Your First Week (Students)

What To Do Your First Week in the U.S.

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Report Your Arrival

Don’t forget to report your arrival to the U.S. (or arrival to Columbia for SEVIS transfer students)—it’s mandatory! This process will activate your SEVIS record. The online form meets the requirement—you do not need to report your arrival in person.

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Review the new student information

This is for all new students at Columbia, at all levels of study. This includes photos for ID cards, information about mandatory Columbia health insurance. MMR immunization documentation, paying your bill, activating UNI, etc.

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Register for full-time course load

Be sure you’re full-time! This is required to maintain your F-1 or J-1 student status and must be done by the end of the second week of classes. Your school will give you instructions for registration for classes

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Understand Full-Time Status

Full-time status is defined by the Registrar and varies by school. Most often, it is either a minimum of 12 credit points or one resident unit. Check with your school if you’re not sure. You can check your registration status (full-time, part-time, half-time) in your SSOL record on the Grades and Registration page.

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Contact your consulate in NYC 

Let them know you’re here! This is optional but recommended. There are more than 100 consulates in NYC not including the Missions to the UN, Trade Commissions, Cultural Delegations, etc.

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Read helpful tips

Review the information on our Resources for New Students page. Housing, Banks, ID Cards, Phones, and more—we want you to know where to find everything you might need.

Attend the Orientation Program hosted by your School / Academic Department

Orientation Programs
You will receive this information directly from them.

We will conduct an information session about your F‐1 / J‐1 status in the United States as part of your program. 

Can't attend an in-person orientation? Watch our online orientation playlist.

Orientation Topics
Topics will include:
  • How to maintain your legal status
  • Rules for traveling and re‐entering the U.S. during your academic program
  • Eligibility for on and off‐campus employment during the academic year, summers, and after graduation

ISSO Immigration Essentials for F-1 and J-1 Students

This playlist is designed primarily to inform you of things relevant to your status in the first few weeks. We also bring to your attention some of the topics that will be more pertinent later on in your stay.

ISSO Immigration Essentials for F-1 and J-1 Students Playlist.


Open a U.S. Bank Account

You do not need a Social Security Number or a letter from the ISSO or any other university office.

You will need:

  • 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 campus in Alfred Lerner Hall open Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Apply for a Social Security Number (SSN) if

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You have authorized employment at Columbia

If you are going to work at Columbia, an SSN is a required part of the paperwork to get paid. Read more about the process and procedures on our SSN application page.

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You are receiving a "non-work" fellowship stipend as a first-year doctoral student in F-1 status 

This is assuming you will later have research or teaching responsibilities under the terms of your fellowship. Learn about the application and procedures on our SSN application page.