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Introduction

WELCOME, CLASS OF 2007 INTERNATIONAL CLASSMATES! I really look forward to meeting you. I want to include things that will help our international classmates but because I'm not international, I lack knowledge in this area. I will depend on people like Amit P. for the real info. Please send whatever is of help so I can post it in a more permanent place (here) than in the news group.

Currently, this is for your trip. As information contributions come in, I'll add to this page. Thanks to Amit P. for this information so far.

Mark

Table of Contents

This will serve as an index into the many bits of information below.


Mobile Phones in the US

This information will likely help many internationals understand the U.S. mobile phone plans better. It is an email reply from Amit and I have not had time to rework it as an informational bit on this page. Here it is.

Hi Folks,

This is partly a response to Vishal's query to Uday about Verizon, and some other details about cell phones in the US.

GSM networks (Cingular / AT&T, T-Mobile) have not developed as much as Verizon's CDMA network in the US (Thanks to Lavina for the info). In North Carolina especially, Verizon would be the way to go, as, on my two visits to Durham, my T-mobile phone did not have very good performance. T-mobile does not have its own network in NC as of this writing, so uses the Cingular network, but still did not seem reliable enough.  I will be switching to Verizon before I move to Durham.

That being said, the rest of this message assumes a cell plan with Verizon Wireless.

Since Verizon only has a CDMA network, bringing a GSM phone from home would be pointless. If you have a GSM phone in India, the only reason to bring it along may be if you have data on it that you want to transfer onto your new phone (may not be possible with some phones).

This leaves you no choice but to buy a CDMA phone in the US (or elsewhere).  The advantage of buying in the US is that you get substantial discounts on the phone if you sign up for a 1 or 2 year contract with the cell phone service provider (in this case Verizon).
This is why, as Uday mentions in his Email that the Treo 650 costs $519 without a plan, but $399 with a 2 year plan. 
If you do not want a very expensive phone, there are deals where you can get the phone for free with a 1 or 2 year contract. There are other deals where you buy 1 and get 1 free (helpful for the family plans which I have mentioned below).
It also helps that the warranty on your phone will be local.
It is thus beneficial to buy the phone from the US. However, keep in mind that you will not be able to use this phone on the GSM networks back home.  There are some phones that have 2 modes (like the Samsung SCH-A790 ), so you can switch to GSM when you need to. I do not have much information on these, so you will have to research this if you are interested.

If you plan to go with a GSM provider in the U.S. anyway, be wary of buying a GSM phone here. Service providers 'lock' the phone so it can only be used with their SIMM card, so you will not be able to use it back home unless you get it 'unlocked'. If you do however have a GSM phone from home, the SIMM cards here should work.

On to cell phone plans...
You pay a fixed amount per month for a fixed amount of minutes.
NOTE: In the U.S. you pay for minutes you use for both incoming and outgoing calls, and not only calls initiated by you.
Verizon's latest single plan rates are online but a summary is $40 for 450 peak minutes per month, $60 for 900 peak minutes per month etc.
See: http://www.verizonwireless.com/b2c/store/controller?item=planFirst&action=viewPlanDetail&sortOption=priceSort&catId=323&cm_re=Home%20Page-_-Personal%20Box-_-Individual%20Plans
(you may have to copy and paste the complete link, or just go to www.verizonwireless.com and select personal individual plans)

Pricing Explanation:
Peak Minutes are for calls made between 6am and 9pm on weekdays. If you exceed your peak minutes, you can pay anywhere between $0.25 to $0.45 per minute, depending on the plan you select. 
All other minutes (non-peak) are free, including weekends (i.e. they are not deducted from your peak pool of minutes). Verizon also has free 'IN' calling, which means you can call other Verizon wireless customers for free. This is something to consider if most of your classmates etc. will be using Verizon. Calls made anywhere in the US, and from anywhere in the US will be charged as mentioned above as long as you are on the Verizon Network, and not Roaming. (The Verizon network is pretty good, so you should have coverage almost everywhere you go in the US, save for a few desolate / isolated areas).


