Practical Hints for Living in Memphis
- Banking & Money
- Public Transportation
- Bike Rules
- General Tips
- Cultural Activities
Banking & Money
Overseas money orders and bank drafts can sometimes take several days to clear. Make sure such a deposit has been credited to your account before you write a check for this money. To write checks in stores, you need a Tennessee ID card or driver's license. You may obtain a Tennessee ID at any Driver’s License Office (in the Hickory Ridge Mall—renewal of license and issuance of ID only; at 6340 Summer Avenue; or 3200 E. Shelby Drive). For directions, go to Mapquest.
A checking account is necessary in order for you to be able to pay your bills; sending a check through the mail is the usual way to pay bills in the U.S.
Credit cards are good for building up a credit record, and as another form of identification. Beware, credit cards can also be your doom. You should always try to pay off the entire bill each month. If you don't, you will start paying an incredible interest rate, some of which reach over 20%. Also beware of paying for phone orders by giving your credit card number over the phone unless YOU called to place an order. NEVER give out your credit card number to someone who calls you on the phone. Sometimes people will take your number and charge things to your account. If this happens, call the credit card company immediately.
A lease is what you sign when you rent an apartment or a house. It is a binding contract and is very hard to cancel. If you sign a 1-year lease, you are responsible for paying the rent for one year. Always be sure to read the entire contract before signing your name. If you are not comfortable with or don't understand the wording of the contract, have someone else read the contract with you. You should always read and understand any contract before you sign. You will also have to pay a deposit that will be returned when the lease runs out.
Tips (gratuities) are a fact of life in the U.S. Most waiters and waitresses are paid low wages because they are expected to make tips. 15-20% of the bill is a standard tip. You can tip more if the service was excellent or less if it was not. Tips are not expected in fast food and carry-out restaurants. Tips are either left on the table or added to the total on the credit card receipt by you. Also tip: delivery people (e.g. for items such as pizza [10-20%]), hair stylists (20%), cab drivers (10-20%), sky caps at airport ($1 a bag).
Sales tax in Tennessee is presently 9.25% of your purchase. Anything you buy will have sales tax added when you make the purchase. For instance, if you buy something priced $1.00, you actually pay $1.09 at the cash register.
"Dutch Treat" means that each person pays for him- or herself when going out to dinner, movies, clubs, etc. with friends. It is wise to be prepared to pay for your own meal whenever you go out.
Coupons can be used to get price reductions on certain goods. For example, you might have a coupon which gives a $0.50 discount on a 275 gram box of Frosted Flakes cereal. Coupons can be obtained in various places, including the local Sunday newspaper, The Commercial Appeal. Often grocery stores such as Schnucks and Kroger give double value on coupons up to $0.60, so that you would get a $1.00 discount by using a $0.50 coupon for Frosted Flakes, for example.
Receipts can save you money. A receipt is the little slip of paper given to you whenever you pay for something. Whenever you buy clothes, books, or other expensive items or whenever you pay any fees or bills, always keep your receipt. If you want to return items for a refund, you must have the receipt.
Telephones are an important part of everyday life in the U.S. Learning to use and becoming comfortable with the phone and phone books can save you a lot of hassles, time and money.
Calls from pay phones must be paid on the spot. In an apartment or house, a monthly bill is sent. You are billed a moderate fee for having a phone, plus any special services such as call waiting, plus long distance calls (all calls outside the Memphis area). You have to select a long distance carrier such as AT&T, Sprint or MCI to be able to call long distance. There is no charge for local calls. For more information, call BellSouth at 557-6500.
Telephone numbers in the U.S. have ten digits, for example: (901)448-8484. The first three digits are the area code; in this case 901--the area code for West Tennessee. Local calls in the Memphis area do not require an area code; therefore they will only have seven digits.
Public phones are usually metallic and cost $0.25-$0.35 for a local call. Public phones can be found in many stores and on street corners. Pick up the receiver, deposit your coins, wait for the dial tone, and then dial the seven-digit number.
To place a long distance call:
- Dialing Direct: to dial direct, dial "1" (or "011" for international calls), country code (if needed), area code and phone number. If you get a wrong number, dial "0" and explain the situation to the operator. She should then deduct the charges for the wrong number from your phone bill.
- Calling cards allow you to charge calls to an account, like a credit card. The charges will then be added to your monthly phone bill. Follow the instructions on the calling card.
To place calls from a UT phone:
- Calling on campus: dial "8" + the last 4 digits of the campus phone number.
- Calling off campus: dial "9" + the 7-digit local phone number.
Learning how to competently use the phone book can save time, headaches, and money The three main phone books are the Yellow Pages, White Pages and UT Campus Directory.
The first few pages have some general information, including instructions for calling long distance and directory assistance (where you can call to find a number that is not listed in the phone book).
- An alphabetical list of Memphis businesses.
- An alphabetical list of (a) City, (b) County, (c) State and (d) U.S. Government offices (the Blue Pages)
- Community interest pages including coupons and zip code map.
- An index of Memphis products and services. For example, if you need a vacuum cleaner, look up vacuums in the index and you will find the page number for vacuum dealers.
- A list of Memphis businesses by subject, such as Restaurant, Insurance, etc. At the end of the main sections, there is a "locality guide" which lists, for instance, restaurants by their location in the city.
The first few pages have a section on directory assistance, long distance and international calls, a list of all the area codes and time zones in the U.S., the local calling area, international country codes, long distance rates and other material.
- An alphabetical list of Memphis residences.
- A list of government offices similar to the one in the Yellow Pages.
- An alphabetical list of Memphis businesses.
