5 Tips You Need to Know Before Studying Abroad in the U.S.

Noah Clayton
students studying at a picnic table

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 five 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

There is a lot to get used to at the beginning of the school year as an international student in the U.S. Minor nuances like tipping and more complicated situations of culture shock are just a few of the challenges international students may face.

Here are some things you’ll want to know about U.S. culture:

  • Food - Processed, fatty foods dominate the American diet. 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 is the idea that each person is completely responsible for bettering and supporting themselves. It 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 - 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 the waiter or waitress 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 13% of U.S. citizens report taking public transportation to move between home and work.

However, places like New York City, San Francisco, Washington D.C., and other highly-populated 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 another non-powered vehicle. It's a greener option that'll save you money during the year.

Need more information about U.S. transportation? Read this Guide to Transportation in the U.S.


3. Prepare for Various Government Travel Requirements

The U.S. is very serious about its international travel precautions. You’ll need several travel documents (passports, visas, additional IDs, and possibly proof of travel medical insurance) in order to enter the country.

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.

Executive orders by U.S. presidents may call for additional travel restrictions on citizens of certain countries.  For more information about travel restrictions, please visit the U.S. Department of State website.


back of student looking out at city


4. Find Your Own Health Insurance Coverage

The U.S. does not provide universal healthcare. Rather, most 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 or plan before studying abroad. You may need to look for international student health insurance to ensure coverage while abroad.

For long-term study abroad arrangements, you’ll need to fill out an application for an F-1 visa. Although the visa does not 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 medical benefits of at least $100,000 per accident or illness

  • Repatriation of remains in the amount of at least $25,000

  • Expenses associated with the medical evacuation of the exchange visitor to your home country 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:


J-1 Visa Requirements

How StudentSecure Meets J-1 Requirements

Minimum medical benefits of at least $100,000 per accident or illness Coverage options begin at $100,000 per accident/illness and go up to $500,000
Repatriation of remains in the amount of at least $25,000 Plans cover repatriation of remains from $25,000 to $50,000
Expenses associated with the medical evacuation of the exchange visitor to your home country in the amount of $50,000 Plans offer coverage of $50,000 to $300,000 for emergency medical evacuation to the nearest hospital. Cost for air or ground transportation ticket home is also provided for eligible injuries/illnesses. 
A deductible not to exceed $500 per accident or illness All four plans have a $0 deductible


With four products to choose from and customizable options, you can choose a StudentSecure plan that could fit well with your budgeting expectations and coverage needs.


5. Offset Costs With International Student Financial Aid

Speaking of budget expectations, studying abroad in the U.S. can be expensive. Tuition and living expenses for international students in the U.S. run at around $25,000 to $45,000 a year in 2023. However, the actual cost boils down to several different factors: your destination, your study program, various 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. 

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WorldTrips international travel medical insurance products are underwritten by Lloyd's. WorldTrips is a service company and a member of the Tokio Marine HCC group of companies. WorldTrips has authority to enter into contracts of insurance on behalf of the Lloyd's underwriting members of Lloyd's Syndicate 4141, which is managed by HCC Underwriting Agency, Ltd.