Pre-Arrival Resources


Before Your Departure

Information about the Certificate of Eligibility (I-20/DS-2019), how to pay the I-901 SEVIS fee, and visa application process can be found here. 

Students are eligible for a SEVIS transfer or a Change of Level when there is less than a 5 month break between their current end date and new program start date. However, students need to complete the SEVIS transfer or Change of Level within 60 days of their current program end date. Students who complete a SEVIS transfer or Change of Level can remain in the US or travel in and out of the US during the break in their studies. The SEVIS fee is not required when transferring schools within the United States or changing to another degree program or level.

SEVIS Transfers: Detailed information about transferring to USF can be found here.

Change of Degree Level at USF: If you are changing from one USF degree to another, you will get a new I-20 at the end of your current program. If you plan to travel in-between the degrees, you should inform the respective admissions office (graduate or undergraduate) of your plans as you will need your new I-20 before you re-enter the U.S.

Living on-campus provides you with an authentic college experience that no student should miss. It is a chance to make new friends, learn first-hand about a different culture, and participate fully in the campus community. Accommodations on campus typically include two students living in one residence hall room. Your reservation for housing is not processed until you complete the application and accept your housing assignment. If you would like to live on campus (or if you are required to live on campus) you must complete the online application in MyUSF. To access the application, log into MyUSF, click on the Student Tab, and click on USFrooms. For more information on how to apply for housing and the USF on-campus living requirement, visit Student Housing and Residential Education (SHaRE) website.

Please note that the housing contract is a legally binding agreement; once signed, you are required to live on campus for the duration of the contract. University housing operates August through May with a brief closure during the winter holidays (usually around December 15-31). On-campus housing is very popular, so be certain to apply as soon as possible. If you have difficulties or questions, please contact the Student Housing and Residential Education office or +1 (415) 422-6824. You should secure your housing arrangements before arriving at USF.

Student Housing and Residential Education offers some assistance in locating off-campus housing. However, renting an apartment in San Francisco will take some time and effort and is ultimately up to the student to find their own off-campus accommodations. The best resource to start your search is the USF Off-Campus housing website.


More About Living Off-Campus: With the competitive rental market, it can take up to three weeks to locate accommodation, so plan your arrival and living arrangements in San Francisco accordingly. In order to rent an apartment, most rental agencies and landlords will verify your “credit history” in the United States, which would be evidenced by prior rentals in the United States, U.S. bank accounts, or credit cards. However, if you are new to the United States, then you can explain to the landlord that you do not have the mentioned documents. Additionally, ISSS has created a letter that explains these circumstances on behalf of USF international students. Go to the ISSS letters page to access the Vendor Letter and follow the instructions provided. Typically, landlords are understanding and welcome international guests. For more information about living off-campus, visit the USF Off-Campus website.

When you first arrive in San Francisco you will likely need an immediate place to stay while you continue your search for more permanent housing. A listing of local hotels, hostels, and residence clubs is available on the Off-Campus housing website (select Housing Search Resources from the left navigation panel).  

International students are expected to arrive at USF prior to the start of International Student Orientation (as orientation approaches, dates, times, and schedule details will be available on the ISSS website. In most cases, the date of the International Student Orientation will also be the program start date indicated on your Certificate of Eligibility (I-20 or DS-2019). If you cannot arrive by the program start date specified on your Certificate of Eligibility, notify the ISSS office.

If you have confirmation of on-campus housing, please contact the Student Housing and Residential Education office (SHaRE) by phone at +1(415) 422-6824 or by email at for any questions about housing and check the SHaRE website for move-in dates.

If you wish to travel within the United States before the start of classes, you may do so on your student visa. You may enter as early as 30 days before your program start date on your Certificate of Eligibility. U.S. Embassies and Consulates usually issue the F-1 or J-1 student visa as early as 120 days before the entry date on the Certificate of Eligibility. Do not enter the United States on a tourist visa (B-2) or under the Visa Waiver Program.

For transportation options from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to the USF campus, please visit the Getting to USF web page. 

