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A Dummies-to-Dummies Guide on FIRST TRIP to USA for ELECTIVES etc.

by ‘dummy’ Medisid

‘If I have seen further it by standing on the shoulders of giants/predecessors’ – Sir Isaac Newton. I read the book ‘The Inscrutable Americans’ by Anurag Mathur describing a small town buy from India going to USA for his MSc. It was a nice reading but nicer was experiencing it through myself. So here is ‘The Inscrutable Americans 2.0’ From free unlimited cokes in flights to mispronouncing words in my desi accent, I felt with the character of the book. 

Months ago I made my first overseas trip to US for my elective endeavours. Luckily I had got a 10 year multiple entry visa, two months ago. I was very apprehensive about this trip because it being the first and my fear of being profiled due to ethnicity. I discussed with seniors, relatives in US about what to do and what not to do etc etc. I have compiled the advices and my thoughts in this article for those people who are going on their first US trip for electives and so forth. Those who are globetrotters, kindly ignore it on a light note.

PACKING: We are allowed 2 baggage of maximum 23 kgs each in an international flight towards North America continent. But sometimes in Air India if you inquire and ask about student offers they give you one extra(2+1=3) baggage allowance on proving that you are going to a university. Sometimes they require F1 or J1 visa. But it never hurts calling and bargaining airlines office and showing them your elective acceptance from university. Usually they allow a margin of 1 kgs over it, but you should not count on it. If they are in a bad mood they could make you pay for overweight. These bags are checked in at the airport. In addition to it you are allowed to carry one small suitcase/bag with you into the plane, which should fit the overhead compartment of seats. Additionally with carry in, you can carry a personal item (laptop with its bag or ladies purse) and a coat/jacket/overcoat/books to read(yes you can smuggle your Harrisons to US; using the reason as a book to read on flight) in hand. These cabin baggage you carry with you have different limitation on weight. Usually they are slack in weighing those and don’t care if they are of the right size. I stuffed all my heavy books in my laptop bag to save weight in the big check in baggages. 

THINGS TO BUY & DO in HOME COUNTRY. 

Clothes:

Dress for hospital: Carry lots of formal trousers and shirts and ties. These will the only thing you are allowed to wear at hospital. You can try sweaters too, simple color ones if you are going in cold weather. One suit or blazer is enough. Since you will be wearing apron almost all the time in hospital, these may come handy in presentations or formal meeting etc.

Carry few jeans and casual clothes for roaming around the city or going to party places for nightlife ;-)

Apron/Labcoats: Do carry two. They are compulsory everywhere in hospital. For medical students like us, the style of labcoat is short waist length(just crossing your hips) and full sleeves.

Innerwear & Socks: Buy atleast 10 sets of them, coz you wont be doing your laundry everyday, but usually weekly or even fortnightly.

Shoes: Plain black or brown shoes normal leather style is used. The ones I took from India turned out to be a bit flashy. If you are coming in heavy winter season, you must need a snow boot if your elective is in north side. You can imagine my situation in winters of Chicago during January. Better buy boots from USA coz you would find it easier and cheaper than India. I bought one at 50$ from Payless. Also try to buy winter stuff from USA only. The ones from India won’t work that great. 

Medicines & Stationery: I carried one packet of medicines with drugs for all the common ailments I could have there. Do carry antibiotics for most diseases. They are very expensive and NOT OTC here. If you can get prescriptions from any Indian doctor’s pad stating the entire drug’s name so that the custom/airport people don’t bother you. Last resort is to tell custom guys is that you are a doctor and these are professional samples. 

Gifts from your country: Always take small tokens as gifts from home. Marble statuettes, sandalwood box, wall carpet, embroidery etc which represent your country are nice gifts to give when you part with each of your mentors. I took 8-10 pieces of it and ran out of them. People liked them a lot. It’s also an effective way to tell them that you cared about them to bring them gifts all the way from home. 

Miscellaneous stuff: Like small folding umbrella(rain is erratic here), stationery, pens, toiletries. You have weight allowance and it is better to buy it cheap from India rather than buy the expensive stuff here. I bought a note-copy at 4$ here (Imagine 200 INR Rs!) 

