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Chicago Info: Visas, Transport, and Health

If you’re planning on moving to Chicago, you may enjoy this tidbit of information: it is said that its name is derived from the Native American “shikaakwa”, meaning “smelly onion”. If this does not persuade you to move to Chicago, read our InterNations Guide for information on neighborhoods, health, visas, and transportation!
The “L”, originally short for ”elevated”, is a common sight in downtown Chicago.

Applying for a Visa: All You Need to Know

As you may well know, the United States government has very strict visa policies. Authorities distinguish between immigrant and nonimmigrant visas, and you should figure out which group you belong to before you start your visa application process, as the forms you will be required to fill out vary.

Regardless of the type of visa you will be applying for, note that you must schedule an interview with the United States embassy or consulate in your home country as part of the application process. For this interview, be sure to bring a valid passport, the correct visa application form completely and correctly filled out, and a passport photo.

Depending on what visa you are applying for, further documents might be needed, however, and you may even need to have a physician authorized by the US embassy or consulate in your home country examine you prior to the interview. For detailed information, please visit the website of the US Department of State as well as our InterNations Guide on moving to the USA.

What Type of Visa Do You Need?

Expats intent on staying in the USA for an indefinite period of time need to apply for an immigrant visa. To become eligible for one, you must be sponsored by a US citizen or legal resident, such as a future employer or a close relative who is a permanent citizen.

Nonimmigrant visas, on the other hand, are for expats planning a temporary stay in the USA. Please visit the US Citizenship and Immigration Services for a list of nonimmigrant visas. Once you’ve identified which visa applies to you, you can find detailed information in the menu to the left.

The US visa and immigration legislation is, of course, highly complex. In our Expat Guide to the US, we have devoted separate, in-depth articles to nonimmigrant visas as well as immigration and citizenship matters.

Cars & the Second-Largest Public Transportation System in the US 

Many Chicagoans choose to get a car. As is often the case in American cities, most shopping areas, grocery stores, and other conveniences can be found outside the city center. Although there are plenty of trains, it will make your life a fair bit easier if you own or lease a car. Weekend trips to the surrounding Chicago area will be much less troublesome as well. Renting a car in the US is common practice, and this is possible at most car dealerships.

However, Chicago does have the second most extensive public transportation system in the entire USA. From commuter trains to buses and everything in between, you will find that getting around Chicago is not too much of an issue. The Chicago Transit Authority  has all the information you need, including up-to-date information on schedules and fares for trains, the L, and buses.

The CTA obviously services the inner-city area, but commuter trains also run to and from both airports and a number of suburbs. In total, the CTA serves 35 suburbs around Chicago. The eight different train lines are denoted by color, as you will likely recognize from most other subway systems across the world. At the time of writing (August 2016), a single train ticket costs 2.25 USD, and a single bus ticket 2.00 USD. There are also reduced fare programs for children (aged 7–11), seniors (65+), Medicare cardholders, and elementary and secondary school students on school days.

Getting a so-called “Ventra Card” is well worth it, as it will allow you to charge money onto your Ventra Transit Account, which means you do not have to worry about carrying exact change on every ride. The CTA also offers daily, weekly, and monthly passes.

If you do not want to rely on Chicago's public transportation system, despite its size and quality, you should get informed about the details of car ownership in the US — for example insurance and registration.

Choosing a Healthcare Plan in Chicago

Appropriate health insurance in the United States is very important, as medical care is extortionately expensive otherwise. There are several international as well as national health insurance agencies with health plans to meet your needs. It is best to get a quote online to see how much the insurance costs, which is typically based on your medical history. Online sites such as eHealth offer lists of health insurance providers by state and county.

As for health clinics, there are several well-known hospitals in the Chicago area. While the Northwestern Memorial Hospital ranked particularly highly in a recent report, Rush University Medical Center and the University of Chicago Medical Center also deserve a mention when discussing the top hospitals in the United States.

Generally speaking, the healthcare system in the United States is one of the best, and you can easily find care for any number of ailments. It is common to have a general practitioner who has a file of your medical history and can refer you to specialists if need be. The best way to find one in your area is to look in the Yellow Pages.

Our Expat Guide to the USA explains in full detail what you can expect from local doctors and hospital care during your time abroad in the United States.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete.

Friedrich Schloßberg

"At first, I tried to google all information on Chicago. Then I found InterNations and some of its local scouts gave me a personal tour."

Kristina Serou

"It is great to live in the Windy City and to enjoy the American way of life. However, I am also glad to attend InterNations events to meet other expats."

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