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11 things to add to your checklist if you're studying in the US (*)

The United States is home to half of the top institutes for higher education in the world. In addition to providing a world-class education, universities in the US are known to be more inclusive and flexible, offering great networking opportunities.

If you're heading to the US as an international student, here's a guide to help you plan for your studies abroad.

1. Check your passport validity

Ensure validity of your passport for at least 6 months after your course ends. To avoid any hassles during your stay in the US, renew your passport before you leave home. 

If you're renewing it in the US, carry your old one while traveling as it has the valid visa that proves your status. For any information on requirements around passports and visas, visit the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement website.

2. Apply to study first, and then for a visa

Except for Canadians and citizens of Bermuda, foreigners going to school in the US will need an F-1 or M-1 student visa. But first, you need to be accepted by a US college that's certified by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).

The F-1 visa is issued for a longer term and allows you to remain in the US as long as you're a full-time student. Both visas can be issued up to 3 months in advance, but you may only enter the country 30 days before the start of your course. To be eligible for a US student visa, you must be enrolled full time, prove your English proficiency, and show that you have enough funds to support yourself.

In addition, you'll need to attend an interview to state your plans for study and stay in the US. The American government provides tips on how to prepare for the student visa interview and what documents to provide. As visa requirements can change, visit the SEVP website for up-to-date information.

3. Find a suitable accommodation

You can choose between on-campus accommodation (dorms) or off-campus (private homes and homestays).

Many international students prefer student housing, at least to start with. It's an easy way to make friends, and you can't beat the proximity to your classes and the dining hall. If you're living off-campus, be prepared to pay a deposit up front, and expect that your utilities, like gas and water, will be extra. You will most likely be locked into a 12-month contract, too.

Your university's website is a good place to start when looking for student accommodation.

Read more about accommodation expenses in the article:

Want to study in the United States?

4. Set up your banking

You'll probably use a checking account to do most of your daily banking, including paying your bills. If you're receiving financial aid, it will reach you as a cheque or be directly deposited into your account.

It can be difficult, however, for non-US residents to open a bank account, especially online. While some banks have different requirements, you'll need to provide proof of ID and details such as source of income, address and your Social Security Number (or Taxpayer Identification Number).

Opening an international bank account before you go abroad is the easiest way to manage your money. With HSBC, your account details and debit/credit cards (subject to local regulations) will be ready before you leave home. If you have multiple worldwide accounts, you can manage them with one secure log on with Global View.

Join HSBC Premier today!

Simply leave your details and our Premier team will get in touch with you to help with your global banking needs.

5. Plan your budget

Your university and the visa office will need proof that you can cover your living expenses while you're studying. This is a condition you need to meet for getting your visa approved.

Apart from your visa, tuition fees, flights and accommodation, there will be other costs to consider, such as your Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP), which most private universities require.

Calculate your income and expenses and balance this amount. Ideally your expenditure should be less than your income. Make sure to set some money aside for emergencies (and for your holidays – even students need a break).

6. Start saving

Now that you know how much money you need for moving, you can set a savings goal. If your goal seems like a stretch, look at areas where you could cut back to make it more achievable.

Take a look at your financial habits. Are they costing you more than you think? Brew your own coffee, cook at home, skip the salon manicures and take public transport (or ride a bike). Common bank fees that can be avoided (or reduced) include using non-affiliated ATMs; making late credit card payments; relying on your overdraft; taking out credit card cash advances; transferring global funds; and letting your balance slip below the minimum requirement (if that's a requirement of your account).

Want to know what an international education costs and how people are saving for it? HSBC's study The Value of Education: The price of success looks into global education trends and provides practical tips to prepare for an overseas education.

7. Get your health checked

You may need to have certain vaccinations or health checks before you enter the US. The National Travel Health Network and Center and the World Health Organization recommend that visitors be vaccinated against rabies and tetanus.

However, your school may have its own requirements. Many universities require all new students to prove that they've been vaccinated or are immune to certain infectious diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella (MMR), pertussis and meningitis. They also require students to be screened for tuberculosis.

See the full requirements from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

When travelling, make sure you're able to access any medication you might need. Don't forget to pack extra in your carry-on bag, in case your checked baggage is delayed. If you're unsure about anything, chat with your doctor about your options, and consult your school's website for their immunisation and health insurance policies.

8. Think about travel insurance

There's no universal healthcare in the US so it's crucial that you're adequately covered. While healthcare there is top-notch, the insurance will probably be expensive.

Your school may have it's own requirements regarding healthcare and might even have school-sponsored health insurance policies (SHIP). Some of these policies might only cover you within a certain distance from your school so it's best to check. A good travel insurance will cover you both on-campus and off, and will give you options about which doctors to see.

Travel insurance may be able to cover you for the duration of your studies, or just the first few weeks. This may be helpful if your luggage is lost or if there are travel delays that cost you money.

9. Check that your phone is unlocked

Most new phones in the US come locked to prevent you from switching companies. So make sure your phone is unlocked to be able to use any SIM card while studying in the US.

Every phone company has its own rules, but you can still learn how to unlock your phone (if you buy one while you're in the US). 

Ensuring that your own phone is unlocked can help you avoid unnecessary hassles.

10. Double-check all your documentation

It's a good idea to scan and save your documents, including copies of your credit cards and travel documents. However, ensure that you are carrying the hard copies with you. These documents could be:

  • Valid passport and visa

  • Proof of enrollment and funds

  • Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) form

  • Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status (Form I-20)

  • Contact information for your school

  • Prescriptions, if any

You may also be given a social media check, so be prepared to share those details (but never your password!) with border control.

F-1 visa holders don't need to book a return ticket home but having one could make the questioning at border control go a lot smoother.

If you're ever unsure, check the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement website or with your university.

11. Stay safe

Life in the US may be different to what you're used to. While some things may be common sense, it's important to read up on how to stay safe. The US government website is a compilation of all the government websites and a great resource for you to refer during your stay there. Here, you'll find the most up-to-date information about living, studying and travelling in the US.

Manage your money better with an overseas account

One of the easiest ways to manage your money for tuition, accommodation and other expenses while studying abroad is an HSBC overseas bank account. Let us know a convenient time to call you and we'll help you with the account opening process.

Simply leave your details and our Premier team will get in touch with you to help with opening a global account.

(*):The information in this article has been obtained from various sources and is for reference only