Health Insurance: Will my Health Insurance from my country cover me in the US?
This is a complicated question. Technically, yes, your insurance would cover your medical expenses if it has international coverage. However, the procedures for reimbursement might not be as straightforward. Therefore, it is highly encouraged that you obtain an American health insurance. Thankfully, when working for UMD as a Teaching Assistant or a Research Assistant, you are given financial aid to obtain health insurance through the State of Maryland. When you start your first semester, you will be given the paperwork to decide on which medical insurance plan you want.
The decision of which plan to choose is entirely at your discretion. For both basic and detailed information on Health Insurance and how the UMD provides health benefits, please go to the University’s Human Resources website.
Where should I live?
Your decision of where to live can be crucial for your career in the US. In most countries, commutes are shorter than in the US, while some countries can consider a commute of 20 minutes average, here, the average commute is around 40 minutes. If you decide to live in College Park, nearby the University Campus, you will reduce your commute time considerably and perhaps have more time to study, sleep or dedicate to personal matters. If you choose to live far away, for instance Laurel (MD) or Sterling (VA), your commute will be the most time and energy consuming of your day. Choosing to live in downtown DC can be a good option, as it is not too far, nor too close to the campus, and you would be living in the heart of the Nation’s capital. However, do take into consideration that the prices range vastly from place to place. Before choosing where to live, make sure you use Google Maps (http://maps.google.com/) or some other web-based interface to estimate how long your commute would be. As a reference, a trip from Downtown DC to the University Campus by metro and the UM Shuttle takes about one hour.
Holding a Visa, how am I different from a citizen?
You would not be very different. Holding a F1 or J1 Visa, you can do almost everything a US citizen can. Rent or own an apartment, buy a car, travel freely around the country, open bank accounts, get credit cards, get involved in investments, etc. Also, you abide by the laws of the US, which means that if you commit a crime, you will be held accountable under US laws, and not your own country’s. The most salient differences from a citizen are that you can only work on-campus, you have a limited stay in the US until your program is over (plus one year of Optional Practical Training), you cannot apply to scholarships or fellowships restricted to citizens, you cannot vote in state or presidential elections, you cannot be considered for jury duty (http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-jury-duty.htm), and you cannot fly out of the country without letting the Office of International Services know. Besides these, you will live as if you were a Citizen of the United States.
Estimated budget of a graduate student: How much should I expect to spend in housing, meals, transportation and miscellaneous?
Note: The dollar amounts given are only estimates expressed as a dollars per month per person. You will probably spend somewhere between 60-80% of your monthly stipend. The US is an expensive country to live in, in any terms.
These figures are estimates for the academic year and will vary from student to student. They are indirect costs not billed by the university.
- Room & food off-campus: $15,060
- In regards to housing, the monthly rent can range from $500 to $1200, depending on if you live in Downtown DC (more expensive), in the suburbs of MD or VA (less expensive) or around College Park (average).
- Groceries can be more expensive in the US. Expect to spend somewhere between $150 - $350 per month depending on what you get and where you go grocery shopping.
- Personal expenses/ Miscellaneous: $1,200
- Books & supplies: $1,000
- Transportation/other costs: $3,278
- Transportation can be very cheap or very expensive, depending on where you choose to live. If you live at a place where you have access to a UMD Shuttle, you will have free transportation to the campus everyday. If you live at a place where you can take the Metro (www.wmata.com), expect to spend between $100 – $250 on commuting. If you choose to live far away and buy a car, the rule of thumb is that expect to spend three times the car’s monthly payment per month for car-related matters (car payment, gas, insurance, parking). A ballpark, for a standard new Sedan would imply spending between $400 and $700. Miscellaneous expenses include recreation, travel, furnishing, home-improvement, etc.
In summary, housing should account for 35–50% of your monthly salary, meals for 15–30%, transportation 5–20%, and miscellaneous for 5–15%.
Note: estimates are provided by the Office of Student Financial Aid
Social Security information: What is a Social Security Number?