Flight from India:

Port of Entry at US airport on landing:

Carry almost all copies of documents you carried for visa interview. The things they always ask there is 1. Return ticket 2. Reason for travel(elective acceptance letters) 3. place of stay in USA(carry an email or letter on invitation with address, phone number of person with you will be staying) 4. Proof of finances to support your stay in US(Do carry the affidavit of support or copies of bank statements you used for your visa interview). Don’t make any contradicting statements at POE with your visa interview. Truth is the best. He asked me questions like what will you gain from this elective training in USA. It is a like a re-interview for visa. You are a medical student going for a US clinical experience. They respect your effort and are proud of their good clinical teaching hospitals. I had applied for visa stating just 1 month, but at POE I demanded a stay for 6 month showing them proof of all 6 months acceptances or application processing. He easily gave me six months. Also I came to know that we cannot buy a one way ticket for visitor B1/2 visa. The officer at POE stresses on seeing the return flight date and stamps accordingly.  

Travelling within USA.

Airtravel is fastest and best. If you book early (1 month in advance you can get good rates.) But they charge 25$ per checked baggage which is a loot. SOUTHWEST airlines doesn’t charge for checked baggage and is not listed on normal online airline booking sites like expedia or orbitz. Google southwest to find its website and book from there. Other options are buses like Greyhound and Boltbus, Megabus(only in northeast areas). If you book months early, you could get great deals on Megabus and Boltbus. Also there are some local buses running from Chinatown or Chinese restaurants etc to major cities like NY. Ask locals in the city for information about them. The trains in US or the ‘Amtrak’; the trains here are more comfortable than India but can be delayed like India. Not very dependable on time, but definitely very roomy and nice journey compared to buses. Additionally you can get 15% flat discount on AMTRAK through ISIC or StdAdv Cards. Greyhound also honours ~15-20% discount on StdAdv cards. 

Finances:

The State Bank of India issues a Foreign Travel Card (Videsh Yatra Card). It’s a prepaid debit card in US$. You deposit the money here and they would issue a debit card that can be used in taking currency from all VISA atms across USA. For making cash transaction, they charge 2$ per ATM use. But if you use it to do shopping at debit card locations, they don’t have any surcharge. Furthermore, you can get funds deposited in your debit card from SBI branch in India time to time as you need. Check it out at the nearest SBI foreign exchange office (the place where you got your drafts in $$ made for application).

Another very good option and I strongly advise everyone to do is this:

I opened  a bank account here at ‘Bank of America’. In fact I advised and 3 of my elective buddies also opened theirs. You are allowed to open a foreign student account {CAMPUS-EDGE CHECKING} with two ID proofs (Indian Passport with ANY valid visa and Indian drivers license) from home country and in person at any branch of Bank of America. You have to state a US address, which would be your correspondence address to get debit cards. After that all transactions and statements you can receive through online banking. The good thing about this account is that it is valid for five years and you get a debit card and chequebook and there is no bank service fee (unlike other accounts). This Bank account also serves as your address proof whose use I will explain later. You can use this chequebook to make free cheques to use as drafts for any fees from India (which you may have used in past for elective applications) for which you paid enormous bank service charge in India. They give you a debit card with your photo and name. Unlike India, another advantage of this BoA debit card is that we can use this debit card as credit card at all the places (internet, shops etc). I try to avoid cash transactions and use this debit card all the time, to prevent change and pennies hoarding up in my pockets and room. In fact many places you would find that without a debit card you cannot do anything. Also when you use this debit card always use it as a credit card (through VISA network). I don’t know why but if you use this debit card as debit card in some stores you will have to pay a surcharge for its use (through BoA network, so banks take a fee for checking balance; while VISA network just bills it as a due amount from your account which is deducted days later). But NEVER overdraw the balance you have in your account as credit through your debitcard. I am not very sure about this credit-debit discrepancy! 

ID: While trying my hell best in vain to get a SSN issued I stumbled upon this State ID card. Since we are not eligible for driving license, we could easily get a State ID Card from DMV (Dept of Motor Vehicles). You just need your passport, valid I-94 card(visa) and a proof of residence. Now here the Bank of America account comes in handy. The first statement you get at your address or in online account with your address is a valid proof of address for many purposes. You can use it to get this State ID. Just go to your state/city of residence (A/c statement address) DMV office with Passport and I-94 card and apply for it. The fees is 10$ only. It takes 10 days to process and you will get it in your mail (same address as a/c statement). But this ID will be valid only till your authorized stay in US (upto the date stamped on your I-94 card). The good thing about this ID, is that you do not need to carry your passport all your time in pocket. You can easily use this ID to board domestic flights in US. I had to show ID(my passport) every time I went to pickup greyhound bus tickets (when I booked ticket online), and I didn’t want to take out my passport at stations. So it comes in handy in these situations. Furthermore it gives you more credibility in US compared to your foreign passport in public places. At some very rare places you don’t want to tell people that are a foreigner due to fear of profiling. Also for those party animals, this card will serve as your ID when you want to enter places to enjoy your nightlife.  

