It’s hard to go anywhere these days without hearing about Uber. Whether it’s ads around town or online, news stories or even pop culture, Uber’s name is everywhere.
Yet even though you’ve heard of it, you are still wondering how to use Uber. How does it work? How do you pay? Is it safe? These are just a few of the questions we’ll address in this guide on how to use Uber, which will take you from “I’ve heard of Uber” to “Oh, Uber, yeah I used that to get home last night.”
Even if you’re familiar with the service from your friends’ experiences or hearing about it in the news, you may have some outstanding questions about how to use Uber on a regular basis:
- What is Uber?
- How it works
- How to use the app
- How much does Uber cost?
- Uber vehicle options
- How to take your first Uber ride
- Frequently asked questions
This resource will answer your questions, put your mind at ease, and make you feel like an expert Uber rider.
What Is Uber?
For a long time, Uber’s catch phrase was “Your private driver,” which does a pretty good job of explaining the service’s premise. Uber is a car service made up of independent contractors who transport you using their personal vehicles. It’s similar to a taxi or private driving service, except that the drivers work for themselves and you can request the rides on demand, at any time, using a smartphone.
Uber also uses GPS and digital mapping technologies to allow you to track the progress of your ride and estimate your arrival time. All payment is handled through the Uber mobile app, ensuring that you never have to worry about having cash or letting a stranger handle your credit card.
Uber was founded in 2009 by Garrett Camp and Travis Kalanick, and the service launched in San Francisco in 2011. The company was originally intended as a service to hire high-end “black cars” at a cheaper price than traditional private driving services. Uber expanded its services in 2012 to include UberX, which allowed owners of non-luxury vehicles to drive for Uber after passing a background check and meeting the company’s other requirements.
UberX is now the company’s flagship service, though they have since expanded into food delivery and a variety of other rideshare options that we’ll discuss later in this article. The company is now run by CEO Dara Khosrowshahi.
How Does Uber Work?
If you’ve never used Uber, taking your first ride can seem like magic. While the service is a marvel of modern technology, the basic premise of Uber is quite simple. You pull out your smartphone, open the app and type in your desired location.
Uber will use your phone’s GPS to get your current location and provide an estimated cost of your ride to your destination. The cost depends on a variety of factors including the vehicle you select, the time and your local market.
Once you’ve chosen the vehicle, you then request the ride. The app will contact nearby Uber drivers, and once a driver has accepted your ride request, you’ll see a notification that they’re on their way. You can see your driver’s current location on a map and stay updated on when they’ll arrive. The driver can also contact you if they run into unexpected delays such as traffic.
When the driver has arrived at your location, you’ll receive a notification. The app also will tell you the driver’s name and the make, model and license plate number of their car. This way, you can ensure that you’re getting in to the correct vehicle. Many vehicles also display a sticker or sign in the window indicating that the driver is working for Uber.
Once you’re in the vehicle, the driver will confirm your destination and you’ll be on your way. During the ride, you can continue to use the Uber app to track your current location and the estimated time to your destination. This part of the process is pretty much like riding in a traditional cab, except there’s no need to worry about a meter or handling any cash — the rate is already set and paid through the app.
After the driver drops you off, he or she will then mark the ride as “Complete” and be on their way to pick up their next passenger. You’ll then have the opportunity to rate the driver on a scale of 1-5 stars, leave any comments or feedback, and give the driver a tip if you desire (more on tipping below).
There are a few more details that will vary based on your city and the type of ride you select.
How to Use Uber
Signing up for the Uber service is easy. All you’ll need are the following:
- A smartphone capable of running the Uber app (most smartphones are capable of this)
- A working phone number and email address
- A valid credit card, debit card or PayPal account
Assuming you have all of the above, you’re ready to create your account using the following steps:
Step 1: Download the Uber App
Step 2: Fill in Your Information
Open the app and fill in the information that Uber requests. You’ll be prompted to input your first and last name, phone number and preferred language. You’ll also need to enter your email address, create a password and agree to Uber’s Terms and Conditions.
Step 3: Verify Your Phone Number
Uber will send you an SMS message to verify that the phone number works. The text message will include a verification code that you’ll be prompted to enter into the app.
