The United States is notably one of the most sought after countries to live, people strive to experience the American dream. But, like any other countries, it has its own set of customs, culture, and way of doing things, which may differ from a student’s home country and require some learning and getting used to. We have put together some details about life in the US to help students plan ahead and adjust into the US more easily.
Students are strongly encouraged to arrange their accommodations prior to their arrival. There are generally three options for accommodations: on-campus residence, homestay, and off-campus housing (private rentals).
Students can find residence options offered by a school, along with the residence application deadline on the school’s website, or by contacting the school directly. Many international students and out-of-town domestic students choose to live in residence during their first year to make their transition easier. Campus residences are furnished, and often also include cleaning and meals.
On-campus housing is an excellent way for students to make friends and immerse into the American college/university experience in a supportive and structured environment.
Another great way to connect with local people is through the homestay program. Students can choose to live with an American family, who become their “host”. The “host” family is screened by a professional agency. One popular agency is the American Homestay Network. There are many other options that students can consider as well. Some schools may even have a preferred homestay agency that they work with. Students can research this on their school’s website or by searching “name of school” and “homestay” on Google.
Students also have the option of renting an apartment or a room outside of the school. Some schools have services that help students find a place, known as off-campus housing assistance. Students can find housing on websites like off-campus Housing 101, or by searching on Facebook. When searching, use keywords like “(name of school) student housing” or “(name of school) rentals”.
For temporary accommodations, students can also consider staying at a hotel or Airbnb, many of which offer discounts for extended stays. Please note that this is an expensive option and should only be used as a last resort.
Transportation services play a big factor in choosing where to live. If a student is considering living off-campus, they should research ahead to ensure the commute to and from campus will be convenient.
The US has a robust public transportation system, which makes it easy for students and other commuters to get around cities. All major towns in the US have reliable and affordable public bus networks. Train lines also connect commuters in and around the larger cities. Trams, ferries and light-rails are also available in some of the major cities for longer-distance travel.
Some institutions subsidize the cost of local public transportation for their students. Students can obtain the discount when they purchase their bus pass.
Cars and Driving
The US has a large network of roads, highways, and interstates, some being the most frequently traveled in the world.
In the US, students need to be aware that there are two types of law. Federal law applies to the whole country and state law applies to the state you are driving in. Some states require students to carry an international licence with their current foreign licence.
Students should always review the transportation website for the states they will be driving in to ensure that they are meeting all the licence requirements prior to getting on the road.
Taxi and Ridesharing Services
All cities and towns have one or more companies that offer taxi service. However, taxis can get quite expensive. Typically taxis are only used when public transit is not a feasible option.
Uber, Lift, Juno, Curb, and Wingz ridesharing services are popular options and available in many parts of the US.
Due to the large land mass, people often travel between major cities and states by airplane. All main cities have airports with regularly scheduled flights to and from many places.
Banking and Money
The currency of the US is the US Dollar (USD). There are 100 cents in one dollar ($1). The US dollar notes come in denominations of $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100. Coins are issued in denominations of 1c, 5c, 10c, 25c, 50c, and $1.
Cash, Cards, and Online Banking
Cash is an acceptable form of payment in almost all scenarios, however debit cards and credit cards have emerged as the most common payment method for all transactions due to convenience. Cheques are typically only used for large amounts, such as rent and bill payments. Internet banking is also widely accepted for paying bills and conducting other transactions. Many post-secondary institutions also offer online banking options for tuition and account payment.
Students can withdraw money from their bank account to obtain cash currency. Students can withdraw cash by visiting branches of the bank they have an account with. At the bank, students can speak to one of the tellers ( Customer Service Representatives) or withdraw the money on their own using an Automated Teller Machines (ATM). ATMs are accessible during and after the bank’s business hours, including evenings and weekends.
For an additional administrative fee, students can also withdraw money from another bank’s ATM, as well as from private ATMs. Private ATMs are not affiliated with any banks, and are typically found in restaurants, bars, gas stations, and grocery stores.
Opening a Bank Account
Many banks offer great account options for students. When setting up a bank account in the US, there are some things students should consider and keep in mind. Students will have an option of what type of bank account they open. The two options are:
- Savings Account: Allows students to earn a better interest rate and assists them in saving money over an extended period of time.
- Checking Account: A more popular option as it allows students to deposit, withdraw, and send money online as often as they would like.