Discounts: There is ‘ISIC’ International student I Card, endorsed by UNESCO for student discounts all over world. It costs 200 INR Rs and is issued by the STIC travel agents in India. It has your name, college, DoB, photo so it can serve a ID proof, but not at all places. I have used it for once or twice as I don’t carry passport all the time in my pocket. Log in to http://www.isicweb.net/default.php for the details and how to apply. Another Student discount card is ‘Student Advantage’ Card. You can get this from US on a US address for 20$. Log on to www.studentadvantage.com It gives discounts on GREYHOUND bus and AMTRAK train service and many more. ISIC card works only for AMTRAK not for Greyhound Bus. 

Cellphone: After thorough search, I found a cellphone service called 'Straight Talk' which runs on verizon network and has excellent network. I used it in all the cities, but you can goto www.straighttalk.com and check your destination city to see if they are covered or not. It is a prepaid connection sold exclusively in Walmart stores all across the USA. You have to buy a cellphone from it, the one i bought was for 30$. Then they have 2 plans to suit your needs. 30$ per months for 1000 mins and 1000 SMS, or 45$ per month for unlimited minutes and unlimited text. You can recharge either by buying coupons at Walmart or online. For calling to India, I used a online card called stanacard (www.stanacard.com). You enter all your indian numbers here and they give you a proxy US based local number to dial that number. Once you dial them, it automatically connects to indian number. Also you can dial their callcentre number and then once prompted, you dial in any Indian/ foreign number with code and they put you through. It charges around 3cents per minute for India and has different rates for different country. But mind it! You are also using your local minutes in cellphone in this as you are connecting to the US local number. But it was a cheap option. There are a lot of companies out there like stanacard. Just find which one is cheapest and suits you. Skype is also an option, but I am not sure of the calling rates.

Plugs n Convertors. Usually the adapter in laptop are suited to 110V. You just need the proper plug. What I did was just buy a new power cord connecting my laptops adapter to wall socket (US style). Infact I didnot even buy; the kind store owner in US(where I went to inquire about it) gave it to me for FREE. God Bless Him. It is a very nice idea given by the person below to but it from India. Thanks.

Food:

Prepared food is expensive in USA, compared to eating at home, even if packaged. If you want to save money, try to have 1 meal everyday at home. Also are frozen packaged dinners that you just need to microwave and voila! Buy a rice cooker from any grocery store in USA. It’s a heat operated rice cooking utensil. Google desi Indian stores and bring stuff from there and store it in fridge. Try to meet/visit all your ‘long distant relatives/long lost family friends’ in the nearby areas of your elective to satisfy your cravings for home cooked desi food;-) If you want to spend less on food you will have to eat at home for atleast once a day. I tried not to spend more than 10$ a day on food, either outside or at home. The food here is fattening and will stick to you, so you better not stick to it.

Also abandon smoking habits. Hospitals are all no-smoking zone and cigarettes are much more expensive than food. While doing grocery, I bought some packs for my roomie and realized how expensive they were. They are luxury. 

More to come and guys if you want you can add your ideas and experience here too.

Best Wishes.

Addition by Vaibhav Jain

Thank you medisid for sharing this knowledgeable information with us. I also want to share some more points which I found important during my elective.

In India we have 220 V electricity supply while in US it is 110V. Also, the sockets are not the same. So, all your appliances which have you bought from India won’t work here which can a great problem if your laptop, shaver, mobile don’t work. I got this problem, my electronic shaver was not working & I was not use to traditional shaving so have to purchase a new one from here which can be extra burden on your pocket. If you purchase a convertor from here, it is bit costly like I tried it on best buy or walmart which costs 20$ so it is good to carry one from India. You can easily get a Universal convertor in just 50 INR from India which would be a great deal.

Also, you will be needing a local mobile here which again can be a hectic. As, most of the operators give it on 2 year contract & for an elective you won’t be staying that long. But you can easily get a prepaid connection on the documents medisid discussed in detail. In the US, incoming call is also charged the same as outgoing. You can get various plans as per your need. Also, if you will be calling to India from there, use some calling cards which is easily available online & is cheap also.

One more thing I want to share, learn some basic cooking before coming which can help you to save a lot of money.