The USF Next Steps is a great resource for detailed information on getting ready for your studies. This guide will help you register for classes, satisfy immunization requirements, know how to pay your tuition and more! Read the USF Next Steps online.

When you arrive at USF you will need to show proof of immunizations in order to get cleared for being able to attend classes and live on-campus. You should consult your medical provider in your home country to get proof of your medical history and immunizations you have already received. For a list of required immunization and how to submit proof visit the Health Promotion Services (HPS) website. You will also want to obtain records about any medical conditions you have, treatments you need, prescriptions for medication (including the generic and brand names), and eye glasses. Dental and medical records for you, and your dependents if applicable, are strongly recommended in case you need further treatment while in the United States. USF will require that you purchase student health insurance unless you show proof of comparable health insurance for the United States. If you believe that you have health insurance that can meet the requirements, bring proof of this insurance and details about the plan to apply for a health insurance waiver. You can read more about the health insurance requirement on the HPS website

packing and travel

  • Weather and Dress: Although California is known for being the “land of golden sunshine,” the city of San Francisco does not have a very warm climate. The temperature in San Francisco averages between a low of 40 degrees and a high of 70 degrees Fahrenheit (4.5 to 21.0 degrees Celsius).
    • June through August are usually cold and foggy.
    • September and October are the warmest months.
    • December through May usually bring rain and colder temperatures.

You will require a light-weight jacket or coat at all times of the year and a medium- to heavy-weight coat for certain winter months. You should bring plenty of warm clothing as students who come from warm or tropical climates usually find San Francisco’s temperatures to be rather cool. Most of the students dress informally for class (jeans and shirts) but dress more formally when they go out to dinner or attend special events.

  • Shipping: Do not ship any of your personal belongings to your campus address prior to your arrival; they will be returned if you are not there. USF will not accept any packages on your behalf and cannot store them for you on campus. If you wish to ship some of your belongings in advance, you will need to ship them to a private address. You can obtain information about freight and shipping services through your local travel agencies or postal service. Ensure any valuable items that you ship overseas. Items for your room can be purchased once in the United States.
  • Finances for Living Expenses and Tuition: Plan to bring with you enough money to cover the expenses of your first month, which is likely to be one of the most expensive periods of your stay. You will need to pay for local transportation, meals, and possibly several nights of lodging. If you plan to live off-campus, you should bring enough funds to pay a security deposit and one month’s rent before you move in. Be careful if you choose to carry cash and avoid carrying a large sum of cash, you will need to file a form with Customs and Border Protection if you are bringing currency or monetary instruments exceeding $10,000 USD. Travelers’ checks are a safer way to carry money, but not all vendors accept them. Having a credit card, such as Visa or MasterCard, is recommended. To access money from your home country bank in order to pay your tuition and fees, we suggest you discuss the situation with your home country bank prior to your departure. New students typically select the bank wire transfer that transfers funds directly from their home country bank to USF in order to pay for their tuition and fees during their first semester. Please visit the Billing and Tuition website to view the different payment options.
  • For more information about what to bring for living on-campus, please visit the student housing website, and read about "What is in My Room".
  • Bring with you to the United States any important documents that relate to your immigration, travel, legal, academic, and medical history:
  • Passport, identification cards, driver’s licenses, etc.
  • Marriage certificate and birth certificates (for you and your dependents if applicable)
  • Proof of health insurance coverage in the United States if any (otherwise you will be required to purchase USF student health insurance)
  • Information about medical conditions or treatments, prescriptions for medication (including the generic and brand names), and eye glasses
  • Medical and dental records, including certificates of immunizations and vaccinations, especially Covid-19, rubella, rubeola, and tuberculin for you and your dependents if applicable (USF requires proof of these vaccines, if you do not get them before you arrive, you can get them during orientation).
  • Any other copies of immigration and travel documents from the past
  • Official transcripts from secondary schools, colleges, or universities If possible, obtain English translations of these documents and have the translations certified by a U.S. educational advising center at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Retain photocopies of all original documents for your records.

