I guess this is the quickest follow-up in the series. But if this part is not up at the right time it loses its relevancy! The previous part covered packing your bags. This part [the last in the series] will cover all about traveling to the US and how to survive during the initial days of your stay.
6) Traveling to the US and initial days of stay
The first thing to do is to get a good document folder, large enough to house all the documents you wish to take. Make a list of the documents that you may ever need while you are in the US. Some generic things which come to the mind are:
3) SEVIS Fee receipt
4) Graduate School Admission letter
5) GRE, TOEFL score cards
6) Bachelors degree [or provisional] certificate and copies
7) Extra copies of your transcripts
8) Certificate of financial responsibility [the letters from your bank & CA validating the 'moolah' you showed to the VISA officer]
9) Any certificates you may wish to carry in order to support your statement of purpose/recommendation letters etc.
10) Any international warranty receipts of goods you may be carrying with you
11) Class 10th, 12th, Bachelor's mark sheets [optional]
12) Driver's License and International Driving Permit [if any]
13) Insurance papers [if any]
14) Prescriptions for any medicines that you may be carrying
15) Contact numbers from your home country as well as your destination
16) International credit/debit/travel cards [if any]
17) Calling cards [more about it later]
18) Of course, the flight tickets! ;)
(The list is not exhaustive and may change depending on the individual)
Make sure you keep them all in the folder, nice and secure and carry it along with you all times. Its best to keep the folder in your carry-on bag or backpack. Keep a copy of your passport, I-20, your home country address [+ contact number] and your destination address [+ contact number] in each of the bags that you are carrying. Also make sure your checked-in bags haf a source and destination address and your name displayed on the outside. This is helpful as sometimes there maybe a delay in receiving your checked-in bags or cases of baggage loss. They may arrive to the destination late by a day or two.
With the documents in place, what next? Money, of course! During your initial days of stay you maybe required to pay a month's rent in advance, pay the power connection, phone, internet service deposits, grocery shopping etc. Hence its a good idea to carry some cash with you. About $300-500 should be more than sufficient. Also do not forget to carry small change ($1, $5 bills [notes], some quarters [25c] for phone calls etc.). Avoid carrying $100 bills as you are unlikely to get any change for it. In case you fail to get change, you can try in the foreign exchange counters at the international airports (keep this as a last resort). Keep some cash in your carry-on baggage [cabin baggage], a little [~$10] in each of the checked-in bags and the rest with you. Its always a good idea to split the cash. What about the fees and other money? You may bring a draft (demand draft) for your fees either in the name of your university (get the correct details from your University's cashier/finance office) or your own name or you can even get the amount wired.
You may also wanna get about $3000-4000 as draft in your name for your expenses during the first semester. Its always a good idea to haf backup money. If you are at NCSU in particular, forget about funding of any sort altogether! You will soon be opening a bank account when you get here. Most of the banks take about 5-7 days to clear drafts greater than $5000 USD. Till that time you should be fine with the cash you brought. A demand draft is the cheapest medium of getting money from overseas. You can get the draft as well as the currency from the Foreign exchange branch of nationalized banks. You may also get travelers cheques. Many stores/restaurants readily accept Travelers Cheques [If you are coming to NCSU, beware of Thomas Cook Travelers cheques. I've heard that they are not accepted in most of the places; though I've never experienced it myself]. Some banks like ICICI etc. issue you international Travel cards. They are like international debit cards where you can refill the account back in your home country while you can use it in the US. You may wanna check this out with your bank.
Things to pack in your carry-on (cabin) bag: Fragile items like laptop, netbooks, camera, camcorder, PMPs (portable media players), discman, portable gaming devices, shades, cellphone, head/earphones, portable HDDs (make sure they are clean :P) and anything which you may think is delicate. Don't ever make the mistake of putting the fragile items in check-in (cargo) baggage. If you ever get a chance to see how the airport staff handles your bags, you will die of heart-attack!!! ;) Get along a novel if you wish to read [tho I'm quite sure you will doze off in the flight for most of the time!]. Stuff in a jacket too, for, the long journey may make you feel want one. Pack some dry snacks if you wish [I don't see the need of any, though].
