Resources for Scholars

HOUSING

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Overview

Finding the housing that is right for you can be a challenge in New York City. Most international students will find that it is easier and more practical to explore on campus housing or 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. Read more at Columbia Residential Off-Campus Housing Resources.

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University Housing for CUIMC Scholars

CUIMC Facilities Management and Campus Services offer limited on-campus housing to CUIMC students, postdoctoral fellows & scientists only. It is not guaranteed so apply as early as possible if you’re eligible. Your school will provide information with your admission.

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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 Guide. Another resource is 4Stay, 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. Its location is close to Columbia’s Morningside campus.

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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.

TRANSPORTATION

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Subway

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.

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Buses

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.

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Metrocards

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. As an alternative, avoid paper cards and pay for the MTA through your phone and digital wallet. Learn more on the OMNY website. MTA plans to transition to OMNY only in 2024.

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Bikes

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. 

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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%.

Intercampus Shuttle
Intercampus Shuttle

Need to travel between Columbia campuses? Use the Intercampus shuttle to get to, from, and between Columbia campuses. Learn about more services at Columbia Transportation.

Getting Out of Town
Day Trips

Do you need to get refreshed by leaving the urban environment and spend more time in nature? The Long Island Railroad and Metro-North offer one-day and overnight get-away packages to get out of the City. NYC Ferry travels to various locations around the city (and even some beaches). And some of the best beaches near NYC can be reached by subway!

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Travel Apps

To find the best travel route between two points, use Google Maps or CityMapper.

For a real-time public transportation tracker, you can try out MYmta  or Transitapp.

For ride-sharing services, Uber and Lyft are commonly used in the city.

BANKING AND PHONE SERVICE

Open a U.S. Bank Account

You will need:

You don't need:

Be sure the bank officer is aware that you are a non-resident. You will be asked to complete a form called W8-BEN for nonresidents so interest from your savings or checking account will not be taxed.

There are many bank locations in the Columbia neighborhoods. In addition, Santander has a branch on the Morningside campus in Alfred Lerner Hall, open Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m., and on the CUIMC campus in the Mailman School of Public Health (William Black Building on the first floor), open Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. with 24-hour ATM access. 

Other commonly used banks are Chase, Bank of America, and Citibank. Chase Bank has multiple ATM machines located inside the buildings on the CUIMC campus.

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Obtain a U.S. Credit Card

It is difficult for newcomers to get your first credit card because of 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 to help establish a credit history.

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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 students bring an “unlocked” phone from home and buy a U.S. SIM card at a US airport, from a mobile provider, or a prepaid card online. There are many phone service provider stores in the Columbia neighborhoods. Some top providers are: AT&T, T Mobile, Sprint, Verizon.

IDENTIFICATION CARDS AND SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER

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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 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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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. It provides discounts and free membership to some museums and cultural institutions. Learn how to apply.

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Social Security Number

A Social Security Number (SSN) is used primarily by employers and employees for tax-reporting purposes only. The employer needs to withhold taxes on your earnings using your unique number, and you need your social security number when you file a tax return. Our Social Security Number webpage provides an overview of eligibility requirements and when and how to apply.

ACADEMIC RESOURCES

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Take advantage of Columbia's libraries and IT services.

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.

CUIT for Morningside campus and CUIMC IT for CUIMC campus together 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. For Morningside, visit PawPrint for printing instructions.

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Take additional English or second language courses.

PHYSICAL & MENTAL HEALTH

Medical Care

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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. Their websites will usually describe their services, hours, and insurance they accept. A visit to them will incur a copayment.

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Health Care Terminology

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

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Mental Health

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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 Resources

The Office of Work/Life fosters the well-being of the Columbia community and offers different resources and programs.

EAP (Employee Assistance Program) from Human Resources offers  numerous services for CU employees, including confidential 24/7 counseling and referral services.

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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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Cultural 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.

PERSONAL SAFETY

Services and Tips

Be well-informed about your personal safety. New York presents the same security concerns as any other large city worldwide. 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).

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.

Columbia Public Safety and Columbia Transportation Services
Additional Personal Safety Tips
  • At night, take the well-lit and well-traveled paths. Avoid shortcuts through dark or isolated areas.
  • Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to utilize the Walking Safety Escort Program—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.
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Beware of Scams and Phishing

Fraudulent phishing emails and imposter phone calls are a big problem. Scammers are very creative and skillful in seeking access to your money and/or personal information by either gaining your confidence (“con artist”) or threatening you. They pretend to be from a government agency and demand money for a variety of fake reasons, including taxes you owe or a problem with your immigration status.

The best way to avoid being a victim of a scam is to be aware that they exist and have some common characteristics:

  1. Always be suspicious of unsolicited phone calls and emails. If it doesn’t sound right—just hang up!
  2. Be aware that a government agency would never ask you to send money a certain way or purchase gift cards. Just hang up!
  3. Resist their pressure to act immediately, before you have time to think or check their information. Contact Public Safety.

Learn more on our website where we have consolidated sample scenarios and videos and additional resources.

GETTING CONNECTED

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Arts Initiative

The Arts Initiative at Columbia University connects Columbians with incredible arts experiences on campus and throughout the larger arts landscape of NYC. Review their website for free admission to multiple museums as well as city-wide events (some free) all throughout the year.

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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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University Life

The Office of University Life partners with student leaders, student affairs offices and central student services at the University to maximize your student experience and provides opportunities for you to get connected with the Columbia community. Find student resources, upcoming events, and more on their website.

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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 Columbia’s Dodge Fitness Center and 50 Haven Athletic Center for the CUIMC community.

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Volunteering

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

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Resources for Dependents (Spouse/Children)

We hope these resources for spouses and children will guide you and your family through an exciting transition and opportunities for building life-long friendships. International Spouses and Partners Network (ISPN) aims to help our scholar spouses and partners (J-2) community to connect with each other and acclimate to living in NYC.