Toward the end of your flight, the airline flight attendant will give you a Customs Form. Please fill this form out while you are on the airplane and have it ready along with your Passport and Certificate of Eligibility (Form I-20 or Form DS-2019) when you depart the plane. It is forbidden to bring certain items into the United States (for example, fruits, vegetables, drugs, or firearms). You will be asked to report the value of the things you are bringing in to the United States. Simply follow the directions on the form. If you have questions, ask the flight attendant for clarification.

  • At Immigration Control
    • Present your Passport, Visa, and Certificate of Eligibility to the officer.
    • After questioning you about your plans in the United States, the officer will process your documents for entry.
    • You will be required to use an inkless, digital finger scanner to scan your fingerprints. Follow the officer’s instructions by placing each finger on the scanner.
    • The officer will also take your digital photograph. These procedures add only seconds to the overall processing time.
    • The immigration officer will give you one stamp in your passport once you have been cleared for entry into the United States.
    • Your passport and Certificate of Eligibility will be returned to you. Please check that all original documents are returned to you and that they are stamped in red ink and marked “F-1” or “J-1” and “D/S” for “Duration of Status.
  • At Baggage Claim and Customs
    • Proceed to the appropriate baggage claim area to pick up your luggage. Baggage carts availability vary depending upon your port of entry.
    • After this, you will be directed to the Customs Service for inspection of your baggage.
    • Give the Customs Form to the Customs Official and allow your baggage to be checked.
    • After your baggage has passed through Customs you will be allowed to exit the airport.

once you arrive

If you are living on campus and know which room you have been assigned, go directly to the front desk at the residence hall where you will be living. If you do not know what room you have been assigned, you will need to contact the Student Housing and Residential Education (SHaRE) during business hours (Monday through Friday, 9:00 A.M. to 4 P.M., University Center 5th floor or for your room assignment. If you arrive when SHaRE cannot assist you, you will need to find alternate accommodations for a place to stay. Look at short term housing options on the Off-Campus Living website (select Housing Search Resources from the left navigation panel).  


International Student Orientation (ISO) takes place before the start of classes and is required for all J-1 and F-1 visa holders. At ISO you will have a chance to learn about your student visa status, get tips for academic success and cultural adjustment, get to know campus resources, and more. Please find the ISO dates, location and schedule online as the semester approaches on the ISO website.

In addition to International Student Orientation, you will also have an orientation for your degree program. Both orientations are mandatory and will help you begin your program with the information you need.

Undergraduate students should attend the New Student Orientation (NSO), which will take place right after the International Student Orientation and before classes start. This program will cover important information about your major and the expectations of your program. During NSO there will be an opportunity for you to speak with an advisor about your course schedule and make changes to your classes as needed. As NSO approaches, details about the schedule will be posted online.

Graduate students should attend the orientation session provided by their department. You should receive information directly from your department about your orientation and registering for classes.

Your student ID (Mobile One Card) is your access to campus buildings and can also be your meal ticket if you have a meal plan. Go to the One Card website to set up your Mobile One Card. 

Upon arrival at USF, you will need to submit your proof of immunization and COVID-19 vaccination to the Health Promotion Services (HPS) office as soon as possible. For contact information and details on what to submit, visit the HPS website. All international students will be charged for USF student health insurance, which will show up in your student account. 

To open a bank account you will need to bring your Certificate of Eligibility, passport, Admission Record, and cash to deposit. To obtain your Admission Record you can visit the Customs and Border Protection website for Arrival Record Retrieval

When you arrive at the bank, request to open a student checking account. You DO NOT need a Social Security Number to open a bank account. If the bank representative tells you that you need one, politely let them know that you know that you do not need one to open an account. If they still want one, ask to speak with someone else at the bank. USF does not endorse any particular bank and there are many to choose from. Important things to consider are banking fees, bank locations, Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) locations, and wire transfer options with your bank in your home country.