Other plan options:
You can activate multiple phones (there is a limit I think) to use the same pool of minutes. This is part of the Family Share plan.
I will be using this to share a pool of minutes with my sister.  It works the same, but prices are slightly different. They give you the first 2 lines free for a given pool of minutes, and you can pay $10 extra for additional lines. You can get more information about this on Verizon's website, by choosing Family SharePlan instead of Individual Plan.

Note: Another thing to keep in mind is that rates advertised on the verizon website do not include taxes. You may also need to pay an activation fee (typically between $30 and $70) which you will see on your first months bill.


If you are considering getting a home phone and/or DSL, Verizon provides these services too, so you could get all your services from one company, and receive 1 bill. There may even be discounts for doing this, but I am not too sure about it.


Planning Your Trip to the U.S.

Thanks to Amit Philip for this information

Folks, In less than a month most of us will be getting down to Durham! Here are a few tips and suggestions, that I have collected over the last few years of traveling between the US and India/Middle-East, to make your journey more comfortable.

Note: This has been primarily written for those coming in from the Middle-East / Asia, with a layover in Europe, but should contain some good information for those coming from other regions as well.

Note About Shopping: For those arriving in time, I believe the weekend of August 5th is a tax-free weekend in NC, and it maybe a good idea to do your shopping this weekend. Not all things are tax-free, but many are. Officially, anything related to schooling is, including mundane things like hampers for a dorm room, etc.

Packing For the Trip

Make sure you have all your essential travel and non-travel documents in your carry-on bags. Carry-on luggage should be as light. Try to make it a bag with rollers if at all possible.  You will more than likely have a stop somewhere in Europe, and I know for a fact that it is a 20-25 minute hike from the Eastern side terminal to the US side terminal at Heathrow, Gatwick, Frankfurt, Paris and a few other European airports. Carrying a heavy bag on your shoulders for that amount of time would not be fun.

It is a good idea to pack, in your carry-on bags, a change of clothes and essentials for a day or two in case your checked bags get delayed along the way (you may be transiting through 3-4 airports, increasing the chances of this happening). 

Make sure you do not have screwdrivers, nail files, nail clippers, cigarette lighters, scissors etc. in your carry-on luggage, because even if they are allowed on your flight to Europe, they will be removed on your flight to the US.

I usually carry my tooth-brush and tooth-paste, deodorant and an extra T-shirt for these long trips... Helps get over the 'ickiness' of living on a plane for more than a day. Dress comfortably.... you usually want to sleep at some point during 2 consecutive 8 hour plane journeys.

Some people tie a colorful ribbon on the bags they are checking in so they maybe easily identified at your destination (so you can identify them, and so someone else does not pick them up by mistake) or God forbid, they get lost.

Have your name and address (US one preferably) written both on the inside and outside of your checked bags.

At the Airport (Origin)

Hugs'n Kisses to family, friends and loved ones :-) Make sure you get your bags checked all the way to RDU or wherever your final destination is on your ticket.  Be aware that you will still have to claim bags at your port of entry into the US and go through immigration, and then pass it on for delivery to your final destination. (More on this further below).

Make sure you keep the checked baggage tags (usually the agent will stick it on to your ticket jacket when he/she gives you your boarding pass/es). You may need these at the European airport, at the port of entry into the US and at your final destination.

Stop-Over in Europe

When you get off the flight from your Origin, European customs / immigration officers maybe waiting at the door to check documents. What they are looking for is either a visa to that country if you plan to stay there, or in our case, the visa and ticket to the US. Remember, you are only in transit here, so when you get off, find out which terminal your US bound flight will leave from. You can find out from either monitors or the agent at the door. (If your outbound flight is more than 3 hours away, the related information may not be on the monitors yet, so just ask the agent which terminal you need to go to for your particular airline to the US.)

