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Things to do after landing in USA as an international student

Things to do after landing in USA | International Student Checklist

What are the things that Indian and international students arriving on American university campuses need to do? What are the most important documents and processes that you need to tackle first?

Rakhi Acharyya has plenty of tips, hacks and advice to get you sorted.

Tips on what international students should do on arrival in the U.S.

by Rakhi Acharyya

Though not quite like Columbus, a first timer’s trip to the Americas could feel like an expedition. Fresh off the boat,as a rookie in the US is often called, many young students head there for a global education experience, after jumping through all the hoops of GRE, GMAT, SAT.

They are careful, cautious and excited. They follow the lists to the T and hope that they are absolutely prepared for what is coming.

But sometimes it helps to have some idea of what is waiting on the other side. Here’s my recap of what I experienced and thought to be helpful as I began my life in a small college town of USA.

So we fly for a whole day and reach the day before?

I remember my first trip to the US. A very well dressed airport staff had asked me whether I had packed my own bag. Isn’t that too personal? I had said. More because I was embarrassed to mention that it was actually my mother who packed it and my brother had fought the mortal combat with the suitcase zipper.

I wasn’t a novice to traveling but had never stepped outside the country before. I was prepared, mind you. I had the survival kit- maggi, daal, jeera and haldi. I was told salt is aplenty in the US, but never to buy spices there. I had it all covered. A fellow student (who I had never met before) was going to pick me up and take me to my apartment. I thought it was particularly clever of me to book an apartment after researching roommates-needed, on Orkut (remember that?).

The personal AV entertainment, in my humble economy class, was just too precious. Of course I was pining for having left my home for what could might as well be Mars, for me. But hey…20 movies and some of my favorite shows? I couldn’t ever understand who would be viewing the flight route instead. After the 16th hour, I was doing just that-waiting to see touch down.

When the stewardess handed me the customs form, I felt this incredible urge to let out all my secrets. Is khuskhus a contraband?

Meet the city

When I did step off my flyingboat, I was dumbstruck. I had never seen anything this tidy. The streets were clean, the grass was trimmed, neighborhoods were groomed and made to look alike and most distinctly, there were exactly six people on the road, from the airport to the apartment…and none of them was peeing on the side street!

Now I must mention that I went from one of the most crowded cities in India, Delhi, to one of those small tiny college towns. So the gradient was steep.

But hey, you won’t ever imagine how populated India is unless you step out and look in. It was the first time I realized that I can actually go to a market or travel in a bus without counting the pores on someone else’s nose, being that up close and personal.

It took me two weeks to get rid of my jetlag. My body was simply unable to process the change in time, sleep, food and a daily sunset of 9pm! Time slowly took away the initial shock and I was ready to get things in order.

MBA Crystal Ball connected with Thomas Keller, Director of Admissions, Katz Graduate School of Business. Here’s what he had to share;

“There’s a wave (or waves I should say), of academic, cultural, and practical challenges that hit international students when they arrive in the U.S., but I think the most challenging of these perhaps is on the professional front. It is a competitive hiring market to start with and this is made even more daunting for someone who has not worked in the U.S. before.

Because the immediacy of academic demands takes precedence once the academic year begins, it’s important to spend time in the months leading up to graduate school preparing for the transition to U.S. business culture.

Students can prepare by doing professional assessments to get a better sense of their strengths and weaknesses, updating resumes & LinkedIn profiles, and researching industries, companies, and roles in order to have a focused job search and to identify the knowledge, skills, and abilities they need to acquire during graduate school to aid them in making their job search a successful one.”


5 Essentials to begin integrating yourself in the US


1. Every day needs.

This one is hard for first timers. Most towns in the US don’t have a well-connected and frequent public transport system and cabs are way too expensive. So getting around would mean buying a car (which we are yet to get to) or getting hold of a desi veteran with a car. One who knows where to get you everything, starting from your pillow to your toilet brush. That veteran usually turns out to be the senior student and that retail paradise usually ends being Walmart.

What next?

Umm… well what about a phone? A bank account? A social security number (SSN)?…Not in that order.

Note: Get to work to arrange for your SSN as soon as you arrive.

2. Social Security Number (SSN)

Nothing, I repeat, nothing is possible without that. It is like the holy grail of your existence in the US. It is essentially your National Identification Number.

So once you receive your papers of admission from your University, get hold of the Car-wala friend and head to the SSN office. And when you do get it, keep it safe, very very safe, unless you want someone else to walk away with your degree, after having stolen your identity.

3. Bank Account

Ok, so assuming you have your SSN stashed away, you are now ready to open a bank account. That one is fairly simple. And unlike your native country, no one is interested in knowing your Father’s name/ Husband’s Name or their stamp of approvals.

Let’s see:
SSN – Check
Bank Account – Check

4. Credit Card

Well…you see you can’t get a credit card because you don’t have a credit card. Much like a chicken-chicken situation. Which comes first, credit card or the credit card? To put it simply, you don’t have a credit history. So you can’t get a credit card or for that matter, a phone or an internet connection.

So how to solve this?

You get what is called a Secured Credit card. You deposit some money in that bank you have begun banking with. They give you a credit card against that deposit. This may walk, talk or quack like a Debit Card, but it isn’t. Trust me. It helps you build that credit history that American businesses so treasure.

Build Credit Score in USA

5. Phone

You got it. Tricky!

