Washington, DC
Driving in Washington, DC is something that's best avoided wherever possible. With the many exceptional alternatives available, the majority of the capital's residents opt to use public transport or cycle to work rather than driving, especially in the city centre.
Those who decide to drive in Washington, DC will find that parking is expensive and hard to find. Traffic is also routinely congested, and navigation is made complex by the one-way roads dotting the city centre.
Visitors can drive on their valid out-of-state driving licence for 30 to 60 days, but once they've established residency in DC, they're typically required to convert to a DC driving licence. The city has reciprocity agreements with many countries, meaning that expats from those countries can easily exchange their foreign licence for a DC licence without taking the road test, provided they meet other requirements. It's essential to check with the Washington DC DMV to see if their country has such an agreement.
Those from non-English-speaking countries without a reciprocal agreement will likely need to pass the DC driving tests to obtain a driving licence. If the foreign driving licence is not in English, it's a good practice to also carry an International Driving Permit (IDP) alongside the original licence when driving. The IDP provides a translation of licence details. It's worth noting that while an International Driving Permit is recognised and can aid in translating non-English licences, it isn't a replacement for a valid driving licence.
What's public transport like in Washington, DC?
"Public transport can be better, in my opinion. Bus schedules and upkeep of the units are areas of opportunity. I find myself using the taxi apps, scooters or my personal vehicle to move around the city." Read more about Gustavo's experience as a Peruvian living in DC.
► Read the Accommodation in Washington, DC page to learn about the renting process in the city
Are you an expat living in Washington DC?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Washington DC. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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