Resources for Students

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

Change of clothing and toiletry items

In case of unexpected delays or lost baggage


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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 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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University Housing for Undergraduate Students

Information is included with your admission materials. This includes undergraduate students in Columbia College and the School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS).

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University Housing for Graduate Students 

This is through University Apartment Housing (UAH). 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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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. Its location is close to Columbia’s Morningside campus. 


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 Google Maps or CityMapper. Other NYC-centric apps are 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 Map
Intercampus Shuttle

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

Getting Out of the City
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. And some of the best beaches near NYC can be reached by subway!

"How-to" Guides

I want to

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Open a U.S. Bank Account

You do not need a Social security Number or a letter from the ISSO.

You will need: Your passport, I‐20 or DS‐2019, letter of admission to Columbia, local address, Columbia ID (if available). 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 your savings or checking account interest will not be taxed. View 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. to 5:00 p.m.

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Obtain a U.S. Credit Card

Difficult 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. 

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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 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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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

Book reading
Keep up with your assignments

Don't wait until the end of your term to begin studying!

Students on campus
Be aware of plagiarism and cheating

You can be expelled if you violate Columbia’s academic integrity standards.

Student Working
Select your courses wisely

When you arrange your course schedule, consult not only your academic adviser but also experienced students. Don't forget to have a full-time course load!

General tips to keep in mind as you begin your studies
Talk with your instructors

Professors expect students to ask questions in or immediately after class, or during office hours. Know your professor's expectations. Each professor may have different expectations and requirements.

Columbia libraries
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.


Columbia University Information Technology (CUIT)'s technology services provides 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.


  • Having someone else do your work
  • Talking during examinations, especially in another language.  Asking to borrow a pencil or using another person’s calculator during an exam could even be construed as cheating
  • Collaborating on homework assignments. Be sure you ask the teaching assistant or the professor whether you can work with fellow students on an assignment

Plagiarism is defined as representing another person’s work as your own.

To avoid plagiarism:

Columbia University’s American Language Program provides part-time courses for graduate and undergraduate international students. It also offers intensive full-time study.​

Physical and Mental Health

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Get Your Immunization

Don’t forget to comply with the immunization requirement by New York State! If you do not do this a hold will be placed on your ability to register for classes. This will jeopardize your F-1 /J-1 status. Information for Morningside campus students. Information for Medical Center campus (CUIMC) students. 

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Have Health Insurance

Columbia University requires all its international students to enroll in the university's health insurance. Columbia Health offers a two-part health care program: Medical Services and the Columbia Student Medical Insurance Plan.

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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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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).


1. View these Youtube Videos (created by Dan Fishel, a former international student at the Graduate School of Business at Columbia University).

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

3. Contact Columbia’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS)

CPS is a great resource to students and runs several workshops specific to international students’ academic and social adjustment soon after the start of each term. Many of the counselors have an international background and are sensitive to issues of acculturation.

  • 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.

Getting Connected

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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 serves the entire Columbia community. They created a University Life App that has all of your essential campus resources in one guide, including discounts for Columbia University ID holders, campus services and University Life events.

Also, visit Columbia's Events and Announcements page for a wide array of academic and cultural programs and activities taking place every day, campus-wide.