Here are some other topics to consider while planning to live abroad in the U.S.

You will need to open an account with a bank when you arrive in the U.S. Most banks require two pieces of identification, such as your passport and DS 2019 and likely your living address.

Documents you should take with you to open your account:

  • Your unexpired passport
  • Your I-94 card
  • Your I-20, DS-2019, or I-797 approval notice
  • Any secondary form of identification you may have

Types of Accounts & Cards

Checking Accounts

The cost of checking varies from bank to bank. Some banks charge per transaction, some have a basic monthly fee, and others offer free services if you maintain a certain minimum balance in your account at all times. Be careful to keep an accurate record of every check you write in order to avoid having checks returned and incurring additional charges. “Bouncing” a check (writing a check for more money than you actually have in the account) is illegal and can cost you time and money.

Debit Cards

A debit card, also known as a check card, allows you to withdraw or deposit money to your bank account using an automatic teller machine (ATM) and to make purchases at stores that accept the card. Debit cards are not credit cards, however, and they can be used only to the extent that you have funds in the account to which they are linked.

Bank Cards

Many banks issue cards that enable you to deposit and withdraw money 24 hours a day by use of an Automated Teller Machine (ATM). These machines, which are frequently located outside the bank, are very convenient. Banks that are members of a national ATM network allow you to access your funds with your bank card at selected ATM’s throughout the country, but sometimes may charge a fee.

Credit Cards

Credit cards may be convenient, especially if you unexpectedly have major expenses. You must understand that you can easily accumulate large bills with credit cards, and before you know it, you may be in debt. Make sure you stay within your budget when making credit card purchases.

Foreign Currency

If you deposit a check drawn on a foreign bank in your U.S. checking account, it may have to go through a collection process. This means that the money is not available to you until the U.S. bank has collected it from the foreign bank. It may take several weeks before the money is credited to your account.

Cell Phones

U.S. cellular phone companies do offer prepaid plans and are often familiar with J1 students and their special needs. Below is some information that you may find helpful when considering whether or not to purchase a prepaid service or a GSM SIM card that includes prepaid minutes.

Prepaid Cellular Service

All major cell phone providers in the U.S. offer prepaid wireless plans. When buying prepaid wireless service, a provider makes an agreed-upon number of minutes available to your cell phone, and you pay for those minutes at the time of agreement. Once you have used the minutes you purchased, you need to buy more to be able to keep using your phone continuously.


GSM (Global System for Mobiles) is a more common worldwide version of cellular phone systems. There are 2 U.S. providers that work with GSM SIM cards in the U.S.: AT&T and T-Mobile. If you choose to purchase a GSM SIM card to use your phone in the U.S. and need a pre-paid plan, consider the above 2 providers (AT&T or T-Mobile) or another party like campusSIMS to provide you mobile access while you are here in the States.

Due to U.S. tax treaties with several countries, J-1 Visa holders, interns and trainees are exempt from Federal Unemployment, Medicare, Social Security, Federal, and most State and Local Income taxes. At the beginning of your training, your host company provided you with a W-4 Form. The IRS used the information you indicated on this form to calculate the taxes to be withheld from your wages/stipend. In the event that these taxes have mistakenly been deducted, you can claim a refund when you file your taxes. You can expect a 10 to 20% deduction of taxes from your payroll wages that go to state and federal taxes.

As a J-1 student who worked for an American company or organization within the last calendar year, you must file your taxes with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) of the US Government, as well as with the state you resided in. The good news is that you may be eligible for a tax refund!

United Studies is partnering with to assist J-1 students in the tax refund process by providing paperwork, answering questions, and submitting the form for you. The deadline to file your U.S. income tax return is April 15 annually.

As you are preparing for your J-1 SWT experience, we want you to have a realistic understanding of the costs that you can expect during your stay. Please review this list and the budget spreadsheet carefully.

Transportation into the United States

  • This can be very expensive. Most flights from Europe to the U.S. are around $1500.
  • You will need to be prepared to pay for transportation from the airport at your final destination to get to your living accommodations. You may have to take a bus, train, or taxi depending on availability and cost.

Rent and Utilities

  • Depending on where you live, rent can range anywhere from less than $400 per month up to thousands of dollars. Rent may or may not include utilities (water, electricity, phone, television, or internet).
  • Utilities (Water, Electricity…) can range from $20 – $500 based on the place you live in. Ask other residents or the landlord for an estimate.

