Resources for Scholars


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Finding the housing that is right for you can be a challenge in New York City. Many international scholars will find that it is easier and more practical to share an apartment than to try to obtain a lease in your name. Getting a lease without a U.S. credit history, employment, or a U.S. – based guarantor is very difficult.

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Temporary Places to Stay

You may need a place for a week or two while you find something more permanent. Check out Work | Life Temporary Housing Options, Columbia University's Travel Portal, and Sara’s HomestayHostelling International NYC is walking distance from Columbia’s Morningside campus.


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Off-Campus Housing

Columbia’s Off-Campus Housing Assistance (OCHA) can be used by students, faculty, staff and alumni to search for an apartment, a room in an apartment, or roommates. The Office for Work/Life provides a useful Rental Guide4Stay is a platform geared toward students, scholars and interns to search for medium to long-term furnished rentals.

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International House

International House is an independent non-profit organization that is home to over 700 resident members from over 100 countries. It’s close to Columbia’s Morningside campus. In 2020-2021, their building with private dormitory-style bedrooms is closed, but I-House North offers suites and apartments.

"How-to" Guides

I want to

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Get U.S. Mobile Phone Service

Some carriers may offer student discounts, but it is best to check with the stores owned by the mobile provider directly rather than authorized dealers. Some scholars bring an “unlocked” phone from home and buy a U.S. SIM card from a mobile provider. Learn some Mobile Phone Options.

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Obtain NY State Driver's License/Non-Driver's License

Each state has its own Department of Motor Vehicles that administers the issuance of driver’s licenses. NY State honors foreign licenses for drivers who are here temporarily but you must have a certified English translation. We recommend you bring an International Driving Permit (available only from your home country) to use with your license. The IDP is alone is not valid to drive with. Visit NYS Driver’s License or a Non-Driver ID card to learn how to apply. Also refer to Driving in the United States.

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Open a U.S. Bank Account

You will need: Passport, Evidence of Columbia affiliation, local address, Columbia ID. Be sure the bank officer is aware that you are a non-resident. You may be asked to complete a form called W8-BEN for nonresidents so your interest will not be taxed. View bank locations in the Columbia neighborhoods. Note that Santander has a branch on the Morningside campus in Alfred Lerner Hall open Monday through Friday from 10 - 5 pm.

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Obtain a U.S. Credit Card

It's difficult for newcomers to get your first credit card because of your lack of U.S. credit history (record of paying your bills). Ask the bank where you have an account about qualifying for one of their credit cards--you may be able to establish reliable credit by pre-paying for your bank's credit card. 

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Obtain IDNYC

IDNYC is a government-issued identification card that is available to anyone living in NYC who is age 14 and older, regardless of immigration status. Discounts and free membership to 40 museums and cultural institutions. Learn how to apply.

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It is customary to tip 15-20% of your total in restaurants where you are seated and served at a table. It is not customary to tip at fast-food restaurants, bakeries, supermarkets or other places where you buy food over the counter.


Subway Map

The subway system is extensive and avoids street traffic. It’s open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day! With a total of 656 miles of passenger tracks, it serves 4 of the 5 boroughs of NYC; Staten Island has its own rail service.

Bus Map

Buses are a great way to get around if you’re not in a hurry. It’s interesting to look out the window and observe the changing neighborhoods. The buses that run closest to Columbia Morningside campus are the M104, M4, M60, and the M5. Each borough has its own bus routes, map and schedule.


Citi Bike is the nation's largest bike share program, with stations across Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Jersey City. Designed for quick trips with convenience in mind, it’s a fun and affordable way to get around town. Learn more at Transportation at Columbia.

Taxis (also called taxicabs or cabs)

They are yellow or green with a medallion number on top of the roof. If it is lit up and says on-duty it is available to wave down. There is a metered fare that you may pay with credit card or cash. It is customary to tip 10-20%.

Travel Apps
Travel Apps

To find the best travel route between two points use CityMapper. Learn about other NYC-centric apps recommended by NYCGo, the official NYC visitor guide. For a real time tracker, you can try out Transitapp.


MetroCards are electronic fare cards for use on subways and buses in the five boroughs. Choose between refillable "debit" cards or unlimited weekly and monthly cards. MetroCards are available for purchase in all subway stops.

Intercampus Shuttle
Intercampus Shuttle

Need to travel between Columbia campuses? Use the Intercampus shuttle to get to, from, and between Columbia campuses.

Getting Out of Town
Getting Out of Town

The Long Island Railroad and Metro-North offer one-day and overnight get-away packages to get out of the city.

Academic Resources

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Take advantage of Columbia's libraries

Columbia has one of the largest university collections in the United States (over 21 libraries with almost 12 million volumes). It is a great resource. Become familiar with all its services and research support.

If you're a visiting scholar, see their policy for borrowing privileges.


Columbia University Information Technology (CUIT) supports the entire Columbia community with central computing and communications IT services including: telephones, email, web publishing, computer labs / electronic classrooms, office and administrative applications, high-speed campus Ethernet and wireless networks.

