MS in the US, a guide: Part FIVE

After a long gap I am here to complete the penultimate part of the series which deals which pre-departure information. I've decided to split the fifth part into two articles as I feel there is enough material to be penned down.

5) Booking your tickets and packing your bags

When done with the VISA work the next major task is to book your tickets and pack your bags. All this is to be done to make your initial days in the US a not-so-horrible-experience. Beginning the article with booking your tickets, if you are traveling to the US in Fall (July-Aug) you are most likely to come across a student discount offered by most of the airlines. Be sure to check with the airline or your travel agent about the discount. Be wary of some travel agencies who levy heavy taxes on the ticket. Also most airlines will allow you to carry 3 pieces of check-in (cargo) baggages if you show your I-20, which is proof that you are a student.

It is best to visit the airline office (or call them up/visit their website) and enquire about the tickets, discounts and baggage allowance. One thing you need to be careful about (and clear with your airline) is that if your port of entry in the US (the first point you touch in the US) is not your final destination (meaning you need to take a US domestic flight from that point to your destinaiton) you may be required to pay for your checked-in baggage. In domestic US flights, only the carry-on (cabin) baggage is free; not the checked-in ones. While some airlines may issue you a US domestic ticket with an airline that is their partner (and hence you won't be charged for baggage), in other cases however you may end up paying almost about $100 USD. Clarify everything before you book your tickets. Most of the airlines will allow you to block your ticket without paying anything. You are given up to a day (usually) till which you can confirm your tickets. One important thing to remember is that you may not enter the US before 30 days of the date of start of your graduate school.

The airline you choose to fly with may haf certain baggage restrictions (dimensions, weight etc.). You may check up their website, call them or visit their office to confirm this. Most of the airlines allow up to one 12 kgs carry-on, a small backpack/laptop bag (also carry-on) and 23 kgs check-in per piece (2 or 3 depending on the airline). If the bags exceed the dimensions or weight you may end up paying penalties. It may also so happen that you get through in your international flight but are made to pay heavily in the US domestic flight. So make sure you take care of this. Also, locking your checked-in baggage is not preferable in the US. The security authorities (TSA) may break open your baggage anytime. Hence, do not use normal locks/number-lock on the bag. Instead you can buy TSA approved locks (these locks can be opened only by TSA and you). You can get these locks in showrooms selling American Tourister, VIP etc. branded bags. They may cost anywhere between Rs.100-700 depending on the lock. Be careful about not packing any liquid/gels/toothpaste/deo in your carry-on baggage which is more than 3 oz (ounce).

Before you board the aircraft make sure you get your complete health checkup done, take all vaccinations (its better if you plan this as early as possible as some vaccinations will require you to haf a gap of 2-3 months), get your dental, eye etc. checkup done. Medical services are expensive in the US. Some universities will also haf a medical certificate to be filled up by a registered medical practitioner (RMP) declaring that you are free of diseases. Contact your university for any such requirement. Secondly, many universities require you to haf a health/travel insurance till the first day of classes (from where the university's health insurance takes over). Get an insurance if there is any such requirement (in any case it is a good idea to get a travel health insurance till the first day of your classes).

If you haf an Indian Driving License, get it along. In fact, if you can apply and get an International Driving Permit its a good idea to get it as well; tho some states may not recognize it. If you can get a letter from your car insurance company indicating that you've never claimed an insurance it may help reducing the insurance you pay in the US when renting/buying a car (tho this may not hold good in every case).

The next step to do is to obtain more information about the Indian Student Association (or any student association which takes care of new-student-arrival) and contact them. In my university, the Indian student association (aptly called "Maitri") is very active and helpful to the newcomers. They arrange airport pickups and temporary accommodation for the incoming students. You may wish to contact the association and avail of any such facilities if available. If there is no such association/group try to get in touch with students studying there. You may get this information from the department website. Try to get in touch with someone who can help you with your arrival and initial setup.

The next couple of paras will give details about what to carry and what NOT to carry. Stuff to get from India:

1) Food items - Bring all the masalas (garam, chat, sambar, rasam, haldi etc.), rice, dal enough for 2 people to last for at least a week. You may want to bring these items in sufficient quantities since they are are a bit harder/costly to get in the US - jeera powder, red chili powder, cilantro seed powder (dhaniya), spices etc. Carrying Pav Bhaji masala, chole masala, pani puri masala is also a good idea. You may also wish to carry read-to-eat stuff, dry snacks to survive during the first few days. Though you get all the stuff in the US, getting them with you saves you the hassle of hunting the Indian store during your first week of stay when you haf other things to worry about. Make sure you seal all the packs and put them in the check-in bags. You are better off not carrying salt and sugar. Do not carry any perishable items with you either. You may be fined otherwise.
[BTW, the food on the right looks yummy! Hafn't had such food since long! :(]

2) Utensils - The only utensil I'd suggest you bring is a pressure cooker (for 2 or 4 people, as the case may be). All other utensils are available here. Be sure to get extra gasket and weights for the cooker and also any spares applicable. A non-stick set is available for as less as $20 USD in Walmart. This is almost the same as what you get in India. It saves you the hassle of carrying all the weight. You may however opt to bring a small non-stick pan (flat bottom only!) for quick cooking during your initial days. You will also need at least a plate, bowl, wooden spatula, spoon-knife-fork, tumbler, small knife, peeler. Make sure the cutlery is 'microwaveable'. If possible get melamine ones instead of porcelain to cut down on the weight.