Step 4: Add Your Payment Information
You’ll complete the process by adding your preferred payment information. Valid payment options include a credit card, debit card or PayPal account (though this is not available in all countries). Uber will automatically charge all rides you take to the payment method you provide. Uber notes on their website that they cannot accept prepaid cards.
Step 5: Confirm Your Account Information via Email
How Much Does Uber Cost?
One common question new riders have is how much Uber will cost. Will it save you money over a traditional taxi? Is it cheaper than driving your personal vehicle? How does it compare to public transit?
Let’s break down the different factors Uber uses to calculates your fare to get a better understanding of what you’ll pay.
First, it’s important to understand that there are two ways Uber calculates your fares: upfront fares and post-trip fares. The type depends on your city. We’ll look at upfront fares first.
Upfront Uber Fares
The upfront fare is the most common, and it’s a major advantage of using Uber over a traditional taxi. The fare you pay will be displayed once you’ve selected your destination and pickup location. You know exactly what the ride will cost before your driver even arrives.
How does Uber calculate upfront fares? According to their website, upfront fares are determined using the following information:
- A base rate – This is the minimum amount you pay to take any Uber ride, which ensures that drivers always receive reasonable compensation. The base rate depends on your city and is subject to change. You can get a sense of your city’s base rate using a fare estimator, which we’ll discuss below.
- Rates for estimated time and distance of the route – These charges account for the distance (which can be known in advance using GPS) and the time (which Uber can estimate but is subject to change due to traffic, road closures and other conditions that are difficult to predict).
- The current demand for rides in the area – Basic economics apply to Uber: the higher the demand, the higher the price. You can expect higher prices during rush hour, late at night when bars close, and if there are sporting events, concerts or other events happening.
Let’s examine a theoretical trip in Nashville. Using Uber’s official Fare Estimate tool, here’s a breakdown of the price for a trip using UberX between two relatively central locations in the city:
Using all these variables, Uber estimates a trip cost of $14-$19.
If you’re curious to estimate fares for yourself, use Uber’s official Fare Estimate tool. Just put in any two addresses in a location where Uber operates, and Uber will show you estimated costs for all the types of service available in your area.
To make sure you’re saving money, you can also use the Ridester Uber Fare Estimator, which allows you to estimate both Uber and Lyft fares between different addresses.
Post-Trip Uber Fares
For some cities, local regulations don’t allow Uber to provide upfront fares. Instead, you’ll receive notification of the total trip charge once you’ve completed your ride. Other than that, the process of taking and paying for the ride is exactly the same as one with an upfront fare.
While post-trip fares can be frustrating, you can still use one of the fare estimate tools we discussed above to get a rough sense of what your ride will cost. If you use Uber regularly, you’ll gain an idea of what costs will be through experience.
Uber Vehicle Options
When you open up the Uber app and input your destination, you’ll be presented with a wide variety of vehicle options. All these options can be overwhelming, and it’s important to understand which is right for you so that you don’t choose the wrong one or pay too much. The exact options will depend on your local market, but here’s a breakdown of the most common Uber offerings:
- UberX – This is the standard Uber service. It provides a private ride in a standard car for up to four passengers, and it’s available in most markets.
- UberXL – If you need to carry a larger group of people without spending a ton of extra money, then you can use UberXL. These vehicles can carry up to six passengers, making them perfect for nights out with a big group or for larger families.
- UberBLACK – This is a ride in a black luxury vehicle. You will pay substantially more for this option, but it can be nice for special occasions such as a date or important business meeting. This service is also widely available.
- UberSUV – You can think of UberSUV as UberBLACK for groups. This is a high-end service, and you’ll pay accordingly. UberSUV can accommodate up to six passengers, and the drivers tend to dress and behave very professionally, making it a similar experience to a private car service you’d use for a business function.
- UberSELECT – This service is somewhere between UberX and UberBLACK. The cars are high-end luxury sedans or SUVs, but they don’t have to be black and won’t cost you quite as much as an UberBLACK ride.
- UberLUX – This is the most high-end Uber option available. You can expect to ride in a luxury car such as a Rolls Royce or a Tesla Model X. When you need to make a remarkable first impression, this is the car to go for. Due to the high-end nature, availability is limited, and you can also expect to pay very premium prices — the highest of any Uber services.
