Tips on American Life
- Preparation and Success
- Important Documents
- US Identification Card
- Working/Training in the U.S.
- Safety and Insurance
- Laws and Law Enforcement
- Money and Banking
- Tax and Tip Information
- Social Security and Driver's License
- Traveling Outside of the U.S.
Living in a foreign country will be one of the most challenging experiences in your life. In addition to having high expectations placed on you, you will be in a completely new environment and trying to take in an incredible amount of new information – often in a new language. Here is some useful information to help you succeed during your stay in the United States.
Please keep copies of these documents with you at all times. Keep the originals in a safe place.
- Passport and Visa
- DS-2019 (J-1 participants)/ I-797 (H-2B participants)
- I-94 Form
It is possible to get an American Identification card that can be used in place of your passport by applying at The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). This ID card looks similar to a driver’s license which most Americans carry as ID.
Documents needed to apply for an ID card:
- Social Security number
- J-1 or H-2B visa
- DS 2019 or I-797
- Job offer letter (proof of employment)
- Proof of residence
- Registration fee
- It will cost you $7.50 if you are under 21 or $ 6.50 if you are 21 or older.
You will go through a time when you feel like you miss home. This is normal. As time goes on you will get used to life in the United States. Depending on the individual, this can take several months. At some time you will adjust to life here and learn to accept it as normal.
While you are going through this adjustment phase, remember to take your feelings into perspective: everyone feels bad for a while living in a new culture. Talk to your friends about how you feel. And keep busy!
Working/Training in America
- Americans tend to communicate in a very direct way
- Clear communication is expected from employers.
- Keeping your thoughts to yourself will not be understood as it might be in some Asian countries.
- Enthusiasm and motivation are important attitudes.
- Being passive does not work well in an American company. Employers want employees who have ideas and opinions.
- It is important not to take things at work too personally. If your boss makes a comment about your work, it doesn't mean that they don't like you.
- Things may change at your Host Company. For example your boss may change or your hours may change. You have to accept and learn from changes.
- Some of your experiences may not all be fun. Try to focus on what you can learn and maintain a positive attitude.
Any time you work with people there is a chance that problems will occur. Communication is the most important factor in resolving these problems. To handle problems we follow these two steps:
- The host and student need to address the problem with each other.
- After the student has spoken with the host and the problem still cannot be solved EDI can try and speak to each party.
Safety and Insurance
Safety: America is a large country, and, like most countries in the world, it has places that are less dangerous and others that are relatively more dangerous. While you can't simply say that America is "Safe," or "Dangerous," it is possible to guess about the safety of the area you are in. If you are in an area that has garbage lying around, or if there are people standing outside liquor stores, there is good chance you may be in a more dangerous area. Trust your feelings and if you don't feel safe move.
There are some general rules that one can follow to be "more safe:"
- Don't go out by yourself at night
- Don't carry lots of cash
- Stay in well lighted places with many people
Health Insurance: If you are participating in an EDI program, you have an insurance policy that covers you while you are here in the United States. There will be a toll-free number on the policy that you can call to get the information of a hospital near you in case you need medical attention.
If you go to the hospital you may have a deductible to pay. Other payments will generally be made by the health insurance company. You will fill out a claim form and the hospital will send this to the insurance company. If you don't understand something about your insurance call your insurance company. They usually have information in many languages.
You are, of course, responsible for following the laws here in the United States . Some things that are especially important for our international participants to remember are:
Drinking Age: The drinking age in the US is 21 years old. You cannot purchase alcohol without an ID that shows your age is 21 or over. If you do drink and are under 21 you are breaking the law.
Shoplifting: Stealing things from stores – or your employer - is, of course, against the law.
Bribery: In some countries giving the police money to have them ignore small infractions is not unusual. Here in the United States offering money to a police officer is very serious and will make your problem worse.
Illegal Drugs: It is not unusual for you to meet American, or other international workers, who have illegal drugs such as marijuana. If you are caught with a person who possesses illegal drugs, even if you aren’t using them yourself, you can be in serious trouble. Using them will be additional trouble.
Please be aware of your responsibilities. If you break any laws EDI will terminate your program and have you returned home.
American money looks quite different from that of other countries of the world. While our coins are of various sizes and colors, like that of other countries, our bills are all the same size and of similar color. For a newcomer to the United States, it is quite easy to mistake a $20 bill for a $1 bill unless you pay attention.
- Penny: 1 cent
- Nickel: 5 cents
- Dime: 10 cents
- Quarter: 25 cents
Banks are located in a variety of locations and offer a variety of services. The services offered, and the prices charged for them, vary so you should speak with others, such as your friends and co-workers about banks that they recommend.
- "Fast Cash"
- Checking Account
- Savings Account
- PIN (Personal Identification Number)
Signatures: Signatures can be made in any language as long as it is always the same. Because many places feel more comfortable seeing things written in English it might be best for you to use an English signature or an English Signature and one in your own language.
Debit Cards/Cash Cards: When you get your bank account you will be given a bank card, often called an ATM card. This can be used to access your bank account and withdraw money from you account using an automated banking machine. The bank card can also be used to make purchases at many supermarkets or other stores. The money for the purchase will be taken directly out of your bank account.