Things NOT to pack in your carry-on bag: Toothpaste, Deo, hair gel, shampoo, talcum powder, lotions/creams (all these should go in your check-in bags), perishable food items, water (or any drink). Liquids/gels of any sort are only permitted in limited quantities. They should be carried in containers which are 3 oz. (ounce) or less and must be kept in a single quart sized zip-lock bag. Its is best to avoid them totally, if possible. It will save you a lot of headache trying to explain to the authorities and finally ending up turning your nicely packed bag upside down, in case of any discrepancy. Medicines, however, maybe permitted with prescription.
At the airport (usually after the security check) you may find counters owned by telecom companies like Airtel, Vodafone etc. who sell Calling cards. You may wanna buy a couple of these. With these cards you can make international call from any public phones. You may wanna check out what are the various denominations, rates, coverage, service etc. at the telecom company's website/store before leaving. Be sure to keep some quarters (25 cents) in case you need to make local calls in the US after landing. I do not see any benefit in getting international roaming activated. AFAIK you can only receive calls and the rate for receiving per minute is outrageous (last I heard it was Rs.40/min!). This may haf changed now, so you may wanna check that out too. Many companies like Matrix etc. sell US sim cards in India. The bill goes to your home address and your folks pay it. I'm not sure about the rates for the Matrix connection but here in the US a monthly post paid connection costs anywhere from $29 (if you are in a family plan) to $60 (data plan with an iPhone).
You may want to contact the Indian students association or the graduate students association of the university you are off to and/or your friends who are already living there to arrange airport pickup/temporary accommodation etc.. They can prolly also help you set in and get a proper accommodation. Inform them of your travel itinerary. If nobody is coming to pick you up, its better to carry a printout of google maps/directions from airport to your destination. Also be sure to get a mini-map of the airport so that you know where to pick-up a luggage cart (some airports charge $1 for this service, so make sure you haf a few dollar bills with you), claim your checked-in baggage and head for the airport cab.
The next day of your arrival, you may be required to check-in with your University's International Students' Office, pay your fees, register for courses, get student-id card, complete other formalities etc. Open a bank account asap. Go explore the university. If you are planning to take an on-campus job now is a good time to start searching for it. Since you are new in the US [and hence do not haf any credit-history yet] you maybe required to pay deposits for getting electricity and cable/internet connection for your home. You may wanna do that early as you get to know of your accommodation. You may not get a post-paid connection immediately after you land here (since it requires a social security number which can be issued only if you get an on-campus job and after your school starts). So you are better off asking your friends who are already here to get a connection for you or add you to their family plan, if getting a connection soon is important for you. You can however, get a pre-paid connection but I'm assuming it may be a bit costlier than a post-paid connection.
Your seniors/friends should help you settle down in the US and take you around the place. Since you are already prepared for your initial days in the US (I'm assuming you've read all the parts of my guide, hehe... :D Now.. thats a perfect plug for my article! haha...), you should get along without any problems. From here on, I leave you all at your friends'/seniors' mercy... lolz :P
I'm finally ending this article. This series has made a long journey. I penned the first part of this series on June 10, 2008 and the last part gets to see light on June 3rd, 2009. Its been almost an year. Before and when I came to the US, I had all kinds of experiences - good, bad, ugly... My intention was to pass on as much info as I could to the future students so that they haf as smooth a transition as possible. I hope I was able to achieve at least some part of that goal.
I am interested in your feedback. Please leave your comments at this post on what you felt about the write-ups, what you liked and what you didn't about them, any areas which need more input from my side, any areas you felt had too much or useless info, the style and organization of the article, the topics covered, the timeliness of posting etc. Your comments will help me refine this series so that the article serves its purpose.
Please pass on the link to this series to anybody who you feel would be benefited by the information in the write-up. If you are reading this post you may be interested in the following posts too:
MS in the US, a guide: Part ONE - Exams - GRE and TOEFL
MS in the US, a guide: Part TWO - Reporting scores and applying to universities
MS in the US, a guide: Part THREE - Post admit work to be completed
MS in the US, a guide: Part FOUR - Applying for a VISA
MS in the US, a guide: Part FIVE - Booking your tickets and packing your bags
MS in the US, a guide: Part SIX - Traveling to the US and initial days of stay
NCSU Specific Information
Wishing you all success in your lives and "Welcome to the US"! :)