Newcomer's Handbook Portland

Getting Settled

Now that you’ve found the home of your dreams—or at least a place to hang your Gore-Tex jacket—you’ll need to get the utilities turned on, get connected to the Internet and/or cable TV, and get rid of the pile of trash and recycling you’ve accumulated during your move. And you’ll need to get a new driver’s license and register your car (if you have one). And you’d better register to vote. You might want to subscribe to a newspaper. And you’ll probably want a library card. And…well, moving in is just the first step to getting settled in Portland.

Utilities

A few large utilities (and several small ones) serve the two states and seven counties that make up the greater Portland metropolitan area. In most cases, you won’t be able to choose which company provides your water, electric, cable, or gas service, so there’s no point in comparing prices. You can usually sign up for service directly with the utility, either by telephone or online. If you are unsure about which specific utility serves your new address, check with your new city or county government, your realtor, or your property manager. Whichever utility company serves your new home, call the one-call utility locator service for your area before you start digging in your new yard. In Oregon, call the Oregon Utility Notification Center at 800-332-2344, or visit the center online at digsafelyoregon.com; in southwest Washington, contact the Washington Utility Notification Center, 800-424-5555, callbeforeyoudig.org.

Electricity

Two large investor-owned utilities and one public utility district (PUD) provide electricity to most of the Portland metropolitan area. The primary electric utility for most of the city of Portland and its suburbs in Oregon is Portland General Electric (PGE) (503-228-6322, 800-542-8818 for customer service, 503-464-7777, 800-544-1795 to report outages and emergencies, portlandgeneral.com). Owned from 1997 to 2006 by Enron, and thus one of that company’s few real assets, PGE is now a stand-alone company. To start service, call customer service or visit cs.portlandgeneral.com.

Pacific Power (888-221-7070 for customer service and new accounts, 877-508-5088 for outages, pacificpower.net), serves most of Northeast Portland and a portion of downtown Portland. Pacific Power is the local business name of PacifiCorp, a major power company that is part of Berkshire Hathaway Energy.

In Clark County, Washington, electricity is delivered by Clark Public Utilities (360-992-3000 or 800-562-1736 for customer service, 360-992-8000 for outages, clarkpublicutilities.com), a customer-owned PUD.

A few PUDs, member-owned electric cooperatives, and municipal power companies provide electricity to outlying communities in Oregon:

  • Canby Utility, 503-266-1156, is Canby’s independent, city-owned utility.
  • Columbia River PUD, 503-397-0590, crpud.net, provides electric service to much of Columbia County, including Scappoose and St. Helens, and a small part of northern Multnomah County.
  • Forest Grove Light and Power, 503-992-3250, forestgrove-or.gov/city-hall/light-a-power.html, is a department of the city of Forest Grove; it provides electricity to Forest Grove and part of the surrounding area.
  • McMinnville Water & Light, 503-472-6158, mc-power.com, is the municipal utility company for the city of McMinnville.
  • Salem Electric, 503-362-3601, salemelectric.com, serves portions of Keizer and Salem (primarily West Salem).
  • West Oregon Electric Cooperative, 503-429-3021, 800-777-1276, westoregon.org, serves rural areas of Clatsop, Columbia, Tillamook, Washington, and Yamhill counties.

Most local utilities offer green power or renewable energy options to residential customers. PGE has two programs: Green Source and Clean Wind. (See greenpoweroregon.com.) Pacific Power’s version is the Blue Sky program, which offers similar options. The Clark Public Utilities program is called Green Lights. Contact your utility or visit its website for additional information and costs.

Natural Gas

Many houses and apartments in the Portland area do not use gas at all; some homes have electric furnaces and water heaters—a holdover from the days when the region’s hydropower was ridiculously cheap—and a few older homes still have oil furnaces. If your home has a natural gas furnace, stove, or water heater, NW Natural is almost certainly your provider. To activate new service, call 503-226-4211 or 800-422-4012 or visit nwnatural.com/service.

Heating Assistance

In Oregon, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (503-986-2000, oregon.gov/OHCS/Pages/SOS_Low_Income_Energy_Assistance_Oregon.aspx) helps low-income households pay heating bills during the winter months; for details about other heating assistance options, visit Heat Oregon (503-612-6300, heatoregon.org). Washington has a similar program with an identical name, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (360-725-2857, commerce.wa.gov/Services/individualassistance/Low-Income-Home-Energy-Assistance-Program/). Additional heating assistance programs, funded by the federal government or utility companies, may be available; visit the federal site, liheap.ncat.org, or call 866-674-6327.

Washington has a disconnection moratorium rule that allows low-income households that have exhausted all other alternatives to keep their heat on from November 15 through March 15. To qualify, you must follow certain procedures, including contacting the utility and trying to work out a payment plan. Contact the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (800-333-9882, wutc.wa.gov/consumer) for details. Oregon does not have a similar moratorium rule; if you are unable to pay your utility bills during the winter, contact your utility directly to work out a payment plan to avoid disconnection.

Telephone

Area Codes

Portland and its Oregon suburbs have two area codes, 503 and 971. The 971 area code was introduced in 2000 as an “overlay” area code for the Portland metropolitan area, and there is no geographic division between the two area codes. Telephone companies are required to exhaust their supply of 503 prefixes before assigning a 971 area code, and currently 971 numbers are mostly assigned to cell phones. As a result, the 503 area code is still by far the most common—so much so that many residents and businesses still only give out seven-digit numbers, with the “503” implied.

Because these two area codes overlap, you must dial the full ten-digit telephone number, including the area code (but not including an initial “1”), when you make a local call. To complicate matters, the 503 area code encompasses large parts of northwest Oregon outside the metro area, including Salem and the north coast; calls to these areas are toll calls, and you’ll need to dial a “1” before the area code. There is unfortunately no way to tell from the area code alone whether a 503 number is a local or distance call.

