Moving To The USA: The Complete Student Guide

08/05/20228 minute read
Moving To The USA: The Complete Student Guide

Congratulations! You’ve got into your dream school, and you’re off to the USA to begin your new adventure. But, moving to another country isn’t a simple transition, and a significant move involves many pieces that must fit together for the transition to be smooth.

Mandy O’Flaherty is a Crimson mom and mother of Cara. She recently sent her daughter to a US university. She learned a lot about the moving process and what international students need before and after arriving in the US for university. This blog is a follow up to her first blog about dorm room essentials and provides additional information about:

  • Costs of moving to the USA
  • How to get your student visa
  • Set up your cell phone
  • Open a bank account
  • Get health insurance
  • Pay taxes

The Cost of Moving to the USA for Students

The costs involved for moving to the USA

Once you’ve received your acceptance to a college in the US, it’s time to figure out precisely what you need before you leave. First, you need to register with SEVIS, the database that keeps track of international students in the USA. This registration includes a fee, which amounts to about $350.

Once your registration is complete, you must apply for your F1 student visa by filling out a DS-160 form. Sometimes you’re required to appear at your local embassy for an interview. The cost of this process is about $160. In total, the visa process should cost about $510. If you’re confused about these processes, keep reading.

Next, you’ll need to book your flights! When moving to the USA, there are many important things to consider when choosing an airline. For example, check the airlines’ baggage allowance, the routes to your college’s nearest airport, and the airline with the best loyalty programs. Some airlines will let you change the date of your return flight at no cost, which can be helpful if you aren’t sure of your schedule or plans.

In addition to the costs mentioned above, you will need to furnish your dorm room, set up a cellphone, open bank accounts, and procure health insurance. Prices vary for these necessities.

Find out which US University is right for you with out free College Admissions Calculator!

How to Apply for a F1 Student Visa

Student Visa Pasport

The visa process can be a little scary, but if you follow these simple instructions, the process will be a breeze.

1. Get your I-20 from your university

Once you accept an offer of admission, the school’s admissions or financial aid office will request documentation from you regarding your financial ability to study in the US. When the financial certification is complete, the school enters your information into a database shared with the HIO. The HIO generally takes up to 10 days to issue an I-20 after receipt of a request from the school.

2. Pay the SEVIS fee

Go to You can find the SEVIS number in the upper left corner of Form I-20. Keeping the SEVIS fee proof of payment is crucial as it is a required document in your visa application interview at a US Embassy or Consulate.

3. Complete the DS-160

The DS-160 is an online visa application form that you must complete before applying for an F1 student visa at a US Embassy or Consulate. You can access the DS-160 on the US Department of State websites. Print and keep the DS-160 barcode page (no need to print the complete application). Schedule a visa interview appointment. Pay the visa application processing fee.

4. Apply for your F1 visa

As an applicant for a temporary, non-immigrant visa to enter the United States, you must bring your passport, form I-20, SEVIS fee receipt, DS-160 confirmation, proof of funding, and any additional documentation required by the individual US Embassy or Consulate when you present your application to the consular official.

5. Visa appointment interview and processing times

Be prepared to answer questions regarding the length of your intended stay in the US and how you will use your academic experience gained in the US when you return to your country of origin.

6. Wait for your Visa to be processed

Visa processing time vary widely, particularly if you are put through administrative processing, a form of security check, which could delay the entire process.

7. Arrive in the US

If you hold an F visa status, the US Immigration regulations allow you to enter the US no more than 30 days before the program start date listed on your Form I-20.

Phone Plans for International Students

Phone Plans

One of the most unsettling feelings is when you step off the plane in the US and your mobile phone displays a ‘no service’ signal.

To get a cell phone and US mobile plan, you have two main options:

  1. Buy a prepaid plan: These plans have slightly higher rates on outgoing calls, messaging, etc. However, they are the most convenient option for international students as they do not require a US social security number (SSN) or a hefty deposit.
  2. Sign a two-year contract: If you choose this option, you must commit to a two-year contract and provide a social security number for identity and credit check purposes. You’ll have to page a large deposit ($100-$500) in lieu of a social security number, but most cell phone companies refund your initial deposit after 12 months of good standing. If you break the contract, there are heavy penalty fees.

You can choose from several providers, including Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint. Check with student groups to determine which provider has the best coverage on campus. You can also compare pricing options to find the best deal.

Opening a Bank Account

Bank Account

One of the first things you will need to do before starting school in the USA is open a bank account. You need a new account because you may incur additional charges, including international transactions and currency exchange fees, if you try to access your account at home. A US bank account is the first step toward establishing a US credit history because your credit history at home does not follow you to the US.

Ask your school’s international student office or check their website to find out if your school has a relationship with a specific bank. It’s best to use this bank because it’s familiar with international students, and opening a bank account will run much more smoothly. Also, look for a bank with a branch and ATMs close to campus.

When you open your account, you’ll be asked for two forms of identification: typically a passport and a visa document. Additionally, you’ll need to verify you are enrolled at the university (usually with an acceptance letter) and demonstrate proof of residence (university can provide).

How do you choose a bank?

  • Consider the location of branches and ATMs
  • Ask about monthly fees, fees for withdrawals and transfers, and minimum required balances.
  • Check banking hours. US hours are typically Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm (Some banks are open on Saturday mornings)
  • Confirm the bank has online services that you can access after you have opened your bank account

Health Insurance for International Students

Health Insurance

International students find that many universities require a mandatory school-sponsored group insurance plan. Universities that don’t offer health insurance require international students to select their own coverage. Without health insurance, you might not be able to register and start studying!

At most US universities, health insurance specialists are usually available to advise students about their options. Students can contact the international student office with any questions about how medicine and health insurance work in the US. Health insurance can be complicated for new international students, and proper education is important.

Make an appointment with the specialist or schedule time with the international student advisor. They will be able to guide you through the process and get you set up in a way that best suits you and your needs!

Tax Compliance in the US for International Students


Finally, if you have an on-campus job, you’ll need to be aware of taxes and make sure you file your returns on time.

International students are only taxed on their US income, and they’re required to file a tax return if they earned income in the US during the previous calendar year.

The international office will have specific resources to help you navigate this process. It will only happen towards the end of your first academic year, so there is time to prepare for the filing period. Make sure you know all the deadlines so that you don’t end up in a time crunch just before you need to send in your documents!

Ready to start your journey to your dream school in the USA? Sign up for a talk with one of our expert Academic Advisors today.