- UberPET – If you need to bring your pet and want to ensure that your driver will be comfortable with it, you can use UberPET. This service is only available in select markets and you’ll pay an extra surcharge of $2 to use it.
- UberPOOL – If you’re looking to save money and don’t mind sharing your ride with other passengers, then you can use UberPOOL. The service allows you and up to one other person to request a ride at a discounted fare. Along the way, Uber will find other riders who are headed in the same direction as you, and the driver will stop to pick them up. This helps to keep costs down. While you should expect additional pickups and dropoffs during your trip, it’s also possible that you’ll be the only one on the ride; it just depends on the current demand.
- UberWAV – WAV stands for wheelchair accessible vehicle. This service will give you access to a van that can accommodate riders in a wheelchair. Uber also notes that “uberWAV driver-partners are certified by a third party in safely driving and assisting people with disabilities,” so you can rest assured that entering and exiting the vehicle will be a breeze. The service is available in select cities.
As we already mentioned, the precise vehicle options available to you will depend on the market. In some countries, for example, you can even request rides in boats or rickshaws, and Uber is also working on plans to offer helicopter service in the future.
How to Take Your First Uber Ride
Now that you’ve signed up for the app, have an understanding of how much your ride will cost and know the difference between the various Uber vehicle options, you’re ready to hop in an Uber for the first time and start exploring your town. Taking your first ride can be intimidating. To take the mystery out of the process, here’s exactly how to take your first Uber ride, including what to do before, during and after the ride.
Before the Ride
Let’s go into a bit more detail about how to request an Uber ride. Just follow these steps:
- Open the app.
- Type in your destination. You can also select a location on the map. It’s also a good idea to verify that your pickup location is correct, especially if you’re in an area with one-way streets or other unusual roads.
- Select your vehicle type.
- Tap “Confirm.” You can also a schedule a ride for later, which we’ll discuss below in the Frequently Asked Questions. Once you hit “Confirm,” Uber will match you with the nearest available driver.
- Wait for confirmation that the driver has accepted your ride.
- Await pickup.
While you’re waiting, you’ll be able to see the driver’s progress and your remaining wait time in the Uber app. You can also contact the driver via text or call if you have any questions or need to give them any special pickup instructions. The driver will also be able to contact you in case they’re running late or have a question about where to pick you up.
During the Ride
Once you see the driver, they’ll often roll down their window and confirm your name. They’re not required to do this, but it’s a common courtesy that ensures they’re picking up the correct person. This is especially important if they’re picking you up somewhere busy such as outside a club, bar or sporting event.
Once you’ve verified that it’s the correct driver, you can get in the car. If you have a bag, suitcase or other item that you’d like to put in the trunk, the driver may offer to assist you if they are able. If you’re traveling with a group, be sure to discuss who wants to sit where before the driver arrives in order to avoid a delay.
Feel free to make small talk with the driver, but don’t feel like you have to force it. If you’re traveling, be sure to let your driver know — they may be able to give you some recommendations about things to do while you’re in town. Above all, just be polite.
Don’t be afraid to ask the driver if there’s something they can do (within reason) to make your drive more comfortable, such as changing the music or adjusting the heat or air conditioning.
When the driver reaches your destination, they’ll do their best to let you off in the spot that’s most convenient for you. Of course, depending on the traffic and geography of where they’re dropping you off, it may not always be possible for them to get you directly in front of your destination.
After the Ride
Once the ride is over, the Uber app will send a message asking you to rate the ride. When the driver first accepted your ride, you may have seen a star rating next to their picture. These ratings are the result of previous riders’ evaluations of the driver, and now you have the opportunity to make your voice heard.
Once you’ve given a rating that you think is appropriate, Uber will also give you the chance to go into more detail. If you leave five stars, they’ll give you some options to describe what you liked about the ride; if you give fewer, then they’ll ask for suggestions on how the driver could improve in the future.
Finally, the app will ask if you want to give the driver a tip. While tips are not required, they are appreciated; they help drivers offset the cost of operating their vehicle. Not to mention, they’re a way for you to say thanks for great service. Uber will provide set amounts you can tip, and you can also input a custom amount. There’s nothing wrong with tipping the driver a couple dollars in cash before they drop you off if you prefer.
