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What to Bring & When to Come

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Review of Immigration Documents

When you receive your U.S. nonimmigrant visa at the embassy or consulate in your country, the consular officer will give you your immigration documents along with your passport. At the U.S. port of entry, the U.S. immigration inspector will examine the documents. The following documents should be carried with you, and never packed in your checked baggage:

  • passport;
  • visa;
  • I-20 form, or DS-2019 form;
  • SEVIS I-901 fee receipt;
  • Form I-797C (a notice acknowledging receipt of your visa application); and
  • evidence of financial resources.
Some time before your arrival in the United States, the flight attendants will distribute customs declaration forms and arrival-departure forms for immigration (I-94). Fill these out on the plane. You will submit them to the appropriate U.S. customs and immigration authorities after you land. If you do not understand a form, ask the flight attendant for assistance.

Once you have left the airplane, follow the other passengers into the terminal area reserved for incoming passengers. You will be asked to get in line in front of the immigration inspection booths. As you approach, have your passport, I-20 or DS-2019 form, and I-94 (arrival-departure card) ready for inspection by the immigration officer. You are likely to be asked your purpose for entering the United States and your final destination. An appropriate response is "to attend Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas."

U.S. Customs
After passing through the immigration area, you will collect your baggage and then, with your baggage, pass through customs. A customs inspector will ask you to declare what you have brought into the country, inspect your bags, and review the customs form you filled out on the airplane. Penalties for concealing declarable items can be very severe, so be honest and make a full declaration.

Items for your personal use may be brought into the United States without paying duty. As a nonresident, you are also allowed to bring in gifts with a total value up to $100 duty free. If the total value of such items exceeds $100, you will need to pay duty.

You must declare the amount of money you have with you, but you do not have to pay duty on it. Money in any amount may be brought into and taken out of the United States, but anyone bringing more than $10,000 into the country must file a report with the customs official.

Certain articles are forbidden or restricted. These include plants, fruits, meats, vegetables, clothing made from the skins of endangered animals, ivory, lottery tickets, obscene articles or publications, and switchblade knives. Drugs without a doctor's prescription or narcotics, such as barbiturates, amphetamines, and marijuana, are strictly prohibited.

What to Bring & What Not to Bring

Before you start packing, there are many things to consider. How much can you bring? What is safe to bring? Will you bring it with you to the United States or send it separately? This section will help you understand how to get your luggage safely from your home country to the United States.

Airline Baggage Allowance
There is a limit to the amount of baggage you can take with you on an airplane. The number of pieces of baggage and the size and weight of those pieces determine this limit. Confirm your airline's baggage allowance when you purchase your ticket. Be aware that allowances to North America are often more generous than allowances elsewhere in the world. Regulations are subject to change.

Since most people travel economy class, the following limitations are given as guidelines. To North America, passengers are usually allowed two pieces of baggage, plus one small piece of hand or "carry-on" baggage that can be carried onto the airplane and must be able to fit under the airplane seat. Each piece must not surpass a certain weight and size restriction, as established by the airline. If your luggage exceeds these limitations, you will be asked to pay excess baggage charges.

What to Bring With You
What you bring with you is largely a matter of personal choice. You will have to carry whatever you bring, so it is in your interest to keep it light and compact.

Start to pack early, so that excess weight and bulk can be eliminated and essential items not overlooked. Do not worry if you cannot bring everything, since most goods are available in a wide range of prices in the United States. Small items can be sent by airfreight or through the postal system. Shipping by sea can take several months.

Do Bring:
  • A good bilingual dictionary, since it might not be possible to obtain one for your language in the United States
  • All of your essential identification papers and documents, to be carried on your person or in your hand baggage. This includes (Acceptance Letter, Passport, Visa, I-20, I-94 Card). DO NOT PUT IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS IN BAGS YOU HAVE CHECKED ONTO THE PLANE - KEEP THEM IN YOUR HAND LUGGAGE
  • 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 United States
  • Pictures of your family, home, and country, for yourself but also to show to your new friends
  • Items from your culture, such as musical instruments, recordings of traditional and contemporary music, picture books, arts and crafts, and small gifts, to share your talents and customs with people in the United States. For festive occasions you may consider bringing traditional dress and accessories from your country. This would be a great way to show and tell Americans more about your culture and traditions
  • A camera so you will have souvenirs of your time in the United States after you return home.

