Zvanično mesto
za informacije
o studiranju


The document you can read here has been published for students who started their education in the US in the second half of 2012 and was updated for the students starting their programs in 2013. Useful information inside can be of use to you going to the US to study later, already there at universities, colleges and high schools and especially to you who are just starting to plan your future education. 

If you have any additional questions before you leave to the US to study, please do contact us and let us know how we can help you. 

Center wishes to thank all the good people who collaborated in gathering resources and editing this document.


Before making your travel arrangements, confirm the dates of your international student and first year student orientations. Your student visa will allow you to enter the country up to thirty days before the start of term. This allows you to attend orientation and if desired travel in the US beforehand. The university will set the date they consider to be the start of your course, which will dictate when you are permitted to enter the country. Your American institution may require that you are up to date with the latest vaccinations, although please check with them beforehand.

If you are living on campus, you should avoid arriving at your school during the evening, on a Saturday or Sunday or during a US national holiday such as Labor Day (first Monday in September), since university offices are usually closed at those times. Please note that university residence halls do not open until a few days before registration. Students who arrive early with reservations to live in a residence hall may not be able to move into their assigned room if campus housing facilities have not yet officially opened for the semester or academic term.

The international student office or campus housing office may be able, however, to make other arrangements for temporary dormitory lodging (paid for on a daily or weekly basis). As you schedule your international travel, you will want to look into student discount rates. Websites such as studentadvantage.com offer discounts on various modes of transportation. Also, investigate travel insurance to cover cancellations or lost luggage, as well as the costs to change your ticket if needed.

Try the following terms in the Internet search for most affordable airline prices:
• Kayak, Student Universe, STA Travel, Expedia, Opodo, Travelocity, Cheap Tickets

In some major cities, the airport is well connected to the center of town via public transport (buses, subway and overland train services). However for suburban and rural areas, you may need to take a private shuttle service or taxi to campus. You can also check your airport’s website for local transportation information or ask your international adviser about whether or not a ride from the airport may be provided.

Contact the international student advisor and look at the airport’s website about the best way to get to campus from the airport, and ask for a cost estimate. It would be wise to have this amount in the correct currency when you arrive.

• Find out before you go every step you have to take to get to the college
• If you are going to arrive late, let the international student counselor know
• Contact your future roommate to make sure they will be in your room so they can let you in if you can't go the scheduled dorm arrival procedure.
• Never assume someone will pick you up or that the school will have a bus or train directly to it, so plan before you go
• Make sure you have the cell phone number of the international advisor, your future roommate or someone who can help you in case of an emergency

Contact Information

Take the name, address and telephone number of the individual at your US university to contact in case of a travel delay or an emergency. Also include details for a contact person at home and your country’s consulate (which you can find at the US Embassy’s website: www.usembassy.gov/) in the US (or sponsoring agency). Most importantly, you will be required to state an address on your landing card, so be sure to have a university-based or off-campus address with you in your carry-on luggage.



In addition to your passport and visa, it is necessary to carry other important documents in your carry-on luggage such as the materials you took to your visa interview (acceptance letter, proof of funds, etc). You may want to put a copy of your passport, visa and other documents you are taking on the plane in your checked luggage, in case you misplace your carry-on.



Carry on prescriptions with you in the original packaging with the original written prescription in the unfortunate event that your checked luggage is lost. Also bring in your carry-on a travel toothbrush and one change of clothes. Also, you may want to pack your mobile phone charger and converter to be used in case of emergency. Carry on valuables (computer, camera, etc.) and take some cash (in US dollars) for immediate use, such as transportation from the airport to the university campus.

Packing and figuring out what you really need to take with you can be a bit of a daunting task whether you are going abroad for a semester, a year or even four years, so careful consideration is needed when deciding what to take with! What you take to the US is largely a matter of personal choice. However, keep in mind you may have to carry whatever you bring through local transportation and then to your dorm, so it is in your best interest to keep it light and compact. And don't forget to leave room for the souvenirs you will want to bring home!

It is a good idea to make a list of everything you think you will need in the US. Then, eliminate the items you can buy in the US. Consult the airline website for baggage restrictions as there are often strict limits on both the weight and number of bags.

Generally, US carriers allow one bag weighing up to 50 pounds (23 kg) to be checked, and one carry-on (there are rarely weight restrictions) and one personal item (purse, laptop, etc.) can be brought onto the airplane. Please note that many US carriers are starting to charge fees for checked baggage. If you are having difficulty fitting items in your luggage, ask your international student adviser about shipping bulky and heavy items you do not need immediately upon arrival to your residence.

Folding and then rolling clothes is a good technique for saving space, but the weight will stay the same, so keep this is mind. Larger bulkier items such as shoes can be added to your hand luggage to distribute the weight. Also, try using large re-sealable bags to make clothing more compact.

You should also be aware that only 3 fluid ounces (100 mL) of liquid items are allowed onto the airplane. (Most standard travel-sized shampoos and conditioners fit these limits.) You should store these items in clear, re-sealable, plastic bags.



Bear in mind you may be travelling to an area with dressing styles and a climate different from what you are used to in Serbia. Generally speaking, campus wear is informal (jeans and t-shirts are the norm). Also, carefully investigate the climate of the region in which the university is located at sites such as www.weather.com which lists temperatures and rainfall year round.

If you decide you need to purchase new clothing, with the exchange rate as it is, it may be cheaper to do so in the US, although this is constantly changing. Consider buying items that you may need or want but do not already own upon arrival (heavy winter coat, summer clothes, etc.). You may decide to wear your heavier clothes such as boots and winter coat to save on packing bulkier items.

Bring pictures of your family, home, and country for yourself but also to show to your new friends. US students really decorate their dorm rooms, and you will not want to be the only one with bare walls! To eliminate unnecessary bulk, buy frames and decorative items in the US (although note that not all universities will allow you to hang things with nails in on-campus dorms).


Most everyday electrical appliances can be purchased cheaply in the United States saving on bringing them over with you. Appliances such as desk lamps, fans, hairdryers and chargers can be purchased from a variety of supermarkets such as Walmart or pharmacy/convenience stores or electrical stores like RadioShack. If you do bring your own electronic items do not forget to bring BOTH a SRB to US power adapter and a converter. An adapter will simply let you insert a Serbian plug into an American socket whereas a converter will convert the voltage of the Serbian appliance for safe use and prevent you from blowing a fuse.