Best of Luck to all

Grateful

Hey Medisid, thanks a ton for the information. It shall be very handy for all those who are getting ready to attend electives, including me. I think those who have recently attended electives will have lot more to add. I wish they would come forward. Then we could have much clearer picture in an institution/city-specific manner. Once I finish my elective at Northwestern, I shall definitely share my experience.

accomodation info in san francisco

aoa umar bhi ! hope all is well ... you did electives at Ucsf for 12 weeks , i'm going there for the diagnostic elective for a month .. can you please give me info of where you stayed and what are the best options exactly ? i have searched but found few meaningful results... thanx a lot ! 

visa issue

hello,

I had got an admit for an elective in Northwestern, Chicago for Oct. I applied for visa on the basis of this letter and was granted the same [B1/B2]. But the name of the Univ is printed on my visa stamp. Recently I also got an admit from U of Connecticut for Nov. Now im wondering if I can use the same visa for the elective there, or will the Univ name on my visa pose a problem.. ? Kindly help

hey. i got an admit into

hey. i got an admit into northwestern university for month of jan. i have few doubts with visa issues. the first one is while filling the 160 form which option should we choose business/conferenceb1 or business/pleasureb1/b2.second one is regarding to the question where do you plan to stay? can write the university address..i have been in talks with few housing people..they said room is available but they wont give confirmation until i pay..please help.........

Hello.I'm having the same

Hello.I'm having the same problem. Did you find out the answer? Can anybody help?

it is not a problem...

umar's picture

it is not a problem...

I am very busy these days and won't be replying to anymore queries. Apologies for any inconvenience and thank you for your understanding. All the best.

beware of psychotic landlords

I just had the worst experience of my lifetime staying in baltimore while i was doing my research elective at hopkins. 

Please avoid 924 N Broadway, Baltimore, 21205 . The landlord is a psycho, and will steal your security deposit saying some crap like the floor is unclean, or shit like that. Dont let Baltimore landlords steal your money. They will scream at you, send you curse emails etc all so that they can steal your money.

Again avoid 924N Broadway.

Stay in Homewood campus. its the safest and nicest.

Time never changes... history

umar's picture

Time never changes... history repeats itself... I had a similar experience staying at the same property couple of years back... I left the property after a week for the same reason and moved to reed hall. Moreover it's not a nice/ safe area. I stayed at 928 but the owner of 924-928 is the same guy. So friends, avoid 924-928 N Broadway Baltimore. It is surprising for me to see things have not changed. As written in the above mentioned comment, if you dont find a place at Reed Hall, stay at Homewood campus... dont try to stay near Johns Hopkins Hospital... it is not safe at all!

I am very busy these days and won't be replying to anymore queries. Apologies for any inconvenience and thank you for your understanding. All the best.

dear sir,        i'm a 2nd yr

dear sir,

       i'm a 2nd yr medical student.. my exams got over 2 days back.. ur website as been so helpful.. i want to thank u and wish u a great future..i'm going for research elective in my holidays in john hopkins oncology department, it starts on 27th of this month.. i just would like to know if it would be a problem if i visit my sister who stays in houston before going to hopkins?? thank u once again

Thanks for your kind words...

umar's picture

Thanks for your kind words... congrats on ur acceptance! it should not be a problem! all the best!

I am very busy these days and won't be replying to anymore queries. Apologies for any inconvenience and thank you for your understanding. All the best.

regarding DMV state ID card

dear medisid,

does the state id card implies literally or it can be used a identification proof all over US...if its only a state thing,is there any other way to get an ID made which is valid nationally so as to avoid using my passport everywhere..

thanks a lot man...its a wonderful article..its helped a lot

DMV State Id card

Sorry for such a delayed reply.State ID card can be used all over USA. It looks very much like a Drivers License, except the heading.

This is the only way(loophole) I was able to find to get it made :-)

Best Wishes.

hello ppl.... i have my cuznz

hello ppl....

i have my cuznz in the locality i am to visit...am i to write down thr address in the visa application since i would be staying with them...

i was a bit scared at the fact that i have been rejected of my B! visa 4 yrs ago due toperhaps the same reason...

taking a chance would be ok

kindly get back on this

thank u

Hira

I think it is preferable to

umar's picture

I think it is preferable to give your home country address as technically if you don't live in US, then how come you could provide a US address; though you dont need to lie or hide your US contact/ relative.

I am very busy these days and won't be replying to anymore queries. Apologies for any inconvenience and thank you for your understanding. All the best.

