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Things you need to know on your First Trip to USA!

Here are few helpful tips for everyone regarding the whole travel, stay and living in US. I tried to explain everything in detail, making sure everyone gets the answers of their unasked questions. You might also like to visit a similar article by medisid by clicking here.

Leaving from Home Country:

If you have not air-traveled before, then here is a general overview of everything. First of all, you pass your luggage and yourself through security check. Then you go to the counter of your airlines, show them your e-ticket/passport/visa, get your boarding passes and submit your baggage except the carry-ons. After that, you might have to pass through another security check and then through the immigration/visa officers. After that you enter the lounge and wait for at the gate number mentioned on the boarding pass. When it is boarding time, they make an announcement and you board the plane. Make sure you are at the gate at the boarding time(generally 30-60 min before departure time).


Most the airlines going to and coming from US allow only 2 bags of maximum weight of 23 kg(50 pounds) and a maximum outside dimension(length+width+height) of 157 cm(62 inches). If you have an over-sized bag or an over-weight bag you might have to pay extra depending upon the airlines, your travel route, size and extra weight of the bag. You are given a couple of tags once you submit/check your 2 bags; make sure you keep them with you all the time; you should show them whenever and wherever you have a connecting flight and collect a boarding pass, making sure your checked baggage is transferred to the flight you are boarding in.

In addition to the 2 checked bags mentioned above, you can have two carry-on items which generally include one carry on bag and one personal item(laptop bag, purse or brief-case etc). The maximum combined linear measurement(length+width+height) of carry on bag is 115 cm(45 inches) and the maximum carry-on bag weight is 18 kg(40 pounds). Few airlines may allow less weight; so better confirm from your airlines(and not from the travel agents).

Usually, any liquid, gel, knife, scissor, blade, shampoo or aerosol items are not allowed in carry-on baggage; though one can carry all these in the checked baggage.

I strongly recommend to write your name, address, contact number on a piece of paper and then paste it on all your bags. Sometimes, the bags gets lost and all such information pasted on bags helps airlines identify your baggage; the last thing you would like to have after landing in US, would be to get your bags lost!

Air Travel:

You might like to dress up nicely for your travel especially when you are going to US for the first time but the best advice anyone could give you is to wear extremely comfortable clothes. I prefer to travel in my night-suit... lol... I recommend extremely light clothes(t-shirts and trousers with a jacket/ coat in case you need it) and the most important thing is to wear shoes with front open and preferably, even regular sandals that you wear at home. 15-20 hours air travel is extremely tiring and try to make it as less tiring as possible. You might need to dress up formally for electives and all your interviews(visa, research, residency) but not for air travel... lol... moreover you have to remove your belt, shoes, wallet and any other metallic item whenever you pass through security check, so I prefer shoes that are easy to take off.

During flight, it is advisable to eat less and drink more... helps you stay fresh! Before reaching US, you are given a custom form which requires you to mention the total worth of all your baggage; you have to write your name, passport number and other details on it; it is better if you keep a pen with you!

Visa Clearance:

Once you reach US, all the passengers stand in a queue with all the passengers and then wait for your turn to be called to the visa officer. There are separate queues for US Citizens, Green Card holders(US Permanent Resident), Immigrant Visas and Non-immigrant Visas; make sure you are standing the right queue; look closely towards all the signboards before going towards any queue. It is always better to be in the start of the queue; you get free early and thus might be in time for your connecting flight.

Once your turn comes, the visa officer takes your passport, looks at visa, takes a small interview (from where you are coming, why you are coming, when you plan to leave, who would be paying for your stay etc) and stamps your passport allowing you to stay in US. Make sure you don't overstay the date stamped on your passport. One might get a stamp of 1-6 months duration or even more depending upon the visa type. Maximum duration on a B1/B2 visa is 6 months. Make sure you collect all your belongings, carry-on baggage and especially passport before leaving.

Sometimes, they take passports of few passengers away for a second interview; don't panic... there is nothing alarming in it; this is quite normal. They just want to be sure you are what you say you are. You might be taken to a waiting room of other such passengers with "depressed faces"; don't worry and don't pay attention to all those depressing people; you are not travelling illegally... so no need to worry. The only irritating thing is that you have to wait for 1-2 hours or sometimes even more, for your turn. Then you are interviewed once more by another person; again same old questions (from where you are coming, why you are coming, when you plan to leave, who would be paying for your stay, what do u do in your home country, have u visited US before, if yes when and other such details). Just be confident and answer all the questions correctly and more importantly, confidently!

Collecting Baggage:

Once cleared from visa, you now have to collect your checked baggage at baggage claim area; follow the signboards to find the baggage claim area. You should have their tags with you all the time, which were provided to you when you checked/submitted your baggage and got boarding pass for your first flight. Its convenient to have a cart to carry your baggage; you can find a cart for $2 to $5, depending upon the city you are in. You have to put money in a machine to release one cart from the opposite side of where you submitted the money. The machine generally accepts quarters, $1, $5 and $10 bills.

Now look for the station number where your baggage would come, on the monitors displayed in the baggage claim area. Once identified, go there and collect your baggage. Now you have to show your passport and visa to another person before proceeding towards the custom. 


Before landing US, you are given a custom form during flight. You have to mention the total worth of all your baggage, your name, passport number and other details on it. You have to submit your filled and completed custom form over here and then they pass your bags through a machine and might like to have a look on them.