Some of your favorite foods may not be readily available in the US, so if you feel like you are going to have a craving while abroad, take some with you! Smaller sized portions may be useful for packing purposes, but be careful that glass bottles/jars do not smash in your suitcase and ruin your clothes.




If you take prescription medication on a regular basis, bring a sufficient supply. It is safest to have a list of all of your medications signed by a doctor as proof of legitimacy with you as you travel.

Although you may feel more comfortable using over the counter medications from home for common issues such as headaches, colds, upset stomach or minor injuries, aspirin, ointments and other remedies - these will be readily available in the US.

NOTE: Prescription medicines are very expensive in the United States even with insurance.


Medical and Dental Records: If possible, bring copies of detailed and up-to-date medical and dental records for yourself and any dependents travelling with you. This will not only help US doctors get a better idea of recent or past diagnoses and treatments, but may also help you avoid repeating these tests in the US at a potentially greater expense. It is also beneficial to make sure that these records reflect recent visits to your local health care professionals for general examinations, blood tests, dental and eye check-ups, x-rays, etc.

It may also be worthwhile to bring a copy of your immunization record with you. They will likely have been requested by your university in advance, but it is helpful to be prepared with a spare copy.

Academic Documents: If you are studying abroad for your full degree, it may be a good idea to bring official transcripts or certificates from secondary schools, colleges or universities. Additionally, bring or email yourself copies of any syllabi, catalogues, bulletins, course descriptions or other relevant materials issued by the secondary school or university you have attended most recently. These records can be very helpful to the admissions office and academic departments if questions arise concerning academic credit or advanced standing in courses at your US university.

Official copies sent directly from the institution or awarding body may be needed, so be sure to investigate how to order these documents from any previous academic programs.



We recommend you do not pack items you can easily buy in the US. These are basic things that you will need and that you should buy in the US (including the approximate price to pay):
• 1 twin sheet set: $12-15
• 1 blanket or comforter / a fluffy quilt: $15-20
• 1 pillow: $5-10
• 2 large towels: $5-6 each
• 2 washcloths: $5 for both
• 1 laundry basket (large plastic basket you put clothes in to take to laundry room): $3-6
• 1 trash basket for under your desk: $3
• 1 desk lamp: $10
• 1 small plastic basket to hold soap, shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, etc. when you go to the communal bathroom: $5
• 1 mug or large cup to make tea or coffee: $1-5
• Toiletries: soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, shampoo ($12-15)
• Laundry detergent: buy a cheap brand, they work just as well ($5)



Only bring those books, manuals or journals that you think may be useful for reference in your field of study and that definitely will not be available in the US. Most universities have their library catalogue on the internet (found on your university’s home page), where you can check the availability of books before departure. Once on campus, you can also contact the university library staff to verify the availability of any essential books.

Also, you can usually obtain books through interlibrary loans. Finally, sites such as www.amazon.com often have the books you will need for sale at a reasonable price that can be sent to your US residence.



Items such as notebooks, pens and paper are a different size in the US. For example, paper in the US is of a slightly wider size (8.5x11 inches) than in countries following the metric system, and pencils must have a certain quality of lead (called #2 in the US) to be read by testing machines frequently used for marking exams. Therefore, it is a good idea to purchase these on arrival in the US. These items are inexpensive in the U.S.


Once your plane has landed in the United States, you will need to go through US Passport Control and Customs. Be sure to get into the appropriate line based on your citizenship. There will be a waiting line for US and non-US citizens.

The following documents should be carried with you on the plane (not checked with your luggage):

• Passport with your visa
• I-20 form
• Evidence of financial assistance (if not included in the I-20)
• University Information (address, etc.)
• Serbian embassy/consulate contact information
• Serbian Embassy (Washington): 1-202-332-0333
• Serbian Consulate (Chicago): 1-312-670-6707

• Pack your laptop so you can easily remove it and sent it through the X-ray machine in its own plastic tray. Don’t forget to label your laptop computer. These are one of the most frequently forgotten items at screening checkpoints.
• If you are bringing a gift to friends or relatives, wrap it after you arrive at your destination. Otherwise, you might have to unwrap it to get through security – even if it is in checked luggage.
• Don’t bring prohibited items, such as pocket knives, scissors or other sharp objects, with you or pack them in your carry-on luggage.
• Place metal items in your carry-on bag. This includes loose change, keys, watches, mobile phones, pagers and personal data assistants (PDAs)
• Take off your coat as you approach the security screening area – you will need to place it in a plastic tray for safe passage through the X-ray equipment.
• Be prepared to remove your shoes; you’d be surprised how many shoes contain small pieces of metal; if you wear a belt with a large metal buckle, suspenders with metal clasps, or metal jewelry, be aware that they could trigger the alarm and prompt a check by hand.

This form has been automated in 2013 in order to increase efficiency. The paper form will no longer be provided to a traveler upon arrival, except in limited circumstances. If you need more information or need this form printed, visit www.cbp.gov/I94

I-20 or DS-2019 need to be signed by the university every time you leave the US in order for you to be allowed re-entry. Keep your original I-20 or DS-2019 with the passport at all times. When speaking with an immigration officer, be courteous and polite. Answer their questions about your stay in the US directly and honestly. It is probably not the best time to joke.

Once you tell them you are a student, they may ask questions about your studies, such as what university you will be attending, what you plan on studying, why you decided to study in the US, how long/where you will be staying, as well as anything else they feel is important to confirm your intentions in the US. They will also want to see your documentation from your US university so keep all official paperwork on you in your hand luggage/carry-on.

Visa holders of any classification are not required to hold a return ticket. However, you should carry with you, for presentation to US officials, evidence of funds sufficient for your visit (this can be the same paperwork you submitted to get your I-20 or DS-2019 and took to your visa interview) and proof that you have a residence outside of the US to which you intend to return at the end of your stay.


The U.S. government has strict penalties for not maintaining your student visa status. To maintain your status you must do the following:

• Maintain full-time enrollment (set by the university but minimum of 12 credits must be taken) at the university that issued your I-20 or DS-2019*
• Have a valid I-20 or DS-2019
• Have a valid passport
• Not violate your status in any way (ex: working illegally)

*If you wish to transfer to another institution, you must complete a transfer of your immigration documents by obtaining a new I-20 or DS-2019.

