Life in USA – International Student, H1B (Car, Insurance, Rent, School)
New Internation student, H1B in USA - open bank account, secured credit card for history, driving license, Kid school, rental deals, bonus, money transfer
Welcome to America. If you are coming to the USA for a study on an F1 visa or on a work permit like H1B or L visa, we have all the starter information for you here on this page.
We have listed each activity in the order of preference as soon as you land in the US.
If you have moved to the USA from an Asian country like India, China, or the Philippines, you will experience an entirely new world in the USA. The meaning of a developed country is understood as soon as you step out of any US international airport.
Lets start with morning of your Day 1 in USA.
#1 Open a US Bank Account
Open a checking and savings account in the bank of your choice. Most famous are Bank of America, Chase, and Wells Fargo with hundreds of ATMs in each US city.
I suggest these as they offer very low car loan rates.
- Bank of America or
- DCU Credit Union account – DCU is based in Massachusetts but you can open an account from any state.
Checking vs Savings Account
A checking account does not pay any interest on your money. Instead, you will be charged monthly fees if you do not qualify for a fee waiver.
You can skip opening a current account and can only opt for Savings account at this time.
#2 Secured Credit Card
Ask your bank to open a ‘Secured Credit Card‘ for you along with a savings bank account. You will need to deposit some dollars like $100 to $300 and you will get the same credit limit too.
Do not forget to ask for an account opening BONUS. Yes, most banks offer a $100-150 credit card account opening bonus in the US.
My personal favorite credit cards are
- Bank of America Secured Credit Card – Easy to open with their savings account. Limit of $300 and increases after 3 months.
- Amazon Credit Card gives you a $50 Amazon.com Gift Card instantly upon credit card approval. You also get 3% Back on Amazon.com purchases.
- Discover Credit Card – Offers a $75 bonus after approval and after making the first Amazon.com purchase. Discover may not approve your card as you do not have any credit history.
Since you are new to the USA, you do not have any credit history and most banks will NOT open a new credit card for you. It takes about 4-6 months to create any useful history for a newcomer.
Also, you should sign up for Amazon Prime Free Trial (US full service) or you can get Amazon prime $5.99/mo for the EBT deal if you have a US Medicaid card.
My suggestions for Credit Card offers:
- Do not apply for each credit card offer that comes your way. You will find many offers in stores like Walmart and in the mail.
- Each time you sign up for a credit card, a hard inquiry is recorded on your credit file and your credit score goes down by 20 points.
- Start with one secured card, use it, and keep paying off the full amount every month for 6 months.
- After 6 months, your credit history will easily reach 630 points and then you can get more credit cards as the chances of denial will get lower.
The most lucrative offer though is Amazon prime student 6 month free trial for international students on F1 visa.
#2 Apply SSN
You should locate the nearest Social Security office and apply for SSN immediately if you are on a work visa or have entered using a Green card. SSN cards can take 4-6 weeks to arrive.
A social security card is needed to start employment and getting paid. Most US employers pay you bi-weekly which means that you will get paid 26 times from Jan to December.
At the end of the US financial year (Jan to Dec), you will be able to file your tax returns using free online software like e-file, TaxAct, HR Block, or TurboTax.
If you are from India, your Indian income will also be taxed in US.
#3 Rental Apartment
You can easily get a rental apartment within a week of landing in the USA. It’s a mature and consumer-driven market and everything is available online.
Your home search should focus on school ratings 7 to 10 and try to get a living place closest to the top-ranking education center. We have used GreatSchools to find school ratings given by parents.
- Zillow.com – Shows apartments, homes along with school ratings (pulled from GreatSchools site) right there on the same page.
- Apartments.com and ForRent.com are popular websites for apartment searches too. Note that both are owned by the same company!
- Forrentuniversity.com is another website under the same umbrella for students looking for accommodation near their university.
Rental Move-in Bonus
Each apartment rental website offers a move-in bonus based on demand and supply. Most apartment communities also offer a lease sign-up bonus as first-month rent-free or maybe a free TV.
The bonus could be in the range of $100 to $500 or half month rent free.
Do not forget or feel shy to ask for move-in bonuses. Its common in US.
Rental Referral Bonus
If you have a friend already living in any rental community, they can get a referral bonus, and then you both can share it.
If your friend can get a $500 rental referral bonus, you can ask him to share it with you.
#3 Kid School
The quality of education in US state-operated schools is very good. If you are coming from India, China, or any other developing country, you will feel the difference immediately.
Most of the new ex-pats coming to the US send their kids to local government-operated schools unless you have extra dollars to spend on private ones.
- School is assigned automatically based on your address.
- Visit the school with your lease/rental agreement papers and your child can join school the next day.
Each state has its own independent school district and is funded by the house or property taxes that you pay.
Schools do not pay any enrollment bonus money and if you are yourself joining the college in the US, you can safely skip this step :).
#4 Get Driving License
You can drive in the USA on your home country license if it is valid and is in English. Each state has a different time period though.
I still recommend getting a state driving license as early as possible even if you do not plan to drive. Buying a car on a visa is easy.
Getting a driving license starts your driving history which helps in reducing your car insurance rates.
US auto insurance companies like Geico, Amica, StateFarm, and others give you lower rates if you have at least 6 years of driving history.
Once you finish the above tasks, your life in the USA will start running smoothly.
#5 Mobile Phone Plan
There are many phone plans available and it varies based on your needs. The all cost almost the same per month.
All cell phone numbers in the USA are universal in the sense that they can be used within the USA from anywhere without worrying about roaming charges.
My favorite mobile phone plans are:
I suggest to buy a smartphone and cell phone service separately.
If you do the math, buying them separately will cost you less in the long run as compared to choosing contract-based phone + service plans.
#6 Free Credit History Score
Credit Karma is a website that offers free credit score reporting.
You will be able to sign up for this account after about 3 months of using a card like an Amazon Credit Card or a secured card.
They validate your identity using your SSN number and would open your account only after verification.
Your SSN data takes time to be added to various credit scores managing companies like Experian, TransUnion, and others. So, wait for 3 months and then create an account.
#7 Send Money to Home Country
Once you are settled and ready to send money to your home country, you have plenty of options available. I will list them based on the maximum conversion rate offered consistently by money transfer companies:
- Ria Money Transfer
You can also do a direct money transfer from your banks like Bank of America or Chase to your native country but it is not recommended.
They do a ‘Wire transfer’ which will cost you much more than using the above-given money sending services.
The best time for a rental lease in the USA is October to December.
You would pay the highest rent if you sign up your lease in June to Aug months as this is the time people move the most due to the next school year starting in Aug or September.
You can get a secured credit card in the USA and start your credit history.
The chances of getting a normal credit without a deposit are low as a newcomer.
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