USA WEATHER AND TIME DIFFERENCE
Climate and time difference vary from state to state. For more information visit: www.timetemperature.com.
A variety of international and local food is available in the U.S. The selection of food and pricing differs between areas. However, many places cater for those on a budget.
Unlike other countries, the United States does not provide socialized medicine. Because medical care can be very expensive, it is important to have health insurance, even if the school does not require it.
If you need an ambulance or emergency medical care, dial 911 on any phone 24 hours a day. You can also dial 0 to reach the operator. They will send an ambulance to transport you to a hospital emergency room. The hospital will need the name of your health insurance company and policy number, so you should always carry your health insurance card with you.
Your school may have a health center on campus for minor health issues. Most such health centers are staffed by a nurse practitioner, with a doctor on campus only one or two days a week. For genuine emergencies, however, you should go directly to a hospital emergency room.
Bring a copy of your medical records with you to the US, including immunization and vaccination records and prescriptions. It is generally a good idea to visit your doctor before you leave for the US. Some schools will require you to complete a physical upon arrival. (This is often required of all students, not just international students, so that the school’s medical center has a recent medical history on file.)
International students should note that in addition to tuition, fees, room and board, and living expenses, they will have to pay for health insurance. US law requires universities to verify that international students on a J-1 visa (and their J-2 dependents) have health insurance before allowing them to enroll. The federal government does not require students on an F-1 visa to have health insurance, but the school may set its own requirements. Many schools require all international students to have health insurance, regardless of the type of visa.
If health insurance is required, it must meet certain minimum standards set by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the US Department of State. These standards include:
- Maximum deductible of $500 per accident or illness
- Medical benefits of at least $50,000 per accident or illness.
- Repatriation benefits of at least $7,500.
- Medical evacuation benefits of at least $10,000.
- Co-insurance not to exceed 25% of the covered medical expenses.
Your school will probably offer a group health insurance program to students who do not have their own health insurance. Typically the insurance will cover hospital care and doctor fees with a deductible and 20% co-payment. A $250 deductible means that you pay the first $250 in medical expenses. A 20% co-payment means that the insurance pays 80% of the expenses above the deductible, and you pay 20%. Prescription drugs might not be included, and there may be a small fee for doctor visits. Details, of course, vary from school to school. Contact the school for information about their health insurance programs and requirements.
There are a variety of student health insurance programs that are available to international students:
- Academic Risk Management
- Student Insurance Division (SID)
- CNA Cultural and Educational Exchange International Student Insurance Program
Although it is possible to purchase dental insurance coverage, most schools do not include dental coverage as part of the school’s health insurance program. So you will probably have to pay for any dentist bills yourself. If your school is located near a dental school, the school may offer a low cost dental clinic where dental students treat patients under close supervision of dental professors. If you want to know the locations of nearby dentists, call 1-800-DENTIST (1-800-336-8478).
Finding a Doctor
If you need help finding a doctor, call the campus health center. You should receive a list of local doctors that participate in your health insurance program when you enrolled. But the health center can help you narrow the list. For example, ask them if they know which doctors speak foreign languages. You can also ask friends and fellow students for recommendations.
One consequence of traveling to another country is culture shock. The stress of a new situation, confusion due to language difficulties, and a myriad of small cultural differences add up to culture shock. You might feel depressed, be homesick for your country and family, have difficulty sleeping or concentrating, and avoid contact with others.
If you experience these symptoms, try talking to someone. Talk to the international student advisor, a friend, the staff at the campus counseling center, or your neighbor. It also helps to participate in activities you enjoy. Write a letter to your family back home. Take a walk in the park. Read a book. Watch a movie. Eat a good meal at a fancy restaurant. Visit the museum or an art gallery. Play a game with some friends.
BANKING AND FINANCE
As you may have already discovered, paying for a quality education in the United States can be very expensive. But with proper preparation, you may minimize the costs of this extraordinary opportunity.
It probably goes without saying, but don’t carry large amounts of cash around with you. Better options include credit cards, debit cards, checks and even traveler’s checks.
Traveler’s checks are one of the safest and easiest ways to transport money because you may have them replaced if they get lost or stolen. If you choose to carry traveler’s checks with you from your home country to the States, be sure they are denominated in U.S. funds. Most businesses – except taxi drivers and public transportation personnel – will accept U.S. denominated traveler’s checks during regular business hours, typically between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. It is wise to bring about $100 in U.S. cash with you, so you will be able to manage upon your arrival in the States.
