Did you get an internship? If yes, congratulations ! To help you preparing your stay, find below some previous Shasta interns' feedback and advices about living in the US.
Living in the U.S.
The United States is a “melting pot”; it has been attracting people from all over the world since its independence from British rule in 1783. "We the people" are from Asia, Europe, South America, from every corner of the world. Each group has its own background, customs and values, which combine to form the American Culture. It is a culture that is continually being reshaped and redefined as more people from other countries immigrate to the U.S.
One of the best opportunities you will have over the course of your time in the United States is to learn, firsthand, what American culture is like. That’s what cultural exchange is all about. You will discover new things about Americans every day, and as a result you may decide to change some of your behaviors in order to adapt. Remember that adaptation is part of experiencing a new culture. It is not always easy, but you are temporarily in the United States for a new learning experience! The key to a successful program is to stay positive and explore all the opportunities given to you.
Living in another culture opens your mind to other ways of life. This trip to the U.S. can be one of your best learning experiences ever!
You must speak English during your program. You may be uncomfortable with your skills, and even feel embarrassed, but you will quickly notice that people will correct your mistakes in a positive way. Your English abilities will improve through your mistakes. Everyone will admire your willingness and desire to improve.
The worst mistake you can make is to keep silent. Your employer will think you are incapable of performing your job. You must be able to communicate. Practice and repetition are the only ways you will improve your English skills.
Additionally, if you only speak in your native tongue, you will isolate yourself from everyone else who cannot speak your language. Because English is spoken by everyone, it will enable you to make friends with people from many cultures. These friendships are one of the most rewarding elements of the program.
Getting a Visa
If you are going to do an internship in the US, you need a J-1 VISA. There are two different J-1 VISA:
The maximum Intern program duration is 12 months. Applicants can qualify for an internship if:
they are currently enrolled in a degree or certificate-granting post-secondary institution outside the US
they have already graduated with a degree or its equivalent but not more than 12 months prior to the program start date
The maximum Trainee program duration is 18 months. Applicants can qualify for a traineeship if they have either:
a degree or professional certificate from a foreign post-secondary academic institution and at least one year of prior related work experience acquired outside the United States
five years of work experience acquired outside the United States
Caution: You must wait 6 months between two J-1 intern Visa and 2 years after any J-1 Visa to get a J-1 trainee Visa.
As an Arts et Métiers ParisTech student you will need a J-1 intern Visa, even for a gap year internship. The US government requires your VISA application to be approved by a US sponsor. A US sponsor is an administration that will organize and review your application.
As an individual, you have a choice between three sponsors:
- CIEE www.ciee.org
- InterExchange www.interexchange.org
- French American Chamber of Commerce, if your company is a member
You cannot work with CIEE directly. If you want them to sponsor you, you will work with Parenthese, their French representative.
You can work either with InterExchange or one of their French partners: Aquarius and Experiment. There are both more expensive than InterExchange and provide the exact same service as they just transfer your application to InterExchange. The only difference is that they speak French, but in all cases you will apply in English.
InterExchange & Arts et Métiers ParisTech partnership:
InterExchange appears to be the cheapest sponsor and Audrey Stewart negotiated a cooperator price for the Arts et Métiers students, you will get an additional $200 discount. In the field “International cooperator/university/law firm assisting with application (if applicable)” of the application put: ENSAM - Ecole Nationale Superieure d’Arts et Metiers
Go to www.interexchange.org in the "Career training program" section, and fill out the Info request form to receive the application folder by email. The application is long and requires to gather a lot of documents (resume, certificate of enrollment, reference letters, pictures, forms, employer forms,…). Everything will be detailed in the application.
Caution: the J-1 is a non-immigrant VISA and the US government wants to be sure you will leave the US at the end of your stay. During the entire VISA process do not mention any desire to come back or live in the US in the future. Do not mention any relatives or friends in the US. Do not give them the smallest doubt about your coming back.
You must have a medical insurance that meets the sponsor requirements to get the approval. If you do not, they propose a cheap but basic insurance to purchase.
Send your application back to your sponsor and wait for them to review it. After two weeks, if everything is ok, they will call you to check your English level by asking you 3 simple questions:
How did you locate your internship program?
Have you ever been to the US before? If so, for what purpose?
What is your plan upon returning to your home country?
If you pass this easy test, you will be approved and get a DS-2019 form which is required to get a J-1 Visa. Be careful, you will need both your passeport and this form to get through US customs and immigration.
It takes about a week for you to have your form after the interview. When you have it, you must pay the SEVIS fee online at www.fmjfee.com and print the proof of payment for the embassy appointment. You do not need to bring the original SEVIS proof of payment with you, the printed version is ok. You must also fill out the DS-160 form online and print the confirmation for the embassy.
Caution: If you read some J-1 Visa detailed processes on the internet, they may mention DS-156 157 and 158 forms. In 2010, they have been replaced by the DS-160. To fill the DS-160 form, you will have to upload a scanned photo of yourself. Take a look at the embassy website for the requirements: http://french.france.usembassy.gov/photos.html
You can now make an appointment at the US embassy in Paris: http://french.france.usembassy.gov/rdv.html. You usually can have your appointment in the following 2 or 3 days.