In practical terms, a Social Security Number (SSN) is a number that identifies you, and only you, for any transaction that you make in the US. It is one of the most reliable pieces of information in terms of identification, as employee, patient, student, and credit records are sometimes indexed under your SSN. This number is primarily used when filing Taxes (see above).
Other uses include applying for a Driver’s License, leasing an apartment, buying a car, opening a bank account, etc. However, to do any of the above other uses, it is not required to have a SSN. Please, refer to the Social Security Administration for more information
If I do not have a car, how do I get to/from the airport to College Park?
There are three airports in the Washington Metropolitan Area (Dulles International, Washington Reagan and Baltimore-Washington), all of which are accessible via public transportation. Dulles International can be reached via the Metro and a connecting bus. Washington Reagan is the most accessible one, as it has its own Metro station. Finally, you can reach Baltimore-Washington in two ways, Metro and a connecting bus or the Amtrak train from Union Station.
However, at the end of every semester, the Graduate Student Government provides free shuttle buses to these three airports a few times a day. This would be the most convenient form of transportation.
Driver’s License in MD, VA or DC: Will I need a Driver’s License while I am in the US?
In case you do not plan on driving:
No. Obtaining a Driver’s License (DL) is entirely optional, your legal status will not be affected by having it or not. However, for practical purposes, obtaining one is encouraged. The US mainly relies on a DL for identification purposes, i.e. when opening a bank account, renting a car, access to events, etc. The requirements to obtain a driver’s license by an international under a F1 or J1 visa differ by state. Also, if you have a DL from your country, you might be able to transfer it to an American license, upon fulfillment of some requirements that also depend on the state.
In case you are planning on driving:
Yes. You must obtain an American DL unless you possess an International Driver’s License. As stated earlier, you might transfer your country’s license to an American. Please, visit the specific Department of Motor Vehicles website that corresponds to the state you will be living in.
Students are encouraged to read the following document for more information on how to obtain a DL:http://www.ice.gov/doclib/sevis/pdf/dmv_factsheet.pdf
The following are the websites for the Department of Motor Vehicles:
Taxes, forms: As an international student, do I have to pay state and federal taxes?
Yes. Any person earning an income in the United States, national or international, is required to file taxes. However, you are considered as a non-resident for Tax purposes, thus making you different from US Citizens for a period of five years. Depending on your income, you might have overpaid or underpaid taxes. International Students appointed as TAs usually overpay taxes, and upon filing, a full refund is likely for both state and federal taxes. International Students appointed as Research Assistants usually are treated as citizens for tax purposes, and do not receive a full refund. Another important point is that if you are under a F1 or J1 Visa, you do not have to pay Social Security and Medicare, as US citizens do.
In order to file taxes, you will need a Social Security Number (SSN). If you need to file for a SSN, please follow the instructions on the International Student and Scholar Services here.
Please, refer to the following links for more detailed and useful information regarding Taxes in the US:
Academic load: What is the typical academic load of a first-year student?
If you are a biochemistry student, your first year is very packed with duties. During your first semester, you will take two courses, do lab rotations, attend seminars, and be a teaching assistant (TA) for one or two courses. The two courses will keep you busy studying and doing a considerable amount of homework. As they are graduate level courses, the difficulty of the material goes accordingly, and you will need to do more research on your own to keep up the pace. The lab rotations are a great experience where you visit three different labs for a month each, and learn about their project and techniques. This turns time-consuming as the Principal Investigator (PI) will have a minimum number of hours as a standard for you to be present in lab. The biochemistry seminar series meet once a week for one hour, therefore, this does not represent a significant commitment. The TA assignments are probably the most time consuming duties during your whole first year. An approximate of 20 hours per week can be spent doing this (including the actual teaching time, grading, prepping, and proctoring). The second semester is not as predictable, since you can choose to take two or three courses, you will have joined a research group, and you will be expected to do some bench work throughout depending on the PI