Traveling to the USA
Bags are packed. Finally. After several weeks of putting together all the essentials. All of your favorite clothes have been edited down to the most versatile because that is all you could fit in your bag. Luckily, nowadays all your best memories can be carried around with you on your phone. Also accessible on your phone are those ever so necessary guide books on how to survive living in a foreign country, along with a good dictionary. So, no heavy books to lug around with you taking up space in your bag.
Maybe you are coming for a month or two, maybe for several years, or maybe indefinitely. But, either way you still have butterflies in your stomach filled with a mixed bag of emotions including excitement, fear, anticipation, sadness, and expectation. You may, in fact, feel homesickness before your plane even takes off.
The details are different for everybody, but this scenario is true in some form or fashion for almost everyone who travels to another country to stay for an extended time. Separation from friends and family can be hard, but the excitement and expectations carry you through those fears and wells of sadness about leaving loved ones behind.
Then, after a long flight, your plane finally lands. Welcome to DFW (Dallas-Fort Worth). Your brain kicks into “Let’s do this” mode. You collect your bags and pass through customs. Now you are ready to start a new chapter in your life.
Hopefully, however, you did a little preparation other than picking out your favorite clothes and kissing friends and family goodbye before you left. Buying an airline ticket and choosing your destination is a huge step, but a risky one without some kind of plan.
Whether or not you are coming to the USA as a student, as a tourist, or because a family member was relocated here for work, there are some things you can do to make your journey go more smoothly.
Here is a general list of some things you should prepare for before you even get on the plane:
Ten Tips for US Travel
GET A VISA
Gather all your important documents together, including vaccination records. Be sure to make copies and leave them with someone at home in case they get lost. The extent of documents you will need depends on your purpose for traveling. If you want to be a student, you will need certificates and school records, as well as bank statements to prove you can finance your education.
If you are starting out as a tourist, but think there might be a remote possibility of changing status to a student, prepare all this in advance just in case. It will save you some headaches, and money, later on.
Getting a visa can be a lengthy process depending on where you are from and what your goals are, so start early. Go to the US Department of State’s website to find out more information on visas to the USA.
Verify that your passport is up to date and won’t expire soon. Although the US does not have rules to this effect, many countries require that your passport be valid at least six months beyond the dates of your trip. Some airlines will not allow you to board if this requirement is not met. If you are planning on stopping at another country, check out this list of ones that require extra buffer time on your passport.
If your passport expires while you are in the US, you can renew it at your local embassy.
CHOOSE YOUR DESTINATION
This may already be decided for you because you have family or friends there. If it isn’t, then there are so many wonderful places to choose from, including our home of Dallas, Texas!
After you know your destination, you can start price checking/comparing your plane tickets.
Don’t forget to find out cancellation policies and baggage limits on weight and quantity. Pack appropriately.
Look into getting travel and health insurance. The majority of health care providers in the US are private; there are very few government or free facilities. Medical expenses can get very expensive, really quick.
World Nomads is one place you can check out for insurance and a wealth of information.
Although the DFW area offers public transportation like DART, the most popular way of travel is by vehicle. Consider renting a car. You can contact the local DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) in the city where you are relocating to for specific requirements for obtaining a DL (driver’s license). Most foreign driver’s licenses are good for up to one year of entering the country, but you should research this to be sure. All states differ on laws, and the laws can change periodically.
FIND A PLACE TO STAY
Lots of people travel to places where they have family or friends to stay with, at least at the beginning.
But, if you are diving into unknown territory, then you have several options. For one, you can look into booking a home or an apartment through Airbnb or VRBO. You can also find an extended stay hotel that you pay for by the month and which comes with an equipped kitchen and refrigerator.
Another good option for students hoping to learn the language quickly and become immersed in the culture is to find a home stay program, or host family.
RESEARCH YOUR DESTINATION
What is the weather like? What can you do there? Does your country have an embassy there, or nearby? Are there any good language schools or universities and how much do they cost? Do you know the most useful expressions in English? We have some tips to help with that!
Knowing what the weather is like will help you plan what type of clothes to bring. Making a list of local attractions and festivals will ensure that you are taking full advantage of the American experience. Locating the closest embassy can be helpful if you need to update passports or anything.
As far as language schools, Excel English Institute is a wonderful place to study in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and is a great precursor for university courses. Even if you are not planning on pursuing higher level education, Excel is just a good place to make friends and learn English. Until you get a handle on the language, it is a good idea to learn the most useful expressions and download a translator app like iTranslate onto your phone to help you get by at first.
UPDATE, NOTIFY, & CANCEL
Be sure all your electronics are updated and ready for the shift in time and country. This includes voltage for your chargers and electronics that need to be plugged in. If the standard voltage in your country is in the range of 220 – 240 V (as is in the UK, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia), you will need a converter while in the US.
Notify your phone company and banks that you will be out of the country. Banks can freeze your account for protection if they see possible fraudulent activity from another country; so notifying them that you will be elsewhere will keep this from happening. Watch out for data roaming charges which can skyrocket if you aren’t vigilant.
Cancel any accounts or memberships you won’t need while you are out of the country. Why pay for something you won’t be using?
We have heard of some students bringing canned food items from their countries to the USA because they couldn’t find these items here. Be sure to check out local market websites or Amazon first though before you fill up valuable space and weight in your baggage. However tempting it can be to exclusively eat the readily available fast food in America, there are some wonderful healthy food choices if you search for them. Of course, it depends on where you will be living.
Dallas has a wealth of international food markets and restaurants. Billings, Montana, on the other hand, puts ketchup on biscuits and calls it Mexican food.
Also, remember to drink plenty of water. Unlike in some countries, it is safe to drink tap water in the USA (although, the taste may not be that great!). You can also find water filters for a decent price at most grocery stores, or you can buy bottled water.
If there is something special from your country, like a type of candy or souvenir that is easy to bring, it is fun to share these with the new friends you make. We have even found that postcards, or matchbooks with your native language on them also make nice tokens of friendship. So, that might be something to consider adding to your packing list.
If you happen to pass through or stay in Dallas, please stop in and say hi; our offices are open from 8am – 8pm Monday – Thursday and 9am – 2pm on Friday!
Hope this helps you on your journey.