The area codes for the rest of the state are 541 and 458; in the Willamette Valley, the geographic area covered by these codes begins just south of Salem. The 458 area code is even less common than 971, which is to say you will encounter it rarely, if at all. Like callers in northwest Oregon, callers from the 541 area code region also need to dial the full ten-digit telephone number.

The area code for southwest Washington is 360. Currently, it is not necessary to dial the area code first when making local calls to a 360 number. The implementation of a proposed new 564 overlay area code for western Washington has repeatedly been delayed.

Landline Phone Service

Century Link has a virtual monopoly on local residential telephone service in Portland and much of the suburban area. You can order new residential service online at centurylink.com/home/phone/, or by calling 866-642-0444. Frontier Communications (frontier.com, 800-921-8101) is the incumbent carrier in Yamhill County, most of Washington County (except for North Plains, which is Century Link territory), Gresham, Sandy, Happy Valley, Wilsonville, and Silverton, and for much of Clark County, Washington.

A few competitors offer alternatives to the main carriers for local phone service, although these newcomers primarily serve business rather than residential customers. In addition, Comcast offers cable-based phone service (see Cable Television, below), and if you have a broadband connection you can choose to use Internet-based phone service (see VoIP, below).

A few Clackamas County communities are served by independent telecom companies:

  • Beaver Creek Cooperative Telephone Company, 503-632-3113, bctelco.com, provides telephone, wireless, cable television, and Internet service in Oregon City and Beavercreek.
  • Canby Telecom, 503-266-8111, canbytel.com, provides telephone, Internet, and digital television (via DSL) service in Canby.
  • Colton Telephone & Cable TV, 503-824-3211, colton.com, offers the services its name suggests, along with Internet service, in Colton.
  • Molalla Communications Company, 503-829-1100, molalla.net, offers a similar range of services in Molalla.

In Washington, local telephone service is open to competition. Although Century Link and Frontier are the dominant local carriers in Clark County, consumers can use one of several other companies for residential phone service; check the listings in the front of the phone book or go to the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission website, wutc.wa.gov/telecom, to find authorized telecommunications companies.

Long-Distance and International Service and Prepaid Calling Cards

You are under no obligation to use your local phone company for long-distance service. Many companies now offer unlimited long-distance calls for a flat fee, which can be a good deal if you make lots of long-distance calls. (Local phone companies often offer their customers “bundle” discounts on unlimited long-distance plans.) Otherwise, analyze your typical calling patterns and select a plan that offers the best deal based on the time of day and average duration of your calls. You can research and compare long-distance plans at websites such as saveonphone.com and tollchaser.com.

While the ubiquity of mobile phones (and the decline in public pay phones) has made prepaid calling cards largely obsolete, some convenience stores and corner markets still sell these cards in denominations of $5 and up. Some of these card companies advertise rates as low as 1.2 cents a minute. Those rates apply to actual talking time, though—with per-call charges and surcharges for using a pay phone, you’ll deplete the card balance rapidly if you make lots of short calls. Still, prepaid cards can be cheaper than many long-distance plans if you tend to make only a few long calls.

Making international calls from your home phone can be shockingly expensive. Most long-distance companies offer general or country-specific international calling plans; there is often a monthly charge, so these plans work best for people who make frequent international calls, especially to a single country. For occasional international calling, consider an international prepaid calling card. Alternatively, sign up for a web-based calling program such as Skype (skype.com), which offers very low international rates.

VoIP

Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, allows people with broadband connections to make voice telephone calls over the Internet, including international calls, for a flat monthly fee. The biggest players in this market have traditionally been Skype (skype.com) and Vonage (vonage.com), but most major and some minor telephone, cable, and Internet providers now offer VoIP service, and a host of standalone VoIP providers has arisen. VoIP may be a good value if you make many long-distance calls. However, VoIP has some downsides: it won’t work during a power failure or if your broadband connection goes down, it can suffer from poor sound quality, and your location cannot always be identified if you call 911 (although this last issue is slowly being resolved). Given these pitfalls, it may be advisable to keep a conventional landline or a cell phone for emergencies or power outages.

Wireless Phone Service

Portlanders, like urbanites around the world, increasingly view cell phones as a necessity. A growing number of residents have dropped their traditional long-distance service, or have even abandoned landlines entirely, preferring to rely instead on their cell phones (and their carriers’ national rate plans) for all voice communication. This approach has potential pitfalls—for example, wireless reception in hilly neighborhoods can be spotty or nonexistent, and service can be inconsistent even in areas with otherwise adequate coverage—but it may be a good solution if you plan to get a mobile phone anyway. Keep in mind that vast swaths of the rural Northwest lack any coverage at all, and Oregon is one of the only states in the country where analog-compatible phones are still necessary in some remote areas. To be sure that you’re not stuck with a cell phone that won’t work where and when you need it, confirm that your provider will allow you to test the phone for a trial period after you start service and to return the phone if reception is unacceptable. (Not all carriers accept returns, and some who do charge a restocking fee.)

Check the Yellow Pages for a complete list of cellular providers, and research the latest deals on service plans between companies. Be prepared to swallow a one- to three-year contract for the best monthly rates; if you don’t need a free or subsidized phone, and you don’t make lots of calls, a pay-as-you-go plan may be a better deal. The largest cellular carriers in the Portland area are:

Most of these carriers have stand-alone stores as well as mall-based kiosks throughout the Portland area. Some electronics and office supply stores, large retailers like Fred Meyer, Target, Costco, and Walmart, and online merchants like Amazon.com sell phones and service plans on behalf of one or more carriers. In addition, Century Link and Frontier offer discounts for bundling cell and landline services; check with your prospective carrier for details.

