Planning on studying or doing research in the US? Here are ten things you should do when you arrive.

Updated: Sep 17, 2019


1. SECURE HOUSING

Make arrangements to either move directly into housing (dormitory, apartment, sublet) or live somewhere temporarily, such as a hotel, or apartment sublet, while you search for permanent housing.

Most universities provide temporary housing, but you need to make arrangements with them before you come. Contact the international student adviser office by email to get help in advance. If you plan to rent off-campus, explore the neighborhood before you rent. Is it safe? is it close to your classes and lab? Close to public transportation? Is it served by the university's own system? If you can't check these things out in-person, try to learn as much as possible from websites. For example, you can access transportation maps online, as well as maps that display high crime rate areas of cities and towns. Also look for other nearby conveniences such as a laundromat, post office, supermarket, convenience stores, banks, parks, libraries, coffee shops, or other services you may want to live near. Google map typically displays business and buildings located in a certain area. Yelp is an extremely useful website ( http://www.yelp.com ) that can be used to find any type of business in a particular area, and it can be used to find directions. You can find excellent reviews on Yelp by customers, which can give you a quick idea about whether you want to shop in a particular store or eat in a particular restaurant.  Craigslist is a great means of finding housing. If you have never heard of it in your country, you should know that it is a very popular website and service used in the US.  If you plan to stay less than a year, search for "sublets" or "short-term housing"


2. MEET WITH THE INTERNATIONAL STUDENT ADVISER

Schedule an appointment after you arrive. Come prepared. Bring list of questions and ask for whatever information you need. Ask when the next student orientation sessions will be held. There will be three different sessions worth attending:

-- One for all new students

-- One especially for international students, and

-- One to show all new students how to use the library.

For graduate students, there will be mandatory academic orientation for you department, division, or school. Some orientation sessions are optional, but you should attend all you can. They are valuable and will save you time and effort later.



3. GET YOUR UNIVERSITY ID AND E-MAIL ACCOUNT

Be sure to check your university e-mail account regularly. It is how faculty, staff and advisers will contact you for all university matters. if you maintain other e-mail accounts, such as those with Gmail or Hotmail, then you may wishy to forward their mail to your university account or your university mail to them. Whatever you choose, you should have a regular, easy way to check your official university account.

4. SET UP A LOCAL CELL-PHONE ACCOUNT

Having a phone as soon as possible will be a great convenience that will allow you to make calls in your apartment search, as well as call utility companies (electric, gas, heat, internet, etc. See #7 below).  You will also need a phone to record names and numbers of new contacts (students, professors, adviser, administrators, etc.) as well as to give your number to others. So many business transactions are done by phone in the US, rather than by visiting some office. So this is important to take care of as soon as possible.

Carefully check the different plans various phone companies offer; they vary greatly. Also, if you have a phone from your country, it will likely not function in the US as the technical specifications differ. Also, once you get a computer and internet account, you may want to use Skype for free international chats with your family and friends back home.

5. GET a SSIN, SSN, or ITIN.

If you are not eligible to apply for a Social Security Number (SSN) as most international students are not, you are eligible to apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification number (ITIN). An ITIN cannot be used like the SSN to apply for work, but it can be used as an identification card which will be helpful on rental applications, setting up a bank account, and other financial accounts.

Here is the website for the Individual Taxpayer Identification number (ITIN):

http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/Revised-Application-Standards-for-ITINs

Here is a link to the online application:

http://www.irs.gov/file_source/pub/irs-pdf/fw7.pdf 

6. SET UP A LOCAL BANK ACCOUNT

You will need an ID to open an account. You can use your ID from the university you will attend. You can also use an Individual Taxpayer Identification number mentioned above. You can also use a driver's license. Consider getting an international driver's license before you come to the US.

Depsoit cash or traveler's checks in your new account so you have funds available immediately in your account. Your banks should treat a deposit of traveler's checks the same as a deposit of cash. That's why you should bring $2,000 or more in such checks, unless you can use a credit card or bankcard from home to withdraw that amount from a local teller machine (ATM, ABM)

After you get your account, you can order personalized checks

You can also order an ATM card for withdrawing cash from an automated teller machine.  ATM is the typical name used to refer to these machines located near business for quick cash withdrawals.

You can also get the routing number from your bank, which is required for international wire transfers. If your funding agency in your native country intends to send you money, you will need this number to complete the transaction. This is critical for your regular survival, paying bills, purchasing food, paying rent, etc., etc.

You can also purchase a debit card from your bank.

