Travel to any new place can be stressful if you’re not well-prepared. Here are some tips for a smooth trip to your U.S. college or university.
Timing Your Entry
You can arrive in the United States using your student visa up to thirty days before the start of your academic program. At a minimum you will want several days to recover from jet lag and adjust before your schedule becomes busy.
Also find out when your college or university’s orientation program for international students will be held.
Arrive in time to attend this and other student orientation events—such programs cover important information on campus resources and requirements.
If you will have to change planes during your trip, allow plenty of time—at least three hours between flight arrival time and any connecting flight’s departure.
Remember that you will have to go through port of entry procedures, you may need to travel from one airport or terminal to another, and of course your arriving flight may be delayed.
Planning Ahead to Avoid Travel Complications
Let the international student office at your college or university know your travel plans well in advance of your departure , also ask them about the best ways to get to campus and the approximate cost.
Make sure that your housing arrangements are finalized. Inquire with your college or university international student office about any temporary housing,hotel, motel, or other arrangements that may need to be made if you are arriving early or during the weekend.
Arriving during working hours typically Monday through Friday, about 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., in the United States is generally preferable.
Get the name, address, and telephone number of the staff person at your U.S. university to contact in case of a travel delay or an emergency, and carry this with you during your trip. Also carry contact information for a person at home and for or another organization that could provide you with support if needed, such as an educational mission or sponsoring agency.
Purchase travel insurance that will cover the costs of your trip in case you should have to cancel or delay travel for some reason and that will pay expenses in case of a medical emergency during travel. You may also want to purchase baggage insurance to cover against loss, damage, or theft of your baggage. Pack Smart
Be aware what items may not be packed in carry-on luggage--only small amounts of liquids, aerosols, or gels are allowed, though they can be checked in packed luggage. Some of the less obvious things that you should not try to carry on a plane include razors; pocketknives; tools such as hammers or screwdrivers; and sports equipment such as golf clubs or pool cues. Luggage over allowed carry-on size (which varies somewhat by airline) must be checked and there are weight and size limits on these pieces as well without overweight fees being added.
Keep photocopies of transcripts, passport, visa, I-20, and other important documents in your luggage, separate from the original documents, which you will want to carry on. (You may want to leave an additional copy with someone at home.)
Take most of your initial funds (enough to pay expenses over the first few weeks while you set up a U.S. bank account, which may run to $1,500 or more) in the form of traveler’s checks. If possible, however, also obtain $100-200 of U.S. currency in small denominations—$1, $5, $10, and $20 bills—for expenses on arrival in case you are not able to immediately change money at the airport.
Make a list of your belongings according to where you packed them so you can more easily make a claim if any luggage is lost. Carry on a change of clothes, toiletries, and any essentials that you will need upon arrival or could not easily replace, including all important legal, medical, or academic documents.
All checked and your hand luggage is passed through scanners at airports and may also be opened. Random searches are also conducted—all travelers, including U.S. citizens, are subject to these searches.
Don’t wrap any gifts that you are bringing as they will be unwrapped in the case of a search. Leave luggage unlocked or use special TSA locks, in case officials need to search bags—otherwise they may be forced to break your locks. It’s better not to pack food or drink in checked luggage as some substances (such as chocolate) may activate machines screening for explosives. Do not stack books or other dense items together in your luggage; spread them out instead so they do not appear as an unidentifiable mass. For easier inspection, it’s suggested that you place small carry-on items such as toiletries together in clear bags and pack footwear on the top of other contents in checked luggage.
Be aware what items may not be packed in carry-on luggage—basically weapons, explosives, and incendiary materials.
Matches and cigarette lighters with fuel may not be checked in luggage but up to two cigarette lighters and four packs of safety matches may be carried on board.