Internet Service

Your telephone or cable provider should be annoyingly eager to also provide you with Internet service. The bundled services they offer can often be good deals; however, it’s worth shopping around for an Internet Service Provider (ISP) that will best support your particular needs (for web hosting, for example, or national dial-in access if you travel frequently). Be sure to check out local ISPs as well as the big national providers; local companies sometimes offer less expensive (and more responsive) service than big players like MSN, AOL, or Earthlink.

If you’re deciding between DSL and cable broadband service, be sure to compare the speeds of the services available in your specific neighborhood. Ask your neighbors about their experiences, and consider whether the room in which you plan to place your modem already has a phone or cable jack in place. (It can be expensive to add new jacks.)

Wi-Fi (f)

Portland’s experiment in free municipal Wi-Fi ended badly in 2008 when MetroFi, the private company that had a contract to provide Wi-Fi access across 95 percent of the city, pulled the plug, citing high costs and lower-than-expected ad revenue. In a rare display of fiscal restraint, the city refused to pay MetroFi $9 million to keep what was a pretty mediocre service going. Wi-Fi service is now fairly ad hoc: coffee shops, bars, libraries, and other establishments throughout the metropolitan area are Wi-Fi hotspots that provide free or paid wireless access to their patrons. A few sites like wifipdx.com provide lists of Portland Wi-Fi hotspots. The Personal Telco Project (personaltelco.net) is an all-volunteer effort to create a public (as opposed to municipal) Wi-Fi network in Portland; check their website for hotspot listings.

Cable and Satellite Television

Cable Television

Comcast (800-934-6489, comcast.com) has a monopoly on traditional cable television service in Portland and most suburban areas. Frontier has the cable franchise in east Multnomah County, and also offers FiOS television service over fiber-optic lines to many of its telephone subscribers in Washington County. (See Landline Phone Service, above, for contact and service area information.) There are several small franchises in outlying areas, and Beavercreek, Colton, and Molalla, have municipal cable systems; Canby offers digital television over its municipal DSL lines.

Satellite TV

Satellite television is available throughout the region from Direct TV (855-852-4388, directv.com) and Dish (855-852-4388, dish.com).

Water and Sewer

Portland takes great pride in its drinking water system, although the system’s reputation took a hit in 2014 when a system-wide boil-water alert was issued due to potential bacterial contamination. Generally speaking, though, the city boasts some of the highest-quality tap water in the country because its primary source is the protected Bull Run watershed near Mount Hood. (The city’s backup source is drinkable but somewhat less pristine groundwater from a well field near the Columbia River.) Most Portlanders drink water directly from the tap; some people filter their water, which is a wise practice, especially if you live in an older home that may have lead in the water lines.

To set up water service in the city of Portland, contact the Portland Water Bureau (503-823-7770, portlandonline.com/water). Residential bills come every three months, with a monthly billing option for customers who sign up for electronic billing. Water bills include sewer and stormwater utility charges. The stormwater charge is based on the estimated volume of runoff from roofs and paved areas on your property. Through the Clean River Rewards program, homeowners and businesses can qualify for a discount on the stormwater charge if they take certain steps to prevent rainwater from flowing into streets or sewers. Visit cleanriverrewards.com for details.

Outside Portland, most incorporated cities provide municipal water and sewer service to their residents (in some cases, using Portland water). To sign up or for more information, contact your city hall or visit your city’s website (see the Useful Phone Numbers and Websites chapter). Many unincorporated areas obtain water service from nearby municipal systems or from special water districts. The largest of the latter, Tualatin Valley Water District (503-642-1511, tvwd.org), serves nearly 200,000 residents in eastern Washington County, including parts of Beaverton, Hillsboro, and Tigard.

If you’re concerned about the quality of your local tap water, or if you just want more information about it, you can contact your water utility and ask for a copy of their annual report (which is usually posted online); alternatively, contact the Environmental Protection Agency (call the safe drinking water hotline, 800-426-4791, or go to epa.gov/safewater).

Consumer Protection–Utility Complaints

Try to resolve billing or other disputes with your phone, gas, or electric company on your own. If a problem persists, contact the Consumer Services Section of the Oregon Public Utility Commission (PO Box 1088, Salem, OR 97308-1088, 503-378-6600 [Salem], 800-522-2404 [Oregon outside Salem], puc.state.or.us/Pages/consumer/index2.aspx). OPUC’s website includes an explanation of the complaint procedure and a complaint form that you can submit online.

In Washington, contact the consumer affairs staff of the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (P.O. Box 47250, 1300 South Evergreen Park Drive SW, Olympia, WA 98504, 800-333-9882), or visit wutc.wa.gov/fileacomplaint to use their online complaint form. Note that these agencies only regulate investor-owned utilities, so if you have a dispute with a public utility district or municipal utility, you’ll have to work out the problem with the utility.

Trash and Recycling

If you’re renting, you can skip much of this section—Oregon law requires landlords to provide garbage and recycling collection—but if you’re buying a home you’ll need to arrange for trash pickup.

Oregon

Trash

Metro, the Portland area’s regional government, coordinates solid waste disposal and supports programs to increase recycling and reduce waste across the region. Local cities and counties franchise actual garbage pickup to a host of private companies. To find your garbage hauler, visit Metro’s “Find your garbage hauler” page at oregonmetro.gov/hauler or call 503-234-3000. Contact your hauler directly to set up garbage hauling service and to find out about available container sizes and monthly charges.