7. SET UP UTILITY ACCOUNTS FOR YOUR NEW APARTMENT.

Utilites are all the services including electric, gas, water, phone, internet, TV and other services you will need in your new home. After you sign a lease to secure an apartment, you will need to call each utility company to get service in your name. You will need to let them know the date that you wish service to start. If you delay in this process, you may have no service (lights, electric, heat, phone, etc) for several days which can be quite challenging. In some cases, your new apartment may include the cost of utilities in the rent, but you should find this out as soon as possible. Typically, water or trash collection services are included in the rental fee, but not electricity or heat. Utility companies may require that you give a "security deposit" (money which can be used by the company if you decided to leave without paying). This is common if you don't have a long credit history in the US. Also, you will want to call the utility companies even before you move into your new apartment, and schedule that service be turned for the first day that you move into your new place.

8. MAKE A LIST OF EMERGENCY PHONE NUMBERS.

You may want to store number in a notebook or phone under "in case of emergency" in case you were found unconscious and unable to communicate with a doctor or police. You can place numbers of your family and friends there. You may also want to have numbers to your consulate, university police, international student adviser, your doctor, your adviser, emergency numbers to your utility company (phone, electric) as well as bank. You can print out this list and keep in a place that is easily accessible. The general number for most emergencies is 911. This will connect you with the police, fire department, and ambulance service.

9. APPLY FOR A CREDIT CARD

Sometimes it is difficult to get a credit card from major credit card companies in the US for international students who don't have a long credit history. In this case, it may be easier for someone to get card from Target, Walmart, a gas station such as Exxon. These cards can only be used in these stores, but once you establish good credit, you can then apply for a major credit card.

A debit card is another option since it is easy to get from your bank. Unlike a credit card, it takes money directly from your bank account, but can be used like a credit card. One drawback is that they do not build your credit history.

10. TOUR YOUR NEW SCHOOL AND CITY

Ask in the office of the international students if the school provides tours. These are quite common. You can also ask if they have self-guided tours and maps if you don't want to go with a group. Ask about safety issues if you school is located in an area with crime. Learn about the local supermarkets and shopping options. Keep and open mind about the food you find. While you may not find foods like those from your country, if you are flexible, you may find that they local food is of good quality and very tasty as well. Many practices that may be common in your country may be different in the US, so be attentive and again, be flexible. Learn about the local restaurants, post office, pharmacy, laundry mat, tailor, dry cleaner, shoe repair, clothing stores, computer, TV, stereo and electronic shops, public library, museums, parks, pools, bars, night clubs, coffee shops, liquor stores, malls, churches, meditation and yoga centers, gyms and fitness centers, hospitals, clinics, doctors, fire department, police station, bicycle shop, recreation and sporting goods equipment shops. Also, if you want to learn about the credibility and quality of service provided by any particular business, read about them on Yelp ( http://www.yelp.com ). You can find excellent reviews by customers, which can give you a quick idea about whether you want to shop in a particular store or eat in a particular restaurant. Yelp can also be used to find any type of business in a particular area, and it can be used to find directions. You can download this app for your phone on iTunes.

If your are planning to stay a short time, consider buying slightly used or "second hand" furniture, clothes or other items that you can easily sell or give away when you move back to your country if they are too big or costly to ship back. This will save you lots of money. You can find many good deals on items at Craig's list (craigslist.org), as well as at stores like the GoodWill, and Salvation Army and any general "thrift shop".  Craig's list is a popular place to find jobs, apartments and buy a wide variety of used merchandise at inexpensive prices. You can also find many inexpensive good quality items at "tag sales", "garage sales" or "lawn sales". These are impromptu sales where people place items outside their home in the garage or on their lawn, and the prices are usually quite cheap. You can bargain and ask for a lower price, and often these are run by students who just want to get rid of their things at very low prices. You can also look for "flea markets". Also stores like IKEA, and Target generally have some fairly inexpensive furniture and other items. You can find good deals on furniture, computers, clothes, cars, etc. You can also learn about days that local museums are free, and restaurants that have "all you can eat" for one fee, as other means to save money. Universities will also have many free entertainment venues including music, speakers, movies, etc.

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While I have added several of my own tips above, I  wish to gratefully acknowledge that the top ten suggestions mentioned here are primarily a paraphrasing of Succeeding as an International Student in the United States and Canada, by Charles Lipson.  I highly recommend this book for anyone planning to do research or study in the US. It has many more practical tips. Here is a link to Amazon where you can find it at a discounted price: 

http://www.amazon.com/Succeeding-International-Student-Chicago-Academic/dp/0226484793/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1383320213&sr=8-1&keywords=succeeding+as+an+international+student+in+the+united+states+and+canada

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