Travelling to the U.S., after you have secured your hard-earned student visa will be an exciting experience, especially if you are travelling out of India for the first time.
If you have obtained U.S. Student Visa and are worried about how you will make arrangements to travel to US, then this travel guide is for you.
Planning Your Journey
If you do not receive detailed travel information from your U.S. college or university, you should get in contact with your university’s Indian Student Association (ISA) to find out the most convenient way to reach your destination. They can tell you which airlines serve the nearest airports and weather you will have to transfer airplanes or take alternate forms of transportation to reach the school. Many U.S. colleges and universities are located away from urban centers or in small cities, so local directions will be very helpful in planning your itinerary. It is also important to find out the best days and times to arrive. Notify your ISA student adviser of your arrival date and time, since he or she may send somebody to meet you at the airport.
You should always inform your ISA adviser of your expected date and time of arrival. Also provide him or her with other pertinent information, such as the airport at which you will arrive, your flight number, name of airline, and last point of departure. Sometimes the ISA adviser can send somebody to pick you up. However, with many international students arriving at the same time, this might not always be possible. You should avoid arriving at your school during the evening, on a Saturday or Sunday, or during a U.S. national holiday, since college or university offices are usually closed at those times.
Do not forget to carry at least $150 to $200 in small cash denominations with you, in case you need some money before you reach a currency exchange center.
Travel During U.S. Holidays
Make travel reservations well in advance of your departure date. This is especially important if you travel to the United States during peak tourist seasons or holidays. These include the Easter observance (either in March or April); the summer months of June through August; and the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day holidays in November, December, and January.
It is strongly recommended that students book their air tickets, “before” they appear for their visa interview. Airlines do not charge anything for this booking and they just block a seat in your name for a particular flight and date. They give you a tentative date, by which you need to confirm this reservation by paying the full fare. As soon as you get your visa, you should make the payment to avoid the cancellation. The other alternative is to book the ticket after you get the visa by going to online travel sites like makemytrip.com, yatra.com, cleartrip.com, ezeego1.co.in etc.
What to Bring
What you bring with you is largely a matter of personal choice. It is strongly recommended that you contact the Indian students in the department you are joining and get a list of standard books that will be required. Remember the books in the U.S. are costly. The average price ranges from $40-100 for academic books. The same money would fetch you 5 books in India!
Before you start packing, there are many things to consider. How much can you bring? What is safe to bring? Will you bring it all with you to the United States or will you send it separately? You will have to carry whatever you bring, so it is in your interest to keep it light and compact. If you need advice, write to the ISA or talk to another student who has recently been to the United States.
Start to pack early, so that excess weight and bulk can be eliminated and essential items not overlooked. Do not worry if you cannot bring everything, since most goods are available in a wide range of prices in the United States. Small items can be sent by airfreight or through the postal system. Do bring:
- all of your essential documents like Original Certificates and Mark Sheets, Medical Records, Driving License, Traveler’s Checks and US Dollars etc. to be carried on your person or in your hand baggage.
- books, manuals, or journals that you think may be useful for reference in your field of study and that definitely will not be available in the United States;
- pictures of your family, home, and country, for yourself but also to show to your new friends;
- items from your culture, such as musical instruments, recordings of traditional and contemporary music, picture books, arts and crafts, and small gifts, to share your talents and customs with people in the United States.
- For festive occasions you may consider carrying traditional dress and accessories from India. This would be a great way to show and tell Americans more about your culture and traditions;
- a camera so you will have souvenirs of your time in the United States.
It is highly recommended to you to have a spare set of clothes in carry-on baggage, in case the checked-in baggage is delayed or lost upon arrival. Always keep valuables like cash, traveller’s checks, passport, visa documents, airplane tickets, International Driving License, Original Educational Certificates – in the carry-on baggage. Do not put them in the checked-in baggage. It is also advisable to keep a copy of all the documents at home before leaving for the U.S.
Do not try to pack in everything you would need in your daily life in America. Remember you are going to a developed country, which has a superior standard of living. So everything you would need, would be available in the big supermarkets like Wal-Mart, Costco etc. For Indian goods you will have Indian grocery stores in every city-big or small.
Airline Baggage Allowance
There is a limit to the amount of baggage you can take with you on the plane. The number of pieces of baggage and the size and weight of those pieces determine this limit. It is important to check in advance with your airline about the luggage requirements as it varies from airline to airline. Some airlines like Jet, Air India, British Airways allow Indian students to carry extra luggage than the allowed limit for other passengers. In general, passengers are allowed two pieces of baggage to be checked in, each of which may be up to 70 lbs (32 Kg) and also subject to certain dimensional restrictions. Passengers are also allowed to carry one piece of hand luggage on board. Each piece must not surpass this certain weight and size restriction, as established by the airline. If your luggage exceeds these limitations, you will be asked to pay excess baggage charges. Confirm your airline’s baggage allowance when you purchase your ticket. Be aware that allowances to North America are often more generous than allowances elsewhere in the world.
