Practical Hints for Living in Memphis

Banking & Money | Utilities | 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 to show ID (Temporary Driver License, Temporary State ID or passport). You may obtain a Temporary Driver License or ID at a Driver’s License Office.

Credit cards are good for building up a credit record. 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 interest. NEVER give out your credit card number or bank account information to someone who calls you on the phone. Such people will take your number and charge things to your account. If this happens, call your 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 very 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 carryout restaurants. Tips are either left on the table or added to the total by you on the credit card receipt. Also tip: delivery people, e.g. for items such as pizza (10-20%), hair stylists (20%), cab drivers (10-20%).

Sales tax in Tennessee is presently 9.25% of your purchase. Anything you buy will have sales tax added when you make the purchase.

"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 $1.00 discount on a box of instant coffee. Coupons can be obtained in various places, including the local Sunday newspaper, The Commercial Appeal.

Receipts. 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.


To have your apartment utilities (electricity, gas and water) turned on, contact Memphis Light, Gas & Water (MLGW). external link icon

You will receive one monthly bill covering usage of electricity, water, gas, sewer, and garbage pick-up.

Public Transportation

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 bus. Catch the bus at the green MATA signs. If you need any help or information, contact MATAexternal link icon (Memphis Area Transit Authority).

Bike Rules

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. external link icon

A few points to remember while bicycling:

  1. You should always wear a helmet.
  2. Cars do not have to let you pass them on the right before they make a right turn.
  3. Riding on the sidewalk is illegal.
  4. Always use hand signals.
  5. Always chain and lock your bike or it WILL get stolen.

General Tips

You should always carry some form of I.D. (your University I.D. is best on campus) and know your Social Security number, phone number, and address. You will often be asked to present this information. Do not carry your passport or Social Security card on you.

Speaking English is the only way to get better at it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help because you’re not comfortable with 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.

Time zones. Be aware of the time differences when calling other parts of the country, especially the East and West coasts.

Tornado/Emergency Siren. When a tornado warning has been issued by the Weather Service or there is a serious emergency situation, a siren will sound. This indicates you should take cover immediately. The sirens in Memphis are tested every Wednesday afternoon for one minute.

Things to do in Memphis are not hard to find if you know where to look:

  • The Memphis Flyerexternal link icon is a free community newspaper distributed every Wednesday, which contains information on many events taking place in Memphis. Available around Memphis.
  • The Commercial Appeal, external link icon the main Memphis newspaper, prints a weekend entertainment guide every Friday called Go Memphis, external link icon which has restaurant listings and contains a restaurant review every Friday.

Take-out boxes 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.

Ethnic Foods. Search under "Grocers" and also "Bakers." Memphis has several stores which specialize in Asian, Hispanic, and Middle Eastern foods, as well as "European" breads.

Cars. The Saturday and Sunday editions of The Commercial Appealexternal link icon have car sections in the classified ads.

Speed limits should be followed. On the interstate, you can get a ticket for driving below 45 mph.

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.

Department stores such as Sears, Wal-Mart, Target, carry lots of different merchandise from clothing to furniture to food at very reasonable prices.

Cultural Activities

Memphis has many varied cultural activities to offer.

Every week there are different events going on around town—check the Memphis Flyer or the Commercial Appeal for up-to-date information. 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
  • Memphis Grizzlies NBA Basketball
    Redbirds AAA Baseball
    Riverkings Ice Hockey
    University of Memphis basketball and football
  • The National Civil Rights Museum
    Brooks Museum of Art
    Dixon Gallery & Gardens
    Memphis Botanic Garden
    Ornamental Metal Museum
  • Mud Island

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Contact Us

Office of International Affairs
One Stop Student Services
910 Madison Avenue, Suite 105
Memphis, TN 38163

Phone: (901) 448-8484
Fax: (901) 448-1370

Hours of operation:
8 a.m. to 5 p.m., M-F