Things to Leave at Home
You can obtain a booklet on customs regulations at the consulate or embassy where you acquire your visa. Prohibited items include some foodstuffs, narcotics, weapons, and items for resale.

Do not bring:
  • Things you can easily buy in the United States, such as notebooks, pens, paper (paper in the United States is of a slightly different size than in countries following the metric system), toiletries, towels, or bed sheets. These items will take up valuable space in your luggage
  • Food, seeds, or plants. The United States has very strict restrictions on importing foods, perishables, and agricultural goods into the country
  • Books that can easily be obtained in U.S. libraries. Some universities have their library catalog on the Internet, where you can check the availability of books. You can also contact the university library staff to verify the availability of any essential books. You can usually also obtain books through interlibrary loans
  • Animals
  • Medications, unless you have written prescriptions from a doctor 
  • Expensive jewelry, treasured possessions, family heirlooms, or delicate things, since there is always a chance that these items can get lost, stolen, or damaged during travel or during your stay
  • Firearms, knives, weapons, or articles that could be perceived as weapons
  • Narcotics or drugs
  • Any article of clothing, artifact, or medicine made from endangered animals
  • Electrical appliances. Appliances in the United States work on a 115 volts and 60 cycles system. It is usually best to purchase electrical items in the United States, especially if you plan to live in university housing, as some items will not be allowed. Most items are reasonably priced. Also note that video systems, including televisions, VCRs, and DVD players (including those in laptop computers), use different systems in different parts of the world, and those you bring from home are unlikely to be compatible with the U.S. media.

Protecting Your Baggage
Be sure that you clearly label every piece of luggage with your name, a U.S. address, and a telephone number (if you do not know what your address will be, perhaps you can use the International Students Office of Texas State). Identification tags are available from the airline, but sturdier luggage tags or labels are recommended. For additional security, you may also want to put a label or luggage tag inside your luggage.

Baggage insurance protects you against loss, damage, or theft of your baggage

You should have enough clothing and personal items packed in your carry-on baggage to last for a couple days in the event your checked luggage is lost or sent to the wrong destination. Be sure to pack prescription medicine, eyeglasses, or other important items in your carry-on baggage.

NOTE: Never leave your baggage unattended. You must always be alert to the possibility of theft.

Unaccompanied Baggage
Personal belongings that are sent separately are called "unaccompanied baggage." Such baggage may be taken with you as "excess baggage" (but the cost is high) or sent by mail or private carrier, by land, air, or sea.

Usually it is more convenient to take packages to your local post office, rather than to a shipping company or an air cargo terminal. Mail also has the advantage of arriving at your address, rather than at a shipping dock or customs area. However, there are limitations on the size and weight of packages being mailed. Check with your post office about sending such packages to the United States. Ask about rates, regulations, and estimates of how long it will take for your packages to arrive at your college or university in the United States. Items too large or too heavy to meet postal regulations must be sent via a shipping company, either by air or by surface carrier.

Shipping Agents
The procedures for shipping are complicated and time-consuming, and students often employ the services of a shipping agent or freight-forwarding company. The agent can make arrangements for transporting the item to the air- or sea-cargo terminal for shipment to the United States. The agent also usually can arrange to have the shipment cleared through customs at the point of entry into the United States and can have it sent by road or rail to you. International Air Transport Association (IATA) agents are recommended. Ask your travel agent or an airline representative for the name of a reliable shipping agent.

Shipping by Air
It is possible to pay for excess baggage and have your extra baggage sent on the same flight you take to the United States. This, however, can be very expensive. It is best to investigate in advance and compare prices with shipping agents. Airlines have size restrictions (approximately two meters). If you have a large item, talk to the airline agent about it. They may accept it as part of your baggage if you pay extra fees; if not, you may have to ship it by air or sea cargo.

