Living in USA
While in the United States, you will want to do more than just study. You will have many opportunities to discover more about the country through daily contact with Americans, by exploring all that your area has to offer, and by taking some time to travel to other corners of the United States. You will have to deal with such matters as banking, shopping, postal and telephone services, automobiles and traffic laws, tipping customs, and so on. This section gives practical information to help you become familiar with the services, conveniences, opportunities, and ways of daily life in the United States. If you are traveling to the United States with your family, it also provides information to help you help them settle in your new home.
One of the most important things you will have to take care of before you start your studies in the United States is finding a place to live. This is an important decision since it will be one of your biggest expenses and will affect your personal and academic adjustment. Everyone is happiest and most productive in surroundings that are comfortable to them.
You may arrive at your school in advance of the date when you can move into your permanent housing, or you may need to look for housing. There are a number of choices when temporary, overnight accommodations are required. The most expensive are hotels and motels, but some "budget" motel chains can be quite reasonable. Other options include the local YMCA or YWCA, youth hostels, and international houses. At some schools, university residences may be available, or you may be able to stay with a local family or current student. It is always best to check with the international student adviser in advance for information on overnight housing options.
Almost all U.S. colleges and universities provide their students with the option to live in residence halls or dormitories (also called "dorms"). These are usually for single students, not for married couples or families, and are situated on or close to the campus. It is a great place to meet U.S. students and make new friends rapidly. Dormitory rooms are equipped with basic furniture, and many dormitories in the United States also have a cafeteria. In some dorms there may be a kitchen for those who would rather cook for themselves. Dormitories usually have common rooms where students can get together to watch television, play games, or simply be with friends. Supervisors, often called "residence advisers" or "resident directors," often live in dormitories to keep an eye on safety and cleanliness and to make sure the rules are observed. Most of the time, these residence advisers are students themselves, employed by the university. The residence adviser can also be a great source of information and support throughout the academic year.
Usually there is a great demand for residence hall space, and it might not be easy to get a room. As soon as you receive your acceptance letter from your chosen school, return the housing application. An advance deposit may be required. At some colleges and universities, dormitory rooms are so much in demand that a lottery is held to determine who will be granted space.
Some campus housing closes for holidays, vacations, and break periods; others may be open year-round. If you require campus housing during vacations and holiday periods, be sure to inquire well in advance regarding availability. Also check with your international student adviser regarding the possibility of a homestay or off-campus housing options
Many rooms in dormitories are shared with one or more roommates. Many universities require first year students to share a room. Your roommate will be someone of the same sex, whom you will not know. Be prepared to live with someone who could be very different from you. Roommate arrangements often lead to life-long friendships, but on rare occasions roommates can prove mismatched. If you have problems in your living arrangements with your roommate, do not hesitate to contact your residence adviser or anyone else in charge of housing at your university to discuss the situation. In extreme cases, it is possible to change rooms or roommates.
Dormitory rooms usually do not have a private bath or toilet. Instead, residents share large "community" bathrooms, which are separate for men and women. In the United States, a bathroom includes a toilet, a sink, and a bathtub or a shower.
Generally, students living in a dormitory have to follow a set of rules to ensure smooth community living. There are rules to control the noise level, the cleanliness, the number of visitors, and other aspects of living. These rules can vary from building to building to cater to different student tastes. For example, some dormitories might be designated as "24-hour quiet" buildings for students who prefer a more studious lifestyle, while some others might not have strict noise regulations for students who have a more spirited lifestyle. Make sure you are familiar with the rules before you move into a residence hall to avoid unnecessary discomfort or misunderstandings.
Examples of typical campus housing
Coed residence halls: Coed dormitories have both men and women living in the same building. For some international students, this might be a new and very different concept, but it works very well on U.S. campuses. However, male and female students do not share rooms. Sometimes men and women live on different floors or in separate suites, which are small apartments that contain several sleeping rooms, a common living area, and one or two bathrooms.
Single-sex residence halls: These dormitories are for those who prefer to live in an all-male or all-female environment. Universities may set aside a residence or at least part of a residence building that houses women and men separately.