United States currency is based on a decimal system, with one dollar ($1 or $1.00) equal to one hundred cents. Coin currency is used for amounts less than one dollar; the most common coins and their equivalencies follow:
- A penny equals one cent or 0.01 dollars
- A nickel equals five cents or 0.05 dollars
- A dime equals ten cents or 0.10 dollars
- A quarter equals twenty-five cents or 0.25 dollars
It may take a few days to get used to the new currency. You will learn, for example, that $1 is a reasonable price for a can of cola out of a vending machine; two dollars for the same item is expensive. Five dollars for a pizza is inexpensive, while twelve dollars is expensive.
Paper currency, all printed in green and white, is most often circulated in the amounts of $1, $5, $10, $20, $50 or $100. The slang term for a dollar bill is a “buck,” so $50 may be referred to as “fifty bucks.”
Most banks and some major airports and hotels will exchange foreign paper currency for a service fee; very few, however, exchange foreign coinage. Pay attention to drastic fluctuations in the exchange rates between your home country’s currency and U.S. currency. If your home currency is decreasing in value, you may wish to conduct all transactions (like student loans) in U.S. currency.
Within the first few days of your arrival, you may want to open a checking account with a bank on or near campus. You may directly deposit traveler’s checks for free in most cases, or arrange for a wire transfer from your home bank for a fee of about $35. Typically, you may make an unlimited number of additional deposits or withdrawals thereafter. Be sure to always have sufficient funds in your account to cover all outstanding checks; if you “overdraw,” the bank may impose expensive fees. Also be aware that there is usually a waiting period of a few days before you may withdraw the money you deposit, as a way for the bank to protect itself from fraud.
You will most likely need some form of identification to open a checking account. The bank representative may ask you for your Social Security Number. If you do not have one, fill out an IRS Form W-8, which the bank can supply.
Most banks offer a number of different types of checking accounts. One might bear interest if you maintain a minimum balance; another might provide a limited number of free checks. Learn about all options before deciding which type of account is best for you.
Many college students appreciate the convenience of a MAC (Money Access Card) or ATM (Automatic Teller Machine) card. The card allows account holders to make deposits, withdrawals and other transactions at any time—24 hours a day—through machines located throughout campus and shopping districts. If you have an ATM card from a bank in your home country, ask whether the U.S. bank will honor it; some Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) cross national borders, while others do not. As a safety precaution, most ATMs limit the daily withdrawal amount to $300. If you happen to lose your ATM or MAC card, report it immediately to your local bank office.
Writing a check is simple. The dollar amount is written twice: once using numerals ($67.32 for example) and once using words (sixty-seven dollars and 32/100). Draw one horizontal line through any unused space after the words, to prevent someone from adding extra digits.
Once a month, the bank typically mails the account holder a statement of all transactions. It is important to make sure that their records match your records to ensure that no errors were made by them or by you. If you have a question about your account, contact your local bank office.
Generally, retail stores accept checks only if they are drawn on an in-state bank. Be prepared to show some form of photo identification, such as a driver’s license, student I.D., or passport (though you may not want to carry such an important document with you all the time).
Credit and Debit Cards
One payment option accepted nationwide is the credit card. As a matter of fact, you may find it difficult to make certain purchases without a credit card. You need one to place an order by phone, to rent a car, or buy airline tickets in most instances. A credit card is also a good idea if you want to maintain good financial records, as your monthly statement will serve as a reminder of how you are spending money.
A credit card may turn into a very expensive payment option if you are not able to pay the balance on the account within the specified grace period—typically between 20 and 30 days. Be careful to read all of the details of the credit card offer before committing to it; some companies offer a special low introductory interest rate (perhaps 2.9%), but then increase it dramatically (to about 18.9%) after that introductory period. Also know the structure of the credit card company’s annual fees, such as how much and when they charge it to your card. As always, learn all you can so that you can make an informed decision.
Some companies are reluctant to issue credit cards to international students, as they do not have an established credit history in the United States. If you already have a major credit card from your home country (like Eurocard, Access, Chargex, Barclaycard, Carte Bleue, American Express, Visa or MasterCard), bring it with you; after the U.S. bank reviews your credit limit on the foreign card, they may be more likely to offer you a credit card. Banks with which you have accounts are also more likely to accept your request for a credit card.
Debit Cards (also referred to as “bank cards”) are another option. When you open an account, you will most likely get a bank card which you can use to withdraw money from an ATM. You can also use it like a credit card to make purchases. Unlike credit cards, the money is instantly taken from your account, so if the money is not there it will be rejected.
For students new to the USA, the debit card is a great way to pay for things until you can establish credit.
TRANSPORATION AND TRAVEL
Whether you are living on or off campus, in a city or suburb, you have many transportation options for getting around in your new country:
A bicycle can be a great way to get around your campus and your local area. Whether your campus is based in the middle of a city or in the suburbs, a bike is relatively inexpensive, and it’s a good way to get some exercise. Whenever riding your bike, always take care to observe the law of the road, and always wear a helmet. It is now a law in some states that helmets must be worn. As with any personal property, take care to lock your bike up when you are not using it. Most college campuses provide a bike rack for that purpose outside of many buildings on campus. A good lock does not usually cost very much, and it’s a small price to pay for the security of your bike.
