Tips for Life in the U.S.

The United States is a large and diverse country. Life here can vary from region to region and even from neighborhood to neighborhood within a city, so it is difficult to generalize. However, the following statements can most likely be said about any community in the U.S. that houses a college or university.

Renting an Apartment

  • Apartment rental leases are legally binding and very difficult to break.
  • Make sure that all of your questions about the apartment rental lease are answered to your satisfaction before you sign a lease agreement.
  • If it can be avoided, don’t rent an apartment before you see it.
  • Assume your apartment will be completely unfurnished and be prepared to buy or rent furniture and household items (e.g. bed, tables, chairs, sofa, clothes washing machine and dryer, eating utensils, linens, etc.).
  • Consider a rental lease for short term or temporary housing. These apartments are usually (at least partially) furnished, and you can get familiar with the area before renting a longer-term apartment.
  • It is risky to assume responsibility for an apartment contracted to another person (referred to as “subletting”). You may be held responsible for damage caused by the previous tenant.
  • Read your apartment lease carefully and follow all instructions for how and when to request repairs, extend your lease, or give notice that you are leaving the apartment.
  • If you leave your apartment before the rental lease ends, you will be held responsible for paying the rent for the duration of the rental lease agreement.

Getting Around

  • Public transportation may not be as efficient or extensive as you are accustomed to in your country.
  • Be prepared to buy a used car which can be sold again when you are leaving the U.S.
  • You can legally drive with a valid driver’s license from your country or an International Driving Permit for up to 12 months.
  • Driver’s license regulations may vary by state. To quality for a driver's license in Texas, you must have six months or more of legal visa status at the time you apply.
  • If you are learning to drive you may be issued a learner’s permit. However, to legally drive with this permit you must be accompanied by a licensed driver.

American Research Culture

  • The research environment in U.S. colleges and universities is highly competitive.
  • Don’t be surprised if you are expected to work long hours on a daily basis, possibly including Saturday and/or Sunday.
  • Postdoctoral research is considered an apprenticeship or temporary training, lasting only 5–6 years, with the objective of advancing to a faculty position.
  • Postdoctoral salaries vary from one institution to another and are relatively low since the postdoctoral student is in training.
  • Benefits including health insurance and retirement options may vary even within the same institution based on the type of payment received. Be sure to request details.
  • It is a good idea to learn more about the research culture of the institution you will visit by communicating with the student, postdoctoral, and/or international organizations at that institution.

Rules, Regulations, and the Law in the U.S.

  • Most U.S. nationals take the law seriously and believe laws exist to protect people.
  • Police and other law enforcement officials in the U.S. protect the rights of everyone by upholding the law.
  • While living in the U.S. you will be expected to know and operate in accordance with pertinent rules, regulations, and the law (this includes immigration regulations, traffic and safety rules, college/university policies, etc.).
  • If you break the law (e.g. drive through a red light), you should expect consequences such as a monetary fine.
  • People in the U.S. are generally helpful and friendly, but even the friendliest American may not be willing or able to protect you from the consequences if you break a rule, regulation, or law.