Off-Campus Living for International Students

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If you are an international student who is thinking of looking for off-campus housing, you may have a tougher time than your American classmates when it comes to finding a place. Of course, there are basic things you need when living on your own. However, for those of you coming to live in the United States as a student, there are some extra things you should be aware of when looking for a place of your own:

1. Make sure your Visa (student or otherwise) paper is all in order: Other than the fact that you won’t be let into the United States without your passport and Visa, it’s important to get the right kind of Visa because there are multiple kinds. Be sure that you get one of the three available US Student Visas: F1, J1 or M1. Also, when it comes time to renew your student Visa, do not ignore doing so because that can get you in trouble with immigration.

2. See to it that your health care coverage is up-to-date: The health care system in your home country may be different from the American one, so be sure that your medical insurance is all in order and is acceptable by doctors here in the United States before arriving. Most college and universities offer health services on campus for all students, but for emergencies and hospital visits, you will want to be sure that professional medical facilities here will not make you pay out of pocket for everything.

3. Physically visit neighborhoods you are thinking of moving to: You can do plenty of research on the internet for cities you are considering moving to, but no amount of Yelp reviews will ever prepare you for how a neighborhood or apartment complex is on a daily basis, or at night for that matter (some neighborhoods are safer than others). Are there amenities (groceries, food, coffee shops, etc.) nearby? If you have a car, how is parking availability? Is there a crazy person who yells at things on the street corner (hopefully not, but they exist)? These are all small things to consider when choosing a neighborhood.

4. Checkout your school’s international student center for advice: Most if not all colleges and universities in America have centers designed just for you to help you find your way around the school and help you to assimilate to the local culture. If there is a international student club on campus at all, try joining to meet other international students who know your situation well and can give you any insight they have gained during their stay in the United States. There will always be staff in international student centers who are more than willing to help you get to know the surrounding areas and make suggestions depending on your budget.

5. Join a club of international students and/or similar interests: Nothing builds new friendships better than getting involved with clubs and programs on campus with your fellow students. Check out the school’s list of organizations you can join and find something that speaks to you whether it is an international student group or an all-around group like a club or a sport. This will be a great opportunity to get to know many other people while indulging in an activity that you already like.

6. Get a roommate who is well-accustomed to the culture and the area: Some of you will choose to live alone, but finding a good American roommate who is already familiar with the area (not to mention the culture) can be easier on your finances as well as your adaptation to your new environment. They will typically know where the school is in relation to your home or apartment in addition to all the popular hangout spots. Are you also having trouble making American friends? Perhaps they will introduce you to their own friends to get things underway for you.

7. Consider a homestay program with an American family to sponsor you: If you are having trouble finding a place at all, many schools have access to homestay programs in which you will live with an American family while in school. This can also be a good way to save money (most schools only charge a few hundred dollars for this option) and to have access to people ready to show you around town and give you a taste of American culture.

8. Be sure you have a mode of transportation before considering a neighborhood to live in: If you want to get a driver’s license for the state you’re in, you will need to apply in advance before you can get behind the wheel. According to usa.gov, “If you are a foreign student coming to the United States to study, you should contact the university or college you’ll be attending for information about driving.”

If you do not have a car, you will mostly likely be relying on public transportation to get to and from school. Having a route planned out and timed is essential to you not only being on time to class, but getting to school at all. Research the local bus and train routes for the area you are considering moving to. Is the nearest stop on your apartment’s street or several streets over? Once you have a route planned out, try out the route to see how long it takes and how comfortable you are taking it.

9. If no housing is available right away, check back with landlords periodically: Let’s say you found the perfect place that fits your needs the best, but you go to look at the listings and find out that there are no openings right now. Don’t worry because people come and go from living situations, so a place may open up in a month or two. Leaving your contact information with landlords could give you preference over others when getting in line for the vacancy. Also, check in with the apartment complex once or twice a month to see if new listings have opened; however, don’t check more than once every few weeks because some landlords may find that annoying.

10. Get to know the local culture: Just like back home, America has many localized cultures depending on where you are in the country. Grab one or a few of your new American classmates for a night out on the town to see the sights and see what your city or town has to offer. Get to know people in the community and you will amazed at how many new resources you will have to help you in your assimilation journey!

11. Don’t sign any legal documents without first consulting a professional: No matter where you come from, contracts all have the same blessing or curse, depending on how you look at it: it’s legally-binding. Legal jargon is almost a language in of itself and can be hard to understand everything if you are not experienced in binding legal agreements. It is highly suggested that you consult an attorney or perhaps even school staff to go over any contracts with you so that you completely understand what you are getting into before signing on the line.

