International Students' Survival Guide: Your First Week in the US

Erin CaswellErin Caswell | June 14, 2017

Choosing where to pursue a college education is a big decision for any student. The decision to move to a different country and pursue higher education is an even bigger step. Many international students are both excited and nervous to come to the United States.

Download our guide on why schools should provide international students with  group health insurance.

For many students, the first week is often the most difficult. During the first week, you’ll need to set up basic tools and services and make crucial decisions that impact the rest of your stay.

These tips can help you navigate these challenges with ease.

Adjust Your Sleep Routine

Your first instinct when you step off the plane may be to get some shut-eye. After all, traveling wears out a person! Jet lag is also a major player: You might arrive in New York, DC, or LA during the sunlit hours, but your body knows that, at home, it’s time to wind down and get ready to sleep.

Fight the urge! Unless you’re falling asleep as you stand, try to stay awake. You’ll need to adjust before classes start anyway, but there are also plenty of businesses you’ll need to contact—and most are only open between 8 am and 6 pm.

Most people take about a week to fully recover from jet lag, but forcing yourself to start adjusting can help you overcome it more quickly.

Another helpful trick is to start adjusting your sleeping pattern to the time zone of your destination before you leave.

Switch Your Phone

When you’re traveling for a short time, it doesn’t make sense to switch cellphone providers. But travel plans and roaming fees add up quickly. If your stay is any longer than a week or two, choosing a US-based cellphone plan and provider becomes a more economical option.

If you have an unlocked phone that you brought from home, you can simply purchase a new SIM card and install it in your phone. If your phone is locked, however, you’ll need to purchase a new phone. You can choose a prepaid plan or a contract. Contracts are longer term but may require you to provide a credit check or a social security number. There are also pay-as-you-go or prepaid plans that may be easier for you to obtain. Here are some links to international student phone plans from cell phone carriers:

Pick an App

Once you’ve obtained cell service, you might be concerned about international calling and texting. After all, you want to stay in touch with your friends and family at home.

Luckily, there are plenty of free apps that allow international calling and messaging. Whatsapp, Skype, Facetime, and Viber are all great options that will let you keep in touch around the world.

Bank Accounts and Credit Cards

You’ll likely rely on cash during the first few days after your arrival in the US, but you’ll also find cash is inconvenient in many cases. Instead, set up a bank account and a credit card to make payments quicker and easier.

Select Health Insurance

The American medical system is different from almost any other on the planet. Some international students find it overwhelming; most will experience some difficulty navigating it. Selecting health insurance should be a priority on your list—even if you don’t think you’re going to get sick during your stay.

Your school may have a mandated plan for international students, in which case you may already have coverage. Nonetheless, you should research the kinds of coverage you have and what you’ll need; you may want to purchase additional coverage.

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Erin Caswell

Erin is Director of LewerMark Student Insurance division. Erin has a degree in Education and worked as an instructor before joining LewerMark more than six years ago. She is licensed in Life & Health insurance.

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