You should be admitted to the US for the specific period of time indicated on your I-20 or DS-2019. If it takes you longer to complete your studies than indicated on your I-20 or DS-2019, you must apply for an extension of your stay well before it expires (see your International Student Advisor for more information).


After passing through immigration, you will collect your luggage and proceed to customs. Normally all personal items are duty free, although Customs officers can, by law, demand duty on any item that you have had for less than one year. If you have any questions regarding US customs regulations, check with the US Embassy or Consulate nearest you.

Below are some tips to getting through customs quickly and successfully:

• You may have to declare the amount of money you have with you, but you do not have to pay duty on it. However, if you bring more than $10,000 (in cash, traveller’s cheques, etc.) you will have to pay a tax. We do not recommend carrying large amounts of cash with you.
• Baked goods, nuts and dried foods are allowed through customs, but most fruits and vegetables are not. Look at the US Embassy’s web page for a full list of approved and prohibited items.


While you are studying in the US, you will most likely want to travel. Not only will you see more of the country and take some spectacular photos, but you will also experience a range of cultures and customs within the US. But where to start? The East Coast states are smaller and easier to travel between, whereas the Mid-West and West Coast states are much larger. A drive through the state of California alone could take over 12 hours!


Your I-20 or DS-2019 form is one of the most important pieces of documentation while in the US because it proves you have a right to be in America. It is figuratively your gateway to studying abroad and should be treated as such. Keep it safe and make photocopies as back up. When travelling in and around the US make sure to take a copy of your I-20 or DS-2019 and passport as proof of purpose as you may be required to show it to an official. Regardless of where you are, it is important to know how to get around.


AMTRAK, America’s National Railroad Passenger Corporation, offers a network covering approximately 500 cities. Similar to the Eurorail passes, AMTRAK offers regional and national USA Rail Passes to permanent residents of foreign countries as well as individual tickets. These passes are valid for either a 15 or 30 day period and must be purchased before arrival in the US.



Bus travel is the least expensive means of public transportation. Tickets are purchased upon arrival at the station and there is rarely a need to make reservations. Bus stations are not always centrally located and may be in older, run-down parts of town. Students should be cautious in these areas. You should plan to arrive at the station at least 30 minutes before departure to get a seat.

Use companies such as Greyhound and Student Advantage to purchase student discount cards and passes (which can be ordered online or from a nearby Greyhound terminal).


Those more interested in urban attractions than in the landscape can usually find inexpensive airfares linking major US cities. Air shuttles run between hubs like New York City and Boston; Boston and Washington DC; and Los Angeles and San Francisco. Buses and trains likewise link cities, rendering travel from one urban center to another relatively simple.

Below are sites for comparison/budget airlines:

● www.jetblue.com
● www.studentuniverse.com
● www.statravel.com
● www.southwest.com
● www.expedia.com
● www.travelocity.com



The majority of US cities and towns are car-dependent, linked by a massive system of highways. Only the largest cities have a widely-used system of public transportation akin to what you would expect in a European capital like Belgrade. Thus many US residents rely on cars in their daily lives. Some of your classmates might be happy to drive you around. The International office may even have regular trips to grocery stores or outings that you can sign up for.

Depending on where you study/drive there are different driving rules and regulations, so be sure to research this thoroughly. For example, Americans are less familiar with roundabouts, and the US has mandatory STOP signs that we rarely see in Serbia and must be adhered to even if the road is seemingly clear. Your vehicle must come to a complete stop, and you must check to make sure the road is completely clear before proceeding.

Some states also have different road rules to others, so be sure to read up on these before travelling by car; for example, New York state allows right hand turns on red traffic lights whereas other states do not. Strictly enforced speed limits are in place with police at roadside stands monitoring them. If you are pulled over, remain calm and polite at all times and stay in your car unless you are being asked by the police officer to step out of it.

If you are in a car accident, do not leave the scene until the police have arrived. Even if no one is hurt, you must wait until the police have arrived and filed a report on the accident.


Many car rental companies will only rent cars to those over 25 years of age, or will charge you additional insurance fees if you are under 25 (often a surcharge of up to $25-30 extra per day). Do shop around on comparison and renting websites from various companies such as Hertz, Avis or Enterprise as prices and insurance charges vary between companies. If renting works out to be too expensive, keep in mind that many cities have transport links to other cities via national bus/train services; just make sure to allow extra time for delays and unpredictable timetables. Check transportation websites for more details and be sure to ask your new American friends as they will be more knowledgeable on transportation.



Budget accommodations and hostels are not as common in the US as in Europe yet they are on the rise in larger urban cities popular with tourists. Some options include:

• YMCA/YWCA (Y’s): Y’s are located in downtown or central business districts, and facilities may include a gym, swimming pool and/or an inexpensive cafeteria. Y accommodation is occasionally designated women-only, but it is usually co-ed.
• HI AYH: Also known as HI (Hostel International), these are part of the International Youth Hostel Federation that has over 150 hostels in major cities and in rural locations throughout the US. Most urban hostels have 24-hour access, while rural ones may have a curfew and limited daytime hours.
• Hostel Bookers: These are cheaper hostels located worldwide that can be found in numerous locations across the US. Choice of individual, group and gender specified dorms are available. The hostel's profile page will show photos of the location, a map and the hostel's features such as internet access, towels, lockers and special organized events.
• Hotels: Hotels can be more expensive, and reservations should be made in advance. The room charge typically does not include meals, although some include a continental breakfast. Charges may vary according to season.
• Motels: Motels offer economical accommodation for travelers. They are usually cheaper than hotels and offer car parking directly outside the rooms. Motels can range from clean and nicely furnished to very dubious. Any Yellow Pages will list local motels. Credit cards or deposits are often required for reservations. Common examples are Motel 6 or Howard Johnson.


You can exchange money at the airport on your arrival. However, bear in mind that you will be charged fees or that the company may “charge” you by giving you a lower exchange rate.

One key difference between US and Serbian banks is that many do not have immediate foreign exchange facilities. Therefore, most Serbian students will take some emergency funds in US dollars or exchange some euros at the airport to cover their transportation and meals on arrival.