Frequently Asked Questions
You now have an overview of how to use Uber, and should feel confident taking your first ride. That being said, we know that you may still have further questions. To help answer them, we’ve put together the following FAQ.
What happens if I cancel a ride?
Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, you may need to cancel an Uber ride. Uber understands that this can happen, but they also want to make sure that drivers are compensated for the time they spent going to get you.
For this reason, if you cancel a ride anywhere from 2-5 minutes after you request it, you may be charged a cancellation fee of a couple dollars. The amount of time you have to cancel varies based on your city, and some cities do not allow cancellation fees.
To find out the policy for your city, visit Uber’s “Am I charged for cancelling?” page.
What is surge pricing? How can I avoid it?
Surge pricing occurs when there is more demand for rides in an area than there are available Uber drivers. It can result from something as routine as rush hour traffic, but it can also be the result of construction, sporting events, concerts, inclement weather, or anything that might increase the demand for rides.
The policy is controversial, sometimes leading to fares of hundreds of dollars just to go across town.
That being said, Uber’s official statement on the matter is that surge pricing incentivizes drivers to make pickups in busy areas and also helps the supply of drivers keep up with the demand for rides.
Surge pricing is a reality of using Uber that you’re bound to run into sooner or later. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to understand how surge pricing works and how you can avoid it.
Uber calculates surge fares using a multiplier that they apply to the final fare for a trip. For example, if a normal Uber ride costs $15 but there’s a 3x surge, the fare will be $45. The precise amount of the surge varies based on the market and a variety of other conditions.
Luckily, there are ways for you to avoid surge pricing as an Uber rider. Often, the simplest way is to walk a few blocks to a less busy area and then call an Uber from there.
Finally, you can avoid surge pricing by being strategic about when and where you use Uber.
Can I call an Uber for someone else?
Yes, you can, with a couple conditions. First, the person cannot be in your location. Second, you have to specify that the ride is for someone else when you book it and input the contact information of the person you want Uber to pick up.
- Open the app.
- Enter the person’s location.
- Uber will ask you whom the ride is for. Select “Someone else.”
- Enter the person’s contact information. You can either select someone from your contacts or enter the person’s phone number.
- Confirm the contact information.
- Enter the person’s destination.
- Tap “Confirm Rider” and then “Request.”
The person will be able to receive text updates on the progress of their ride. They do not need an Uber account to use this service. However, you will be responsible for the cost of the ride and for the person’s conduct.
Is Uber available in my city?
To find out if Uber is available in your city, visit the Uber Cities page and type in the name of your city. You’ll be able to see the service options available in your area.
Do I need a smartphone to request an Uber?
While using an Apple or Android device is the easiest and most feature-rich way to request an Uber, it is possible to request one through the company’s website. This can be handy for riders who don’t have a smartphone or if your phone is out of battery.
Learn how to use your computer to request an Uber in our guide: Request Lyft or Uber Online.
Do I need to tip?
While tipping is not required, it is appreciated. Obviously, if you received poor service, then you should not tip (and you should make note of the poor service when you rate the driver).
However, assuming you had a good experience, giving the driver a few extra dollars to show your appreciation is a good gesture.
And don’t worry about tips affecting your rating or future service — drivers can’t see the tips until after they’ve rated you, and they can’t see any personal information associated with the tip. To learn more about tipping drivers, see The Complete Guide to Uber Tipping.
Can I pay using cash?
In all but a few select markets, no. One of the selling points of Uber is its safety and convenience for both riders and drivers, and a large part of this comes from all arrangements and transactions occurring through the app.
Because of this, you cannot pay for your fare using cash. You must pay with the credit or debit card on file with your account. As Uber puts it on their website, “Uber is designed to be an entirely cashless experience in most cities.”
That being said, it is perfectly fine to tip in cash if you so desire.
Is Uber available outside America?
One of the great benefits of Uber is that it’s available across the world. The exact type and extent of service varies depending on the market, but Uber is currently available in a variety of countries around the world. The exact number is difficult to pin down at the moment due to the recent sale of the company’s business operations in Southeast Asia, but Uber currently lists 81 different countries on their website.