If you need to dispose of a large item—like that moldy, squirrel-infested sofa that the old owner of your new house “forgot” to take off the front porch—you can load it in your car, truck, or trailer, cover it with a tarp, and haul the thing to one of Metro’s transfer stations:

  • Metro Central Station, 6161 NW 61st Ave, Portland
  • Metro South Station, 2001 Washington St, Oregon City

For directions and hours, call Metro Recycling Information at 503-234-3000 or visit oregonmetro.gov/tools-living/garbage-and-recycling. Alternatively, you can have a private company deliver (and take away) a large drop box; do a web search or look in the Yellow Pages under “Garbage & Rubbish Collection.” Rates are generally uniform between companies for the same services, and depend on the size of the box and the type of waste you plan to put inside. If you’re looking to expend less effort but more money, call a service like 1-800-GOT-JUNK, which will send a crew to clean up your mess for you and whisk it away.

If you live in Washington County, two other privately operated locations might be more convenient. The Forest Grove Transfer Station (1525 B Street, Forest Grove, 503-992-1212) accepts the same kinds of materials for disposal and recycling as Metro’s transfer stations. Visit wmnorthwest.com/transferstation/forestgrove.htm for hours and fee information. The Hillsboro Landfill (3205 SE Minter Bridge Road, Hillsboro) accepts only “dry waste” (i.e., no kitchen waste or other materials that could decompose rapidly and cause odor or vector problems) and some recyclables. Call 503-640-9427 or visit wmnorthwest.com/landfill/Hillsboro.htm for hours, fees, and details about what kinds of waste the landfill will accept.

Can It Be Reused or Recycled?

If you don’t want materials that are still potentially usable, you can call Metro Recycling Information at 503-234-3000 to talk with a recycling specialist who will help you find a convenient option for recycling, reusing, or disposing of the unwanted item. Alternatively, visit Metro’s interactive “Find a Recycler” web page (oregonmetro.gov/findrecycler), which features information about hundreds of reuse and recycling options across the region. (The call center maintains the database used for both the hotline and the Find a Recycler web tool, so you’ll get the same information by phone or online.) The database is updated on almost a daily basis, so information is as current as possible.

Recycling

Franchised garbage haulers pick up curbside recycling and yard debris/compost. Each local government regulates curbside recycling and determines what materials are accepted, although glass, paper, metal, and plastic bottles and tubs can be recycled at the curb throughout the region. Some jurisdictions offer more comprehensive recycling options than others.

In Portland, the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (503-823-7202, PortlandOnline.com/bps/recycle) administers the city’s curbside recycling and compost/yard debris pickup programs. In Portland, recycling and yard debris/kitchen waste are picked up weekly, but garbage is picked up every other week. For information about curbside recycling in other parts of the metro area, visit oregonmetro.gov/tools-living/garbage-and-recycling/recycling-home-0, call Metro at 503-234-3000, or contact your local government.

More ambitious recyclers can go beyond the limited range of materials recycled at the curb; to learn where to recycle packing peanuts, block styrofoam, old batteries, antifreeze, and other hard-to-find-a-home-for items, contact—you guessed it!—Metro at oregonmetro.gov/findrecycler or 503-234-3000. Metro also accepts recyclables at its transfer stations.

If your new home will be in an outlying area beyond Metro’s jurisdiction, contact your city or county government directly to find out how to set up garbage and recycling service. If you’re going to live someplace really remote, you may have to haul your own garbage to the dump!

Washington

Waste Connections Inc. (360-892-5370, wcnorthwest.com) provides trash, recycling, and yard debris pickup in most of Clark County. Call them or visit their website to set up service. The city of Camas hauls garbage for city residents; visit ci.camas.wa.us/index.php/pwgarbage or call 360-834-2462 for details. For general information on garbage collection, recycling, and yard debris collection in Clark County, visit co.clark.wa.us/recycle.

Clark County has three transfer stations:

  • Central Transfer Station, 11034 NE 117th Ave, Vancouver, 360-256-8482
  • Washougal Transfer Station, 4020 S Grant St, Washougal, 360-835-2500
  • West Van Materials Recovery Center, 6601 NW Old Lower River Rd, Vancouver, 360-737-1727

Electronics Recycling and Hazardous Waste Disposal

Electronic waste, such as television sets, computers, computer monitors, and the like, contains such heavy metals as lead, mercury, and cadmium and should not be thrown out. If the item still works, consider donating it to a nonprofit such as Free Geek (1731 SE 10th Ave, 503-232-9350, freegeek.org), an organization that rebuilds used electronics and provides them to people and organizations in need.

To learn how to recycle electronic waste in the Portland area, visit Metro’s electronics recycling web page at oregonmetro.gov/findrecycler and select “electronics” from the list of recyclable items, or call 503-234-3000. If you live in Oregon outside Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington counties, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s website (oregonecycles.org) has useful information about e-cycling (computer and electronics recycling); you can also call 888-532-9253 to find a collection site near you. The Washington Department of Ecology posts similar information at ecy.wa.gov/programs/swfa/eproductrecycle/.

Household hazardous waste such as paint, solvents, or chemicals is not safe to toss in the trash and should be disposed of properly. If you generate or inherit such materials in the Portland area, you can take your household hazardous waste to Metro for free, safe disposal or recycling. Metro has two hazardous waste acceptance facilities, which are adjacent to the two transfer stations listed above and are open Monday through Saturday. For information and directions, call 503-234-3000 or visit oregonmetro.gov/hhw. In Clark County, household hazardous waste can be taken to the Central Transfer and Recycling Center on weekends from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., or the West Van Materials Recovery Center on Friday or Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; the Washougal Transfer Station accepts hazardous waste from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the third Saturday of every month. (See the listings above for contact info.) Both Metro and Clark County organize frequent community hazardous waste collection events from March through November.

Of course, you should properly dispose of your electronic and hazardous waste before you move to Portland; it’s illegal and unsafe to transport hazardous waste, and getting rid of bulky electronics you no longer use will reduce the amount of stuff you have to move. Call 1-800-RECYCLE to find out where you can recycle electronics or dispose of hazardous waste in your area.