3) Clothes - Get casuals. People usually dress casually for classes here. They are mostly in Jeans, cargos, shorts and Ts. Do not get too many formals as you will hardly need them (you may need them when you attend Career Fairs and/or during your internships, if the company follows a formal dress code). Get information about the place of your study, the weather pattern. Its not a good idea to get heavy woolens from India. One reason being those woolens won't be sufficient if you are in a place which experiences heavy snowfall. Second, being they hog up all your space in your bag. You may however wanna get Thermal wear and sweater/jacket if need be. Get some shorts if the place sees 'hot' weather. You may also want to get sweatshirts/pullovers with hood. Getting a set of traditional Indian clothing to wear during Indian fest celebrations (if any, by the Indian students in your university) is a nice idea. Don't forget to carry an umbrella. You may also considering bringing blankets if you wish (linen).

4) Electronics - The frequency and voltage of power outlet in the US is different from India. So most of the electrical appliances (anything with a conventional transformer) won't work. However, some electronic items (like the cellphone, laptop, digicam battery charger etc. which haf digital circuits/ICs for power conversion) will mostly work. Make sure you get a round-to-flat-pin converter/adapter for universal voltage appliances (which can work at 60Hz 110V). You can also get appliances which use normal AA or AAA batteries. You can buy batteries and charger for cheap here. A recent tri/quad band GSM cellphone will work just fine in the US. You can also buy one here at discounted prices with the connection.

5) Books - If your university already has put up the list of courses and you've decided which ones to enroll into, then it makes sense to email the instructors of the courses and ask them which books they'd want the students to refer to. If the reading material is available in India then it may be cheaper to carry the books with your than getting here. You may want to get in touch with the seniors and get information on how to obtain good deals on text books in case they are not available in India. Also carry some stationary - pens, refills, eraser, clutch pencils and leads.

6) Misc. Items - You can also get some medicines for common illness (like cold, fever etc.) or if you are on medication along with prescription from your doctor. In case you wear specs or contacts, its a good idea to haf an extra pair in case of emergency. A swiss-knife could be of immense help. Carry a small sewing kit (neither your gf nor your wife will sew the button on your shirt here! :P). You may also wanna get an extra pair of lace for your shoes. Don't forget to keep any cables that you use for your gadgets (cellphone data cable, digicam USB cable, laptop/cellphone charger etc.). Optionally you may also get your calculator that you used during your engineering (not strictly a necessity but doesn't hurt to haf one).

Ending this part here. The next (and hopefully the last) part will feature Travel and Post-arrival information.

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

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Sharan said…
Hey Anirudh,

Awesome work dude! You have taken care of all topics very meticulously.
Anirudh said…
Thanks, fellows :)
sunny said…
seriously...nice job dude...!!
Nakul said…
Can you let us know more on how to get the insurances done in India?Which is the cheaper of the two?Are they university spec?
Nakul said…
Is immunization 'a must'?How much will they generally cost in namma bengaluru?
Nakul said…
As a senior(:P) when do you suggest your juniors to land in the US?(How many days before the start)
Anirudh said…
1. You can get travel-health insurance from ICICI lombard, Reliance. For a month, it should cost around 2k. Some universities will haf their own mandatory health insurance (like NCSU). So you may wanna confirm this with your university.

2. Again, immunization depends on the university. At NCSU we had a mandatory set to immunizations to be taken and a form filled by an RMP. This is something which you would like to confirm with your university. The Hep. A/B etc. vaccine should cost about Rs.500 in all (3-4 doses).

3. You can enter the US not before 30 days of the start of your school. So if you arrive at the earliest possible date it may help you in finding accommodation and possibly even on-campus jobs.
Nakul said…
@ "Also most airlines will allow you to carry 3 pieces of check-in (cargo) baggages if you show your I-20, which is proof that you are a student."

Does this mean 23*3(chek-in) + 15*1(carry bag)? Do the chek-in's havta be cargo's/trolley bags only?Wont they allow the normal travel kit as a chek-in bag?What are the advantages/disadvantages of going for a trolley/traveller bag?

@Making calls from US to India - Which works out economically of the foll?
>Getting a VOIP imported from the US,and getting it installed here
>Calling using the normal calling cards available in the US?
Anirudh said…
Most airlines will allow 23*3 for students. But this is something you may wanna confirm with your airline. There is no restriction on the type of bag you want. Its all upto you. Whatever works for you.

Getting a VoIP phone works out to be cheap if you make heavy calls and that too the same number. For me, the calling cards work just fine. Its about 3c/min.
Nakul said…
Dude,checked with a few airlines.As on date only AirIndia and Jetairways allow 3+1 baggages.Lufthansa is trying to bring up a offer.

If one were to book an international flight here from BIC and land in a port of entry in the US and then board a domestic flight(this,which is not a tie-up of the source flight)then heard that they allow only 1 baggage.Is it right?What is the additional cost that we'll havta pay/bagge?If this is again airline spec,let us know the range.Also,do we have to pay any additional changes if we change from an intl port of entry intl flight onto a domestic flight?
Anirudh said…
Yes, what you heard is right. You may end up paying upto $100 more for additional baggage. It various from airline to airline. So you are better off checking the website of the US domestic airline.

I'm sorry, I do not understand the last part of your Q.
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