Survival Guide for International Students: What You Need Before You Leave for the US
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Survival Guide for International Students: What You Need Before You Leave for the US

Naina Raturi

Table of Contents

Moving to the US is a big deal. This guide lists all the things you need to remember to pack and take care of before you leave for the US.

You must be so excited about your upcoming move to the US! As a kid, I moved from city to city as my father got transferred often as a bank manager. It took intense planning and preparation to make sure everything was packed safely. And I was only moving cities; you are moving to an entirely different continent! It is a big deal, but a little preparation can go a long way. You want to make sure that you have packed the right things (while also making sure you’re under the luggage weight limit!). This checklist below is a survival guide for before you leave for the US. Go over it, and you’ll be in a good place when you board that flight.

The Essential Items

The essential documents and other items you need to carry are listed below. Keep all the original documents in your handbag and a copy in your suitcase. Have digital copies backed up on your cloud account. Ensure your family has multiple copies back home.

  1. Personal documents - Birth certificate, driver’s license, insurance policy, university offer letter, academic transcripts, test scores, chest x-ray and immunization certificate, proof of finance, accommodation proof, passport-sized photos
  2. Passport with an F1 visa. Make sure the passport’s expiry lasts beyond your course duration.
  3. I-20 – It will be checked at the port of entry. You will need it when you apply for a Social Security Number and a driving license, too.
  4. University address and contact details
  5. Electronic devices – phone, laptop, chargers, Kindle. For laptops, you may have to get one as prescribed by your university. You can sell your own laptop later in that case.
  6. Adaptor – Indian electronics are not compatible with US sockets. Buy an adaptor before you leave. You can also get a compatible power board to charge multiple devices at once.

Your Luggage

Most airlines will allow you to carry three check-in bags of 23 kgs each. You can also take one piece of hand luggage weighing between 7-10 kgs, along with a laptop bag or a handbag.

A useful tip is to put an identifier - like a ribbon, or attach a piece of paper on your luggage with tape - mentioning your name and destination on all your luggage items. Put locks on your suitcases as well.

Buy travel insurance as well, to protect against any delays, cancellations or loss of luggage. It is always better to be safe, especially when you are flying to a new, faraway place.

Student Accommodation

You can choose between on-campus housing or off-campus, where you take an apartment on rent nearby and share it with roommates. Renting with a group of roommates usually works out cheaper than living on campus. The trade-off is that on-campus living allows you to experience the university culture and interact with local students more.

If you’re renting, you may want to consider factors such as location, distance from the university, existing utilities, and furnishings, in addition to the rental amount. Try Zillow, Apartment Finder to browse through available apartments, or check out your college FB/WhatsApp groups to team up with other batchmates to find a room.

Phone Plans

You will need a SIM card with international roaming for the first few days. But this will be quite expensive, so get an American SIM card and sign up to a cell phone plan as soon as possible.

Food & Cooking

Learn to cook, especially if you are a vegetarian or vegan, as those options tend to be limited and/or costlier. The bigger cities usually have Indian stores with most of the Indian cooking essentials on offer. Your nearest Indian store will be a regular destination for you there, so get familiar with it!

If you choose on-campus accommodation, you will not need to take a lot of cooking items from home. But some of the things most students carry with them are:

Pressure Cooker

A 3-liter one should be good enough for a meal for three people. Indian-style pressure cookers are hard to find (or extremely costly) in the US.

Rolling Pin

For making rotis and parathas.

Homemade Spices

Trust me, you are bound to get nostalgic about the way your mom cooked back at home.

Indian Snacks

For the initial days of hunger pangs.

Weather-appropriate Clothing

Check the local weather all around the year to sort out the kind of clothes you need more of. For winter clothes, I would suggest buying winter jackets and boots in the US, as the quality of warm clothes in India are insufficient for the extremely cold temperatures in many parts of the US. These are the basics you should pack with you:

  1. Keep a few t-shirts, jeans, some formal wear, nightwear, jackets, slippers, and shoes.
  2. Figure out your US size of clothes and shoes, as it is different from India’s sizes.
  3. Pack in a few bed sheets and covers, depending on how much space you have left in your luggage.

Health Matters

  1. Get your immunizations done according to the university requirements. Get a full-body checkup done as well, before you leave. The healthcare system in the US is famously expensive, so it is better to have a complete checkup at home before you leave.
  2. Keep antibiotics and general over-the-counter medicines for first aid.
  3. If you wear eyeglasses, take at least 2 pairs. Glasses can be expensive to buy in the US, so it is better to keep a spare pair in case one breaks.
  4. Carry prescription of medicines that are not considered as over-the-counter (for example, medicines for asthma, migraine, etc.)
  5. Buy a student health insurance plan. They are mandated by universities, but they are in themselves an absolutely essential product to get a hold of. Get it while you are in India as plans in the US tend to be expensive. Check out what we have for you at Zolve.

Driving & Buying a Car

A car could very well become important for you in the US, especially if your university is not in a big metro city. In many cities, it is actually cheaper to buy a car and drive yourself around than to pay for commuting each time.

Learn how to drive, if you haven’t already, and get your driver’s license in India. Then, apply for an international driver’s license. You can drive using an international license for a year in the US (and get a local license there before it expires).

Financial Decisions

Your money can vanish in the blink of an eye if you don’t keep track of it. Things can get expensive in the US, and you should try to keep some control over your money before your spending becomes too much. Here are some tips for managing your money well:

  1. Prepare a budget every month and keep track of your expenses.
  2. Do not convert currency at airports, as they charge a 5-10% margin as compared to 2-3% charged by banks and dealers.
  3. Open a bank account before you leave India (yes, it’s possible!)
  4. Apply for a credit card through Zolve. It is usually hard to get a credit card without a credit history in the US. But Zolve can help you get approved for a credit card. Apply for it today, and get it delivered to your US home address.
  5. Clear all pending bills at home and cancel the subscriptions you won’t be needing anymore.

We hope this checklist will help you plan better for the journey ahead! You can then enjoy the experience knowing that everything has already been taken care of.

Follow this space for more posts like this. We hope they will help make your life more comfortable in the US.

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