If you take more than $10,000 at one time in cash (you should not need that amount of cash), you will have to declare this at Customs and may be taxed. Regardless of the amount of cash you take with you, consider splitting up your money between various parts of your luggage (for example, do not put it all in your wallet or all in your suitcase should either get lost or stolen).

The use of debit and credit cards is much more widespread in the US. You will rarely find that stores have a minimum spending amount, so you can use your card to buy a $1.50 coffee or $200 plane ticket. Some students will open a US bank account and obtain a US debit card if they are abroad for a year or longer.


As an international student, you will find it difficult to obtain a credit card with an American bank. In order to be approved for a credit card, you will need to provide your source and amount of income, length of residency at the present address and bank information. You will find that most companies accept foreign credit cards, so if you plan to buy things on credit it is a good idea to bring your existing card to the States.

Most banks will charge a foreign transaction fee, which may be up to 3-5% of the cost of the purchase so many students opt to bring their Serbian credit cards for emergency use only.

In the US some gas companies, department stores and other organizations offer company-specific credit cards that can only be used to purchase items from their store. These are not loyalty cards, and they often charge high interest rates, especially if the invoice is not paid within a specified number of days, so it’s important to be aware of the terms and conditions of these credit cards if you sign up for them.


You should research several banks to determine which bank offers the best services for your needs. Most banks have main offices in the center of a city or town. Smaller branches are usually found in other parts of a city or town and on campus at larger universities. Your international student advisor can suggest which banks are most convenient.

As noted above, you are charged a fee ($2 or $3) to withdraw money from the ATM of another bank. So it is important to select a bank that has an ATM or branch near campus.



Unlike in Serbia, the US has very few banks that operate in all parts of the country. Most banks operate on a regional, state or city basis. Therefore, size and services vary greatly. If you are completing a full degree in the US or plan to seek paid employment in the US, one of the first things you should do after you arrive is establish a US bank account. Generally speaking, you will need your passport, details from your visa, proof of enrolment in the university, residence details (both at the university and in Serbia) and the minimum deposit amount (cash, cheque, travellers’ cheques or bank transfer).



Some other factors to consider include the minimum balance to open an account, minimum balance to maintain the account, fees for overdrafts, online banking and interest rates. Also see if the bank you have chosen has a student option. There are two types of accounts in the US:

• Savings (deposit) accounts are accounts that earn higher interest but may have a minimum balance requirement 
• Checking accounts (in US English “cheque” is spelled “check”) are akin to a current account (tekući račun) in Serbia

You can open a new account, get cheques and set your PIN in one appointment. If you have a savings account and a checking account at the same bank, you can easily transfer funds from one to the other online.



If you write a cheque for more money than you have in the bank, you create an “overdraft.” US banks charge a penalty fee (usually around $20) for having an overdraft of even $1, and do not make exceptions for students. The tricky thing is that if you are paying by debit card, you may still be able to withdraw the money but will incur a penalty for that withdrawal, so be sure to continually monitor your account.

If you pay by personal cheque, the bank will charge you a fine of $10 to $25 or more for each overdrawn cheque. The bank will also return your check, unpaid, to the person or business to which you wrote the cheque. If the payee is a store or business, that payee may also charge you $5 to $20 for the trouble the bad cheque has caused, and they may not accept your cheques again. It is also illegal to issue a “bad cheque” (a cheque for which there is not sufficient money in the account) on purpose.



Note of Caution: Check with your international student services office before undertaking any form of employment while abroad, whether you are studying for a full or short-term degree, what visa you hold or whether the employment is paid or unpaid, on-campus or off-campus.

Most institutions have similar ground rules for working during your studies, which we aim to summarize below. However, this is meant to be merely a starting point and not official information on your rights to work in the US.


Students on an F-1 visa may work on campus for up to 20 hours per week during term time and 40 hours during the holidays, in a paid or unpaid capacity. Work may be related to your major (tutoring students, working in a research lab, etc.) or casual work (refereeing intramural football matches, working as a Resident Assistant in a dorm). You may begin on-campus work from 30 days before your first semester of study.

On-campus work does not require a change of visa status. However, we recommend that you seek approval for any paid work from your visa sponsor, likely the international students office that issued your I-20.

To find on-campus jobs, check first with your careers office and the jobs section of your university website. You may also want to enquire with offices such as your academic department, hall of residence, campus dining, the library and campus recreation center.

F-1 visa holders may take up volunteer work off-campus, provided that their primary purpose for being in the US remains studying. To qualify as volunteer work, the student must:

• Not receive any form of compensation (salary, hourly wages, stipend, tips, bonus, transport costs, housing or any other benefit in exchange for work performed).
• Not displace a US worker by taking over a position that was previously a paid post. You should be doing work that other interns/volunteers would have done without pay.

PLEASE NOTE: unpaid work experience for which you do not receive academic credit may be classified as volunteer work rather than CPT or pre-completion OPT if it meets the above criteria.

It is recommended that you clear all off-campus activities with your international student office in advance.

Paid Casual Work: F-1 students may not complete paid casual work off campus while completing their degree. In very exceptional cases, the international office may grant off-campus employment authorization to students whose financial support has been significantly affected due to unforeseen circumstances that were beyond the student’s control and for which on-campus work and CPT do not provide sufficient funds.

For example, this could be the sudden withdrawal of a scholarship, large fluctuations in the exchange rate, etc. Though this type of authorization is granted rarely, check with your international office if you feel you may qualify.

CPT - Paid and Unpaid Internships for Academic Credit: CPT is temporary authorization to work off-campus for the purpose of academic training. Think of this type of internship as academic training that takes place at a work site rather than in a classroom. (This is as opposed to casual work, which is not vital to your academic development.)

In order to qualify for CPT:

• You must be currently enrolled as an F-1 student.
• You will need to first secure an internship in your field of study and arrange to receive academic credit for the internship (ex: by registering for an internship class).
• The internship should be an integral or important part of your degree program, which you can demonstrate by showing the international students office the curriculum for your degree program.

If completing an internship is not integral to your program, you may intern off-campus through pre-completion OPT.