Automobiles

Driver’s Licenses and State ID Cards

Oregon

You must obtain an Oregon driver’s license when you become an Oregon resident. (The law does not specify a time limit or grace period.) You must be at least 16 to obtain a driver’s license. If you have a valid license from another U.S. state or territory, Canadian province, South Korea, or Germany, and you’re over 18, you will only need to pass a written test and an eye exam; a driving test is generally not necessary, although the DMV has the authority to require one. (Be aware, however, that the Oregon written exam has the reputation of being comparatively challenging.) Bring proof of identity with your full legal name (including your current out-of-state license); proof of current residence (such as lease or mortgage documents, a credit card or utility bill, or a bank statement); proof of legal presence in the United States (such as a passport or birth certificate or appropriate visa); and cash or check for the license fee (currently $60) to a regular or full-service Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicles Services Division (DMV) office.

Motorcycle endorsements cost $144; you’ll need a valid motorcycle endorsement from another U.S. state or territory or Canadian province.

To get a state identification card, bring proof of identity and residence and the $44.50 fee to a DMV office. You can obtain additional information about driver’s licenses and state ID cards from the DMV (503-299-9999 [Portland area], oregon.gov/ODOT/DMV/). The helpful brochure “Quick Tips for Doing Business with DMV” is available in PDF format at odot.state.or.us/forms/dmv/6841.pdf.

You can get a new Oregon driver’s license at any of the following Portland-area DMV offices:

  • 10280 SW Park Way, Beaverton
  • 10 82nd Dr, Gladstone
  • 2222 E Powell Blvd, Gresham
  • 1300 SW Oak, Suite H, Hillsboro
  • 3 SW Monroe Pkwy, Suite D, Lake Oswego
  • 1502 SW Sixth Ave, Portland (Downtown)
  • 8260 N Interstate Ave, Portland (North)
  • 1836 NE 82nd Ave, Portland (Northeast)
  • 8710 SE Powell Blvd, Portland (Southeast)
  • 37395 Hwy 26, Sandy
  • 14240 SW Galbreath Dr, Sherwood
  • 500 N Columbia River Hwy, Ste 400, St. Helens

A complete list of regular and express DMV offices in Oregon is available online at oregon.gov/ODOT/DMV/pages/offices/index.aspx. Not every office offers all DMV services.

Washington

You must get a Washington driver’s license within 30 days of the date you establish residency in the state. If you meet certain qualifications you can pre-apply online, but ultimately you’ll need to go to a driver’s licensing office with proof of identity (including your unexpired out-of-state license), your social security number (if you don’t have it memorized), and the license and application fees (currently $35 plus a $54 issuance fee). Most, but not all, offices now accept credit cards. If you already have a license from another state, British Columbia, Germany, or South Korea, you’ll need to complete an application and pass a vision test, but you won’t need to take a written or driving test unless your out-of-state license is expired.

To get a state identification card, you’ll need to go to a licensing office with proof of identity and $54. More information about driver’s licenses and state ID cards is available from the Washington Department of Licensing, 360-902-3900, dol.wa.gov/driverslicense/. Two full-service licensing offices serve Clark County:

  • 9609 NE 117th Ave, Vancouver, 360-576-6060
  • 1301 NE 136th Ave, Vancouver, 360-260-6288

Owning a Car

It is true that it is possible to live and move about happily in Portland without a car. It is also true that most Portland households own at least one car, and that trying to make your way around the suburbs without one can be a lonely, stressful, and time-consuming endeavor. Assuming you’re in the car-owning majority, there are several steps you’ll need to take to become a happy (or at least legal) Portland motorist.

Automobile Registration

Oregon

You are required to register and title your car(s) in Oregon when you become an Oregon resident. You can register your vehicle at any of the state DMV offices listed above; to save time, try to combine errands and get a driver’s license during the same visit. You’ll need to bring the title and (for most vehicles) proof that your car has passed an emissions test (see below). If there is a lien on your car (if the car is financed, for example), you’ll need permission from the security interest holder. You’ll also need to have a VIN inspection; this brief procedure can be performed at any full-service DMV office or can be done during your emissions test. Oregon does not require a safety inspection, and registration is a fixed amount (currently $86 per year for passenger cars, plus an extra $19 for residents of Multnomah County); fees are not based on a vehicle’s weight or value. Registration is good for two years.

Be sure to bring a checkbook or enough cash to cover the registration, title, license plate, and VIN inspection fees; the DMV does not accept credit cards. If you have a passenger vehicle and you’re not getting specialty or personalized plates, expect to pay a total of about $194 for a two-year registration on a used car; the cost for new vehicles will be higher. Full information on titling and registering a vehicle in Oregon is available on the Oregon DMV website (oregon.gov/ODOT/DMV/pages/vehicle/titlereg.aspx) or by calling 503-299-9999.

Washington

You must title and register your vehicle within 30 days of moving to Washington. (You’ll need to show your Washington driver’s license, so take care of that first.) To register a vehicle, you will need to submit your current title, a notarized Vehicle Certificate of Ownership Application, and possibly proof that the vehicle has passed a Washington emissions test (see below). You will also need to pay a host of fees and charges, including title fees, subagent fees, a one-time VIN inspection fee, and a registration fee. Registration fees alone, which are based on vehicle, range between $43.75 and $63.75 for most vehicles. More details about vehicle registration, including specific fees, are available from the Department of Licensing (360-902-3770, dol.wa.gov/vehicleregistration/). Additional fees can easily equal or exceed the registration cost.

To register, visit or mail your paperwork and fees to any vehicle licensing office. There are ten vehicle licensing offices in Clark County; a complete list is available online at fortress.wa.gov/dol/dolprod/vehoffices/. (Note that Washington driver’s licensing offices cannot process vehicle registrations.)