Once again, it maybe a 20-25 minute hike to the terminal. At some airports you have to take the inter-terminal train. Follow the signs to the terminal / inter-terminal train. Do not go to customs/immigration/baggage claim unless you are stopping over in Europe (your bags have been checked through to the US).

Most of the American airline counters in the transit area do not open till a few hours before departure, so you may have to wait a bit before you can go up and get your onward boarding pass. Once you do get to this point, you will have to answer some security questions and then will be given your boarding cards. Bring along a book, or music to listen to... most lay-overs in European airports for connections to the US are more than 3 hours.

Have US dollars or a credit card handy... you might want to grab a bite to eat at the airport. (If you are stopping in Germany and ask for water, specify non-aerated water, or you will get soda.)

U.S. Port of Entry

Your U.S. port of entry is the first US airport you land at (usually NY-JFK / Laguardia, Atlanta, Chicago, Washington D.C., or "Durham Internationa... oops.. sorry about that last one :-) ). You will have to clear US immigration and customs here. Before your flight lands (or once you get to the airport), you will be given 2 forms to fill-out. The first is your I-94 arrival / departure card (assuming you are not a US passport holder). It has 2 parts: one that is kept by the immigration officer, and one which he/she will give back to you. Make sure you do not lose the portion given back to you, or you will have issues when you need to leave the country. (Most Immigration officers will staple this to your passport) The second form is a customs declaration form which should be pretty self-explanatory. (You will need to declare if you are bringing in anything for sale /  if you have lots of cash / if you are bringing in food of any sort).

Going through Immigration is usually not an issue. You will have photographs and fingerprints taken, and will have to answer a few questions. (For those who get nervous about these things, remember you are here legally... you have a visa and I-20).

Once you have cleared Immigration, you need to pick up your bags (Note: Carts for the bags will cost anywhere between $1 and $5 depending on the airport, so you may want to have a few dollar bills handy to use in the machines. Some places accept credit cards). Take the bags and go through customs to get them screened.

If you do not find your bags / they have not arrived, don't panic. If you followed these instructions :-) you still have essentials for a day or two. Go to the airline office counter at the baggage claim area and report your 'lost' bags.  They should be able to tell you which airport the bags got stuck at, and will have them delivered to you when they arrive (have your address, baggage tags and description of bags handy).

Assuming that your bags are not lost, you have to give them to airport staff to be put on your next airplane (assuming you are flying on to RDU or some other U.S. destination). The bag drop-off area is usually a few feet away from the customs area.

Once you have dropped off your check-in luggage, it is like flying a local flight within the US. Don't walk out to the arrivals area if you have another flight to catch (unless you want to go through security again). You will want to follow signs to the gate /  terminal for your next flight.

Arriving at RDU

I have done this part only twice, so not much to say. Pick up your bags, and head to ground transportation or passenger pickup for your ride to your apartment. You do not have to worry about security/customs here. If you do not find your bags / they have not arrived, don't panic. If you followed these instructions :-) you still have essentials for a day or two. Go to the airline office counter at the baggage claim area and report your 'lost' bags.  They should be able to tell you  which airport the bags got stuck at, and will have them delivered to you when they arrive (have your address, baggage tags and description of bags handy). If you are arriving for the first time, you probably do not have apartment keys.  If you arrive late, your apartment leasing office may not be open, and you will need to make arrangements to stay somewhere for one night. Airport staff can likely guide you to a place where you can call local hotels. Another option maybe to have some one pick up your apartment keys for you prior to your arrival (arrange this with apartment management).

First Week in Durham

I have not done this yet, but this section includes miscellaneous things you will want to take care of, such as a Social Security Number. Word is that unlike previous years, International students will no longer receive a social security number unless they have a job. I believe that you will be issued an ITIN number.??? Also, look into these (SYs may have more experience with these. I will fill this in as I get more information):

  • Power (electricity)
  • Cable
  • Internet
  • Home Phone
  • Cell Phone / Plan
  • Shopping (see note at the top)
  • Insurance
  • Buying a car
  • Party at my place!!!

Amit

For some of this information, see Mark's Utilities Page


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