Living in Birmingham

With a population of nearly one million, the city of Birmingham is Alabama’s largest city and is the state’s industrial, business and cultural center. Samford University is centrally located in the Homewood area, which is convenient to many of the city’s most entertaining areas. The city is home to major engineering companies, a nationally ranked medical center, a symphony orchestra, a Triple A baseball team, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and a myriad of other institutions and organizations that make it a thriving modern city.

Alabama Climate+

Alabama’s climate reflects four seasons: winter, spring, summer and fall.

Range of average temperatures:

  • January 42 Degrees F (6 Degrees C)
  • April 63 Degrees F (17 Degrees C)
  • July 90 Degrees F (37 Degrees C)
  • During the summer there is an average 51 days above 90 Degrees F
  • November 52 Degrees F (11 Degrees C)
 

Stores and Shopping+

In the Birmingham area there are stores to cover every need. The local newspaper has advertising sections, which show sales for the different stores in the area. Individuals are encouraged to check coupons which can be used for additional discounts off attraction, food products, restaurants etc. Students can sometimes benefit from discounts for movie theaters and local attractions by showing their student ID. Be sure to ask attractions and restaurants if they offer this benefit.

In the United States, there is an automatic sales tax, which is attached to any purchase that is made. Depending upon the area of Birmingham, individuals should expect a tax of 5-9% added to purchased items. This is not built into the cost of the item as it is in some other countries.

Grocery Stores+

Grocery stores sell all types of food such as fresh, frozen and canned fish; poultry; meat; fruit; vegetables and prepared dishes. They also sell staples such as flour, sugar, salt and spices. Bakery goods, dairy products, toiletries (shampoo and toothpaste) and paper products (toilet paper, paper towels, sanitary napkins, paper tissue, paper plates and paper cups) are also available in grocery stores. Self-service is the rule in grocery stores, which means individuals take a cart or basket, select the required items and present them for payment at a cashier’s counter. There are some ethnic grocery stores in Birmingham.

Drugstores+

Drugstores are stores that are licensed to sell pharmaceutical products. Doctors’ prescriptions can be filled at a drugstore. Drugstores also have a large selection of cosmetics, soap, shampoo, toothpaste, periodicals, household medicines and greeting cards.

Department Stores+

Department stores sell a variety of things: shoes, clothing, appliances, furniture, fabric, dishes, linens, pots and pans. Hours of department stores are usually from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday; most are also open on Sunday afternoon. Discount stores offer lower prices. Department stores are also self-service.

Secondhand Stores+

These are stores that receive and then sell merchandise/goods that came from or through an intermediary that is acquired after being used by another. These are things that are not new, such as books, clothing, etc. Consignment shops and thrift stores in the area carry secondhand furnishings and clothes that can be obtained at a very reasonable price. Secondhand stores are also self-service.

Furnishing an Apartment+

For individuals living on campus, most of the furnishings will be provided. To purchase furniture, individuals should check in the local newspaper for used items to reduce expenses. You may also check with our office as we may know of individuals wanting to sell used furnishings. Garage sales are another good place to find furnishings. Garage sales are when people with private homes clear older goods out of their house and sell them. Sometimes neighbors get together and have a large yard sale. These items can include adults’ and children’s clothing, furniture, appliances, household goods, toys, books and various other things. Usually goods are inexpensive and often quality items may be purchased. These sales are advertised in the newspaper, or signs may be posted on trees near the home where the sale is to take place.

Attractions/Recreation+

Birmingham offers a wide selection of entertainment and activities, including a good variety here on the university campus. Look for the events calendar from our office in your Samford e-mail. The calendar lists movies, athletic, theatrical, as well as other entertaining activities. Many of the activities offered on campus are free for those with a valid student identification card. Many offering through the International Club require you to sign up and for some a small fee may be involved (entrance fees for attractions, etc.). You may sign up for these offerings outside of the International Studies Office.

Restaurants and Dining+

There are many types of restaurants—from fast food where food is prepared in a few minutes and costs very little to expensive restaurants. Cafeterias, steak houses, seafood restaurants are other types of popular eateries. A complete listing may be found in your local telephone directory.

