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International Students Special: Practicalities Before Moving to the USA


Table of Contents:


1. Visa Application

2. Housing

3. Health Insurance

4 Finances




You made it! After many efforts preparing your application, you have finally received that acceptance letter you were waiting for. Now it's time to get ready to move to the USA and study in your dream graduate school. Parallel to imagining how exciting and wonderful your days are going to be, do not forget that there is a set of practicalities that you need to tackle before leaving your home country and starting this adventure. From visa applications to health insurance, from housing arrangements to managing your finances, here you can find a comprehensive guide that will help you navigate through the nitty-gritty of organizing your new life.

1. Visa Application

The first step after getting your admission letter is applying for a student visa, and most international students need the F1 type, which allows them to live in the US while they are enrolled at an accredited institution. This is a critical passage as the acceptance rates for this visa can be challenging. Therefore prepare your documents carefully and be ready to leave a positive impression on the interview committee.

Remember that the application process is different depending on where you are from, so the US embassy or consulate in your home country will be your go-to source for visa requirements and procedures. However, if you need an overview of the key documents and steps for you visa application, keep reading:

  • Form I-20: Your university will share with you a Form I-20, a “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status”. Keep this paper safe as it is essential for obtaining your F1 visa.

  • DS-160 Form: A second important document is the DS-160 form, which you can fill online with some of your personal information. This form will generate a barcode that you'll need for your interview.

  • Visa Interview: Schedule and attend a visa interview at the US embassy or consulate. You may be asked to answer questions about your chosen course, university, financial possibilities, and your plans after completing your academic journey in the US.

Lastly, if you want to deepen the topic, you can find these and more information on the official US Travel.State.Gov website.

2. Housing

Living in a comfortable accommodation, where you have enough space and furniture, can have a strong impact on your well-being. Of course, we all need to compromise when choosing an apartment or a room, but I definitely would advise you to start looking as early as possible to secure the best options. Depending on your preferences and university policies, you can choose between on-campus or off-campus accommodations:

  • On-Campus Housing: It is quite common for universities in the US to offer on-campus housing options for international students. These residences are convenient, they give you the possibility to immerse yourself in campus life and reduce your travel time as you are living close to your classes.

  • Off-Campus Rentals: If you love independence or your university doesn't offer on-campus housing, you can start searching for some off-campus rentals. Start immersing yourself in the local rental market, understand the lease terms, and evaluate factors such as proximity to campus and to other services.

3. Health Insurance

Healthcare can be quite expensive in the US, so having a comprehensive health insurance plan is imperative. Most universities require students to have health insurance coverage while being enrolled. Here are two options you may want to consider:

  • University Plans: Some universities offer dedicated health insurance plans for their international students. These plans are often tailored to the needs of students and can be a convenient solution.

  • Independent Plans: If your university's plan doesn't match with your individual situation or if you have specific health needs, begin exploring independent health insurance options. When choosing one of these plans, remember that they need to comply with your university guidelines and requirements.

Lastly, if you are applying for a phd where you expect to receive financial aid (just like me), keep in mind that usually these funding packages include a health insurance plan.

4. Finances

Many grad school students live on a budget and don’t have much money to spare. Although there is nothing wrong with that, working to improve your financial awareness and skills can definitely be beneficial. Here are some aspects you should consider:

  • US Bank Account: Setting up a US bank account will make your financial life easier. Although this is not the same exact experience, I can tell you that I really found it helpful to have a Dutch bank account as a foreign student in the Netherlands (I can pay online quickly, receiving and making transfers from and to the municipality, etc.).

  • Currency and Financial Systems: US dollars may not be the currency you grew up with and are used to. And there is more: every country has their own financial system, which means different ways of processing transactions, of accepting credit debit cards, and so on. There is nothing to be said but that you should take your time to understand this new organization. Try asking your fellow US students if you are struggling, again this is what I do as an Italian undergrad in the Netherlands!


Embarking on your journey as a grad school international student is both exciting and challenging. In this international students special, we have gone through the main practicalities you need to take care of before moving to the USA. Remember, preparation is key, and, once you have everything ready for your arrival, you can start dreaming your future at a US university and later on to fully leave this marvelous adventure. Get ready to embrace new cultures, expand your horizons, and make the most of this incredible opportunity!

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