Thank u umar bhai... but v do

Thank u umar bhai...

but v do have a portion in the visa application which states about the place of stay during my run time thr in US...

am i to enter in the address of my cuznz or just type in the address of the campus...

kindly reply

thank u

Type in address of the

ayaz's picture

Type in address of the campus.

info of great value

It must took u a lot of time writing this article, Great info from a great friend. u r always trying to help others as u've helped me in the US. best of luck in ur CS results.

Acceptance from Weill cornell

Hi Umar bhai. First of all I would like to thank you for this wonderful site which has been of great help to many students like me.

I recently got accepted for a March elective in Weill Cornell. I have heard its a good university. But does only one month of clerkship suffice the experience requirement? I wanted to know how much advantage this elective would provide me. Thank you.

Thanks for your kind words...

umar's picture

Thanks for your kind words... congrats on your acceptance! its a great place! It would be helpful but it is better if you have 12 weeks electives...

I am very busy these days and won't be replying to anymore queries. Apologies for any inconvenience and thank you for your understanding. All the best.

research

hi umar.i am a final year medical student.can you tell me the places were i can apply for research..............

I am sorry I am not aware of

umar's picture

I am sorry I am not aware of any place offering research, try usmletomd.com!

I am very busy these days and won't be replying to anymore queries. Apologies for any inconvenience and thank you for your understanding. All the best.

Addition

hi!

I was in Chicago on an elective from apr 26-may 21st.

Some additions I wanted to make.

Abt the cell connection-T-mobile sells prepaid sims that usually work on mobiles used in the sub-continent.

In addition to finding out long lost relatives,one can always make friends with fellow visiting students.Trust me its always worth that uncomfortable first conversation,and friends will make your stay much less lonelier!

All the best every1.

And please pass on your tips to others.

God bless Umar bhai for starting it all!

Thanks for your kind words...

umar's picture

Thanks for your kind words... God bless you!

I am very busy these days and won't be replying to anymore queries. Apologies for any inconvenience and thank you for your understanding. All the best.

Thank you medisid

Thank you medisid for sharing this knowledgeable information
with us. I also want to share some more points which I found important during
my elective.

In India we have 220 V electricity supply while in US it is
110V. Also, the sockets are not the same. So, all your appliances which have
you bought from India won’t work here which can a great problem if your laptop,
shaver, mobile don’t work. I got this problem, my electronic shaver was not
working & I was not use to traditional shaving so have to purchase a new
one from here which can be extra burden on your pocket. If you purchase a
convertor from here, it is bit costly like I tried it on best buy or walmart
which costs 20$ so it is good to carry one from India. You can easily get a
Universal convertor in just 50 INR from India which would be a great deal.

Also, you will be needing a local mobile here which again
can be a hectic. As, most of the operators give it on 2 year contract & for
an elective you won’t be staying that long. But you can easily get a prepaid
connection on the documents medisid discussed in detail. In the US, incoming
call is also charged the same as outgoing. You can get various plans as per
your need. Also, if you will be calling to India from there, use some calling
cards which is easily available online & is cheap also.

One more thing I want to share, learn some basic cooking before
coming which can help you to save a lot of money.

Best of Luck to all

@medisid

superb article medisid!! 2 good... if and when i get accepted for an elective... m sure dis articles gonna be of gr8 help! god bless ya!

My pleasure...........

Glad to be of any help........

Best of luck in your elective endeavours.....

Best Wishes

Thanks medisid..

viraatharsh's picture

Thanks medisid..

All the best

-Viraat

Hi Medisid!! Thanks for the

viraatharsh's picture

Hi Medisid!!

Thanks for the article. I think all your advice is really gonna turn handy for me as I am leave for elective rotations in less than a week now. And I was pretty shaky about certain things. Ur article helped. thank you again.

What is the I-94 card? Is it the arrival departure form u r referring to?? I thought we had to deposit that form? Do we get to keep it with ourselves once filled in? Please reply. also the link to isic is not working. please correct it.

All the best

-Viraat

I-94 card!

Hi Viraat!

Thanks for liking it...........Yes that is the arrival departure card that you have to fill in flight before landing. The Airlines ppl will give you thaty before landing. Once you fill that out, the POE officer will tear off the bottom portion and staple it to your Passport beside your visa page. That is your only proof of valid entry and living status in US. Now when you are leaving US on your return to India, then you have to make sure that you submit it to the airlines people before boarding (who then give it back to POE/USCIS) so that your departure is recorded.

The ISIC link is http://www.isicweb.net/default.php

Best Wishes.

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