Off-Campus Apartment Housing+

There is a variety of housing for rent in the Birmingham area, mainly apartment complexes. Most apartments require a one-year lease; however, at times the manager will consider a partial lease. Contact individual apartment complexes to inquire about room availability, cost and leasing agreements. Contact numbers are usually indicated on the exterior wall of individual apartment buildings.

Questions to Ask Before Renting an Apartment

  • How much is the rent?
  • When is the rent due? What is included in the rent? Utilities (electricity, gas, water)? Phone? Cable?
  • Will the security deposit be retuned when the lease has expired?
  • How long is the lease? Is there a penalty for breaking the lease contract? 
  • How much notice must be given before the lease is terminated?
  • Are storage facilities available?
  • Are there laundry facilities?
  • Are both furnished and unfurnished apartments available?
  • If you have a car or motorcycle:
    • Is parking available, if so what kind, on street, garage or parking lot?
    • Are there additional charges for parking a vehicle?
     
  • If you have children:
    • Where is the nearest childcare facility?
    • Where are the nearest schools and is there bus service?
     
  • If you have pets:
    • Are pets allowed? Is there a limit on size or number of pets allowed?
    • Is there a pet deposit? If so, is it per pet? Is it refundable if there is no damage to the apartment?
     
 

Schools+

Pre-Schools/Childcare—Children under the age of five years may register to attend preschools/childcare centers. Contact individual centers to inquire about fees and the registration process. Consult the local yellow pages for a complete listing.

Public Schools—Children ages six to 17 are expected to attend the public school nearest their homes. Contact the appropriate school administration office of your city or county to determine which school to attend, or visit the nearest school office.

Birmingham City Public Schools
2015 Park Place
Birmingham, AL 35203
205-583-4600

Homewood City Schools
7 Hollywood Boulevard
Homewood, AL 35209
205-870-4203

Hoover City Schools
100 Municipal Drive
Hoover, AL 35216
205-439-1000

Mountain Brook City Schools
3 Church Street
Mountain Brook, AL 35213
205-871-4608

Vestavia Hills City Schools
1204 Montgomery Highway
Vestavia Hills, AL 35216
205-402-5100

Jefferson County Board of Education
2100 18th Street South
Birmingham, AL 35209
205-930-3800

Private Schools: Parents who wish for their children to attend a private school where tuition is charged may contact individual schools to inquire about registration. 

Selecting a Good Child-Care Program+

Parents have the right and the responsibility to make careful choices—to be good consumers of child care. It is particularly important that parents are informed and take the time to evaluate child-care options carefully. It is wise to visit more than one program before making a decision. Take your child with you to meet the provider. Observe the facility when children are present. It is recommended that you visit the child-care resources website at http://childcareresources.org to evaluate information to assist in making an informed decision on your child-care needs.

Churches, Synagogues and Places of Worship+

Birmingham has many churches, temples and places of worship. The Office of Spiritual Life offers a list of places of worship near Samford University. 

Utilities+

The university provides all utilities except telephone and cable TV in residence halls. Off-campus arrangements for utility services may be arranged through the same contacts and procedures in accordance with your lease agreement and in consultation with the applicable landlord or apartment rental office.

To install these utilities:

  • Gas: Contact Alagasco (205-326-8200) for installation of gas service. A contract and a deposit are required. Address: 20 South 20th Street
  • Electricity: Contact Alabama Power Company (205-252-9115) for installation of service. A deposit is required and a connecting charge is added to the first bill. Address: 600 North 18th Street
  • Cable TV: Check with your leasing office for area representation.
  • Water: Contact Water Works Board of Birmingham (205-251-5634) for installation of service. Address: 3600 1st Avenue North

Please be aware you may not need installation of all of the above. Many apartment complexes provide some utilities. When you are determining where to live, be sure to ask which utilities are provided and which are not.

U.S. Postal Service+

The main post office for the City of Birmingham is located at 351 24th Street North. It is open six days a week, 24 hours a day, excluding Sundays and holidays. There is a branch located on campus. Hours of operation are 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, excluding holidays. Their phone number is 205-726-2933.

Electronic Mail+

Enrolled students and employees are eligible to obtain a log-on identification name and password to gain access to their Samford e-mail box. Students and scholars should contact Technology Services should they not receive their user identification name and password. Their number is 205-726-2662.