How do I drive for Uber?
If learning about how to ride with Uber has gotten you interested in driving for the service, then check out How Does Uber Work? The Complete Guide For Drivers to learn how you can get started as a driver.
Can I split the cost of an Uber?
Yes, although you and the people splitting the fare will each be charged $0.25 for the convenience of doing so.
To split a fare:
- Request a ride.
- Swipe up from the bottom of the app and tap your selected payment method.
- Tap “Split Fare.”
- Enter the names or phone numbers of other riders.
From there, Uber will automatically split the cost of the ride among you and the other riders, though the other riders are not required to accept the split.
Are there age restrictions for riders?
Yes. As part of Uber’s Terms of Service, you must be 18 to use the app and request rides. All riders under 18 must be accompanied by another rider age 18 or older.
What is my Uber passenger rating?
In order to hold both riders and drivers accountable and ensure a safe, pleasant experience, Uber allows both parties to rate each other at the conclusion of a ride. Your rating ranges from 1-5 stars (though realistically you’d get banned from the app before your rating would ever go to 1 or 2 stars).
It’s up to your driver to rate you, and you shouldn’t worry about maintaining a 5-star rating; this is nearly impossible. As long as you maintain a rating above 4.5 stars, you’ll have no problems getting rides. Learn more about how to check your passenger rating (and how to improve it) in our How To Check Your Uber Passenger Rating guide.
Can I schedule an Uber in advance?
Yes. You can schedule an Uber up to 30 days in advance. This is perfect for when you need to get somewhere at a predetermined time such as catching a flight.
To learn how to schedule an Uber in advance, check out our How To Make An Uber Reservation guide.
Can I bring my pet?
According to Uber’s Pet Policy, drivers are not required to allow pets in their vehicles unless they are part of the UberPET service or the animal is a service animal. Note also that in U.S. markets, Uber adheres to the ADA definition of a service animal, which only includes dogs.
That being said, many drivers will be happy to accommodate pets, provided you let them know in advance. It’s courteous to do so, just in case a driver cannot have pets or other animals in their vehicle due to allergies, space restrictions or personal preference.
Can Uber drive me to another city?
While Uber’s service focuses on transporting riders within one city, there’s nothing to stop willing drivers from taking a rider from one city to another. You will pay steeply for the service (which makes sense, given that the driver will have no guarantee of getting a return fare).
But provided the driver is willing to do it, you can take rides of long distances. Uber does note on their website that “trips may automatically end after 4 hours.” However, you can simply request a new ride if this happens.
What do I do if I have a problem?
If there’s an emergency, always contact local emergency services.
But if you have a less serious issue and need to notify Uber, you can contact Uber support through the app (find the “Help” tab), visit the Uber website, or call the 24/7 support phone number. There are also a few other ways to contact Uber, which we explore in our full How to Contact Uber guide.
How is Uber different from Lyft? Which one should I use?
You may also have heard of Lyft, which is an Uber competitor available in the U.S. and Canada. To read a comparison of the two services and decide which one is right for your needs, check out our full, unbiased, regularly updated guide: Uber vs. Lyft: A Comprehensive Comparison.
What is Uber Eats?
Uber Eats is a food delivery service built using the same technology that enables Uber. It is a separate service from the regular Uber app. You can learn more about it here.
Does Uber have a referral program?
Yes, Uber offers a referral program for both new and existing users. New users can get ride credit when they sign up for the service using a promo code.
And once you’ve signed up for the service, you can also continue to receive discounts through referring new riders to the service. To do this, open your Uber app, tap the “Menu” button, and then tap “Free Rides.” You’ll see your Uber referral code and a variety of ways to share it.
How to Get a Discount on Your First Uber Ride
We hope you now have a better understanding of how to use Uber, as well as answers to any questions you might have about the service. If there’s a question we didn’t cover, please share it in the comments below; we’ll do our best to answer it or point you to someone who can.
Before you go, we want to let you know that you can get a discount on your first Uber ride. Just enter our code “TRYNOW” when you sign up to receive free credit worth up to $15 on your first ride. Amount varies by city.