It’s also important to be aware of customs regulations. Some types of items that require a special permit for U.S. entry or that are entirely prohibited include any drugs and narcotics that are illegal in the United States , weapons, ammunition, and explosive materials including fireworks, offensive-smelling or irritating materials such as pepper spray; fresh fruit, vegetables, plants, seeds, and other unprocessed plant products; wildlife or products made from endangered species; and fresh fish, meat, or seafood. You may also want to avoid packing substances that may be difficult for inspectors to identify. Getting Off the Ground
Travelers on international flights are generally advised to arrive at the airport at least two hours in advance.
If you are traveling at a peak time such as a weekend or holiday, you will want to arrive even earlier.
Call ahead to reconfirm reservations, and also to confirm that your flight is on time.
You will need to show your boarding pass ,ticket confirmation and a piece of government-issued photo identification at security checkpoints, so have these readily accessible.
Only ticketed passengers traveling on the particular day will be allowed through security checkpoints.
All passengers are screened with a walk-through metal detector. Therefore, avoid wearing anything metal; take change and other metal objects out of your pockets before passing through the detector. If you set off the alarm, you will be asked to step aside for further screening with a handheld metal detector as well as a pat-down search.
You will be asked to take your laptop computer out of its case for separate screening. You also may be asked to turn on the computer or other electronic devices that you are carrying with you.
Footwear inspections are standard for anyone stopped for random searches; at some airports all passengers may be asked to remove shoes during screening. Shoes often have metal in their heels so you may want to consider taking them off before going through the metal detector even if it is not required.
In the Air
No smoking is permitted on any U.S. flights. All passengers must by law obey any instructions given by the flight crew, including remaining seated during takeoff, landing, and periods of air turbulence. Do get out of your seat and walk a little at least every two hours, or do some basic stretches in your seat—sitting still for long periods is not only uncomfortable but can occasionally lead to dangerous blood clots.
Dry air in airplanes can cause dehydration, which makes jet lag worse. Drink plenty of water throughout the flight, eat lightly, and avoid caffeine and alcohol, which will make you more dehydrated.
To help you sleep, you may want to bring earplugs, an eye mask, and/or a neck pillow.
Airlines provide small pillows and blankets for you to use on board, and sometimes other conveniences.
Before landing, you will be given a customs form to complete. This should not be complicated assuming you have not brought any prohibited items. You will need to show it to customs inspectors at the airport.
At the Airport
You should be provided with information about the international visitor registration process when you apply for a visa and also receive a list of the air and sea “port of entry/port of exit” points where inspectors are located to register arrivals. You should travel through one of these points whenever you enter or exit the United States most major airports currently serve as ports of entry.
On arrival in a port of entry, after collecting luggage, all international visitors should be directed to the office of the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection within that airport. Inspectors there have been assigned to collect two “biometric identifiers” from every traveler.
Currently this means that a photograph of you will be taken and that your fingerprints will be electronically recorded.
You will also need to show your travel documents and will be asked about the length and purpose of your U.S. stay.
This process may be combined with customs inspection checking whether you have anything to declare , possible random baggage searches) or may be a separate step, depending on the airport.
Once you are cleared to enter the country, you should receive an Arrival
Departure Record (form I-94) from the inspector. Keep this as you will have to show it again when leaving the country.
If any of your luggage does not arrive with you, file a claim at your airline’s desk before leaving the airport. Write down the name of the person who helps you as well as the work address and telephone number where this person can be reached in case of any later confusion.
The airline will send luggage to you at your U.S. address when it is found or provide reimbursement if any is lost while in their system.
All airports have information booths to help travelers, and there will also be signs to direct you to local transportation. Guidelines on what taxis should cost are often also posted or distributed. Settling In
The best way to adjust to being in a new time zone is to start following the new schedule and to spend some time outdoors—sunlight will help your “body clock” reset itself. Try to stay up until it is bedtime where you are and then to stay in bed until morning.
Let the international student adviser at your college or university know as soon as possible that you have arrived.
You will want to meet with this person to learn how to register as an international visitor which you will need to do after thirty days in the United States and then annually as well as any time you exit and reenter the country or change addresses) and to get all sorts of guidance on how to successfully adjust to life and study on your new campus.