Connecting Flights:

Once cleared from custom, you now go towards the counter of your connecting domestic flight. Once you find their counter, go there, show your passport, get boarding pass and check your baggage; once again you are required to show the baggage tags to them otherwise you might have to pay for baggage. Remember, on domestic flights you have to pay for checked bags but if you have a connecting domestic flight as an international passenger, you don't have to pay for checked bags(if they are not over-sized or over-weight) and to prove that, you need to show your baggage tags. Once your baggage is checked, you head towards the gate number of your connecting flight.

Generally it takes 2-4 hours to get cleared from custom, visa, collecting and checking baggage and then reach the connecting flight gate. So it is advisable to have at least 4-5 hours of lay-over on your port of entry(first city you land in US). No meals are served on a domestic flight, so it is better if you eat something if you have a long connecting flight.

Security Check:

Before entering any gate/ lounge area for connecting flights, you have to go through security check again. You have to remove your belt, shoes, wallet, cell phone and any other metallic item. If you are carrying a laptop/ notebook, make sure you take it out of the laptop bag and put it separately in a tray without anything else in it.

Welcome to USA:

Once you have reached your final destination, you head towards the baggage claim area, collect your baggage and go to your new home. Welcome to USA!!! Have a nice time!

This is quite a detailed review regarding the whole travel; most of you must be aware of most of the facts already but for those who are not, it's always better to know what you are going to face and be prepared for it; always be confident!!!

Travelling from/ to Airport:

You can get a taxi if you live nearby airport; it generally takes $2/mile on a taxi.

I usually recommend Supershuttle; considering its safer and cheaper. They usually take $10-$20 to take you from/to Airport from/to your place. You can make a booking and pay online as well but I generally prefer paying on the airport. Usually they have a counter near the baggage claim area; just look around the baggage claim area and you would find a supershuttle counter. Tell them your destination, pay them and they ask you to write your name and contact number on a paper for them. Then you have to wait for 10-20 minutes and their shuttle arrives. If you plan to travel from one airport to other or from one airport to another city, supershuttle offers some nice deals. It is a shared transport(like a mini-van) and you might have to wait a bit to reach your place because the driver might drop other passengers before you. If the taxi cab/ supershuttle driver(or a waiter at your hotel) lifts your bags and puts them in the vehicle, its common courtesy to give him $1-2 per bag as tip.


People find it difficult to find residence before visiting US for the first time. Though on-campus housing is the best/ safe but it is not always available. I recommend using Once you reach the home page, chose your city and then click on apts for housing(long-term) or sublet/temp(short-term). Enter your preferences and search for the right place for you. At top of each ad, an email id is provided for communication.

Send the ad-owner an email with your introduction and duration and dates of stay. It is wise to ask for the pictures of the room and the place(at least you should have an idea of where you are going) and to confirm the total rent including all the utilities(including gas, electricity, water, internet etc). If you are not comfortable with your room-mates drinking, smoking, pets, drugs or partying, it is advisable to mention it before getting a room for rent.

Google/ Yahoo Maps:

It is always nice to locate the place you are going to, on Google Maps. Moreover you can also view the satellite picture of not only the place you are going to but also its nearby surroundings; it is always nice to have a look at the area before going there.

If you want to check if there is bus-service/ metro-service near your place, you can always use Google Maps for it. Just search the address on Google Maps and then click on Directions and enter the second address. Yahoo Maps or websites of the regional transport authority(e.g, WMTA, MTA) can also be used for the same purpose. You are provided with the directions if you are driving yourself or want to use public transport or cycle or walk by foot; make sure you chose the right option at the top of address bar. If you are selecting public transport, make sure you select the right time of travel, if you select public transport. You are provided with all the details e.g bus number, route, stops etc.

Cell Phone:

It is highly recommended to have a cell phone in US. T-mobile provides some nice prepay packages; I prefer $50 unlimited minutes and unlimited sms package. Post-paid packages are provided on 1 to 2 years contract. You can look for a nearby store on T-mobile website. You need to bring a photocopy of your passport in order to open a account.

Bank Account:

It is wise to have a US Bank Account, US Debit/ ATM card while being in US and you can get all these for free without any fees on a student account. You can use Bank of America as it is present in most of the US cities. You can find a nearby bank branch/ ATM on the bank's website. You need to bring a photocopy of your passport in order to open a account.

You might also like to build your credit history by start using a credit card; good credit history helps you when applying for loans and you can get them at less interest rate.


You can use Yelp to find any nice nearby place to go; just enter your address and search for your preferences. If you are looking for desi store/ restaurant or McDonalds or grocery store or an electronic store near you; it is a very helpful tool.

If you are coming from South Asia and can cook yourself or at least are interested in cooking yourself, then I have few useful tips. Sometimes it gets extremely difficult to find desi spices in your city; so you might consider bringing spices from your home country. If you know how to use pressure-cooker, then a small pressure-cooker can be very very handy. It is next to impossible, to find it in US.

Traveling within City:

All the US Universities have a very nice shuttle system which is totally free. I recommend it for travelling to and from University. Few Universities also have very nice escort services.

If the shuttle does not go somewhere, you can use Google Maps or Yahoo Maps to search for the available metro/bus.

One can also call any taxi cab service and they would come to your place to pick you up in 10-15 minutes.

Inter-city Travel:




any body going to newyork feb?

Hi   I have been asked to come for electives in feb march at MSKCC newyork. ANYBODY there?

What are your plans . Can anybody suggest a website to catch people who have bagged electives.

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