Local Transportation+

  • Bus—Local bus service is provided by MAX (Metro Area Express) to points of interest around Birmingham, including shopping areas. DART (Downtown Area Rapid Transit), a mini-bus system, operates attractive trolleys in the central business district. Bus service is limited and not available on weekends. For information and schedules please contact 205-521-0101.
  • Taxi—Service is limited. Refer to the local yellow pages in your telephone book.
 

Applying for an Alabama Driver’s License+

Persons wanting to purchase a car during their stay in the U.S. will be required to obtain an Alabama driver’s license. Anyone in a valid nonimmigrant status (F, J, H, TN and their dependents) may apply for an Alabama driver’s license.

Individuals who are visiting the U.S. with a B-1/WB or B-2/WT status are not eligible to apply for an Alabama driver’s license. If these individuals have a need to drive in the U.S., they should obtain an international driver’s license in their home country. An international driver’s license is usually valid for a short period of time (i.e., 30–60 days).

There are several locations in Birmingham where one may apply for an Alabama driver’s license.

Listed below are the offices that are located near Samford:

908 Bankhead Highway
Birmingham, AL 35204
205-252-7445

813 Green Springs Highway
Homewood, AL 35209
205-916-2720

Written and road exams are offered Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Individuals will be required to take both a written and a road exam. The written exam is provided in a variety of languages and can be taken as many times as necessary to successfully pass the exam. You may access a copy of the Alabama driver’s license study booklet at www.dps.state.al.us. It is recommended that you study this manual prior to taking your exams.

Those individuals who do not have an international driver’s license must have a licensed driver take them to one of the driver’s license locations. The licensed driver must be willing to allow the individual use of his or her car for the road test. The officer will inspect the car. The car must be fully functional (i.e., working turn signals, horn, etc.) before the officer will proceed with the road exam.

Bring the following items when applying for an Alabama driver’s license:

  • Passport
  • Form I-94 card
  • The specific immigration document (i.e., I-20, DS-2019 or approval notice for classifications such as H)
  • Birth certificate (very helpful)
  • Social Security card (if you are not eligible for this, a denial letter from the Social Security Administration)

Please be aware that the 900-number issued to you by Samford University should not be presented to the driver’s license office

Alabama Identification Card+

This document is used solely for identification purposes. This card is not valid for driving. The Alabama identification card is issued at the same locations as the driver’s license.

Banking+

Banks offer a variety of professional services, including checking and savings accounts, certificates of deposit (CDs), automatic teller machines (ATMs), electronic banking, credit and debit cards, investment services and estate planning. When selecting a bank, it is important to determine which of these services is needed.

Banks and ATM are available throughout the Birmingham area. It is advisable to obtain a checking account as it is dangerous to carry large sums of cash. Contact the Newcomer Services department of individual banking institutions to determine which services are available. Individuals should understand all terms and agreements and receive adequate instructions on how to use the banking services. Refer to the local yellow pages for a complete listing of the various banks located throughout the Birmingham area.

Banks require certain information before they will open an account. Individuals will probably be asked to provide photo identification, some personal data, a mailing address and money to deposit. Banks also will request a social security number to be used to report earnings to the federal tax authority, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). It is advisable to obtain a social security number as early as possible in order to open a bank account. A few banks may accept an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number obtained from the IRS.

Bank Services+

Checking Account

A checking account safeguards an individual’s money while allowing for easy payment of expenses. Some banks require their customers to maintain a minimum balance of funds in their checking accounts. Virtually all checking accounts may be accessed using a plastic ATM card. The card is issued by the bank and may be used together with a personal identification number (PIN) to withdraw cash and make deposits at special banking machines. To avoid being fined, do not write a check or withdraw more money than is available in the account. When writing checks, do not leave blank areas on the check. Individuals should not write nor endorse a check for cash until inside the bank.

Savings Account

A savings account is used to safeguard money for a prolonged period. A low rate of interest is paid on the balance. Certificates of deposit pay higher interest than savings accounts; however, the individual must leave the money untouched for a specific period. The longer the money is left in the deposit, the higher the rate of interest paid.

Handling Money Safely

Do not keep large sums of cash or keep money at home. Individuals should never give out their credit card number or the card expiration date. A lost credit card must be reported immediately to the company or bank that issued the card.