University apartments: Some universities operate apartment houses on campus. Apartments are always in high demand. Usually priority is given to upper-level undergraduate and graduate students and to students who are married.
Fraternity and sorority houses: Fraternities (for men) and sororities (for women) are close-knit social organizations of undergraduate men and women who live in a house operated by the organization. Fraternity and sorority houses may be either on- or off-campus. There is emphasis on social activity in fraternities and sororities. New members are chosen through various means during a period called "rush week." Rush week is often held the week before classes begin. Living in a fraternity or sorority house may be restricted to upper-level students.
Married student housing: At some universities certain apartments or houses are owned and operated by the university exclusively for married students and families. Usually, only a limited number of units are available. These houses and apartments are usually furnished. The demand for these units is very high. Married students should inquire as early as possible about the availability of these houses or apartments.
"Before I left for the USA, I knew that as a first-year student I would have to live in the university dormitory in a shared room. I was afraid that life in the dormitories would be too loud and would not help my studies. I also did not like the idea of having to share my room with a complete stranger! I contacted the international student adviser in my university to ask for advice, and he wrote to me that the university offered what he called '24-hour quiet' floors for students who wanted to live in a more quiet and studious environment. I eventually got a single room on a 24-hour quiet floor. It was strange at first to share my room with another person, but I soon got used to it. My roommate and I eventually became good friends. Living on campus also had many advantages, for example, being able to get up later in the morning for class! Of course, as in any living arrangement, there were some times when the residence was not so quiet or studious, but we had a residence adviser who made sure the rules were observed. I do not regret taking the decision to live in residence. It made me enjoy my time in the United States even more!"
— Christina, Sweden
The basic unit of exchange in the United States is the dollar ($), which is divided into 100 cents (¢). One dollar is commonly written as $1 or $1.00. There are four denominations of commonly used coins: 1 cent, 5 cents, 10 cents, and 25 cents. Americans usually refer to coins, not by their value in cents, but by their names. A one-cent coin is a penny, a five-cent coin is a nickel, a ten-cent coin is a dime, and a 25-cent coin is a quarter. There are also one-dollar coins and half-dollar (50-cent) coins but they are seldom found in circulation.
1. What type of visa do I need to become an academic student in the United States?
Most non-U.S. citizens who wish to study in the United States will seek an F-1 (non-immigrant) student visa, but there are other visa types that are sometimes authorized for those who study in the U.S. Here is a short description of the different visa types that involve study:
F-1, or Student Visa: This visa is the most common for those who wish to engage in academic studies in the United States. It is for people who want to study at an accredited U.S. college or university or to study English at a university or intensive English language institute. Learn More
J-1, or Exchange Visitor: This visa is for people who will be participating in an exchange visitor program in the U.S. The "J" visa is for educational and cultural exchange programs. Learn More
M-1, or Student Visa: This visa is for those who will be engaged in non-academic or vocational study or training at an institution in the U.S. Learn More
2. What is a Visa?
A visa allows a foreign citizen to travel to a U.S. port-of entry and request permission from the U.S. immigration officer to enter the United States. It does not guarantee entry into the U.S. For more information about the definition of a visa, as well as policies and procedures regarding visas, please visit Destination USA.
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3. Applying for a Visa – Key Points to Keep in Mind
In order to apply for a visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate, you must first have a SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System)-generated document (either an I-20 or DS-2019) issued by a U.S. college or university or Department of State-designated sponsor organization. You will be required to submit this form when you apply for a visa. The U.S. academic institution or program sponsor will provide you with the appropriate SEVIS-generated form only when you have been academically admitted to the institution or accepted as a participant in an exchange program. The institution or program sponsor will also send you additional information about applying for the appropriate visa, as well as other guidance about beginning your academic program in the United States. (For more information about SEVIS, see below.)
Once you have all the required documentation, you may apply for the visa, even if you do not intend to begin your program of study for several months. It is best to apply early for the visa to make sure that there is sufficient time for visa processing.