Entering the Unites States
Once you enter the territory of U.S., before landing, you are required to fill out the “Customs Declaration Form 6059B” and “The Arrival Departure Record Form (I-94)” which is distributed on the plane. In Customs Declaration Form, it is not necessary for you to list all the items brought to the U.S. for personal use, such as clothing or toiletries. This form is used for the valuation of any gifts or business items that passengers have brought with them to the U.S. Jewellry or similar articles of personal adornment valued at $1000 or less are passed free of duty under the personal customs exemption. In “The Arrival Departure Record Form”, you must fill where you are going to stay once you enter the U.S. and not the address of the school. You will submit both these forms to the appropriate U.S. customs and immigration authorities after you land. If you do not understand a form, ask the flight attendant for assistance.
Upon the arrival at the airport, you will be shown the inspection area by the airline personnel. You need to queue up in an inspection line and then speak with an Immigration Inspector. You being a non-citizen must use the lanes marked for non-citizens. The Immigration Inspectors will determine the reason for your visit to the U.S. They will verify the documents and check how long you should be allowed to stay in the U.S. They usually take few minutes to take the decision. If you are allowed to proceed, the Inspector will stamp your passport, I-20 and issue a completed I-94 form. A completed form will show your immigration classification and the duration of your authorized stay in the US. You will then be permitted to proceed to Customs.
The date on the I-94 is very important. Usually, this will be same date as the visa validity date. You are allowed to stay only for the period mentioned on the I-94. It is your responsibility to check the date and make sure it is correct, any human errors can be corrected within minutes by the same immigration officer and it takes more time to get the correction after leaving the airport, so be very careful at that time.
In case your university is located in a smaller city you may need to travel to the nearest international airport rather than the local airport closest to your university, because port of entry facility for international passengers is not available in all the airports. You must be prepared to answer any questions like change of flights or the person who will be picking you up from the airport. Clear, simple, and correct answers will be enough.
If you are asked to go through a secondary inspection, you should not panic. The Immigration Inspector will verify documents and check about enrolment with the university. Due to very strict security checks after 9/11, secondary inspections are very common. In a secondary inspection, the Immigration Inspector will first attempt to verify your status by using SEVIS. In the event that the Immigration Inspector needs to verify information with your university, you should have the necessary contact information available. Failure to comply with US government entry-exit procedures may result in being denied entry to the U.S. Under certain exceptional circumstances, the Immigration Inspector may issue a Notice to Student or Exchange Visitor Form (I-515A), which authorizes temporary admission into the US.
After passing through the immigration area, you will collect your baggage and then pass through customs. A customs inspector will ask you to declare what you have brought into the country, inspect your bags, and review the customs form you filled out on the airplane. Penalties for concealing declarable items can be very severe, so be honest and make a full declaration.
Items for your personal use may be brought into the United States without paying duty. As a non-resident, you are also allowed to bring in gifts with a total value up to $1000 duty free. If the total value of such items exceeds $1000, you will need to pay duty.
You must declare the amount of money you have with you, but you do not have to pay duty on it. Money in any amount may be brought into and taken out of the United States, but anyone bringing more than $10,000 into the country must file a report with the customs official.
Travel to the University campus
Once the Immigration and Customs procedure is completed, you may proceed to the Airport exit. When you are out of the airport, there will be some one to pick you if your university or ISA has committed. In some cases, the university or ISA may not give you airport pickup services. Instead, they will provide you with detail sitemap to reach to the university. If you are left in a position to travel by yourself, do not panic! Just catch a taxi cab outside the terminal to reach your university. Sometimes, the university with which you are enrolled may be far from the airport where you landed. In such cases, if the distance between airport and the university is more than 50 miles, you can take alternate transport service instead of taxi. Local trains or buses may be available as a better option in terms of reliable transportation cost.
Arriving at the University
Once you reach your university, you must visit the International Student Office at the earliest. They will provide you full guidance for enrolling and make arrangements for your comfortable stay and study in the university.
Campus and Department Orientation
Orientation programs for new students are offered at virtually every college and university throughout the United States. The program itself may take on many forms and cover different topics, but the purpose is the same: to ease your transition to a new place. Sometimes there will be a campus or department orientation program and a separate program especially designed for international students, scheduled so as not to be in conflict with each other. At some schools these programs may be mandatory, but whether mandatory or optional, they are important and valuable opportunities for you, even if this is not your first visit to the United States. Frequently, orientation programs provide information that won’t be as easily obtained later on.