• You must have been enrolled at the university for more than 9 months (one academic year) before beginning CPT. Therefore, it is unlikely that short-term study abroad students would qualify.

The internship may be paid or unpaid. You will be considered part-time if you work less than 20 hours per week and full-time if you work more than 20 hours. Though it is rare to complete CPT full-time during your studies, you can apply for permission to complete CPT full-time during the holidays. However, this may impact the length of your OPT time. Ask your international students office for more information.



F-2 visa holders are not permitted to complete paid work under any circumstances, but may complete voluntary work on- or off-campus. Alternatively, F-2 visa holders may apply for their own visas to study or work in the US. See the US Embassy’s website for more information.



Optional Practical Training (OPT) is an outstanding professional and academic benefit of completing a full degree program on an F-1 visa. OPT provides work authorization for up to 12 months of practical training.

Authorized employment may be paid or unpaid and on- or off- campus. However, it must relate to your field of study.

Students of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) may apply for an additional 17 months of OPT for a total of 29 months. That is more than two years! Students who complete a second full degree in the US at the higher level (ex: a BA and then an MA) would be eligible for OPT twice.

Most students will do OPT at the end of their studies. However, pre-completion OPT is available for those students who would like to complete a paid internship off-campus during their studies, but do not qualify for CPT. Pre-completion OPT will deduct from your 12 months. Part-time pre-completion OPT will count as 50% of the time (so two months part-time, pre-completion OPT will deduct one month from your post-completion OPT).

Most students apply for OPT during their last semester of study. You can apply as early as 120 days before the end of your degree and 60 days after graduation. You do not have to have a job offer lined up. However, a Designated School Official (DSO) at your US university must approve OPT before you can apply to USCIS for your Employment Authorization Document. You will also complete the I-765 form and pay a fee of approximately $350. Note this process can take up to three months, so you are encouraged to apply early.


Although filing US taxes may not be the most exciting thing you do during your time abroad, it is still something you have to keep in mind. All F and J visa holders, as well as any dependents accompanying them to the US, are required to file a US federal tax return form, whether or not they have earned any income in the US. Filing tax forms does not necessarily mean you have to pay taxes.

Please note that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is the official source of information about US taxes, and your university’s international office will be a great resource when filing for taxes. Any information the IRS or your international office provide will supersede what is in this guide. This guide is meant merely to provide a starting point for your own research into tax issues in the US and is not in any way meant to be taken as official tax advice.



All F-1 Student and J-1 Exchange Visitor visa holders, as well as any dependents accompanying them to the US, are required to file a US federal tax return form even if they have not earned any US income. You may also have to file state income taxes in addition to federal taxes, and you will most likely pay sales tax on purchases.

Please note that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is the official source of information about US taxes, and your university’s international office will be a great resource when filing for taxes.



The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) collects all federal taxes. As noted above, all F-1 Student and J-1 Exchange Visitor visa holders, as well as any dependents accompanying them to the US, are required to file a US federal tax return form even if they have not earned any US income. Failure to file a tax form can affect your ability to re-enter the US or the success of an application to change visa status.

US tax year is the calendar year (1 January to 31 December). The filing deadline is 15 April of the following year.

Under the US system, the individual is responsible for determining income tax liability (how much tax is owed) and for filing an individual (or joint/married) tax return. While you can set tax payments to be deducted from your monthly pay cheques, you will still have to file a tax return to determine how much you owe and whether you have overpaid through your deductions (and therefore will receive a refund) or have underpaid (and therefore have to pay taxes).



This guide will help you determine what tax filing obligations you have for the 2012 tax year.

I was not present in the US during the 2012 calendar year. I only arrived after January 1, 2013.
• If you were not present in the US during 2012, you have no obligation to file taxes for 2012.

I was present in the U.S. during the 2013 calendar year. The following describes my situation:
• I did not earn any US source income at all during 2013. File Form 8843 only by April 15, 2014. 
• I earned US source income from on-campus employment, assistantships, scholarships/fellowships, and/or off-campus employment. File Form 8843 and Form 1040NR by April 15, 2014.

If you are unable to file your forms by April 15, 2014 you must submit an application for automatic extension of time to file your tax return. More information can be found on the IRS website.



In addition to federal taxes, you may also have to pay state income taxes. Each state has its own income tax regulations. Some states (Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wyoming) have no state income tax, while other states have regulations that require international students to file some sort of state tax return even if they are earning no US income. For more information, go to your state’s government website.



Sales tax varies by state. Some states (Alaska, Delaware, Montana, Oregon, and New Hampshire) do not charge sales tax. Other states do charge sales tax but only on particular items. This is not something that you have to file for; rather, it added to purchases at time of sale. It is important to note that US sales tax is not included in the published price of the item.

For example, a book may be marked $5.99 but may cost between two and eight per cent more once sales tax is added. Each year the Internal Revenue Service publishes "Publication No. 519: U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens" which we encourage you to download and read thoroughly.

Q: Where do I start?

In order to begin filing US taxes, you need to first determine your tax status. Anyone who is not a US citizen is considered an “alien” for tax purposes. To find out which federal income tax return forms to file, you need to determine if you are a resident alien or a nonresident alien.

Q: What is my tax status?

It is important to note that your tax status is different to your immigration status; you may be a citizen of a different country but be considered a US resident for US tax purposes. Generally, F-1 and J-1 students are considered nonresident aliens for tax purposes for their first five years in the US, and non-student J-1 visa holders (such as professors, scholars, researchers, etc.) are considered nonresident aliens for at least their first two years in the US, unless they are being paid entirely by a foreign employer, in which case this would extend to four years.

**As the majority of those students with F or J visas are nonresident aliens, the information provided on these pages is for nonresident tax aliens.**

Q: How do I determine if I am a nonresident alien?

As a non-US citizen, you are considered a nonresident alien for tax purposes unless you meet the 
Substantial Presence Test. Some universities may provide a tax software program called CINTAX that will help you to determine if you are a resident or nonresident and help you fill out the applicable federal tax forms.

Q: What is the Substantial Presence Test, and what does it mean for me?

The Substantial Presence Test is the formula used by the IRS to determine when a nonimmigrant student becomes a resident for tax purposes. F-1 and J-1 students are not subject to the substantial presence test until after five years in the US, and J-1 researchers and scholars after two years, as long as you file Form 8843.

