Tips for International Students Studying Abroad

Help Make Your Arrival in the U.S. Smoother

Jun 21, 2022

Living in a foreign land can be a daunting.  From knowing what to pack to landing at the airport and arriving at your host university. Here are some helpful tips to make the landing smoother.

What to pack:What can’t you find from your hometown while you’re studying in the U.S.? You’ll likely want to bring your favorite shirt and comfy shoes with you, but what else should you stick in the valuable space in your luggage?

One mistake many international students make when packing is primarily bringing clothing, shoes, and other items you can easily find while in the U.S. While you should pack a wardrobe that has a formal outfit, casual options, and can work with the weather of the city you’re traveling to, be sure to consider other items you may need that you just can’t find anywhere but your hometown.

Documents: Government documents should travel in your carry-on bag, backpack, or purse. Do not put these items in your checked luggage when traveling as you will need to access them at customs and don’t want them hidden away in your suitcase.

Medications:You may be able to find many medications you need in pharmacies in the U.S. but if you are currently on any prescribed medications you should bring an ample supply with you.

Spices or cooking items:Depending on where you are living in the U.S. you may not have access to all the spices and cooking ingredients you are used to in your home country. Some ingredients you will be able to find in the U.S. but will be significantly more expensive if they are imported. Don’t forget to bring a stash of your favorite snacks with you. Sharing your international treats is also a great way to make new friends!

Local cash:
Your debit or credit card might not work immediately upon arrival. If you have trouble with your cards, it can be helpful to have some U.S. cash to get you through the first few days before you can open a U.S. bank account or get your card from home working again. Plus, if you’re planning to take the bus from the airport you may need exact change on board.

Getting from the airport to your dorm or apartment:Check with your university’s international student office to ask if they have any suggestions for your arrival in the U.S. Your university is the local expert for the best way to get to and from the airport. Some international student offices even have local students who will volunteer to pick up international students from the airport (see The First Month article).

For public transportation:Larger U.S. cities will have a shuttle from the airport to a nearby metro/subway line or a bus station outside the terminal. Many buses only accept exact change in cash on board unless you have the local transportation card (such as Boston’s Charlie Card or NYC’s MetroCard), so it is a good idea to have a few U.S. dollars and coins on hand in case you cannot purchase a bus or subway card prior to boarding. Many U.S. airports also have an express bus that travels from the airport downtown. If you are looking to save money on your transportation, you can take a bus downtown, then use a rideshare app such as Uber or Lyft or a taxi, to your dorm or apartment.

For private transportation:Uber and Lyft are popular rideshare apps in the U.S. They are similar to taxis but allow you to see the exact cost of the trip, enter and track your location on your phone. Your phone apps will need to be working to utilize these services, so be sure you have obtained a sim card prior to arrival and/or your phone plan will work if you plan to utilize these apps. If your phone is not yet working or you do not wish to utilize these apps, most airports will also have taxis available directly outside the terminal. Some taxis at the airport will also give flat rates for a trip downtown rather than charge by time.

Help desks:
Most airports have help people just like you! If you’re having trouble finding your way, don’t hesitate to ask an airport employee or look for information desks. Often these desks have a large ‘I’ above them. Many of these help desks have free maps of the area and all should be aware of taxi company numbers or public transportation options.

U.S. Transportation:Every city in the U.S. is a little different but having a general understanding of transit in the U.S. is important to maintaining your safety while navigating your new city:

Public transportation:Public Transportation varies across the country. Compared to many countries around the world, the U.S. has a rather limited public transit system. Large cities such as San Francisco, Chicago, New York City, and Boston have a network of subway, commuter trains, and local bus stations. Smaller cities are much more car-centric although most have a local bus system. Amtrack is the main train operator in the U.S. and traveling by train in the U.S. is generally more expensive than traveling by intercity bus and can be comparable to the cost of a flight depending on the location. Many Americans primarily utilize cars or flights to travel between states due to the cost of trains and time length of buses. Another public transportation option is utilizing bicycle shares, which you can purchase passes to utilize monthly, annually, or per trip depending on the city.

Crosswalks:Crosswalks in the U.S. will either have an electronic crossing sign that is programmed with the streetlights or they will have a crossing light. If there is a crossing light, typically the person outline in white light indicates it is your turn to cross and the hand sign in red light means you should not cross as vehicles have the right of way. If the street does not have a crosswalk light, pedestrians always have the right of way. This means you can cross the crosswalk at any time without waiting for a light to change. However, not all cars adhere to pedestrians, so it is important to be cautious when crossing and look both ways before walking into the street. Remember, cars in the U.S. drive on the right side of the road so you might be looking the opposite direction to cross than you would in your home country!

Jaywalking:Jaywalking is a common practice in some U.S. cities and not in others. Jaywalking is when a person crosses a street at an area other than the crosswalk. It is very dangerous to jaywalk so please use crosswalks whenever possible.

Bicycling:
Bike laws in the U.S. can change based on the city. In all cities you should always wear a helmet to protect yourself while cycling. Many cities forbid cycling on sidewalks and advise cyclists to share a lane with traffic, going in the same direction of the traffic flow. Some cities have a special lane for cycling which is marked with a bicycle icon and is sometimes a different color than the rest of the road. Use caution when cycling and follow traffic lights and other traffic laws. Place a red light on the back of your bike and a white light pointing forwards so other drivers and pedestrians can see you. Use hand signals when turning or stopping to alert the drivers around you.

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