Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Moving to America - 1

This summer, several of my friends were coming to America and had a bunch of questions to ask. This three-part post is a summary of my discussions.

So, you're moving to the US - congratulations and be ready for the time of your life, in more ways than one (and in more ways than good too)! Here are some things you need to keep in mind:

1. The Flight
Reach the airport in time (3h prior to departure) because lines at immigration can be humongous. When booking a flight, you might want to spend a little extra on the ticket to ensure all your flights are on the same ticket and hence you can use a through check-in, eliminating the need to move your baggage around until you reach Chicago. Make sure to stick your name and contact details on your check-in baggage, because baggage misplacement is far more common than you would imagine. If you are carrying medicines, keep the prescription with them or they can be removed. The US authorities may check your bags at random and they have full authority to do so.

Keep all your important documents (passport, I-20, admission letter, lease etc.) and any money you have with you at all times. If you ever hand your passport to somebody, check to see that the visa is intact when you get it back. Lose anything but DO NOT lose your passport! In addition, make a photocopy of your documents and keep them in your check-in bag. All this is to ensure that your immigration check is smooth - they do assume the worst otherwise. 

At Chicago Airport, keep your documents handy for immigration and answer all questions calmly. The officer will stamp your passport and write 'F-1 D/S' on it - ensure that the D/S (Duration of Status - how long your visa is admissible) is written before you leave. You will not get a paper I-94 any longer; you can download it later from the CBP (Customs and Border Protection) website. You will need this whenever you enter or leave the US again. 

At customs, if they ask you what you have, you would have some Indian spices (more on that later) - declare it with a small amount (<$10) and they'll let you through. Don't lie because if they check, you're in trouble. Finally, find out from people in NWU how they travel to the campus from the airport - in all probability, there will be a bus service.This will probably be booked before you leave India; keep the ticket ready. 

2. Moving In
If you have not found an apartment yet, you should do so ASAP. Once you sign a lease, you will be required to deposit the first month's rent and also pay that rent; the deposit is refundable after you leave, although they always take out a part of it for general repairs and cleaning (this happens in India too). Your apartment will usually have all basic appliances and furniture; however, you will need to buy bed sheets, a pillow and a blanket (you can also get some of this from India, though it is inexpensive at Walmart). The bedsheet size you need is 'Queen size.' 

I would recommend carrying basic toiletries with you: a bar of soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrush and your shaving kit. You can of course buy all this in the US, but that might be a little too much to do right after you get 'home.' On your first day, you will need to purchase toilet paper and paper napkins. There will definitely be some supermarkets nearby but even if there aren't, there is definitely a Walmart somewhere and they are open 24x7. 

3. Administrative Fundae
You will need to register with your International office, get your i-card, meet your adviser and all that stuff. The people at your university can tell you everything, just follow the instructions and be very patient with the paperwork. This country is all about paperwork. Again, be very careful with your passport. 

In time, once you have an SSN (Social Security No., you need this to get paid; your university will guide you further on this), you can apply for a state ID or even give a driving test and obtain an Illinois drivers license (which doubles up as a state ID too), which will almost eliminate the need to carry your passport. Do note that the Indian drivers license is valid in Illinois (but not all states) for about a year, so you can practice with that. Purchase of any alcohol requires a valid ID. 

4. Books
Don't bother carrying notebooks or pens/pencils, you can buy them here at extremely cheap prices. They will merely add to your luggage. Moreover, the teaching style minimizes use of paper. Do carry any important textbooks that you think you will need, because they are very expensive in the US. If you can find an International edition, that would be about 10x cheaper! Optimize here though: more books = more baggage weight, so don't panic about books. Put them in last, if you have place left. Also, you usually get a ton of free pens at various events in the beginning, so you don't need to get too many from home. 

(Continued...)

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