Some campus-based orientation programs may require that you pay a fee. In general, the fee covers the costs of program materials, refreshments, staff support, and other expenses. You may be asked to pay the fee ahead of time or find it included as part of your total student bill.
You may have the opportunity to participate in an orientation program about U.S. colleges and universities while you are still in your home country. If such a program is available to you, by all means participate. These programs frequently have specific relevance for students from your country. Campus-based orientation programs, even when not mandatory, provide the best possible introduction to your U.S. institution and can help relieve much of the anxiety you may have about being in a new place.
Some of the things you might do at a typical campus or department orientation program include:
- Meet other students to establish friendships and reduce possible loneliness or anxiety;
- Learn your school’s expectations for your intellectual and personal growth;
- Become familiar with your new school and the local community;
- Move into your on-campus or off-campus residence;
- Speak with professors and academic advisers regarding course placement and selection;
- Obtain training in the use of the campus library and computer services, including electronic mail;
- Register for courses.
- At an orientation program for international students, you might:
- Meet other students from your own country and from around the world;
- Receive information about important U.S. Immigration regulations with which you must comply;
- Apply for a U.S. Social Security Number (needed for U.S. bank accounts and for employment, including on-campus employment);
- Have your passport and visa documents copied; have your visa documents signed;
- Learn about the U.S. system of higher education and how to be successful in that system;
- Obtain advice on personal safety, health and accident insurance, and wellness;
- Take a guided tour of the local area and open a bank account;
- Sit for an English proficiency examination;
- Learn about U.S. culture and social and personal relationships in the United States;
- Receive information on services and programs provided by the school for international students.
Depending upon where you are coming from, one of the first adjustments you will have to face after your arrival in the United States is “jet lag”. Jet lag is the physical shock of your body adjusting to a new time zone. Its intensity will depend upon how many time zones you have crossed during your travel to the United States. While your body is adjusting to a new daily rhythm, you may experience headaches, disorientation, sleeplessness, or sleepiness. Many people find that for every hour of time difference, it takes one day to completely overcome the effects of jet lag. However, you may find that you are through the worst of it in about half that time. After this period of adjustment, you should be able to function normally and follow a regular daily schedule.
There are a number of things you can do to help yourself through the transition. Attempt, as much as possible, to follow the normal eating and sleeping patterns of your new time zone. Resist taking naps in the middle of the day since it will make it more difficult to sleep at night and will only serve to prolong your jet lag. Instead, take a walk, exercise, or plan activities with friends during the day when you find you are tired. Exposure to sunlight or other light during the day can also help your body’s clock to reset. Because of jet lag, it is recommended that you arrive in the United States at least a few days before the start of classes to permit your body to get adapted to a new time zone.
Speaking a foreign language in a classroom is one thing, but living in a society where you have to use this language on a daily basis is completely different. Here are some language problems you may encounter while in the United States:
- You might not understand the local accent right away. Regional accents vary greatly in the United States. In a group of people from all corners of the United States, Americans can usually easily pick out who is from Boston, New York, the Midwest, or the South, just by the way they speak. Give yourself time to get used to the local accent, and in time you will probably find yourself speaking in the same way.
- Americans might not understand you right away. You will also have your own accent and you might use a different vocabulary. Try to speak slowly at first to make sure you are understood. Do not be shy to ask others to speak slowly if you have trouble understanding them.
- Americans use a lot of slang and jargon in their speech. Their language is very colorful and full of imagery and it might take some time to completely understand it.
- Humor, wit, and sarcasm are an integral part of American English. Some international students have trouble adapting to this informal style of conversation or understanding whether the person they are speaking with is being serious or not. This, however, should be interpreted as a mark of friendliness rather than a show of disrespect.
- You might not know all of the abbreviations and technical terms used in your study program or workplace. Terms such as “poli sci” for political science, “dorms” for dormitories, or “TA” for teaching assistant, are just a few examples of campus slang you will encounter. The abbreviation is often the first syllable of the word or, if two or more words are together, their initials. If you do not understand a word or an abbreviation, simply ask the meaning.
- Give yourself time to adapt to the language and do not hesitate to ask people to repeat what they have said, speak slowly, or explain what they mean. Most importantly, do not be afraid to make mistakes. These will all be part of your learning experience.
- The recommended time of arrival will vary from one school to another, but generally you should arrive several days before the campus orientation for new international students and registration for classes. This will give you an opportunity to settle in and to rest from your trip before participating in required new student activities. It will also provide time for you to become familiar with the campus and the community and to make friends before classes begin