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Considering that someone known has already picked you from the airport and drove you to your lease address (If you have already managed a lease contract), here is a list of things to do in your upcoming days.

Buy a sim card

The first thing you have to do is to buy a sim card. Sim cards are available in nearby stores or you can order one online. WIthout a sim card it is difficult to contact family or browse internet until you have a broadband internet. In Texas, people usually start with LycaMobile that offers unlimited local and international calls alongside 5GB mobile data for 29$/month. However, the only problem with this one is the network availability. In case it is severe, people go for another career named Sprint.

Visit the Apartment Lease Office

Visit the lease office on the day upon arrival if it remains open or on the next day during office hours. You need to sign the lease contract, get security pass for the lease area entrances, and get additional stuffs (Mailbox key, Locker Access, etc.). Also, if you have already checked your apartment, you can ask them to fix things if not in proper states.

Buy home stuffs

Right after having some rest take a look in your apartment and make a list that you may need to buy. Here is a simple list that may come in handy.

  • Must Need items: Mattress, Comforter, Pillow, Utensils (Fry Pans, Plates, Water Jug with Filter, Chopping Boards, Knives, containers, etc.), Shower Curtain, Rice Cooker, Tissue Papers, Cloth wash (if washing machine & dryer is inside the apartment), Body/Hair wash, Vacuum Cleaner, etc.
  • Furnitures: Study Table, Chair, Table Lamp, WhiteBoard, etc.
  • Food/Grocery Items: Cornflakes (Oatmeals), Rice, Vegetables, Milk, Juice, Cakes/Cookies, Coffee, CoffeeMate, Sugar, Salt and other Spices, Fish/Meat, Egg, Oil, Lentis, etc.
  • Others: Personal Items

You can order the must needed items online before even entering USA if someone known is already in your lease area. A few small items you can bring with you if you have enough space in your luggages and if those combinely does not cross the weight limit.

Most of the regular items including food items, you can buy is from Wallmart. I prefer furnitures from Home Depot or Office Depot although those are available in Wallmart as well. You can also order those items on Amazon.

Note: You can open Amazon Prime account using your university mail address that ends with .edu as a student. With this service you can have ordered items within two days. This service is free for the first six months once you open an account.

Know the Transportation Details

Whether or not you need to take a ride from your apartment lease area to University premise depends on the intermediate distance. Most of the students usually manage apartments close to the university premise. Otherwise you may need to have ride on Metro or other public transportation available in your area. You can also have lifts from someone from your community living in the same lease area. For Houston, we had to collect Metro Q Card for regular transportation. Good thing is University of Houston provides one for all graduate students who are working as a TA/RA and they pay for it as well. :smiley:

Order Broadband Wifi

I do not know much about other Internet provider, but, here in Houston, most of the people use Comcast Xfinity. The other competitor is AT&T. You can take a look at the internet packages of Xfinity. Most of the people use either the Performance Plus or the Performance Pro Package. To be noted, you do not need to bring any Router with you. Even you bring one, it may not be supported by their service. You can rent one from them that charges around additional $11/month.

Meet your supervisor

I guess, you have been waiting for this point. :stuck_out_tongue:

Considering, you have already let your professor know about your journey and estimated arrival date, you need to meet him as early as possible after you are done with preparing your new apartment. First, ask him for a suitable meeting time. Then meet him and discuss about at least the following points:

  • Research Projects: Maybe you alreday know which project you are going to start working on. Still, you need to ask again about the state of the projects, how you are going to contribute there.
  • Course Selection: Ask him about the courses you need to be enrolled in your first semester. You can also discuss about the courses with labmates and other students from the same department and your community. It is preferable to go for easier ones in the first semester as you will have to figure everything out alongside (including work-life balance).
  • Lab Benefits: Usually professors start talking about it themselves. You will just have to listen. Just like my professor told me which items I was going to have (laptop, large monitor, keyboard/mouse, furnitures, printer/scanner, etc.). We also have a small fridge, and Microwave Oven as well in our lab.

