First Arrival in America

You just got into college and this is your first time traveling to the US, so you might be wondering: what do I need to prepare for? Well, don’t worry because we’ve got you covered! Here is what you should expect for your first arrival in America.


What do you have to prepare?

For immigration, make sure that you have your passport with the F-1 student visa, signed I-20 form, form I-94, proof of SEVIS fee payment, enrollment letter, and any necessary financial documents (especially if you’re on a scholarship) printed out in one folder. You should’ve been issued a signed I-20 form from your school’s office of global services before leaving your home country—this can be delivered either via mail or digitally through email. Also, be sure to check your school’s academic calendar so that you can book the right flight, and keep in mind that you are allowed to arrive 30 days before your program starts.

You should also make sure that you have already opened a US bank account as well as a mobile plan so that you will have a smooth arrival—you can do so with Ellis before you even get to America.


How should you pack for your first year of college?

You should only bring items that you absolutely cannot live without, such as clothes, toiletries, and immigration documents. Consider leaving “unnecessary” things, especially sentimental items, at home as they will end up cluttering your living space and you might end up having to throw them away. This is because you will inevitably buy more things once you arrive in the US and everything will accumulate over time. Also, try to ship your academic books straight to your university dorm or apartment as it is a big hassle to carry them in your suitcase.

Here is a full-length article that we’ve written about what to pack for college!


Where are you going to live?

If you are planning to live in a college dorm then you should check your room assignment via your university’s housing portal prior to leaving your country. Make sure that you communicate with the university’s housing office if there are any issues—do not leave this to the last minute. If you are thinking about living in an apartment, try to find, apply, and get approved for one before you leave home. You should request an online video tour or virtual model of the apartment so that there is a smaller chance of you being catfished by the photos. Finding a place prior to your arrival will save you a lot of hassle and stress as the apartment hunting process for international students is very time-consuming and difficult with all the paperwork.


Do you still have to get tested for COVID before your flight?

Yes, the US requires all passengers to get tested and show a negative test result that was taken less than a day prior to boarding your flight.

covid mask

What are the US COVID mandates?

Although it is no longer mandatory on US carriers, passengers of international flights should still wear a mask while on board. You should also be up to date with your COVID vaccines—definitely get the booster if it is available in your hometown but if it isn’t then you can get vaccinated once you arrive in the US. For your own and other people’s safety, try your best to self-quarantine for 5 days once you land. If you develop COVID symptoms then please take an at-home COVID test, continue to isolate yourself, and seek medical attention if necessary.


What should you expect once you land?

Right when you land, make sure you get to immigration as fast as possible because you don’t want to be stuck in line for hours and hours. Ensure that you strictly follow regulations and instructions given by immigration officers. Be prepared to answer basic questions about yourself, your school enrollment, and where you will be staying (memorize the address). If you are asked about why you are traveling to the US, answer truthfully by telling them that you are there to study. Additionally, you might be asked who is funding your trip and stay, in which case you can offer to show them your financial documents, or name the people or organization that is sponsoring you. If they ask you about your “intentions” then be sure to tell them that you intend to study and then leave the country once your educational contract is over. In some cases, especially at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, officers will put individuals with student visas in a separate room, away from the longer immigration line. Please do not panic if this happens—be patient and ensure that you follow the instructions given to you as well as the ones on the signs posted on the walls.

Once you get through the immigration process, you’ll have to find the right transportation to get to your destination. Most major US airports offer a form of public transportation, but smaller ones most likely won’t have their own systems. The easiest way of getting from the airport to your school would be to call a cab, either through hailing or an app like Uber and Lyft.

good life

How to get adjusted to your new life in the US

Getting acclimated to a new environment can be quite a nerve wracking experience, and it should definitely be done according to the individual’s pace. One of the best ways to get used to being in a new place is to explore by walking, doing activities on campus, and meeting new people. If you have a roommate, be sure to spend some quality time with them and invite them along on your journey! 

Table of Contents

Get the Ellis App

Made for international students, by international students
Download app