Resources for Scholars

Packing for NYC

What to Pack in Your Carry-On

Immigration-related document
Immigration-related documents

Have these accessible at the port of entry.


If necessary.

U.S. Currency

U.S. Currency and credit card from home (if necessary).

International Driving Permit
International Driving Permit (Optional)

With home-country driver's license.


Or contact lenses (if necessary).

Change of clothing and toiletry items

In case of unexpected delays (Optional)

New York City Weather

What to Expect


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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 Local Hotels and Sara’s Homestay and Work | Life Temporary Housing OptionsHostelling International NYC is walking distance from Columbia’s main 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. OCHA also offers housing search counseling and works with two New York City real estate/relocation agencies.The Work-Life Office offers a Housing Information and Referral Service and Rental Guide.

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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. They offer private dormitory-style bedrooms, suites, and apartments. Also, guest rooms by a daily rate.


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.


Columbia’s Zagster bike share program means all students and staff can access a bicycle 24/7. 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.

"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. Learn other strategies for obtaining a 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.

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 fantastic resource for anyone studying, conducting research, or teaching at Columbia. 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)'s technology services provide Columbia with central computing and communications including: telephones, email, web publishing, computer labs / electronic classrooms, course management and student information applications, office and administrative applications, high-speed campus Ethernet and wireless networks.

Safety and Wellness

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Be Aware of Culture Shock

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. There is no way to know in advance how you will respond to cultural adjustment. Each individual experiences it differently. The adjustment process is normal, so be patient with yourself and others.

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Resources on Cultural Adjustment

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

View these Youtube Videos:

Part 1: Culture Shock Phases 1, 2

Part 2: Culture Shock Phase 3

Part 3: Social Adjustment

Part 4: American Handshakes

Part 5: Academic Adjustment

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Be well-informed about your personal safety. New York presents the same security concerns as any other large city world-wide. In case of an emergency, contact Public Safety. Put the number in your phone: 212 854-5555 (Morningside campus) or 212 305-7979 (Medical Campus).

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Become familiar with Columbia Public Safety services

Some of their services include a walking escort service at night, shuttle bus service, general safety and crime-prevention tips, and an informative and entertaining video on how NOT to be a victim of a crime or a scam. Watch Campus Safety 101.


  • At night, take the well-lit and well-traveled paths. Avoid shortcuts through dark or isolated areas.
  • Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to call for an escort—your safety, well-being, and peace of mind are at stake.
  • Be prepared and ready with your keys before you approach your residence hall, apartment, home, or automobile.
  • If you think someone is following you, don’t lead him or her to your destination—instead, abruptly change directions and go into a store or restaurant that is open.
  • Be aware of your valuables and belongings, such as your backpack, handbag, or wallet. Even if you’re in a “safe” place for a short time, take them with you rather than leave them behind.
  • When taking the bus or subway, use well-lit, and preferably well-peopled, stations
  • Protect your privacy online and be aware of scams on the phone, street and online. Be alert to phishing.

Review the Wilberforce pamphlet to learn about your rights while working in the United States.

The Department of State brochure helps you understand the purpose of the J-1 Exchange Visitor program and introduces some of its major requirements.

Finding Community

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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 ChaplainCommunity Impact and Religious Life Advisers.

Volunteer opportunities for scholars: One To World.

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University Life

The Columbia University Life App has all of your essential campus resources in one guide. The app includes discounts for Columbia University ID holders, campus services and University Life events. It's on iOS and Android stores titled as "Columbia University Life." Visit the official webpage to learn how to download.

Visit Office of University Life to learn more. View the Office of Work/Life's event calendar for more programs and resources.