Studying abroad in the U.S. can feel like a rush of new opportunities, challenges, and experiences packed into a short amount of time. Before you start your next semester abroad, here are 5 practical tips that will help you prepare for the situations that you may encounter during your time in the U.S.
1) Learn as much as possible about U.S. culture.
From simple differences like driving on the right side of the road to complicated situations like culture shock, there is a lot to get used to at the beginning of the school year. Here are some things you’ll want to know about U.S. culture:
- Food: Processed, fatty foods dominate the American diet. It’s no wonder the U.S. is considered one of the fattest countries in the world. However, what the country lacks in health it makes up for in flavor. Pizza, hamburgers, and Buffalo wings are only a few of the delicious dishes every international student should experience.
Make sure you eat foods in moderation in order for your body to become accustomed to the diet change. You can also find a variety of healthy food options if you plan to stay away from anything processed and fattening. Local grocery stores will generally have a wide selection of produce and organic foods available. One such option is Whole Foods.
- Individualism: Individualism - the idea that each person is completely responsible for bettering and supporting him or herself - drives U.S. society. Personal endeavors, rights, and ideas generally take priority over collective goals and values. Self-reliance is also emphasized and strongly encouraged in the U.S.
- Being on time vs. fashionably late: Time is money. Even if you’re exactly on time, you’ll most likely be considered late in the U.S. Punctuality is highly regarded and implemented here, especially in the professional and educational world. As you prepare for classes, consider arriving at least 5-10 minutes early.
Being fashionably late is a little more complicated. In the case of informal, social events such as an open house, arriving a little late (15-30 minutes) is considered normal. However, if you have a reservation or a wedding ceremony to attend, always show up early.
- Tipping: In some countries, like Japan, tipping your waiter or waitress is considered an insult. However, in the United States, tipping is expected of most customers. 15% is considered the minimum, but tipping 20% is customary for quality service.
2) Seek alternative modes of transportation.
Due to suburban sprawl (the process of people moving from densely-populated cities to sparsely populated areas - suburbs and beyond), the United States’ public transportation is underdeveloped compared to many other countries.
Only 11% of U.S. citizens report report taking public transportation on a daily or weekly basis.
However, places like New York City, San Francisco, Washington D.C., and other developed cities have a well-structured public transportation system millions of people rely on.
If you’re studying in an area without adequate public transportation, you may find it nearly impossible to get from one place to another. Here are some solutions to bypass this situation:
- Carpool: Ask a friend with a car to take you to the grocery store or other places when necessary. Offering to compensate for gas is also a polite thing to do occasionally.
- Uber: A taxi or Uber service can be just as effective. If you're not traveling often, these services can be cheaper than renting a car.
- Bike: If the places you'll need to go to are closer, consider purchasing a bike, push-scooter, or other non-powered vehicle. It's a greener option that'll save you money during the year.
3) Prepare for various government travel requirements.
The U.S. is very serious about its international travel precautions; you’ll need a number of travel documents (passports, visas, additional ID’s, and proof of travel medical insurance) in order to enter the country. Essentially, these documents help government agencies keep tabs on all non-immigrant visitors during their time in the U.S.
However, the Visa Waiver Program enables most citizens or nationals of participating countries to travel to the U.S. for tourism or business without a visa. These visits cannot exceed 90 days, travelers must meet all waiver requirements, and they must have authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prior to traveling. If your study abroad trip is more than 90 days, or you’re a national of a country not listed in the Visa Waiver Program, you’ll need a travel visa.
Recent executive orders have added additional travel restrictions on citizens of certain countries. For more information about the executive order, please visit the U.S. Department of State website.
4) Find your own health insurance coverage.
The U.S. does not provide universal healthcare. Rather, citizens rely on private health insurance entities to receive the coverage they need for various medical expenses.
Since many domestic insurance plans do not extend past international borders, it’s important to check with your current provider before studying abroad. If you find yourself in this situation, you’ll need to look for alternative travel medical insurance.
For long-term study abroad arrangements, you’ll need to fill out an application for an F-1 visa. Although the visa does not legally require you to have travel medical insurance, the U.S. government will ask applicants to provide proof of adequate means of subsistence for things like food, accommodations, and medical costs. A travel medical insurance plan can be used as proof of your ability to pay medical expenses.
Unlike F-1 visas, J-1 visas (used for short-term exchange programs) require applicants to be covered with medical insurance that meets specific standards established by the U.S. Department of State:
- Minimum benefits of at least $100,000 per accident or illness
- Repatriation of remains in the amount of $25,000
- Expenses associated with medical evacuation of the exchange visitor in the amount of $50,000
- A deductible not to exceed $500 per accident or illness
StudentSecure student health insurance can provide the international medical coverage you need while complying with F-1 subsistence requests and J-1 visa requirements:
How StudentSecure meets
With four products to choose from and customizable options, you’ll be able to tailor a travel medical insurance plan that fits well with your budgeting expectations.
5) Offset costs with international student financial aid.
Speaking of budget expectations, studying abroad in the U.S. can be expensive. According to the Institute of International Education, the average cost of studying abroad for the 2012-2013 academic school year was $17,785 for one semester. However, the actual cost boils down to several different factors: your destination, your study program, various legal fees for visas and passports, books, food, and other personal expenses.
As you budget for the school year, consider applying for scholarships, grants, and student loans to help offset various costs. Download the free Guide to International Student Financial Aid to learn more about the options currently available to international students attending college in the U.S.