Automobile Insurance

In Oregon, the legally required (and woefully inadequate) minimum liability insurance coverage is $25,000 per person/$50,000 per crash for bodily injury to others; $20,000 per crash for damage to the property of others; personal injury protection coverage of $15,000 per person; and uninsured motorist coverage of $25,000 per person/$50,000 per crash for bodily injury. You do not need to bring proof of insurance with you when you register your car (unless you are taking a driving test or have previously been convicted of driving without insurance), but you will need to certify that the vehicle has at least the legally required minimum insurance coverage. You must carry proof of insurance in your vehicle at all times; electronic proof is acceptable.

Washington’s mandatory insurance requirements for bodily injury or property damage to others are the same as Oregon’s, except that the property damage minimum is only $10,000; personal injury protection and uninsured motorist coverage are not required. You must carry proof of insurance in your vehicle at all times.

Emissions Testing

In general, any vehicle brought into the Portland metropolitan area must pass an emissions test before it can be registered. Once your car is registered, you’ll need to have it re-tested every two years.

Oregon

In Oregon, pre-1975 vehicles, motorcycles, and all vehicles registered outside the Portland metropolitan area and the Rogue Valley in Southern Oregon are exempt from testing. The testing fee is $21, payable by cash, credit card, money order, or debit card only; checks are not accepted. Testing hours vary; generally, vehicle inspection stations are closed on Sundays and Mondays, and stay open late on Wednesday nights. There are six inspection stations, known as “clean air stations,” in the Portland area:

  • Clackamas, 9350 SE Clackamas Rd (near intersection with SE 82nd Dr, off I-205 just north of the 212/224 exit))
  • Gresham, 1200 SW Highland Dr (near 182nd Ave and Powell Blvd)
  • Northeast Portland, 7701 NE 33rd Dr (between Columbia Blvd and Marine Dr)
  • Scappoose, 52751 NE 1st (just off Hwy 30)
  • Sherwood, 14962 SW Tualatin-Sherwood Rd (east of Sherwood off Pacific Hwy)
  • Sunset/Hillsboro, 5130 NW Five Oaks Dr (off Cornelius Pass Rd, just north of the Sunset Hwy/US 26)

You can check out the crowd on online “lane cams” on the DEQ website, or call 971-673-1630, before you go. Clean Air Stations are normally busiest on Tuesdays, so a visit on Wednesday evening, Thursday, or Friday will result in a shorter wait time. For complete details of Oregon’s emissions testing program, including station hours and program requirements, visit the Department of Environmental Quality Vehicle Inspection Program website (deq.state.or.us/aq/vip/) or call 503-229-5066 or 877-476-0583.

Washington

If you live in a non-rural part of Clark County, your car will probably have to pass an emissions test. Vehicles less than 5 or more than 25 years old are exempt from testing, as are certain hybrid vehicles with a city fuel economy rating of at least 50 miles per gallon and diesel passenger vehicles weighing three tons or less. Note that Washington requires emissions tests every two years; the model year of your car determines whether your car gets tested in even or odd years. If you move to Washington with a car that would not otherwise have to be tested during the year you move, you can wait a year to get it tested (but you’ll have to register the vehicle right away regardless).

The inspection fee is $15, payable by cash, local check, or credit or debit card. Complete information is available from the Washington Vehicle Emissions Program (253-395-1177, emissiontestwa.com). Two emissions inspection stations, operated by a private contractor, serve Clark County:

  • West Vancouver, 14110 NW 3rd Ct., Vancouver, 360-574-3731
  • East Vancouver, 1121 NE 136th Ave, Vancouver, 360-254-2173

Inspection stations are open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Thursdays until 6 p.m.), and Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; they are closed Sundays, state holidays, the day before Christmas, and during inclement weather (such as snowstorms). Reservations are not available, but current wait times are posted at emissiontestwa.com/e/waittime.aspx. Waits are generally shortest on Mondays and in the middle of each month.

Parking

Several close-in Portland neighborhoods, including portions of Nob Hill, Goose Hollow, the Central Eastside Industrial District, Lair Hill, and the Homestead neighborhood near OHSU, are part of the city’s Area Parking Permit Program. The proximity of these areas to downtown, combined with their lack of parking meters, make them attractive places for commuters to park; at the same time, many people who live and work in these neighborhoods do not have off-street parking, so as a consequence on-street parking is in short supply to begin with. The city introduced a permit program to address this potential problem. You generally cannot park in these zones for more than a specified length of time (typically 90 minutes or two hours) during the day, but residents of each zone, and people who work there, can purchase zone parking permits that exempt their cars from the visitor parking time limit. (Street signs explain visitor parking restrictions, so don’t worry too much about accidentally parking in a permit-only zone.) To find out whether your new address is in an Area Parking permit zone, or to learn how to apply for a permit, visit portlandoregon.gov/transportation/38744 or call the Portland Office of Transportation at 503-823-5185.

Some municipalities in the Portland area require you to obtain a permit to park overnight on a public street. Check with your county or city government to see if a permit is necessary in your neighborhood.

For information about parking garages, meters, towing, and park-and-ride lots, see the Transportation chapter.

Owning a Bicycle

Formalities for bicyclists are few. In Oregon, helmets are required for riders under 16. Washington has no statewide helmet requirement, but Vancouver requires riders of all ages to wear helmets. Bicyclists must use lights between dusk and dawn and follow all applicable rules of the road. Bicycle registration is not required.

See the Transportation and Green Living chapters of this book for more details on being a Portland bicyclist.

Voter Registration

Oregon is a vote-by-mail state. There are no polling places; the state mails a ballot to the address where you are registered, you complete the ballot, and you mail it back to the county elections office or drop it off at a designated ballot drop box. Clark County, Washington, also conducts elections by mail.