Planning Ahead for the Visa Process, Not Just Your Academic Admission
One of the most important things you can do to ensure that you will be able to arrive in time for the start of your educational program in the United States is to plan well in advance, not only for the academic portion of your U.S. program, but also for the visa process. This means you will need to request and receive the appropriate visa-qualifying document (either an I-20 or DS-2019) from the U.S. institution or program sponsor well in advance of your planned departure to the United States. You will also need to make an appointment for your visa interview. Pleaseconsult the U.S. Embassy or Consulate nearest you to find out how long it may take to get an appointment.
Applying for a Visa – Key Points to Keep in Mind
Among the things you’ll need to do is pay the SEVIS fee, pay the visa processing fee (the procedure will differ from one U.S. Embassy/Consulate to another, so visit the website of the U.S. Embassy, and make an appointment for the visa interview (again, procedures will differ, so visit the website of the U.S. Embassy). You should also make sure you have all the documentation you will need when you go for the interview, including the visa-qualifying document (I-20 or DS-2019), financial support documents, proof of payment of the SEVIS and visa fees, and a completed visa application form. Ensure that you complete the visa application correctly by following the Department of State website procedures carefully.
Key Information about Visas and Entering the United States
There are two additional bits of information that are useful to know. The first is that the U.S. Embassy/Consulate cannot issue an F-1 or M-1 visa more than 120 days before the actual start of the program in the United States. (J-1 visas may be issued at any time.) However, visa applicants are encouraged to apply for their visa as soon as they are prepared to do so. Thus, if the college or university to which you have been admitted states on the I-20 that the program will start on September 1, a visa cannot be issued before May 1. Second, even if you have been issued a visa to enter the United States, you will not be allowed to enter the country more than 30 days before the start of your program, if you are an initial entry student. Returning students do not have this requirement. Using the earlier example, if the program of study starts on September 1, you will not be permitted to enter the United States until August 1 or later.
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4. Where can I find more information about the visa application process in my country?
Most of the procedures and requirements for applying for the various types of student visas, as well as for the Exchange Visitor visa are standardized and are described at the websites behind the “learn more” links provided above. Some procedures vary from country to country, for example, how to pay the visa application processing fee and how to make an appointment for an interview. For details on applying for a Student or Exchange Visitor visa in the country in which you are located, please visit the U.S. Embassy or Consulate nearest you.
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5. What is SEVIS?
The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), administered by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is an Internet-based system that maintains data on foreign students and exchange visitors before and during their stay in the United States. For more information about the SEVIS program, visit the ICE website.
In order to enroll students from other nations, U.S. colleges and universities must be approved by the School Certification Branch of the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). Most U.S. institutions of higher education have received this approval.
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6. What happens when I arrive in the U.S.?
Arriving & Studying in the U.S. - Immigration Related Information
U.S. immigration law governs the entry of all visitors to the United States, including students and exchange visitors. It details what they are authorized to do during their stay in the country. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is the agency responsible for ensuring that these visitors comply with U.S. law and regulations. When you arrive in the United States, you, too, will come under the authority of the Department of Homeland Security, and one of the three units within DHS responsible for non-U.S. citizens: the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection; the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement; and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Bureau.
On your plane to the U.S. or when you arrive in the U.S., you will receive a Form I-94 (Arrival-Departure Record). Please safeguard this form; it contains the official record of your stay in the United States. For more information about arriving in the U.S., see, "Arriving at a U.S. Port of Entry --- What a Student can Expect," or, "Arriving at a U.S. Port of Entry --- What an Exchange Visitor can Expect," on the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) website.
To obtain answers to questions you may have regarding your stay in the United States (for example, travel outside the United States, employment, and much more) visit the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website. After you arrive in the U.S., you may wish to direct your questions to the office at your educational institution that is responsible for services to international students. This office should be able to provide you with the answer(s) you need or refer you to a person or office that can.
What to Do When You Arrive at the College or University in the U.S.
Once you arrive on campus, you should report immediately to the office that is responsible for assisting international students and scholars. It may be called the Office of International Services, the Office of International Education, the International Programs Office, or some other similar name. Whatever the name, however, that office can help you with any questions or concerns you may have about immigration rules and regulations. Moreover, that office must report your arrival within the SEVIS system. If this report is not submitted, you may be considered to be in violation of your status in the United States, so be sure to make the international student office one of your first stops on campus.
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