Guide for a successful start to life in the US – Part 1

With your own US adventure on the horizon or your thoughts circulating about college sports, there might be many questions you have for your first steps in the new country. Of course, it will be different for everyone but we can try and give you an overview of what is waiting for you at the start of your journey and maybe make it a bit easier.


Arrival in the US will be different from your normal holiday trip, especially in Europe. Once you arrive you will have to find the queue for “Non-US-Citizens”. Any other queue is not the one for you. At the moment, you might not be faced with long queues, since tourists are not yet allowed in. At least one thing that is good about the current situation!

You should normally be asked about the goal and destination of your journey, to which you should reply that you will study at your specific university in that specific city. That’s a normal procedure so do not worry about these questions. If you do not understand something, feel free to ask politely. On top of the questions, they will want to see your I-20 and two other documents that you will receive on your flight, a blue and white customs form, and the I-94 form, which you will obviously have to answer in English. After that, sort of like in movies, they will scan your fingerprint and take a picture of your eye – intense safety measures you don’t see in every country.

When you made it through, follow the “Baggage Claim” signs to make it to your baggage. With that baggage, you go through customs, normally through “Nothing to declare”. You hand in your customs form from your flight and congratulations – you made it to US soil!

However, if you try to get a connecting flight, there will be someone waiting for you after customs to pick up your baggage, if you haven’t decided to let it be passed on to your final destination immediately.

Stressful Start

Start to life in a different region will always be a bit stressful. You will have several documents to fill out and find your way around, but we can give you some information to make the start a bit easier.



That’s an important one – the finances. You should by now know that you can’t just pay in Euros. But where do you get the money from? There are ATMs to get money from but to withdraw cash without having to pay a withdrawal fee you need a credit card from certain banks in your country that might offer free withdrawals. If you have that sorted out, you can always transfer money to that card and withdraw it in the US. Paying with your own credit card might lead to withdrawal fees.

Opening up an account with an American bank is still a good way. If you withdraw cash, you can transfer some of it to that bank so you do not walk around with too much cash. Do decide, which bank to pick, you should probably discuss with your teammates first and maybe get some input from their experiences.


To ensure, that your devices run smoothly in the US, you could go for a voltage converter. This is only necessary if your devices have issues with exceeding 110 Volt/60hz. Another important aspect is the sockets. In the US, many plugs from different countries do not fit. Make sure to check if your country has that issue and buy the according adapters for the US. You can always buy them in the US itself, but having it sorted before also means less stress in your first weeks.

Language Barrier

For some reason, Americans do not want to use the same measurements as the rest of the world. Instead of moaning about it and using your own measurements, here’s a list of all the different measurements and their “translation”.

1 Inch (in.) = 2, 54 cm; 1 foot (ft.) = 12 inches = 30, 48 cm; 1 yard (yd.) = 3 feet = 91, 44 cm;

1 mile (mi.) = 1,609 km

1 ounce (oz.) = 28,35 g; 1 Pound (lb.) = 16 oz. = 453,60 g; 1 Stone (st.) = 14 lbs. = 6,35 kg;

1 quarter (qt.) = 2st. 12,7 kg

1 mph = 1,609 km/h; 1 sq ft = 0,09 m^2

1 gallon = 3,785 liter

Celsius in Fahrenheit = ((Celsius x 9 )/ 5) + 32; Fahrenheit in Celsius = ( Fahrenheit – 32 ) x5 / 9, e.g.: 10°C = 14°F; 0°C = -32°F; +10°C = +50°F; +20°C = +68°F

This seems like a lot at first but you will get used to it. Maybe take this list with you for the start, so you don’t run into problems while facing these measurements.

Another American thing that not many people seem to understand at first is the sentence “How are you?”. If someone asks you how you are, they don’t necessarily expect you to answer – it is more of a greeting.

More general info

If you go shopping or buy some groceries and calculate the prices before you pay, don’t worry if the end price looks different. That is called “VAT” or value-added tax. Prices are shown without tax because taxes are different in every state. By showing the regular price, comparing prices to other states is easier.

When you go out to eat in a restaurant, tips in the region of 10-15% are obligatory. The tip is part of the salary of waiters. Also, most restaurants have the “wait to be seated” rules.

Refilling of drinks is common in the US – so if you want to save money, get the smallest drink and refill as much as you want!

That’s it for part one of the first steps on your US adventure. Stay tuned for part two and check out our other blog posts in the meantime!