Q: F-1 and J-1 students who comply with their visa requirements are considered “exempt individuals.”

Does this mean I don’t have to file taxes?

No. The term “exempt individual” is used to identify those individuals who are not subject to the Substantial Presence Test. Exempt individuals must still file the appropriate tax forms to establish their nonresident status (form 8843) and pay taxes on income earned.

Q: What income is taxable?

For nonresident aliens, the following are considered taxable income for federal and/or state taxes: wages from on campus work (including assistantships), scholarships paid by a US source (university, foundation, etc.), tips, interest on savings and dividends on stocks. Nonresident aliens do not have to file US taxes for Serbian earnings, money from parents, or scholarships paid by a Serbian source. For more information on what qualifies as taxable income, see the IRS website

Q: What tax exemptions am I entitled to?

According to the IRS website, “In general, those portions of a scholarship, fellowship, or grant used to pay tuition, fees, books, supplies, or equipment are classified as a ‘Qualified Scholarship’ and are not includible in the gross income of the recipient under Internal Revenue Code section 117 if the recipient is a candidate for a degree. Any portion of the scholarship, fellowship, or grant that does not correlate to the five items mentioned above is includible in the gross income of the recipient, which means that it is subject to withholding. Stipends, tuition waivers, or any other financial aid paid to or on behalf of nonresident aliens which require the recipient to perform services past, present, or future, in exchange for the financial aid are taxable as wages, are reportable to IRS on Forms 941 and W-2, and are subject to the withholding rules discussed under ‘Wages Paid to Aliens’. For non-degree candidates, the entire grant is includible in the gross income of the recipient and is subject to withholding. Research grants awarded to post-doctoral research scholars are entirely includible in the gross income of the nonresident alien recipient and, as such, are subject to withholding. However, certain deductions related to the research may be allowable against the gross income.”

This means that if you are a nonresident degree-seeking student, then US-based scholarships used only for tuition, fees, books, supplies or equipment are exempt from taxation. US-based scholarships used for anything other than the five items listed above including scholarships used for living expenses and maintenance are subject to taxation. Also, assistantships are considered wages and therefore taxable. If you are a non-degree-seeking student, all grant or scholarship money is subject to taxation.

Q: What forms do I need to file?

As mentioned above, all nonresident aliens, regardless of whether they earned taxable income, must file form 8843 to establish their nonresident tax status. Typically, international students and scholars who earned taxable income during a particular year must file form 1040NR or form 1040NR-EZ. Additionally, you may also need to file state income tax forms. You will need to check with your state government’s website or international office for more information.

Q: What if I am a nonresident alien on a short-term study abroad program and DID NOT work in the US or receive any taxable income? Do I still have to file any forms?

Yes, but you would file only form 8843.

Q: What if I am a nonresident alien and I DID work in the US or receive taxable income?

In general, most students in this situation will file form 8843 and also form 1040NR or 1040NREZ. In order to file tax form 1040NR or NREZ, you will first need a Social Security Number.

Q: What is the difference between the 1040NR form and the 1040NREZ?

The 1040NREZ is a simplified version of the 1040NR form and can be completed by nonresidents who meet certain requirements. For a list of requirements, see the instruction manual for form 1040NREZ.

Q: I have dependents. Do they have to file tax forms?

Yes, F-2 and J-2 dependents are required to file tax forms, even if they did not work. J-2 dependents must follow the same procedures as J-1 students. F-2 dependents should file Form 8843.

Q: I am earning US wages (including an assistantship). What do I need to do to file my taxes?

First, you will need to apply for a Social Security Number. When you begin work, you will fill out the W-4 form for your employer. On this form, you will be asked whether you would like the US government to withhold a portion of each paycheck, based on projected earnings, to cover the taxes you will owe at the end of the tax year.

If you overestimate your withholdings (i.e., take out more money from each pay cheque than necessary), you will get a refund once you file your taxes. If you elect for the government not to remove a portion with each pay cheque, you must pay the full amount of taxes owed once you file your taxes for the year. At the end of the year, you will receive a W-2 form from your employer that details the amount of money you have earned in the past year and how much was withheld. As you fill out your federal tax forms, you will calculate how much total money needs to be paid or is owed to you. It is important to keep your pay stubs as you receive your pay cheques in case there is a misprint or other discrepancy on your W-2.

Q: Do I need a Social Security Number?

Only if you are earning income in the US. You must have a Social Security Number (SSN) in order to file a federal tax return for any US-based taxable income. It is a nine digit number in the format of 3 digits – 2 digits – 4 digits, that is used for both tax and identification purposes. You can apply for a SSN at your local Social Security Office when you arrive in the States. If you need to start work straight away when you arrive in the US (to start an assistantship for example), ask for a receipt from the local office so that you can present it to your employer until you receive the official paper card. In order to qualify for a SSN, you must meet certain requirements, which can be found on the Social Security administration’s website.

Q: Do I need an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)?

Anyone who does not meet the requirements to obtain a SSN must apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). The application form, Form W-7, and instructions can be downloaded from the IRS website. It can take up to five to six weeks to receive your number, and tax forms submitted without an ITIN will not be processed.

Q: I’m a nonresident alien, but Social Security and Medicare taxes (FICA) were deducted from my pay cheques. What do I do?

Nonresident alien students are not subject to Social Security and Medicare taxes, but your employer may not be aware of this. If your employer deducts taxes from your pay cheques for Social Security and Medicare, you should first ask your employer for a refund. If you are unable to obtain a refund from your employer, you must file Form 843 and Form 8316 to obtain a refund from the IRS for Social Security and Medicare taxes held in error.

Q: I am completing Optional Practical Training (OPT). Is there anything important I should know when filing taxes?

It is important to keep in mind that US employers may deduct Social Security and Medicare taxes (FICA) from international students’ pay cheques although nonresident alien students are not subject to Social Security and Medicare taxes. If you are an international student on OPT, a nonresident alien for tax purposes, and your employer has deducted Social Security and Medicare taxes in error, you are entitled to a refund. It is also important to keep in mind that if you have been in the US for more than five years, you may be subject to the Substantial Presence Test. If you have been present in the US for more than 183 days over the last three years, but not present for more than 183 in the last one year, you may qualify as a nonresident for tax purposes if you can prove a closer connection to a foreign country than to the US. For conditions and details, see the IRS website.