Before the appointment, you must pay an application fee by “mandat-compte” to the embassy in a post office. Check the embassy website for the amount to pay and the account to use: http://french.france.usembassy.gov/niv-tarifs.html/ The original receipt will be asked as a proof of payment.
The embassy appointment
For the embassy appointment, bring:
Confirmation of appointment at the embassy
Proof of SEVIS fee payment
2 pictures (see the embassy website for the requirements)
Anything showing that you will come back: flight ticket for the return, family record book, letter of the school saying you did not finish,…
Caution: You cannot bring any electronic devices inside the embassy. They keep cell phones, keys, MP3 players, etc. at the entrance door but refuse laptops.
The appointment consists of two short interviews with a US consulate Representative. If everything goes well you may be asked a few questions in English, they will take your fingerprints, and you are good to go. They keep your passport and DS-2019 and you receive them a few days later by mail.
You should plan a minimum of two months for the whole process.
For your information, in 2010 for 2 months, the total cost was about 700€. This cost increases with additional months. These prices are subject to change every year and should be checked.
VISA fees: starting at $545 for two months with the cooperator price of InterExchange and the insurance (which is compulsory to get in the US).
SEVIS fee: $180
Embassy appointment: $14
Chronopost envelop: 23€
Purchase your ticket about 6-8 weeks in advance to get the best price. However, we strongly recommend you to wait for your VISA. VISA denial is not supported by cancellation insurance. If you are excepting to get your VISA a few days before leaving and absolutely need to get your flight ticket before, at least wait for receiving the DS-2019 form from your sponsor.
Be aware that you will pass immigration and customs controls in the first US city you arrive. If you have a transfer in a US city, make sure you have at least 2 hours.
Bringing money to the U.S.
Traveler’s Checks are a good way to bring money with you. You can use them in almost any store, just like cash, but you will probably need your passport or some other ID. If they get stolen or lost, you can have them replaced, but only if you have the receipt(s).
If you would like to bring bills with you, you should change your euros bills in the US. It is always more interesting to buy the currency of the country: U.S. dollars are cheaper in the US.
Opening a bank account
Withdrawing and paying with your French card costs fees. If you stay longer than a month, we advise you to open a US bank account.
Banks require a social security number (SSN) to open an account. However, Bank of America agrees to open an account to students without SSN but with a VISA. Bring your passport, a letter of the company detailing your salary, and the letter you received from your VISA sponsor. You must provide your social security number to the bank as soon as you get it.
BNP & Bank of America partnership
If you are a BNP customer:
you can withdraw cash with your BNP card from any Bank of America ATM without any fee
money transfers are free between BNP and Bank of America accounts
maintenance fee are free for BNP customers who open a BOA saving account. US saving accounts are similar to French “comptes-courant”
Beware! The price you see on a price tag is not always what you will actually pay at the register. Some States have sales tax that is added to the price of the items. Sales tax and taxable items differ from state to state. For example, some states place a tax on clothes, but others do not. Sales tax varies from 4% to 9%.
Tipping is a common practice across the U.S., and people generally give a tip to anyone in the service industry. This includes restaurants, hotels, taxis, and bars. Individuals who work in these areas receive low wages because tipping is the custom, and in fact they make most of their income from tips. You must consider it as an obligation, only a very bad service justifies not letting a tip. A tip of 15-20% is standard in restaurants, and $2 to $3 is typical for food delivery, taxis, and hotel service.
Finding an accommodation
You have different options: renting, sharing or subletting a place. Sharing a place is the best way to improve language skills and sample American culture in a unique way by living with American people.
How to find a place?
Visit Craigslist, the most commonly-used website to find a place. You can also visit www.roommates.com, www.easyroommates.com… or ask your colleagues. You may also contact interns who preceded you in the US.
Finding a place on craigslist is quite difficult when you are still in France as the first rule is to ‘‘deal locally with folks that you can meet in person’’. When you answer an ad, take the time to introduce yourself and explain that you are willing to do a Skype appointment. Even if you do that, there may have less than 10 % of responses. Doing your own add is the best solution.
In case you couldn’t find a place before you leave, don’t worry: it’s a lot easier to find somewhere to live when you are on US soil. In general, you should be able to find accommodations within a few days of your arrival.
There are a lot of housing scams, especially on the Internet, so you must conduct your housing search carefully. It is highly recommended that you secure short-term housing upon arrival (e.g. in a hostel) and conduct your housing search once you are in the US. This will allow you to see the property and meet your landlord/lady without requiring you to wire large sums of money to someone you have never met. If you absolutely must secure permanent housing before arriving in the USA, it is recommended that you look for an established university or residence facility rather than an individual apartment owner.
