Saturday, November 28, 2015

Moving to a new place

Congratulations on being accepted! Phew! Some rest finally, right?. Well, not quite. Moving to a new country or state can be an extremely daunting task. You have to start preparing well in advance (at least 3-4 months). You have to apply for a visa if you are moving to a new country. Sometimes that may take a lot of time. Many universities don't have dorms for graduate students. Or you may not want to live in a dorm. You have to find a place to live in the new place, which is a beast in itself. Then comes packing for departure which will lead to several arguments with your family. And a thousand other things. I will try to deal with some of these tasks in this post and I hope you will find something of use to you.

Visa applications: Several countries, particularly USA, have very long and complex visa application processes. You apply and pick a date for interview. For US visa, before the interview you have to go and get your photographs taken. Then you have to go there again some other day for the interview. (Yeah, twice. They love you.) But unless you are in some particular fields, you will usually get the visa. For some fields (like mechanical and chemical engineering) you might have to prove that you are not going to build bombs while in the US. That takes some time. So, apply early. Plan according to your schedule.

Flight reservations: Book early! Don't repeat the mistake I made. Don't wait till the last moment. Ticket prices rise very rapidly. Try to make the reservations as soon as you know when and where you have to go.

Accommodation: There are several websites where you can look for advertisements. Many universities have their own off-campus housing portals. They give a lot of tips about finding a good place to stay, good room-mates, and ensuring your own safety and security. Do check those out. Craigslist also has to-let advertisements. I used a website called Renthello for my search. I am sure there are several other similar websites which you can find. Talk to your potential room and house-mates before making the final decision. And of course, it should go without saying that you should read the lease agreement carefully before signing. Most probably you will have to pay a security deposit (which is usually a month's rent) while signing the lease and you will have pay the first month's rent when you arrive. Ask your seniors, if you have any at the university you are going to, about the neighbourhoods you are looking at. Most probably you will have to sign a 6 month, 9 month or 1 year lease. So be sure. This process can be very frustrating particularly if you are moving from a different country and have no way of looking at the house before making the decision except photos. Some landlords can't even show the house over skype because they live very far away from the house and can't make the trip. Make sure that you don't have any doubts about the house and your room.

Packing: Ah packing. Some love it, other abhor it. I fall in the former category. But, it could a nightmare. You have be within the limits of the airline. Basically you will have to solve the knapsack problem before leaving home. But before anything, do yourself a favour and put all your documents i.e. passport, i20, some other proofs of identity if you have them, lease agreement, acceptance letter, transcripts, and degree certificates. And some photographs in case you need them for some forms after you arrive. Also, keep several photo copies of all the documents, especially your passport, visa and i20. Apart from that clothes, some food items that you can't live without, toothbrush and a comb are the most important. The rest you can buy after arriving. Also, consider the weather of the place you are going to and pack accordingly.

Just before leaving: Make sure to have your phone properly charged. Invest in an international roaming plan if you are moving to a new country. Put a copy of all the documents in your carry-on luggage. Put an ATM card/debit card in your wallet. Make arrangements for transportation from airport to the place where you you will stay. If you want, you can book a taxi beforehand. Or if you are feeling adventurous, you can use public transport too. Or you can explore shuttle services too. I personally prefer public transport but that can be a hassle for some, particularly if you have too much luggage.

After arriving: Attend the orientation and report to the international student organisation in your campus. You will be required to fill several forms and complete some procedures like submitting the i94 form etc. Don't worry about these things before you leave. Just make sure you pack all the documents that you have, both the originals and some copies. After, or maybe even during, the week of orientation, you will have to open a bank account which is a very simple process in the USA. You will just have to bring you passport (with the visa stamp), the lease agreement as proof of residence, acceptance letter from the university tot eh bank and you will leave with a bank account.

Social security number is needed only if you are a salaried i.e. receive a stipend from the university in some form. SSN is not at all essential for life in the US. You will need to fill out some forms and make an appointment at the SSN office to apply for a new SSN. You will have to bring all your documents to the SSN office on the appointed day. (Piece of advice: Reach the office very early, may be about 1.5-2 hours before the office opens. There is always a long queue at the office.)

This is all I can think of at this time. Though some of the details in this post relate to only US, but I think the majority of the content should be useful for anyone moving to a new country for education. I hope I have been of some help to you. Comment if you think I missed some things.