Many students want to get a cell phone soon after arriving at USF. Some cell phone companies require a two year commitment, and some will allow you to pay each month or add minutes to your phone as needed. You will need your passport, Certificate of Eligibility, and Admission Record to start a cell phone plan. You do not need a Social Security Number to apply for a cell phone, but most companies will want to verify your ability to pay the cell phone bill or require an extra deposit. ISSS has written a Vendor Letter that you can use to help prove your finances.

success in your first year

Academics in the United States are likely to differ in some way from those in your home country. Adjusting to college level courses and a new educational environment can take some time and effort. The first step is being aware of these differences and finding the resources you will need to succeed. USF hosts a number of different resources that help students be successful. These resources will help get you on the right track for academic success.

  • Academic Advising: Make sure you know who your academic advisor is and talk to them about your course choices. If you are having trouble with a course or a particular subject, it is good to talk with your advisor and seek their advice.
  • Professor’s Office Hours: Your professors set aside certain times during the week to talk with students. This time is for you to ask questions about the course, get feedback on your performance, and communicate anything you may be struggling with.
  • Learning, Writing, and Speaking Centers: These centers are a great resource for undergraduate students to get assistance on academic writing, structuring a paper, and communication-related support (including public speaking). You can also contact them to get a tutor for your classes. 
  • USF 101: All new first-year students are invited to take a 1-unit course called USF101, during their first semester on campus. Students enrolled in USF101 meet weekly, engaging with an instructor, a peer mentor, and each other to explore their new environment and chart their four-year college journey. 
  • Academic English for Multilingual Students: Check the course catalog for AEM workshops to improve your academic reading and writing. These classes are available to all multilingual speakers, not only those for whom English is not the primary language.
  • Many students are aware that U.S. Culture will differ from their own, but it is hard to know how your cultural adjustment process will entail until it is happening. Cultural adjustment depends on how easily an individual is able to adapt, find resources, and establish themselves in a new environment. However, there are other factors that can make this process harder or easier. Some of these factors are outside of your control and others are more manageable. For example, individuals from cultures that share more similarities to U.S. culture will, in general, be able to adapt more easily to life in the U.S. If you come from a country where English is the primary language it will be easier for you to navigate your new environment because verbal communication will be easier. However, if you are from a country where you are used to spending time with a lot of people and always having friends, family and neighbors around, adjusting to the more individual culture of the U.S. could take some extra effort.
  • Understanding cultural differences will make it easier to adapt to a new culture. Being aware that people have different communication styles and different values can help you make more sense of interpersonal interactions and not take misunderstandings personally.
  • International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) holds a cultural adjustment workshop during the mandatory International Student Orientation (ISO). During this workshop you will have the chance to learn more about cultural differences and tips for cultural adjustment. In order to assist with this cultural adjustment process, ISSS has a number of involvement opportunities that you can take part in throughout the year. See “Meeting Friends and Getting Involved” below.
  • If your cultural adjustment process turns out to be harder than anticipated and you need to talk with someone, the Counseling and Psychological Services office (CAPS) is a great resource for you. CAPS can help students with cultural adjustment, homesickness, school related stress and other family or personal issues.
  • ISSS offers many different opportunities for students to meet new friends, explore the Bay Area, and get involved in the USF community.  The International Student Association (ISA) is a student club on campus, advised by ISSS, that helps students make connections and plan cultural events for the USF community. International Education Week (IEW) is a great opportunity to showcase your culture and cultural talents during this week long celebration of international education that takes place every November. Read more about these programs and other ISSS involvement opportunities on our Programs & Involvement page.
  • Student Leadership and Engagement (SLE) is the office that oversees the student clubs and organizations at USF. Getting in touch with a cultural club from your home region or country can be a great way to get support in a new environment. Review a list of the different clubs on campus through the SLE website. If you cannot find the type of club you are interested in, you can always petition to start a new club.
  • The Koret Health and Recreation Center, USF's gymnasium and recreational athletic facility, also offers a number of day and overnight excursions. These excursions are offered at a very discounted rate for students, and are a great way to get to know Americans and other international students while exploring California.