You can register to vote in either state when you get your driver’s license. Alternatively, mail-in voter registration forms are available at libraries, community centers, and other public buildings, and are also available online (oregonvotes.org in Oregon; vote.wa.gov in Washington).

In Oregon, mail or drop off your voter registration form at your county elections office (see below). If you are a first-time Oregon voter, your registration must be postmarked at least 21 days before an election for you to be eligible to vote in that election.

In Washington, mail completed forms to your county election department. If you already have a Washington driver’s license or ID card, you can register online. The deadline to register by mail is 29 days before an election. If you are not registered to vote in another Washington county, you can register in person at your county elections department up to 8 days before an election.

The following are the county elections offices in the Portland area:

Full information about voter registration, political parties, and election dates is available from the Oregon Secretary of State, Elections Division (866-ORE-VOTE, oregonvotes.org) or the Washington Secretary of State (360-902-4180, 800-448-4881, vote.wa.gov).

Political Contributions Tax Credit

Oregon taxpayers who make certain political contributions are eligible to claim a state tax credit for the amount of the contribution, subject to an annual maximum of $100 for a joint return or $50 for a single or separate return. Complete details are available from the Oregon Department of Revenue (503-378-4988, 800-356-4222; oregon.gov/DOR/PERTAX/).

Since Washington has no personal income tax, it does not offer a similar state tax credit.

Public Libraries

Each county in the Portland area operates its own library system. The library systems are online, so you can scan for titles, place requests, check your borrowing records, and renew titles from home. (Phone renewals are also available.) In addition to physical books, most area library systems now allow patrons to check out or use ebooks, streaming services, and other media. Policies vary from library to library, but generally to get a library card you’ll need to fill out an application form and present photo identification; applicants younger than 13 must get a parent’s signature (but don’t have to show photo ID). If you don’t yet have an Oregon or Washington driver’s license, you’ll need to show a utility bill, credit card bill, or other financial or quasi-official piece of mail that shows your local address. Check out the Neighborhoods and Communities chapter of this book or visit the appropriate system’s website to find the library nearest you.

Most of the library systems in the region belong to the Metropolitan Interlibrary Exchange, or MIX, which means that if you live anywhere in Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas, or Clark Counties (as well as several other counties outside the metropolitan area), you can get a free library card from any library in the region. Note that MIX does not include community libraries in Columbia, Marion, or Yamhill Counties (which do not have countywide systems), but does include much of southwest Washington. The separate Oregon Library Passport Program encompasses public libraries throughout Oregon, as well as some academic libraries. Information on these programs is available from your local branch.

The following are the main library systems in the Portland area:

  • Multnomah County Library, 503-988-5402, multcolib.org, with 19 libraries, serves the city of Portland and its eastern suburbs. It is the oldest public library system west of the Mississippi, and it is also, per capita, among the nation’s busiest: library patrons check out or renew some 25 million titles annually, an average of more than 30 items for each county resident.
  • Washington County Cooperative Library Services, 503-846-3222, wccls.org, is a cooperative network of 17 city, community, and specialty libraries in Washington County.
  • The Library Information Network of Clackamas County, 503-723-4888, lincc.org, is an organization of 13 county and city libraries in Clackamas County.
  • Fort Vancouver Regional Library District, 360-906-5106, fvrl.org, covers a large swath of Southwest Washington, including nearly all of Clark County (with the exception of the city of Camas, which operates its own public library).

Some academic libraries at Portland-area colleges and universities are open to the public and may allow borrowing privileges. For a list of colleges in the region, see the Higher Education chapter.

Passports

Getting a passport can take upward of six weeks, so be sure to give yourself plenty of time. If you’re leaving the country imminently, you can pay an extra fee and receive two-week expedited service; if you need even faster service, search the Internet for passport expediting services.

If you don’t currently have a valid passport, apply in person at any passport acceptance facility (a designation that includes many post offices and other government offices). To find the facility nearest you, check the government pages of the phone book or search by ZIP code at the State Department’s Passport Acceptance Facility page (iafdb.travel.state.gov). You must submit two identical full-face passport photos of yourself, proof of U.S. citizenship (such as an original or certified birth certificate, an expired passport, or a naturalization certificate), a completed passport application and proper payment, and a driver’s license or other valid form of photo identification. Complete information is available at travel.state.gov/NH-Content/passports/english.html

Many Portlanders travel to Canada—Vancouver in British Columbia is only about 6 hours away by car (traffic permitting) and is a popular long weekend destination. Currently, U.S. citizens traveling by land or sea must show a full U.S. passport, a U.S. Passport Card (PASS), or other authorized document such as a state-issued “enhanced” driver’s license. (A regular driver’s license won’t cut it anymore.) U.S. citizens traveling by air must present a U.S. passport.

A single parent traveling with children, or grandparents or other guardians traveling with children, should carry proof of custody or letters from the non-accompanying parent(s) authorizing travel out of the country. (These documents are in addition to proof of the child’s citizenship.) Hunters may take ordinary rifles and shotguns into Canada (provided they are declared), but fully automatic and assault-type weapons are prohibited. A complete list of restricted and prohibited firearms can be found at the RCMP’s Canadian Firearms Program website (rcmp-grc.gc.ca/cfp-pcaf/). In addition, anyone with a criminal record (including a drunk driving conviction) should contact the Canadian embassy or nearest consulate before going to Canada. For complete information about traveling to Canada, peruse the Consular Services web page of the U.S. mission to Canada (rcmp-grc.gc.ca/cfp-pcaf/). In addition, anyone with a criminal record (including a drunk driving conviction) should contact the Canadian embassy or nearest consulate before going to Canada. For complete information about traveling to Canada, peruse the Consular Services web page of the U.S. mission to Canada (canada.usembassy.gov/consular-services.html).