Unlike someone with a credit history, you can’t purchase a phone connection without depositing some hefty amount of money with the service provider. Don’t worry, they promise to send back the cheque in a year’s time, but you still have to part with about $500 just ‘coz they don’t trust you, yet.

Assuming you have these essentials down, you still have some others to sort out.


3 Not so essential, but useful, things to get hold of, in the U.S.


1. Some form of photo-id card

Very useful for getting drunk at the local bar. I would never recommend carrying your passport to a place you will be most definitely getting inebriated.

A good idea is to start with a State ID card. It works at airports, at bars and the occasions when it is simpler to hand over your Name Card instead of spelling out PundorikakshaPurakayastha, to the Stan’s and Julie’s.

All it takes is a couple of trips to your local Secretary of State office.

2. Local Indian store

Every town, city, metro has it. And they are a life saver. You may cringe for a while, having made to pay $2 for one small pack of Maggi, but you will soon learn to ignore the 150% profit margin, feeling a tingle of satisfaction when you see the month old frozen jalebi, a grab away.

3. Knowing your nearest Indian Embassy

Well actually this could fall under essentials if you have managed to mess up something and need your home away from home to save you. So know which embassy has jurisdiction over your city. There are six of them- Washington DC, Chicago, New York, Houston, San Francisco and Atlanta.
For most of us, traveling to the US is a very alien concept. We know about the Americas, we see them on news and we occasionally witness them saving planet earth from big bad alien attacks. However, it is a whole other experience to land there as a legal alien, all alone and foreign.

The first few months are always a race to get comfortable. It helps to know part of the script before you go.

So here’s hoping that these tips help you be better prepared than Columbus’s navigator…you know the guy who took a wrong turn at the equator!
About the author: Rakhi is a PhD from Michigan State University, currently a Post Doc at S N Bose Centre. A woman with many interests, she has taught on the hills of Sahyadri, worked in Corporate America, and wants to try animal welfare, historical translations and, perhaps, carpentry.
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7 thoughts on “Things to do after landing in USA as an international student”

  1. Hi Sameer,

    I am a Sales professional with 14 years of total corporate experience, currently working as Zonal Sales Manager. I am on Maternity leaves right now (after the birth of my second child) & after this don’t seem it would be possible for me with 2 kids to pursue a 9-6 job which actually stretches to 8-8 daily after including the commuting time. I have always been a career oriented person & would always like to work & add to my corporate & personal skills. But with the second baby, i don’t think it would be possible to do an 8-8 job & also give justified time to both kids. My key skills are : Sales, Training, Team Management, audit & Content creation.

    Can you pls suggest me some alternate career options (could be across any domain) which would be a logical progression from here, would help me go further on the skills acquired in last 14 year of experience & would also involve less work timings.

  2. I am 58 years of age and I was working as Store Manager in Retail section of M N C .My qualification is B.Com and 34 years of exeperience . I would like to do MBA Marketing to fulfil my wish & desire. Don’t want to do it for a job but wants to learn something which i could not due to circumtances. Please suggest .

  3. Hi , I am Sivasankar , I am currently working in an IT company having 1.5 yrs experience and simultaneously doing distance MBA from a reputed college in India…but am bit confused for choosing the specialization between marketing and international trade business…could u please guide me which has more scope in future such that i can move further by switching my career towards management than coding in IT.

  4. Hi,
    I am 31 years old. I am an entrepreneur and I have my own family business. I am into business from last 6 years. I completed my post graduation in MBA in the year 2009 in an Indian B-school. Now that my career is going nowhere and I am not interested in the business which I am doing. Hence I am planning to do a Full Time MBA in USA. Please let me know is there a chance that MBA in USA can help me getting my career in right track. Also I am worried about placement after completing the course. Please guide me.

  5. Hello,

    I have really low academic score in my bachelor’s (50%) and am desperately trying to get into average B schools in European countries. I however have work experience for 13 months and lot of practical and programming knowledge and have won a few awards for my research. I am aware that most of the universities count on academics rather than your practical knowledge but can you suggest me few universities that evaluates based on overall knowledge? If not, what are my few options to study abroad? Please advice.

  6. I have a 10 CGPA in 10th and 93% in 12th board (CBSE) I am currently doing Mechanical Engineering in VIT Iniversity Vellore (2nd Year)…I plan to pursue my MBA abroad just after my undergraduation…what should be my line of action?

  7. @Nandita: All the key skills you’ve listed can be helpful to a range of companies. Instead of targetting the bigger firms with more rigid HR policies, you can try connecting with smaller companies that cannot afford a full-time professional with your experience, but would love to have some help in the same areas of expertise. Keep networking with friends, and former colleagues for leads.

    @Shakir: Since you aren’t looking for the degree as a means to get another job, you are in a much better position than many applicants. You could look at part-time or Executive MBA degrees. That way the focus will be more on learning, than on competing with aggressive classmates for a job.

    @sivasankar: Even the most niche areas can offer opportunities for folks who have the aptitude for it. Don’t depend on others to suggest what specialisation you should choose. Take a call based on your interests.

    @umashankar: Here are some articles on pursuing a second MBA MBA from USA and other countries:

    @Harshitha: Most of the top universities evaluate applications only a range of parameters, not just academics. Work experience is among the key aspects. And you don’t have enough yet. It may help to work for a few more years and then consider an international MBA.

    @Vedansh: Read the response above. It won’t be a good idea to go abroad without experience.


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