Community Language Programs at Teachers College

The Community Language Program (CLP) at Teachers College (TC) offers:

  • two 8-week courses for international scholars/researchers called the International Researchers Language Program (IRLP). The program consists of (1) Academic Research Writing and (2) Academic Culture and Communication. Learn More 
  • English as a Second Language, open to all community members. Learn More

Culture Shock Resources

Moving to a new country, new city and a new academic environment is a significant adjustment for everyone. The adjustment process is often called culture shock, but for most it is usually a gradual process of transition.

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About Culture Shock

See Edupass's guide about US social customs and cultural differences.

These Youtube Videos, made by a former graduate student at Columbia, also address the topic of adjusting to life in the U.S. Although they are not new, they are not outdated:

Also, review this Ted Talk.

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You’re not alone if you experience some of these feelings:

Homesickness, Anxiety, Depression, Helplessness, Frequent Crying,Isolation, Nausea, Oversleeping, Difficulty Sleeping, Constant feeling of fatigue

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Ways to Find Help

If you experience some of those feelings, seek mental health services to help you get through this challenging time.

Contact your insurance company and check what your options are for you within your network for psychologists, therapists, counselors, psychiatrists, etc.

Mental Health

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This informative 5-minute Mental Health Video, addresses overcoming the stigma of seeking mental health treatment and where to go get help.

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Crisis Hotline

A crisis situation is one that requires prompt attention, but is not immediately life threatening

1-888-NYC-WELL (1-888-692-9355) is a free, confidential NYC Help Line, available 24 hours per day/7 days a week. NYC Well is multilingual and multicultural.

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Insurance Coverage for Mental Health

Ask your health insurance company for information about the coverage they provide for mental health services, such as counselors and therapists.

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Columbia Wellness

The Office of Work/Life “fosters the well-being of the Columbia community”. Click on their “Wellness” tab for programs, including Mindfulness Meditation training.

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Employee Assistance Program

EAP (Employee Assistance Program). Among the numerous services for CU employees is a Confidential 24/7 counseling and referral services.

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Feelings of Isolation

Here are some productive ways to overcome feelings of isolation and loneliness.


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Health Care Terminology

Use this glossary to become familiar with some common health care terms and definitions.

This 5-minute video on US Healthcare describes the U.S. healthcare system, where to seek treatment, and explains complex insurance terms.

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Health Care Coverage

It is very important that you understand what is covered by your insurance plan before using a U.S. healthcare provider. We advise you to contact your doctor’s office in advance to confirm whether your insurance covers your appointment and whether you will incur any additional costs.

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Urgent Care Facilities

Urgent Care refers to health care providers that offer walk-in services or online appointments, evenings and weekends as well as usual office hours. Their medical staff provide a variety of services for conditions that are urgent.

Google “urgent care near me” or use your zip code to find nearby facilities. Their websites will usually describe their services, hours, and insurance they accept. A visit to them will incur a copayment.


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Watch Campus Safety 101

Some of the services offered by the Office of Public Safety include, but are not limited to, an escort service at night, shuttle bus service, and crime-prevention tips.

View this entertaining and informative video on how NOT to be a victim of a crime or a scam.

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In case of an emergency near campus, contact Public Safety. Put the number in your phone: 212 854-5555 (Morningside campus) or 212 305-7979 (Medical Campus).

General Emergency: Dial 911.

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Serious Situations

If you encounter a situation that affects your well-being, please reach out to the ISSO to see how we may assist you. See how to Report a Serious Situation to the ISSO.

Living in New York

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New York City

New York City weather is quite variable:

Stay informed with: 

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U.S. Holidays

A variety of holidays are celebrated in the United States. Learn about them here. Columbia University may be closed in observance of some of them. Check the University holiday list so you can plan ahead.

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Family/Dependent Resources

Are your dependent(s) accompanying you to Columbia? Review our Dependent Resources page to learn more about resources for:

  • English Language
  • Volunteer Work/Community Involvement
  • Childcare/Schools
  • Libraries and Gym Membership


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Spiritual and Community Life

For information about religious life on campus, learn about the Earl Hall Center. Its mission is to foster learning through spiritual, ethical, religious and cultural exchange, and to promote service to the University and its surrounding New York City communities. Read more through their affiliated websites: Office of the University Chaplain and Community Impact.

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Office of University Life

The Columbia University Life App includes discounts for Columbia University ID holders, campus services and University Life events. Visit the official webpage to learn how to download.

Visit Office of University Life to learn more.

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Sports and Physical Fitness

Engaging in Sports and physical fitness is a great way to meet others--and stay healthy! Learn more about

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Volunteering is another great way to get involved and and help others. Check out these organizations’ programs and volunteer opportunities:

  • One To World for international students and scholars in the NY metropolitan area
  • New York Cares for all New Yorkers who can offer their time for a day or long term