In addition to tuition and fees, you should budget for your living costs. Keep in mind that prices vary by region, personal choice and whether the campus is located in a metropolitan or rural area. Do check out US university websites (the financial aid page in particular) that will have the most accurate estimates.

This is a rough estimate, taken from an average of five universities but it can help you get started:


The price of books is not included in tuition and fees. Students at US universities are expected to purchase textbooks each semester. Although there will most likely be some copies available, university libraries are not required to carry multiple copies of textbooks.

Bookstores located on campus stock all required class materials. They will also have a list of what books you will need to buy for each class. While this is convenient, they can be a bit more expensive especially if there are no used books available. Look in used book stores and check campus bulletins (notice boards) for used textbooks from other students.

Another option for purchasing books is online. Some sites offer university textbooks that are cheaper than the college store. Be sure that you are ordering the correct edition requested by your professor and allow enough time for delivery to your US address. Some students most commonly use Amazon, Varsity Books, TextBooks and Barnes and Noble.

At the end of the semester, you can sell your books back either to other students or the bookstore itself.

Often, you will get a very small portion of the money you spent to purchase the book, but it is still one way you can recycle your money for each semester’s books.


Many students will buy an American mobile phone while abroad. This may be a hidden cost of studying abroad depending on how much you use your phone!


As there is no universal health insurance plan in the US, you are responsible for finding suitable coverage for your entire stay. Most universities have health insurance plans for students, which may be mandatory in some cases. Enquire with the International Student Office.

PLEASE NOTE: Maintaining health insurance while in the U.S. is imperative. Even a minor procedure or hospitalization in the States can cost several thousand dollars.

MEAL PLAN ($2,000-3,000 / YEAR)

Meal plans for campus dining halls and food facilities are occasionally included in tuition but are normally extra expenses. Most universities will also allow students living off campus to purchase on-campus meal plans. The prices for these plans vary drastically depending on the number of meals per week that are included and how much you eat/spend.

Please note that if you choose not to purchase a meal plan, you will still need to budget a similar amount for food.

HOUSING ($8,500-$12,000 / YEAR)

On-campus housing is paid by the semester and off-campus housing is paid in monthly installments.


Utilities are usually included in the on-campus accommodation cost but are usually not included in off-campus rent. This utility cost varies according to the number of people in the facility, climate and roommate habits.

SPRING BREAK ($0-$1,500)

Spring Break is a weeklong holiday built into the academic year, and many students plan trips during this time. Depending on where your school is located and what travel plans you make, Spring Break can be very expensive. Not all students leave campus during this time, and the break can be used to catch up on your studies.

University clubs and organizations usually plan trips for their members or any interested student. Whether it is a ski trip or a volunteer alternative Spring Break service project, Spring Break packages with organizations are fun and easier on your wallet.

FLIGHTS HOME ($800-$1,500 / RETURN)

Depending on your financial situation and school location, you may choose to fly home for the summer or winter breaks. Some universities close all residence halls during break, so you may want to go home or find temporary housing (this is a great time to stay with a host family!)

The College Board website also breaks down typical expenses and rough costs, but their estimates can very between semester costs and full-degree four year costs.

This page will help you to start thinking about the various forms of communication that are available to you while you are abroad. This is not an exhaustive guide; this page simply presents the basic information and is a basis for you to do your own further research online.



Many students will buy an American cell phone while abroad. This may be a hidden cost of studying abroad as students don’t realize that on some plans Americans pay to send AND receive texts and calls. This is definitely cheaper than using your Serbian phone, but beware the costs add up. Of course, this also largely depends on the type of person you are and how often you use your phone. For short-term study abroad students, pay as you go phones may be the most sensible option. For full-degree students a contract may be more cost-efficient. Visit network websites such as T-Mobile, Verizon, AT&T and Sprint to compare prices and additional features such as free evening and weekend calls and data usage, along with various applications. Be aware that some networks will charge for you going over your allocated plan even if it is by 1 minute, so be sure to research this in advance or speak with an American friend or international advisor for advice. Relatively inexpensive handsets can be purchased from stores such as Walmart, Target or electronic stores, such as RadioShack or Best Buy.


Most dormitories have a "dorm" or "hall" or "floor" phone, which students share, or phones installed in each room. These phones can make internal calls to other rooms on campus, or they can make phone calls out of the hall for a charge, but this may need to be set up. For convenience, some students choose to share a private phone with their roommate(s). If this phone is not already placed in the students' room, the roommates must make arrangements to have it installed, and they must pay the telephone bills. If you live off campus, you should have a telephone, not just for convenience, but also for safety.


If you would rather avoid purchasing a mobile/cell phone or plan to make many calls back to the Serbia, Skype provides users with free computer to computer chat and webcam calls, handy for speaking to friends and family overseas. You also have the option to use Skype to make telephone calls by topping up your paid account and calling landlines or mobile numbers through your computer’s keypad and microphone. Often, the minute rates for calls to international landlines and mobiles are significantly lower on Skype than through your mobile service provider.


Almost all US universities provide their students with the option to live in residence halls or dormitories (dorms) on campus. Living on campus will allow you to be more connected to the student community. It is a great and easy place to meet US students and make new friends quickly! Usually there is high demand for residence hall space. When you receive your acceptance letter, return the housing application (including roommate questionnaire) as soon as possible, as space is often allocated on the basis of status and completed documentation.

In the dorms there are rules to control noise level, cleanliness, number of visitors and other basic aspects of community living. These rules vary by building, and there could be a curfew for co-ed guests and designated ‘quiet hours’ when most students are sleeping.


If you live on campus, you will likely be assigned one of the following types of housing:

• Co-ed Residence Halls: Co-ed dorms have both male and female rooms in the same building, but always with same-sex roommates in each room.

• Single-Sex Residence Halls: Rather than a co-ed style of living, these dorms are for those who prefer to live in an all-male or all-female environment. Entire residence halls or parts of halls (such as certain floors) are designated for one gender.

• Themed Housing: Some universities have themed housing. There may be a dorm dedicated to international students, students interested in community service, athletes or students studying a language.