If you are living in a city, the bus system will likely be pretty extensive, as with most of the public transportation systems in large urban areas. However, if you live in the suburbs, buses will not run as often and you may have to find alternative methods to get around. On longer routes, Greyhound runs an extensive bus system across the USA which is an inexpensive way to travel, but it can take a long time to get from one place to another.
Taxis can be extremely expensive for students, and are good for longer journeys that are either too far for walking or by bicycle, or there is no bus or subway system where you want to go. Always remember to check your driver has a valid ID card which should be displayed (if not ask to see it) and make sure the meter is running. Never enter a taxi where the driver has asked for a set fee!
Trains and Subways
Subways will be found in most major cities in the USA, such as New York, Boston, and Chicago, and they are a cheap way to travel around. Trains, on the other hand, are good for traveling the USA. They are slightly more expensive than traveling by bus, but it is much quicker.
The hours of operation depend on the store, and can vary significantly from city to city. Most stores will open between 9:00 and 10:00 am and close at 5:00 or 6:00 pm, Monday through Friday. Some stores will open as early as 8:00 am and some will close as late as 9:00 or 10:00 pm.
Banks tend to close at 3:00 or 4:00 pm, restaurants at 8:00 or 9:00 pm, and bars at 11:00 pm to 1:00 am. Stores in shopping malls keep longer hours, with the typical mall store being open 10:00 am to 9:00 pm, Monday through Saturday, and noon to 5:00 pm on Sunday.
When most stores in a shopping area close at 5:00 or 6:00 pm weekdays, there will usually be one day a week when they are open late. Which day varies from community to community.
Some stores will be open on Saturday. A smaller number of stores will be open on Sunday. Stores with Sunday hours tend to open between 10:00 am and noon, and to close at 5:00 or 6:00 pm, even if they are open until 9:00 or 10:00 pm the rest of the week.
Large grocery store chains are usually open 24 hours a day, except possibly on Sunday. Some pharmacies will also be open 24 hours.
There is no national sales tax in the US, but each state has its own sales tax. The sales tax is charged as a percentage surcharge on purchases, and is printed on the receipt. Rates differ from state to state. Rates may even differ within a state. For example, Pennsylvania charges 6% sales tax, except in Allegheny County (city of Pittsburgh and surrounding communities) where the sales tax rate is 7%.
Unprepared food such as groceries is exempt from sales tax, but prepared food purchased in a restaurant is not. Clothing and medicine may also be exempt from sales tax.
Major department stores frequently have sales in which merchandise is sold at a discount, typically anywhere from 5% to 25% off the normal price. Not everything in the store will be on sale. Sale prices are usually advertised in the Sunday newspaper. Stores will use almost any excuse for a sale, such as holidays and end-of-season clearance. The Christmas shopping season officially starts the Friday after Thanksgiving, but some stores will offer sales starting the weekend before Thanksgiving. If you don’t need something immediately, it is best to wait until it is on sale. The major department store chains are Sears, Macy’s, Lord & Taylor, Nordstrom, Kohls, and JC Penney.
Supermarkets are large grocery stores, often part of a chain of stores. It is generally less expensive to shop in a supermarket than in a small local grocery, and the selection is larger. The major grocery store chains advertise their sale prices in circulars that are distributed by mail toward the end of the week, and sometimes as an insert in the Sunday newspaper. The Sunday newspaper will also include collections of manufacturer cents-off coupons which you can clip and give to the cashier to save on purchases. Some supermarkets will double the value of manufacturer coupons. For non-perishable goods, it is worthwhile to stock up when the item goes on sale. The supermarkets may also have their own brands which sell for less than the popular name brands. Some supermarkets have membership cards which the cashier will scan to give you automatic discounts on some items.
Paying for Purchases
All stores will accept US currency. No stores will accept foreign currency. Many stores will accept US-denominated traveler’s checks. Traveler’s checks in foreign currency will be refused.
Most people, however, do not carry around large sums of money. Instead they pay for purchases with a credit card or personal check. Most stores will accept the major credit cards (Visa, MasterCard, Discover Card, and American Express). Even grocery stores are starting to accept credit cards.
The larger department stores will try to encourage you to open a charge account at the store, often by offering a 10% discount on your purchases the day you open the account. Store charge cards work similarly to credit cards, except there’s never an annual fee and the card is only good for purchases at the store.
Remember that you are restricted by your visa in terms of being able to work in the USA. It is a MUST that you know all the requirements and restrictions concerning your visa!