International airlines sometimes have air cargo services. There are also independent air cargo companies; however, these companies may not have offices in a large city near you and may fly goods only to large cities or airports in which they have regular service. It would be your responsibility to claim the shipment, pass it through customs, and get it to your residence. Ask your travel agent or airline representative about air cargo services.

Shipping by Sea
Shipping cargo by sea is, of course, far slower than by air, but depending upon how much you ship, it may be less expensive. You would have to claim your packages at the port of entry, clear them through customs, and either transport them yourself to your residence or pay additional handling fees.

Regardless of how you ship unaccompanied baggage, mark all baggage clearly with your name and your U.S. address. Write directly on the box or on an address label secured with wide, transparent tape over the writing.

Booking Your Flight

Travel During U.S. Holidays

Make travel reservations well in advance of your departure date. This is especially important if you travel in the United States during peak tourist seasons or holidays. These include the Easter observance (either in March or April); the summer months of June through August; and the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day holidays in November, December, and January. There are ten U.S. Federal holidays:
  • New Year's Day — January 1
  • Martin Luther King Day — observed the third Monday in January
  • Presidents' Day — observed the third Monday in February
  • Memorial Day — observed the fourth Monday in May
  • Independence Day — July 4
  • Labor Day — observed the first Monday in September
  • Columbus Day — observed the second Monday in October
  • Veteran's Day — November 11
  • Thanksgiving Day — observed the fourth Thursday in November
  • Christmas Day — December 25
Check the following website for more information on U.S. holidays: http://www.usa.gov/citizens/holidays.shtml 

Travel Agencies
Probably the most efficient and convenient way to make your travel arrangements is through a travel agency. Travel agents are usually knowledgeable about conditions in various countries and make specialized travel arrangements adapted to your needs. They can advise you on airlines, fares, and routes; compare prices; and confirm or change reservations. If you have dietary restrictions for religious or health reasons, the travel agent will also be able to order you a special, in-flight meal.

You may not have to pay a fee for these services. In many countries, you pay no more than you would if you dealt directly with the airlines, purchased your own ticket, and made your own hotel reservations. In fact, because they have access to current specials or sales, travel agents may save you money. They also are aware of which airlines offer reduced student rates or special student packages, including round-trip international fares and domestic U.S. fares.

NOTE: Students sponsored by the U.S. government may be required to travel on U.S. airlines wherever possible. Check with your sponsoring agency regarding this and other travel arrangements.

Travel Clubs and Charter Organizations
Certain organizations in your country may specialize in charter flights and other low-cost travel to the United States. Sometimes these organizations advertise in local publications and student newspapers, but students usually learn about them from other people who have dealt with them. Some travel clubs require that you join their club and pay a membership fee before you are eligible to take advantage of their charter flights. It is a good idea to check on the organization's reputation before you pay a fee or make reservations. When you call for information, ask whether fares, departure dates, and connections are reliable. Sometimes, if the carrier does not sell enough seats, charter flights are cancelled or rescheduled.

Making Your Own Reservations

If you want to make your own reservations, you can deal directly with an international airline by phone, mail, or Internet. Most airline agents also can advise you on other travel matters, such as baggage allowances, airport and customs procedures, vaccination and health requirements, and so on. In addition, there are many travel websites where you can compare prices, create your own itinerary, and buy your tickets on-line. Making reservations in this way can be a bit more risky since you do not have the expertise of the travel agent at your service, but it can also save you time if you know exactly what you are looking for.


Connecting Flights

It is best to book your tickets for U.S. domestic flights while you are still in your home country.

Correct Time in the U.S.

As you approach the airport where you will land in the United States, the pilot will announce the correct time. The United States follows a 12-hour system of time, rather than the 24-hour system followed by many other countries. The 12 hours from midnight to noon are called "a.m." (ante meridian). The 12 hours from noon to midnight are called "p.m." (post meridian). For example, 1400 is two o'clock or 2:00 p.m.; 2200 is 10 o'clock (10:00 p.m. or 10 o'clock at night,) and 1000 is 10 o'clock (10:00 a.m. or 10 o'clock in the morning). Set your watch to the correct U.S. time before you leave the plane.

*Do not forget to bring at least $100 to $200 in small cash denominations with you, in case you need U.S. money before you reach a currency exchange center.