• University Apartments: Some universities have on-campus apartments, which offer the feel of living off-campus but have the convenience of living on-campus. Apartments are always in high demand; priority is generally given to upper-level undergraduate, graduate and married students. However, some universities also give priority to those whose hometowns or place of origin are farthest from the school, such as international students.

• Married Student Housing: At some universities, apartments or houses are owned and operated by the university exclusively for married students and families. Only a limited number of spaces are set aside, so demand for these units may be high.

Any of the above mentioned dorms can be set up as a hall or suite. A hall style dorm is set up in rows of rooms with bathrooms at the ends of the hall. These halls and bathrooms can be shared with many other students. A suite style dormitory is set up in a circle of rooms with a smaller bathroom and smaller common room. These are often shared between six to ten people.


A Resident Assistant (RA) is an older student (not a first-year) who is employed by the university to oversee the students living in the residence halls. The RA lives in the hall with the students, arranges social events, activities and mixers for residents of the dorm, including information sessions, hall snacks and chats, movie nights and dances. More importantly, RA’s and Resident Directors (RD’s), the RA's supervisors, uphold university policy, maintain a safe and clean environment, plan events and are a valuable source of information, advice and support for students. They are trained by the university to give advice and guidance and act as a mentor, meaning they are your first port of call if you have any concerns or issues with regards to both your living situation and your student experience in general.


Many universities require students to share a room. This is not only a guaranteed way to get to know other people, but it is also cheaper than paying for a single-person room (single rooms may be reserved for upperclassmen anyway). Your roommate will be someone of the same gender, whom you most likely will not know. But don’t worry! Many first-year students at some universities complete a roommate questionnaire about their interests and general living habits, which the university then uses to match roommates.


Be honest when completing your questionnaire, as that is the best way for you to receive a compatible roommate or your roommate could be very different from you, but often roommate arrangements lead to life-long friendships! On rare occasions, roommates can prove mismatched. If this situation arises, do not hesitate to contact your RA and discuss the situation! Most roommate conflicts can be resolved through discussion between the roommates and RA. In extreme cases, it is possible to change rooms or roommates.


Dorm rooms are equipped with basic furniture, usually including a bed frame and mattress, closet and/or chest of drawers and a desk and chair. Some universities offer a safe, mini-fridge and microwave to let. Some halls have community kitchens available, which are bigger, with a fridge, microwave and oven.


Rather than a private bath or toilet, residents generally share a large hall bathroom. These bathrooms are separated by gender and could be shared by many people. Many students have shower flip-flops and a plastic carrier to transport their toiletries, as personal items are often not left in community spaces.


Dorms also often have common rooms where students may gather for meetings with the RA, to watch television, play games, do homework or spend time with friends.


Bear in mind all US universities will have days off for holidays and some campus housing closes for holidays longer than a day. Classes will generally be out of session on:

• Labor Day (first Monday in September)
• Fall Break (mid-fall)
• Veterans Day (11 November)
• Thanksgiving and the day after (third Thursday and Friday in November)
• Winter Break (extending from late December to early January)
• Martin Luther King Jr. Day (mid-January)
• Spring Break (mid-spring)
• Memorial Day (last Monday in May)
• Independence Day (4 July)

However, check your university housing website or ask your RA for details about dorm closures and housing options (including finding a host family!)


If you cannot find accommodation in university dormitories on-campus (dorms) or would prefer to live in an apartment or house, you may have to look for housing off-campus. Types of accommodation include: apartments, houses, privately-operated dorms and rooms in a private home. It is more common to be renting directly from a landlord rather than working through a letting agent.


To find off-campus housing, ask the university’s housing office or consult the classified advertising section of the local and university newspapers. Consider using websites such as Craigslist to find available rooms or apartments, as well as used furniture. Furniture and household goods are available at reasonable prices at superstores like Target and IKEA or thrift stores in the area.

In addition to Craigslist or local/student newspaper listings, some university student services may also host off-campus living mixers or email lists in order for you to meet other students who may not have arranged housing or need a roommate/house mate.

If you are living in an expensive area, you may want to find roommates to share the rent and lower the costs. Students can even advertise for roommates. If you respond to one of these ads, you will probably want to meet with the other student in-person before moving in together. This is an excellent way to determine if it would be a mutually agreeable arrangement. If you decide to live alone or with your family, it would be helpful for someone familiar with the local community and rental procedures to accompany you while you are looking for an apartment.


Depending on what region you plan to live in, off-campus housing can be very expensive (such as NYC where you may pay more to live there than in tuition) or very affordable (in rural areas of the South and Midwest). Check out your university's financial page for an estimate of off-campus living costs, as well as the housing or residential life page, which may include information on finding off-campus housing.


Water and local taxes (including garbage collection and recycling costs) are usually included in rent. However, gas, electricity, internet and telephone services are usually not included in the rent and must be paid by the renter each month. It is a good idea to get an estimate of monthly utility bills from the utility company or previous tenants before you sign a lease.

Utility bills can add from $75 to $200 to the rent each month, depending on how many roommates you have. Usually, communal laundry facilities will be available on the premises. If machines are not available on site, check that there is a convenient and reasonably priced laundromat/launderette nearby.


If an apartment is beyond walking distance from the campus, it may prove to be inconvenient to get to class unless it is linked by public transportation. If public transportation is easily accessible, keep the hours of operation in mind when you arrange your class schedule during course registration. If you plan to have a car, consider the cost and availability of parking space both at your residence and on or near campus. The proximity of a grocery store, post office and bank if needed should also be taken into account.


A lease is a contract that legally commits the renter to rent a specific apartment or house for a specified length of time, usually a calendar year.

Many landlords require payment of the first and last months’ rent ("advanced rent") before the tenants move in. Additionally, landlords require a security deposit (or "cleaning’ deposit"), which usually equals one month’s rent. Be sure to always obtain a receipt for the security deposit as proof of payment. If the tenant leaves the apartment in good condition the landlord returns the security deposit. Before you sign the lease agreement, take note of imperfections (such as nail holes in the walls, chipped tiles, damaged woodwork or soiled carpet) or even take photos as visual proof with the landlord so that you will not be held responsible when you move out.

Don’t forget to stay in touch with us. We would love to hear about your experiences.

You can email us at alumni@iacbg.org.