Studying in the US: The first things you need to do

This is one in a series of articles that I wrote to share with young people who might have some of the same dreams that I did at the time, and hope that this helps them realising their own.

When you move to a new nation, there is always a first-things-first list. As an International Student in the United States, here is a checklist of a few things that should figure in that list of first things to do when you arrive in the US.

Meet your International Student Advisor and Register for classes: As part of being an international student in the US, a requirement of your visa is that you are signed up for the minimum number of credit hours of coursework to remain in valid status of your visa.

Register with the Social Security Administration: In the United States, every individual has a credit history that is tracked back to a social security number that is unique to an individual. Without a social security number, you do not exist in the system. The local Social Security Administration office will accept Social Security number applications.

You will need:

  • your passportwith valid student visa;
  • Your I-94 arrival/departure record;
  • your letter of offer from the University; and
  • a mailing address at which you can receive your social security card.

International students can typically expect to receive their Social Security cards within 1 to 2 weeks from the date of application. A social security number will allow you to open a bank account, apply for a credit card, rent an apartment, apply for services (Internet, phone, water, gas, electricity and cable TV), and apply for a drivers’ license.

Open a bank account: Banks will require a social security number before they can legally open an account and offer you banking services. Shop around. In the US, customer is king, and banks compete for customers – however small they may be. Some banks will offer an incentive such as:

  • zero-fee checking accounts for a regular monthly deposit;
  • a credit card bundled with a checking account;
  • rounding up each debit card transaction and depositing the amount into your checking account; or even
  • a cash incentive for opening an account.

Talk to your friends as well. Some banks will give both you and your friends a little money as a referral incentive.

Get a drivers’ license or State ID: Irrespective of whether you own a car or not, having a drivers’ license is a must. In the US, it is mandatory for one to have some form of identification on them. In the absence of any US issued documents, your default form of ID would be your passport, which you might not want to carry around with you all the time. A US issued drivers’ license is considered valid identification.

If you do not drive, you can apply for a State ID.

Drivers’ licenses are issued by the local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office in your area. State Identification IDs are issued by your local county, state or DMV office.

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