Public transportation to and from work

  • This varies based on the distance from your home to your work, as well as the city in which you live.
  • If public transit is available, plan on at least $10 per day to get around town.
  • If public transit is not available, taxis might be your only option, beyond biking or driving.


  • Food can be very expensive, if you eat out frequently.
  • Plan on at least $20 per day for food.


  • Have your prescriptions filled before you arrive, but if you need medicine while you’re in the U.S., pharmacies are typical very accessible.
  • Most over-the-counter medication is between $5 – $15

Spending Money

  • You must bring at least $1,000 with you to cover your initial expenses.
  • Don’t forget that you might not be getting a paycheck for up to a month due to payroll schedules!


It is likely that you will have a roommate in your bedroom or bunkroom during your SWT experience. This could be someone you have no familiarity with and might have some nervousness around living with them during the summer.

Most of us have either shared a room with a sibling or roommate. We understand that there are some important things to consider and to be considerate of when you are sharing a room, possibly a bed, and definitely a bathroom and kitchen.

You will want to talk with your roommate about the following items

  • Cleaning: who is going to do what (removal of trash, sweeping/mopping, making beds, picking up clothes, food allowed in your room, washing dishes, general cleaning of shared spaces)?
  • Morning or Night Person: will your schedule wake or keep up your roommate, plans for when lights are out, when it is okay to get ready or turn on the lights if someone is sleeping in your room, level of noise that may bother your roommate?
  • Sharing: are you okay if your personal belongings are shared with your roommate(s); or, do you prefer for no one to borrow your belongings?
  • Purchases: will you share the costs of food, drinks, utilities, supplies; or, is each person responsible for their own purchases?
  • Rent: many SWT share a flat with multiple persons to keep the cost of the rent low. If a roommate moves from the flat early, this will increase the costs for everyone else. Talk with your roommate(s) in advance in case this may happen and how to handle this.
  • Personal Habits: smoking, drinking alcohol, overnight guests, guests of the opposite gender.

Lastly, we recommend securing your personal finances and important documents in some type of locking or securable container. You should not keep a large amount of cash in your flat.

“Cleanliness is next to godliness”, John Wesley, 1778.

This is a message that is often used to encourage children to clean up. Culturally in the U.S. we are serious about our hygiene. It is important that when you are presenting yourself for work that you meet their uniform standards and that includes being clean. Below are suggestions for good hygiene.

  • Shower and wash daily.
  • Brush your teeth before going to work.
  • Wear deodorant/antiperspirant daily.
  • Go to work with clean clothes.
  • The length of your hair and or facial hair may be decided by your employer.

Besides presenting yourself in a clean manner, you will need to keep your living space clean. From time to time your property manager may stop in to check on your rented flat. You will want the dishes to be clean, the trash removed from the flat, and all food items put away.

As a J-1 SWT exchange visitor, you have been approved to enter the US and work here during your summer season. The Social Security Administration will allow you to receive a Social Security Number (SSN) once they receive documentation from the Department of Homeland Security that you are here as a J-1 SWT student.

Your SSN is a national identifying number that assists an employer in reporting tax information about you to state and federal revenue offices. This number can also be used for credit purposes in the US. Therefore it is very important to protect the number and card from being used by anyone other than you or your employer.

When to Apply for Your Social Security Card

You must first check-in with United Studies before you can consider going to a local Social Security Administration Office. We recommend waiting 3 business days after you check-in before you go to the Social Security Administration Office.

Locate a Social Security Administration Office

We recommend you locate an office nearby your work location prior to arriving in the US. Most of the Social Security Administration Offices are located in larger cities and may be of some distance from where you will be working or living. Therefore, travel costs will be involved; make sure to consider this in your budget. Click on this Social Security Administration link to locate an office nearest you (use your 7-digit zip code that is a part of the job address listed on your job offer).

How to Apply for Your Social Security Card

You must first make sure to have checked in with United Studies and waited the 3 business days before going to your local Social Security Administration Office.

Once you are sure that your check-in has been processed, you can make arrangements to travel to the local Social Security Administration Office to apply for your SSN. Take the following documents with you to apply for your SSN:

What’s Next

It will generally take about 2 weeks for the Social Security Administration Office to send you your Social Security Card to the address you have provided them. Keep the receipt that is given to you at the time of your application and provide that to your employer. Once your Social Security Card arrives in the mail, present the card to your employer and then put it away with other important documents not accessible to roommates or guests.

Other Social Security Number Information

If you already have a SSN, you will not need to reapply. Your SSN remains active always and you will not need to reapply if you are a returning J-1 or international exchange visitor.