When opening a bank account in the US, students will be required to provide some documentation to their bank of choice. Some banks will allow students to open an account online. Check out the bank's website to see their limitations. Banks will require the following:
- Student visa
- Second ID proof (student card or license)
- Proof of university enrollment
- Seed money to open the bank account (differs with each bank)
The eight banks in the US who have options for international students. All have plenty of local branches across the country are:
- Bank of America - Advantage SafeBalance Banking
- Wells Fargo - Student Checking Account
- HSBC USA - International Student Account
- U.S. Bank - Student Checking Account
- TD Bank - TD Student Checking
- Capital One - 360 Checking Account
- Santander - Student Value Checking
- Chase - Chase College Checking
Students can access quality internet and mobile phone service across the US. Wi-Fi internet is available across campuses, accessible to students through their college/university email account, which they will create once they enroll at the institution.
Students can order high-speed internet for their place of residence for a monthly fee through local service providers. Some of the major internet service providers are Xfinity Internet, CenturyLink, AT&T Fiber, and Verizon Fios Home Internet—many of whom also offer mobile (cell phone) plans.
The majority of people living in the US use a mobile/cell phone as their primary communication device. Students can bring a cell phone with them from their home country or purchase a new one in the US. Apple iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, Google Pixel, LG, Motorola and Huawei are all widely available in the US.
If the student is bringing their own device, they can purchase a new SIM card and get the perfect plan for them from one of many service providers. If students want to get a new phone, they can pay for it at the start of the contract, or pay a small amount per month, on top of the SIM-only plan, to cover the cost of the phone until it is paid for.
Students can buy phone plans as soon as they land in the US. Major providers in the US include:
Students will have the option to purchase phone plans in most of the major international airports, directly from the mobile plan provider, at convenience stores or at major supermarkets/malls. Some of the features of the phones] plans include, both domestic and international calling options. Alternately, and more commonly, students can take advantage of internet-based communication platforms, such as Skype, WhatsApp, and Telegram.
From grocery shopping to take out, there are many options available on- and off-campus. Most neighborhoods have grocery stores and supermarkets where students can easily get groceries and personal care supplies. Food delivery boxes are also growing in popularity. Students can sign up for a weekly food delivery service that can provide them healthy meal options while studying abroad.
There is also a variety of ethnic restaurants, specialty stores, and supermarkets that students can eat at and shop at to stock up on their favourite foods and stay in touch with their culture.
Entertainment, Media, and Sports
Like all urban centers around the world, many US cities offer a range of entertainment options. No matter where students stay, they will find many activities to suit their interests.
There are many places for international students to visit while they're abroad. They can explore New York City, California, Texas, numerous national parks and much more! The US is culturally diverse and you can find nightlife, restaurants, and festivals in the cities you live in. Students also enjoy going out to eat, grabbing a drink, enjoying live entertainment or catching a movie.
Americans also love playing and watching sports. Popular sports in the US are American football, baseball, basketball, ice hockey, racing, and soccer. Major professional sports teams in the US include National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB), National Basketball Association (NBA), National Hockey League (NHL). Universities and colleges also have sporting clubs and facilities on campus for students interested in playing sports. College and university sports teams are a huge part of student life.
The US is a safe country for international students, but unfortunately incidents can happen anywhere. International students should follow the same common-sense safety precautions as they would anywhere in the world. Here are some safety tips to keep in mind:
- Call 911 in any emergency. This is a central number for police, fire and ambulance throughout the US.
- Report any incidents, no matter how small, to the local police.
- Be cautious with strangers and aware of your surroundings. Trust your instincts and leave uncomfortable situations.
- Walk on well-lit, busy streets and avoid isolated areas. Walk with a friend when possible.
- Most institutions also have some form of security on campus, and offer security escorts to accompany students around the campus after hours and drop to the bus stops and nearby housing.
- Do not go swimming or hiking, or participate in any other active outdoor activities during dangerous weather conditions.
- Keep a friend informed about your whereabouts and when you will return home.
- Keep your belongings secure, and your home and car doors locked.
- Do not leave your drinks unattended, and do not drink and drive.
Adjusting to Life in the United States
Americans welcome international students with open arms, and hundreds of thousands of international students study happily and safely. Despite this, coming to a completely new country can be overwhelming. It is also natural to feel homesick from time to time. There are many resources and activities on campus to help international students get to know other students, make friends and explore their new city and country. Students should take the time to explore their neighborhood and attend local events, while remembering to stay in touch with their own culture and their family back home and embracing the best of both worlds.