Visit University Welcome Center

The day you have a first visit at your university premise, meet staffs and people in the welcome center. They will direct you about your ID cards, grad students orientation program, area map, and to-do list. You can also visit your department for further details about departmental orientation program and other paperworks.

Open a bank account

You will have to open a checking account first in any of the nearest branches. Ask labmates or seniors before choosing one in particular. In University of Houston, students prefer to open a checking Account in Chase Bank because it offers $200 for both referee and referrer. Once you have your first deposit of salary, you will get that extra money. It will take around half an hour to be done with the processes. Remember, you are opening an account without a Social Security Number (SSN) and they will remind you to update your profile as soon as you have your SSN number.

Attend Graduate Orientation

Graduate orientatation program can continue for 1-3 days at a stretch and definitely one should not miss the sessions. Here, you will meet the International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) and they will issue you the I-94 after verifying your Passport, F1/J1 Visa, and I-20. In case you miss the program, you can do it by visiting the ISSS office somewhere in the premise. You can also verify your Transcripts/ Certificates if you have not sent hard copies before while applying. Different sessions will introduce the services university offer to students. Through attending the sessions, you will know about- maintaining visa status, discovering american culture, getting IT supports, rules and regulations, policies, student organizations, campus activities, and many other information you need to know. Also, you can have a lot of free stuffs/ gifts including t-shirts, water/coffee mugs, sunglasses, etc. from different booths. :wink:

Complete Dept./HR/ISSS paperworks

There are several paperworks to be done after your orientation program is over. Contact your department office for details. There might be some difference from one university to another. However, in UH, I had to-

  • Fill up the I-9 form in HR section
  • Submit copies of all documents in the Department
  • Receive an Employment Letter from the Department
  • Submit the letter in ISSS Office
  • Receive another Employment letter (issued by University authority) along with the Departmental one from the ISSS Office
  • Apply for SSN in SSN Administration office (Outside University premise)
  • Submit SSN Application Receipt as early as possible

Apply for SSN

Once you have all the letters and forms, you will have to visit the nearest Social Security Administration office. Take all the documents on any office day, stand in the queue, wait for your serial, and then attend the counter with all of your documents. The documents you will have to carry are:

It will take around 10-20 minutes to be done. You will receive your SSN card within 2-3 weeks via mail.

Tax Exemption Form

Tax treaty exemption means you will have to pay reduced amount of tax each year. In Texas, we actually have full salaries in first four months of a year. In other months, you will have the salary after deduction of tax amount. Anyway, you will have to fill up the following forms and submit thereby to designated person through post mail/ email.

  • Immigration Status Data Form
  • Form 8233
  • W-8BEN

Apply for a Credit Card

In USA, credit card is a must, and you need to apply for one as soon as you get your SSN. However, you cannot apply for any credit card you want without building a good credit score. Initially, students start with the Discover credit card that offers $50 for both referee and referrer. Once you build your score, you become qualified for the other ones. If you need to know my credit journey, you can read my other post on this:

Recommended Credit Journey for a Person Living in USA

Get driving learner’s permit

You need to apply for driving license if you want to have cars. First, you will have to apply for the learner’s permit. Attend the Online Course, get the completion certificate, and take it to the Deaprtment of Public Safety (DPS) along with other necessary documents:

  • Passport with Visa
  • I-20
  • I-94
  • Proof of residency (any 2)
    • Lease document
    • Utility bill (Electricity/WiFi)
    • Bank Statement
    • Fixed Deposit Statement (Salary)

Once you reach the DPS, wait in a queue, receive and fill up the form, and wait for your call. It will take around 15-20 minutes in a counter once you are called to attend a counter. The person in the counter will request you for documents, get fingerprints of your thumbs, take a photo, and will ask you to keep your eyes on a visual test device and read a line from there. You will have to pay the fee (in Texas, $25) and you will be done. You will receive your learner’s card within two weeks via mail.


You should start networking with other students once course classes start. One of the major key point to succeed in PhD/MS is to have good networking with your peers. It will also help you to form strong group as you will have to submit final projects in the courses as a group.

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