Television

For broadcast (i.e., free) television, the Portland market features the major national networks plus a few independents. Of course, if you’ve ordered cable or satellite TV, the channels will differ from those given here. The main local television stations are:

Most of these stations now have multiple digital channels with different simultaneous programming.

Radio

From jazz to punk, country to classical (and classic rock), NPR’s “All Things Considered” to Rush Limbaugh, Portland’s radio menu offers something for almost every taste (or absence thereof). In addition to the usual fungible selection of Clear Channel stations and other nationally programmed radio fodder, Portland boasts several excellent independent, locally owned stations. Here’s a brief guide to what’s available on the Rose City’s radio airwaves; remember that most radio stations now stream programming over the Internet, so you can try out local stations even before you move to Portland.

News, Talk, and Sports

Music (Commercial)

Public and Member-Supported Radio

  • KBOO, 90.7 FM, kboo.fm (progressive/alternative community radio)
  • KMHD, 89.1 FM, opb.or/kmhd/ (jazz)
  • KOPB, 91.5 FM, opb.org (Oregon Public Broadcasting: NPR, PRI, news, talk, and public affairs)
  • KPSU, 1450 AM, kpsu.org (college radio from Portland State University)
  • KQAC, 89.9 FM, allclassical.org (classical)
  • KXRY, 91.1 FM, xray.fm (eclectic mix of local DJs and progressive talk)

Christian

Spanish Language

Children’s Programming

  • KDZR, 1640 AM (Radio Disney)

Newspapers and Magazines

Whether your interest is restaurants, parenting, bicycling, anarchism, or New Age living, there is a local (and probably free) newspaper or magazine for you. In addition to the publications listed below, the freebie racks at local libraries and natural foods stores groan under the weight of dozens of niche magazines and newspapers. (There are fewer than there used to be; an unfavorable advertising climate and the growth of the Web have driven many long-established print publications out of business.)

The Oregonian (oregonlive.com/oregonian) is Portland’s long-established “serious” news daily. Like many metropolitan dailies nowadays, its quality is wildly inconsistent, but the Oregonian occasionally wins Pulitzer prizes. It is the only Oregon newspaper with a statewide circulation. In 2014 it converted from a traditional full-size broadsheet format to a more compact, 11” x 15” format. It also discontinued daily home deliveries; it currently prints papers daily, but delivers papers only on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Subscribers have online access to the digital edition daily. Upstart competitor the Portland Tribune (portlandtribune.com), part of the local Pamplin Media Group empire, is published in hard copy form on Tuesdays and Thursdays; founded in 2001, the Tribune focuses primarily on local and regional news, and is available for free at many locations around the metropolitan area. Pamplin Media also publishes community weeklies that serve most of the major suburbs; the combined efforts of the conglomerate’s news staff are posted online on a rolling basis. Across the Columbia River, the Vancouver Columbian (columbian.com) covers communities in Clark County seven days a week. If the local papers are insufficiently urbane for your taste, the New York Times (nytimes.com) offers home delivery of its Northwest regional edition.

Business news junkies may enjoy perusing the Portland Business Journal (bizjournals.com/portland/) and the Daily Journal of Commerce (djcoregon.com). The Wall Street Journal (online.wsj.com) is available for delivery in some parts of the metro area.

Willamette Week (wweek.com) is a free weekly that covers the local arts and entertainment scene and dabbles (often successfully) in serious journalism; its coverage of local politics is in some cases superior to that of mainstream newspapers. Copies are available at supermarkets, record stores, stand-alone kiosks, and restaurants and cafés throughout Portland and in some of the suburbs. The Willy Week’s edgier-than-thou weekly competitor, the Mercury (portlandmercury.com), is likely to annoy most readers over the age of 30, but its coverage of the local music scene is excellent. Just Out (justout.com), an arts and entertainment paper that covers events of interest to Portland’s gay and lesbian community, comes out (so to speak) monthly.

Several local glossy monthlies beckon from newsstands and supermarket checkout aisles. Portland Monthly (portlandmonthlymag.com) covers shopping, dining, personalities, getaways, and current events in the metro area for a readership with apparently substantial disposable income; despite the preponderance of ads, the writing can be entertaining and informative. 1859 (1859oregonmagazine.com), named for the year of Oregon’s statehood, is a bimonthly statewide lifestyle magazine with a self-described mandate to showcase “the breadth of the Oregon experience.” The editorially slighter bimonthly Oregon Home (oregonhomemagazine.com) caters to the nesting and home-remodeling crowd. If you’re interested in the movers and shakers of the local economy, Oregon Business (oregonbusiness.com) will keep you in the loop. Monthly community papers like the Southwest Portland Post (swportlandpost.com), the Southeast Examiner (southeastexaminer.com), and The Bee (inner Southeast Portland, readthebee.com) cover items of local interest to the various quadrants of the city; these publications are typically delivered to area residents for free, and are also available at libraries and local shops.

Several papers and magazines report on events of interest to specific ethnic communities, including the Asian Reporter (asianreporter.com), El Hispanic News (elhispanicnews.com), and Oregon Jewish Life (ojlife.com); the Portland Observer (portlandobserver.com) and the Skanner (theskanner.com) emphasize coverage of events of interest to the city’s African-American community.

Portland is awash in a sea of regional special-interest publications, including various activity-centric ’zines, New Age and alternative health magazines like New Connexion (newconnexion.net), and such parenting publications as Portland Family Magazine (portlandfamily.com) and Metro Parent (metro-parent.com). If your only dependent is a dog, then Spot (spotmagazine.net) is your newspaper. The Portland Alliance (theportlandalliance.org) and the Peaceworker (peaceworker.org) preach leftist politics to the converted. Scores of other niche publications await your discovery and/or avoidance at public places around the city.

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