Tax and Tip Information
Income Tax: You have to pay U.S. government, State and, if there are any, local taxes. These are taken automatically out of your paycheck. Early next year, you will be sent a form from your host/employer that says how much money you made and how much money was held back as taxes. You can file for a tax return using this form. There is more information about this at the IRS website: http://www.irs.gov.
Sales Tax: In American most states have a sales tax that you pay when you buy things at stores. These taxes are not generally added onto basic food items like bread or milk. It is added to candy though. The sales taxes are different in different states and even in different areas within a state. They can also change over time.
Sample Sales Taxes:
- Orlando, Florida: 6.6%
- San Francisco, California: 8.75%
- Idaho: 5%
Tips: Leaving a tip is very important. If you do not leave a tip it is not just an insult, it is wrong. Many people, especially waiters and waitresses, make the majority of their money from the tips they earn at work. Leaving a tip of less than 15% means that the service is bad.
- Amount for Tips: 15% - 20%
- Easy way of calculating tips: Two times the tax - and maybe a bit more.
Places you tip:
- Restaurants where you are waited on
- Hair Salon
- Taxis or Shuttles
- Shoe Shine booths
- In hotels when someone carries your bag
Social Security: Social Security is a service that allows Americans who are older or who have suffered a loss, such as the loss of a parent, to get financial support from the government. A social security number is not only for Americans, but for all people who work in the United States.
If you have a person's social security number it is said that you can steal their identity, because of all of the computerized information that is tracked with it.
If you are able to apply for a social security card, the final card will be sent to your address within two or three weeks of the application. You may also be able to call before that time to get your number using the automated service at 1-800-772-1213.
Required Documents to Obtain a Social Security Card: Application form (ss-5), original documents showing age, identity and lawful alien status including permission to work in the U.S. At least two identification documents are required.
- J-1 Visa/H-2B Visa
- DS-2019 (J-1)/I-797 (H-2B)
- I-94 card
- Sponsorship letter (Work & Travel from visa organization)
- Job offer letter (proof of employment)
Obtaining a Driver's License: Driving in the United States can be very helpful. But it can also be very frightening as well. Just the process of getting a driver's license can be intimidating.
In order to get a driver's license, you will first need to get a social security number. Students must first get a letter from your school or host company saying that you need the license and take this with you to apply for the social security card. Once you have your card, you can then go and apply for the written test. The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offices are located in a variety of locations and can be found online, in the phone book, or by asking local people. They have free handbooks with the information you will need to know for the test.
Once you pass the written test, you will need to take the driving test. For the driving test you will need to use a car that is insured and, of course, in good working order. Most students borrow a friend's car for the test but you may also be able to rent a car. You will be told immediately after the test whether you have passed or not. If you pass, your license will be sent to you by mail. There is a chance the license may be delayed while they check your status.
Stopping the Bus: When riding on a bus you usually need to pull a cord hanging on the side of the bus above the seats to tell the driver you want to stop. When you pull the cord there is usually a “ring” that you will hear.
Bus Transfers: Transfers let you go from one bus line to another. Some cities charge for these but in other cities these transfers are free.
Bus Passes: Bus Passes are sold at grocery stores and other specified locations. Ask your host about where bus passes can be bought.
Airport Shuttles: Airport Shuttles are the way most Americans get to the airport if they don’t drive. They are much cheaper than taxis. You can find out about airport shuttles in the phone book or by asking your host.
Using telephones in the United States can be confusing because of the many different area codes. Area codes are usually not associated with just one city.
Dialing: This is the way of calling in San Francisco, California: Area Code 415
- Calls in the 415 area: ###-####
- Calls outside of 415: 1-###-###-####
- International calls: 011-(country code)-(city code without 0)-(local number)
Calling Cards: These let you use another phone service other than the one the phone you are using is connected to. You can buy calling cards at many stores and you can often find pre-paid cards with a very inexpensive international rate. Calling cards use a toll free number to access their service.
A Few Helpful Notes: American phones have letters on the keys. Often phone numbers are formed into words using these letters. For example: 866-5 FOR EDI; 1-866-536-7334.
- Public phones usually cost 50 cents.
- The "#" key is called the "pound" key.
- The "*" key is called the "star" key.
- Emergency: 911
- Telephone Information: 411
- Operator Assistance: 0
Using the US Postal Service is very simple. You can buy stamps in the local post office or in many grocery stores. You can send mail from mailboxes on the street, at school or work. Ask for the nearest mailbox location.
- Domestic letter: $0.37
- Domestic postcard: $0.23
- International letter: $0.80
- International postcard: $0.70
When sending a letter to an international destination you need to put the address of the location you are sending the letter to in the center of the envelope. You can write the address in your language but must clearly write the name of the country in English at the bottom of the address. Your mailing address needs to be written in the upper left hand side of the envelope. The stamp goes on the upper right corner.
Traveling Outside the U.S.
Please contact your coordinator or the EDI office if you want to travel outside of the US. If you are on a J visa you can travel outside of the US but before leaving you must have your DS-2019 signed. For H-2B holders there are no travel restrictions and they can travel until their visa status expires. However, traveling frequently is not recommended for either J visa or H-2B visa holders.