- An alphabetical list of residences in the suburbs, such as Germantown and Collierville.
UTHSC Campus Directory
- UT Faculty & Staff listing. If you don't know where to go, call first. It will save time.
- UT Health Science Center Students
- UT Bowld Hospital
- UT Medical Group
To have your apartment utilities (electricity, gas and water) turned on, you must call the Memphis Light, Gas & Water (MLGW) Customer Service line at 544-6549. MLGW does require a Social Security number; however, you should be able to establish service initially by showing your passport, I-20 or DS-2019 or I-94 card and UT I.D. card and then supplying your Social Security number to MLGW as soon as you receive it.
You will receive one monthly bill covering usage of electricity, water, gas, sewer, and garbage/recycling pick-up.
Although Memphis is not known for its good public transportation system, it is possible to go most places in the city and to most of the suburbs via a bus. If it is necessary to transfer buses (get off one bus and onto another to reach your final destination), tell the bus driver on the first bus that you will need to transfer. By doing this, you only have to pay a small transfer fee. Otherwise, you will have to pay another full fare for each leg of your trip. Transfers are not valid for return or round trips. Catch the bus at the green MATA signs. If you need any help or information call MATA (the Memphis Area Transit Authority) at 274-MATA (274-6282).
When riding a bicycle, you must obey the same rules of the road as a car. For an explanation of Tennessee's road rules, the Driver's License Handbook can be obtained from one of the Tennessee Driver Testing Centers or online.
- A few points to remember while bicycling:
- You should always wear a helmet.
- Cars do not have to let you pass them on the right before they make a right turn.
- Riding on the sidewalk is illegal
- Always use hand signals:
- Always chain and lock your bike or it WILL get stolen.
You should always carry some form of I.D. (your University I.D. is best on campus) and either know or carry your Social Security number, phone number, and address. You will often be asked to present this information.
Speaking English is the only way to get better at it. English is one of the hardest languages, but the more comfortable you are with it, the more confident you will become communicating. Don't be afraid to ask for help because you're not comfortable with your English. If you have a bad experience when attempting to communicate in English, don't give up! The more you talk, the better you will get. Also, watch TV to practice listening comprehension.
Slang will take a while to learn. Americans use slang frequently in everyday life. The only way to learn slang is to ask people the meaning of the expression. You will often find that Americans cannot define slang terms easily.
Time zones are listed in the White Pages phone book. Be aware of the time differences when calling other parts of the country, especially the East and West coasts.
Tornado Siren: When a tornado warning has been issued by the Weather Service, a siren will sound. This indicates you should take cover immediately because a tornado has been seen in the area. The siren is tested every Saturday at 12 noon for one minute.
Things to do in Memphis are not hard to find if you know where to look:
The Memphis Flyer is a free community newspaper distributed every Wednesday which contains information on many events taking place in Memphis. Available around Memphis.
The Commercial Appeal, the main Memphis newspaper, prints a weekend entertainment guide every Friday called Playbook. Playbook has restaurant listings every 3 months and contains a restaurant review every Friday. The paper can be bought around Memphis. Subscriptions are also available.
Reservations. If you are going to a nice restaurant on Friday or Saturday night, you will probably want to make a reservation at the restaurant for a specific time so that when you arrive you will not have to wait in line. If you don't have a reservation, you may have to wait a long time for a table (call the restaurant to see if they suggest making a reservation). For a list of Memphis-area restaurants, check out the Memphis Dining website.
Take-out boxes ("doggie bags") are used, even at "nice" restaurants, when you want to take the rest of your food home with you. This is perfectly acceptable and normal in the U.S. You can't use a "doggie bag" at a buffet.
Buffet restaurants let you pay a set price and then you get to eat as much as you want. Don't share meals when you go to a buffet.
Ethnic Foods. Look in the Yellow Pages under "Grocers" and also "Bakers." Memphis has several stores which specialize in Asian, Hispanic, and Middle Eastern foods, as well as "European" breads. Likewise, many ethnic restaurants are listed in the Yellow Pages under "Restaurants."
Cars. The Saturday and Sunday editions of The Commercial Appeal have car sections in the classified ads.
Insurance. You must have insurance if you own a car. It is also wise to purchase renter's insurance which will protect you against loss of or damage to your belongings because of theft, fire or other disasters.
When traveling by car to another state, look for visitor information centers. These centers are usually located on the interstate about 5-10 miles past the state line.
Department stores such as Sears, Wal-Mart, Target, and K-Mart carry lots of different merchandise from clothing to furniture to food at very reasonable prices.
Movies. Memphis has lots of movie theaters which show new movies, but we want to especially mention Malco's Studio on the Square in Overton Square, Midtown, which shows foreign and alternative movies.
A small sample of offerings include:
- Memphis in May (each year Memphis in May honors a different foreign country; activities always include a barbecue festival, a music festival and a Sunset Symphony concert).
- Opera Memphis
- Ballet Memphis
- Memphis Symphony Orchestra
- Theatre Memphis
- Playhouse on the Square
- The Orpheum(Theater)
- Redbirds AAA Baseball
- Riverkings Ice Hockey
- University of Memphis football and basketball
- The National Civil Rights Museum
- Brooks Museum of Art
- Dixon Gallery &Gardens
- Memphis Botanic Garden
- Ornamental Metal Museum
- Mud Island
- Many concerts by famous and not-so-famous performers throughout the year.
Also, check with the Main Library (725-8895) for information on international clubs or organizations in Memphis.
Office of International Affairs
Johnson Building, Suite 205K
847 Monroe Avenue
Memphis, TN 38163
Hours of operation:
8 a.m. to 5 p.m., M-F