This perhaps is in the category of common sense, but you know how that goes. Sometimes you don’t realize things until later (and if common sense really were all that common, then it seems the world wouldn’t be in quite such the state that it is). If you do make it to the States as a foreigner, you must be very, very careful. DO NOT BREAK THE LAW.
Whether you’re a man or a woman who’s planning to come to the U.S. to study, and whether you’ve got friends who live in the city you’re moving to already and/or you’re bringing a partner or spouse or your whole family along with you, and/or you’ve traveled to the U.S. extensively before, there’s a lot of preparation and clear thinking that should be put into place in advance of your trip.
We even think it’s a good idea to write up a SUCCESSFUL TIME IN AMERICA plan for yourself, well in advance of departure. Include things like a two-year plan for your finances.
Distribute important contact info. Write up all the contact details for everyone in your family to have, not just for your parents to have your U.S. info (including your own address and phone numbers but those of your school as well) and also info on your country’s embassy in the U.S. so you know who to contact if you need assistance. Create a focused contact list of your own, with your immediate family members and closest friends, and cross-distribute the information to people on the list. For example, your best friend should know how to contact your mother, and vice versa. Formalize this. Have it electronically (in multiple electronic locations, like two different email systems plus Dropbox) and print it out, with a datestamp on it, and put it in a file that makes it easier for someone else to find if they need to.
Create a will. Yes, this sounds morbid, but it’s important! Make your final wishes known. It’s highly highly unlikely that it’ll be needed — you’ll probably be living another 50 years or more!! But do it anyway. You know, just in case.
Bring a copy of your birth certificate, and make sure your parents have one too, and do the same with your passport. Compile all the other documents you need for your visa process and leave a full set (copies) of those with them as well. Having important documents in multiple locations can be a major hassle-reliever if you lose your wallet or have some other major issue when traveling abroad.
Start paying attention to currency and exchange rate trends and think about how and WHEN you will convert some coin into spending money. Be sure to bring dollars (cash) with you in your pocket when you travel, or plan to hit the ATM at the airport in the U.S. first thing when you land (Pro Tip: It’s often the least expensive way to convert to the local currency, no matter where you’re traveling to, with this trick, rather than doing a formal currency exchange at a bank; always avoid those currency exchange counters at the airport if you can as they tend to charge the highest fees of all).
Learn all that you can about the city and state that you’re traveling to. Understand the rules about working during school and if it’s allowed at all under the terms of your visa. Find out what’s required to get a driver’s license or if you are permitted to drive on the license you have from your home country. Understand that people drive really differently in different countries!! Always always always comply with the norms of where you find yourself. If you’re in the left lane of the freeway, don’t be a dawdler; move to the right. Don’t hog the lane. (This is not a law, it’s just a special request from the ‘Snark on behalf of folks in a hurry everywhere.) Don’t tailgate either! If you’ve never driven in snow, then be very, very conservative as you learn, or just call an Uber. Leave more room than you think you need for stopping in the rain.
Learn about opening a local bank account. Make a to-do list of these things (your school is likely to offer lots of ideas on these important elements of the relocation process so reference their resources for help; we also cover some of these planning aspects in the Accepted Student’s Pre-MBA Guide).
Nobody comes to the U.S. with the intention of bungling it up and getting in a mess. And even with significant planning that could still happen. But if you think through the situations you could find yourself, before you are in them, and you walk through in your mind or on paper what you would do if you are faced with them, then you can save yourself a world of stress if worst case happens and you end up in a difficulty.
Be METICULOUS about your planning. Dot every I and cross all the Ts. If there’s a requirement to do something as part of your visa process, DO IT. Make friends with your school’s international student liaison office. READ THEIR EMAILS. Don’t let things slide. Know the rules about banking or drinking and definitely no matter what, don’t buy or sell drugs. Or guns. Just don’t. It doesn’t matter if it’s legal in the state where you live. Don’t do it. Don’t do anything foolish like carrying someone else’s prescription with you or anything even marginally grey-territory. If you bring your kids here, teach them how to interact with the police, and spend time learning that for yourself, too. All this is critical. You don’t want to make the mistake of assuming that how things work in your country is how it works everywhere.
For example, in the U.S., bribery is illegal. You cannot offer money to a policeman or a court official or even someone issuing a building permit for your condo as a way to get them to “help” you. This may be perfectly acceptable in some cultures. It’s just not done here, and it could land you in a whole pot of trouble if you did it even totally innocently.
In the U.S., ignorance of the law is not an excuse. If you get pulled over for some type of violation, you still will get a ticket if you say that you didn’t know about the law you’re accused of breaking.
As an example: If you ride a motorcycle, in most states in the U.S., you must wear a helmet. It’s the law, and you’ll get pulled over and ticketed if you don’t.
Also this should totally go without saying but: Child pornography is illegal (and immoral and screwed up and totally wrong). So is bestiality. Don’t even think of pursuing any perversions if you’re here on a visa. Just don’t.
There’s also a real problem with opiates, not just injectable heroine on the street but pills. Don’t get involved in any of that. Just don’t. That stuff will mess you up beyond belief.
In the U.S., many cultural norms are different than what you may be accustomed to. In some countries, asking a complete stranger sitting next to you on a plane if she is married is just part of making friendly conversation. In the U.S., this can be off-putting or even possibly offensive in some cases. Personal space is also really important to Americans, so be careful about standing too close to people (and always wear deodorant!). All these things you will learn as you’re here and experiencing the culture yourself but they can be cause of confusion and misunderstandings or hurt feelings until you’re familiarized.
Before you come, in your whirlwind of packing and preparing and getting stuff ready, you’ll also want to think through some of these intangibles. You’re likely to experience culture shock when you arrive, regardless of how many times you’ve visited or how long you’ve been dreaming of coming. You also will likely be very, very lonely. Be prepared for that, and try to set up connections in advance of arriving, so you have a support system already established in the U.S. to help with the transition. It’s really common for people to get depressed when they first arrive in a new country and sometimes they even decide to return home. This can happen especially in the initial few months but it can also happen after you’ve been there awhile. If you know in advance that it can happen, you can be prepared for it if it does — “Oh, yeah. This is sadness. I feel lonely because I’m out here by myself doing this thing without my family. This is what that feels like. This sucks, but I know it’s temporary. I’ll make it through.” It’s OK to feel sad. If you are having a hard time, then reach out for help. The schools have lots of resources available and there is always someone to talk to (Crisis Text Line – Text HOME to 741741 in the US).
You are unlikely to be harmed in the U.S. It’s a safe place, regardless of what you may be led to believe by the media or movies. Yes there are shootings, and cops kill people, and there is homelessness everywhere, and an opioid crisis. Your chances of being affected or harmed by any of these things are really surprisingly low. There’s also earthquakes in California and hurricanes in Texas and Florida and blizzards in NYC and Boston and lots of cold weather in Chicago. There’s crime anywhere you go in this world. Bad things and accidents happen. For a very balanced view of how to live in this world, please check out this advice .
Do what you can to prepare yourself with information. Know your responsibilities and learn how to keep yourself safe.
And hopefully we haven’t totally freaked all of you out! This post is a whopper that you may want to come back and review again periodically as you plan your transition. You can hit the Favorite button at the bottom to save this to your My Favorite Posts page, and come back to it later.
And oh yeah: CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!!!! In case we haven’t said that enough. 😀