The Federal Trade Commission stipulates some telltale signs of scammers:
They want you to wire money. There’s never a good reason to wire money to pay a security deposit, application fee, or first month’s rent. Wiring money is the same as sending cash — once you send it, you have no way to get it back.
They want a security deposit or first month’s rent before you’ve met or signed a lease. It’s never a good idea to send money to someone you’ve never met in person for an apartment you haven’t seen. If you can’t visit an apartment or house yourself, ask someone you trust to go and confirm that it’s for rent. If you don’t know someone who can do this, wait until you are in the US so you can visit housing locations yourself. In addition to setting up a meeting, do a search on the landlord and listing. If you find the same add listed under a different name, that’s a clue it may be a scam.
They say they’re out of the country, but they have a plan to get the keys into your hands. It might involve a lawyer or “agent” working on their behalf. Some scammers even create fake keys. Be skeptical, and don’t send money overseas. If you can’t meet in person, see the apartment, or sign a lease before you pay, keep looking.
Safety should be a high priority when looking for housing. The best thing to do is visit a neighborhood before moving there.
Average monthly cost of housing really depends on location, the type of housing, and what is included (furniture, utilities, etc.). Take a look at craigslist.com to get an idea of the cost of housing in your area.
A security deposit (equal to one month’s rent or more) as well as first and sometimes the last month’s rents are due when you sign your lease. Often, a six months or one year lease is required when renting an apartment, but depending on the housing arrangement you select, you may be able to negotiate a shorter lease or a month-by-month lease.
You will be able to find both furnished and unfurnished housing options in the US. A furnished room or apartment will oftentimes be more expensive, but it can also help to reduce the costs of purchasing furniture and apartment necessities after you arrive.
If you need to furnish your apartment, you can find inexpensive furniture and kitchen supplies at places like Wal-Mart, Target, IKEA, K-Mart, etc.
SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) is an automated system that keeps track of students and exchange visitors and ensures that they maintain their status while in the United States.
In your first week in the US, tell your sponsor where you live (even if it is temporary) so he can register this information in the SEVIS database. Every time you move out, you must tell your sponsor to be in accord with immigration laws requirements.
Getting a social security number
SSN has nothing to do with health care plan. The SSN is the US equivalent of our French ID. You will need one to get paid, get a driver’s license, open an account, etc...
If you have a J-1 or F-1 VISA you can apply for a SSN at a Social Security Administration (http://www.ssa.gov/). To be eligible you must be in the Immigration Services file, which require to wait:
at least 10 days after you arrival on the US ground
at least 2 days after your SEVIS registration by your sponsor
Bring your passport and VISA papers (DS-2019, sponsor letter,…) to the SSA. You will receive your SSN in three weeks by mail.
Driving in the U.S.
You can get an international driver’s license before leaving France (ask your prefecture) but not all U.S. states recognize foreign driver’s licenses. Some administrations and companies only take national ones. So whether you have an international driver’s license or not, take your French one with you.
The validity duration of your driver’s license depends on the US state. Consult the DMV in the state to confirm the length of validity. Local DMV offices may be found by consulting your area’s telephone Yellow Pages, or by visiting the state’s official DMV website.
Obtaining a Driver's License in the U.S.
Depending on your stay length, you may be able to apply for US driver’s license. Some states have an agreement with France and will automatically deliver a US license to French driver’s license holders. Some others will require you to pass tests.
Contact the local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for the state where you will be working to find out whether you are eligible to apply for a U.S. driver’s license. In all case, you must have a social security number to obtain a US driver’s license.
Renting a car
Renting a car is an option available across the country. Most car rental companies require drivers to be at least 21 years old, and charge a per-day surcharge for individuals under the age of 25. Watch out for hidden costs and rental terms, such as limited miles, taking the car out of state, refueling charges and insurance deductibles. Make sure everyone who drives the car is listed.
Buying a car
If you stay in the US for a long time or live in a small city, you may consider buying a car. Here are a few advices from previous interns’ experience:
Cars sold by owners are most of the time cheaper than car dealers
You can find a lot of cars to sale on craigslist.com but avoid scams
If you buy a car, be very careful to buy one in good conditions. Each state government is free to decide whether to require vehicle safety inspection so if your state do not it may be a good idea to spend extra dollars and have a mechanic look over the car before investing your savings
Take a look at the Blue Book www.kbb.com to get a value estimation of a car
Every US car has a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). You can ask for this number and use it to get information using CARFAX, a commercial web-based service that supplies vehicle history reports to individuals on used cars. www.carfax.com This system is not 100% reliable but still useful
Ask the closest DMV about required forms to buy a car
Do not pay the car if the owner cannot give you the car title in exchange. Without the car title, you cannot register, insure or sale your car
Insuring you car
After purchasing a car and before registering it, you must purchase insurance. Some companies insure people with foreign driver’s license for extra fee. You can find bellow some insurance companies:
If you plan to rent a car to visit the US, you can ask your car insurance to cover the cars you rent. Insurance is about half the price of a car rent.
Registrering your car
Check with the state’s DMV before buying the car, and find out everything you need to do and the cost to register it.