12. Get to know the local system of making phone calls: Just like you’re home country, we dial several numbers in a row to make phone calls, but with some slight variations. Phone numbers in the United States are seven digits long and are preceded by a three-digit area code [ex. (123) 456-7890]. Since there are a finite amount of seven-digit combinations of phone numbers, the United States in broken up into specific phone number sectors, or “areas,” each with their own code; these area codes can use as many seven-digit number combinations that are possible, allowing the same seven-digit number [ex. 555-5555] to be used multiple times in different area codes [ex. (555) 555-5555 or (666) 555-5555].

There are a few ways to make a call within the United States:

  • To make a call WITHIN an area code, only dial the regular seven-digit phone number [ex. 555-5555]
  • To make a call OUTSIDE of an area code, dial 1 + area code + seven-digit phone number [ex. 1 (555) 555-5555]
  • To call emergencies services (police, fire department, or medical services), dial 911 only
  • To make an international call, dial 011 + country code + city code + phone number
  • To dial an Operator by pressing zero [0] and waiting on the line

Your college or university may have a special way of dialing phone numbers within the school phone system; consult with a school representative for how your school goes about making calls to on and off-campus numbers.

Mobile (Cellular) Phones

You may already have a mobile phone from your home country, but it may not work the same here in America if you do not already have an international phone plan. You may find it easier to purchase an American phone plan while studying in the United States; some of the notable mobile phone carriers in the United States are AT&T, Verizon, T-MobileSprint, Boost Mobile, and MetroPCS.

Some of the mobile carrier companies will require a Social Security Number (SSN) in order to get a plan. If you are unable to get a SSN, some companies offer pre-paid plans that do not require a SSN, identification numbers, or credit checks; however, these plans usually must be paid in full upfront, so be sure you have sufficient funds in U.S. dollars available for payment.

International Calls

Typically making an international call will cost extra money than calling within the United States. These costs can differ between countries, so research the call rates for your home country. You can make international calls through three payment methods: dialing “0” for an operator-assisted (collect) call, using a credit card, or using a prepaid call card. A prepaid call card is usually the cheapest method and can be purchased in local grocery/convenience stores or on the Internet.

Internet Video Calls

This method of calling home may be the cheapest way of all, often free. Through free services like Skype or FaceTime (Apple, Inc. products only), you can use your computer’s webcam and microphone to video chat with someone over the Internet. If the recipient of your video call also uses your chat service of choice, the call will usually be free. You may also be able to make normal calls to phone numbers for a small fee, so check with your chosen service for details.

13. Mail Services: Whether you need to send or receive a letter from home, or simply have to pay a bill, there are many types of mail services at your disposal during your time in the United States. Mail is delivered once a day to your place of residence by the U.S. Postal Service, Monday-Saturday and is not delivered on Sundays or federal holidays.

If you need to send a letter, bill, package, etc., the U.S. Postal Service will deliver most form of standard mail and shipping. No matter what kind of parcel you send, all mail in the United States requires the following parts:

  • a postage stamp – These pay for the service of delivering the mail and must be placed in the upper right corner of an envelope. Stamps can be bought in many grocery and convenience stores as well as online
  • the recipient’s name and address – This should be written or printed in the center of the envelope; here is an example:

post_envelope

  • a return address – This is in case the letter is accidentally lost or is undeliverable and needs to be returned to you; this part is written like the recipient’s name and address, but is placed in the upper left corner of an envelope

*These parts of the mailing information may be placed differently on larger envelopes or packages, so consult a staff member of the U.S. Postal Service for proper labeling

Standard mail can be sent in a few ways: attaching it to the outside of your residential mailbox, dropping it into a blue marked U.S. Postal Service mail drop box, or visiting a local post office.

For sending packages and boxes overnight or quicker than standard mail, you can use the following services:

  • United Parcel Service (UPS) – www.ups.com – 1-800-275-8777
  • DHL Worldwide Express – www.dhl.com – 1-800-225-5345

14. Banking: Whether you had your money in a bank in your home country, it is highly suggested that you get a checking bank account in the United States so that you can have an easier time paying for things (or get paid if your Visa allows for it) and keep your money safe. There are two kinds of banking accounts: checking and savings. A checking account is used primarily to accumulate funds for later use in paying for things, while a savings account is primarily used to store funds for longer periods. There are a few methods to use when paying for things besides cash:

  • Debit Card – The most common form of electronic payment that draws funds directly from your checking account and allows you to get cash from an Automated Teller Machine (ATM); many banks also allow these cards to double as credit cards (VISA or Mastercard)
  • Checkbook – The least common form of non-electronic payment that uses funds directly from your checking account; best for paying bills, but is also accepted at some grocery and retail stores (identification card or passport is usually required at the time of purchase to use checks at stores)
  • Credit Card – Depending on your background, U.S. credit history, and whether or not you have a social security number, you may not be eligible for a credit card until you develop a positive line of credit in the United States

Are there any other things about living in the US that you would love to have answered? Let us know by leaving comments on our Facebook page!