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Guide to studying in the U.S.

Moving to the U.S. to study is an exciting prospect - and a bit of preparation can help you hit the ground running.

One of the main attractions of living in the U.S. is its diversity - from the people and cultures, to the climates and landscapes between different states.

It's so big and varied that you're bound to find a place where you fit in. And it's also home to some of the best educational institutions in the world, so it's a great place to study.

But before you start packing your bags, find out how to prepare and what to expect from studying in the U.S..

Jump straight to:

What do you want to study?

Where do you want to study?

Your application process and visa


Do you need to check your passport?

How to budget for studying in the U.S.

Setting up your finances

Living in the U.S. - lifestyle tips

What do you want to study?

You might have already settled on what you want to study.

But if not, here's a quick list of some of your options in the U.S.:

  • associate degree - usually completed at a community college, takes 2 years, and can count towards a bachelor's degree
  • bachelor's degree - usually takes 4 years and is completed at a university
  • master's degree - usually takes 1-3 years, after a bachelor's degree
  • doctoral degree

Where do you want to study?

Whether you choose to study at a community college, a university, or elsewhere, deciding on the state you'll study in is a key step.

Because of the size of the U.S., there's a lot of variation, both geographically and culturally, between different states.

For example, you'll find some of the best colleges in New York along with the attraction of busy city life, but a much cooler climate compared to the West coast or the southern states - and probably a lot less space.

While it's important to choose an institution that meets your educational needs, don't forget to consider the lifestyle in that area.

Remember - to get your visa, your institution will need to be Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) certified. You can search for qualifying schools on the Homeland Security website.

Application process and visa

The application process will vary depending on the program you're applying for. But it's always good to plan as far in advance as possible.

Most undergraduate degree applications, for example, are due between November and January for courses starting in September - at least 9 months in advance.

Depending on your course, you might need to provide the following for your application:

  • certificates for your existing education qualifications
  • recommendation letters from a teacher, or someone else from your school or professional life
  • a personal statement


If you're attending a college, you can usually choose between on-campus accommodation (dorms) or private accommodation (private homes and homestays).

Student housing can be a great way to meet people. But towards the later years of your studies, you might choose to find private accommodation with a few close friends.

Do you need to check your passport?

Check passport requirements before you leave to ensure your passport remains valid.

Budgeting for your studies

To get your visa, you'll need to prove that you can afford to live in the U.S. while you study.

Here's a list of things you may need to include in your budget:

  • tuition fees
  • accommodation
  • food and bills, including your cell phone contract
  • transport costs, including flights to and from the U.S.
  • socialising
  • travel insurance
  • your Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP)

The more you can save before you go, the better.

Try to build up an emergency fund in case of any unexpected costs, such as having to make an emergency trip home.

Set up your finances

You'll likely use a checking account for your daily banking, such as paying for things and receiving and sending money.

But it can be difficult to open a U.S. bank account as a non-resident - you'll probably be asked for proof of ID, proof of income, your address, and your Social Security Number (SSN), which you might not have yet.

At HSBC, we can set up your banking services before you arrive in the U.S.[@internationalaccountseligibility], making it easier to pay for your tuition fees, housing and other expenses as soon as you get there.

Explore: Our financial products and resources for students

Living in the U.S. as a student

Depending on where you live, you might notice a lot of cultural differences between your home country and the U.S..

The good thing is that American culture is everywhere - from movies to music, and global American brands you'll recognise from back home.

Here are a couple of essential snippets of U.S. culture to get you going:

  • Tipping is expected - whether it's a taxi ride, food delivery, hotel service or a meal out, you'll be expected to give a tip. Between 15% and 20% of your bill is a good amount to add for gratuity - otherwise, you might be considered rude!
  • Healthcare - there's no universal healthcare in the U.S.. You'll probably want to get some health insurance, or you could face costly medical bills if you need treatment.
  • Local laws - some laws change from state to state in the U.S. which can catch people out - for example, jaywalking is a crime in some states and requires a court appearance.
  • Drive on the right - you probably won't reach your destination otherwise…

Explore more

Plan your move away from the U.S. with this checklist of things to do before you go.
Get your head around some U.S. financial terms and services, so you can make the most of your finances.
Learn how to send money overseas safely and securely.


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