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New To America


Editor's note: Below is a compilation of Articles that appeared in our Immigrant Life section which provided information to immigrants on issues commonly faced when adjusting to life in the US. The Immigrant Life section is no longer available, we reproduce them here for your convenience.

Social Security Card
Driver's Licence
Bank Account
Credit Card
International Telephone Call
Health Insurance
Over the counter medication
Auto Insurance
Rent an Apartment
File US Taxes
Apply to College
Apply for admission testing

Social Security Card

What is a Social Security Card?

A Social Security number and card is used by the government to keep track of earnings and witholdings. The Social Security witholdings are disbursed to people who have retired or are disabled.

Why is a Social Security Card important?

It is needed before you can obtain other things. For example, you cannot open most checking accounts or get a credit card without a social security card. Many organizations and schools use this number to identify people.


  1. Locate the Social Security Office in your area.

  2. Stop by your local office to get an application or download a printable application from the Social Security Administration Web site.

  3. Bring the application and supporting documents to your local office.

    You cannot mail the application. Most importantly, you will need to provide proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status, which means bringing your visa or green card. You will also need a document that proves your age and who you are. A birth certificate or a school record is suitable. Driver's license, Marriage or divorce record, Military records, Employer ID card, Adoption record, Insurance policy , Passport , Health Insurance card (not a Medicare card) and School ID card are all other forms that can be used for identification. They must be original documents or certified copies of the documents.

  4. Wait for your card.

    You will receive the card by mail in a few weeks. Be sure to give them a correct address. If you do not have a permanent address, use the address of a friend or your business address.

More Information on getting a Social Security Card.

Information on Social Security Card

Wondering what in the world this card is and why everyone has to have your number? You can't get a checking account, a credit card, or other things you desperately need without one. Confused and don't understand what in the world this card is and how to get one? Don't be!

In 1935, Social Security began as a system to keep track of earnings and eventually benefits for people who work. Since the beginning, they have issued 392 million numbers. The number itself is a nine-digit number based on where you apply from and the number of the application.

There are three types of Social Security cards:

  1. The first shows the person's name and number. This type allows them to work without restriction.
  2. The next one is for people who are lawfully admitted to the USA without work authorization. On the card, it says "Not valid for employment."
  3. The last type is for people lawfully admitted to the U.S. for a temporary period of time with INS approval to work. On this card, it says, "Valid for work only with INS authorization."
If you know the steps, obtaining a Social Security card is a simple process. First, you must locate the Social Security office nearest you. You can do this by entering your zip code into the Social Security branch locator. It will provide you with the address and telephone numbers nearest you.

Second, you will need to go into your local office to fill out an application or get an application online and bring it to the nearest office. The application cannot be sent by mail. However, you will need to provide an address where your card can be sent. If you do not have a permanent home address, use your work address or a friend's address.

To get a new card, you will need to provide several documents. Most importantly, you will need to provide proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status. You will also need a document that proves your age and who you are. A birth certificate or a school record is suitable. Driver's license, Marriage or divorce record, Military records, Employer ID card, Adoption record, Insurance policy, Passport, Health Insurance card (not a Medicare card) and School ID card are all other forms that can be used for identification. They must be original documents or certified copies of the documents.

Also, there are bilateral Social Security agreements between the U.S. and 17 countries. This allows for the elimination of dual Social Security agreements and taxes for multinational and expatriate workers. The Social Security Administration can provide you with more information.

If you need more general information about obtaining a Social Security number and your rights, call 1-800-772-1213 or visit the Social Security Administration online.

For more information read How to Obtain a Social Security Card.

Driver's License

What Is a Driver's License?

A driver's license is a card which allows you to operate a motor vehicle legally. A driver's license is issued by the state in which you live but allows you to drive anywhere in the United States and Canada.

Why Is a Driver's License Important?

It is illegal in the USA to drive a car if you do not have a driver's license. And since public transportation tends to be limited unless you live in a large metropolitan area, owning a car is often a necessity. Many people in the USA do not live in the center of town where there is easier access to public transportation. Instead, many live in the suburbs and commute to work and shopping areas.

You don't need a driver's license just for driving. A driver's license is also the major form of official identification in the USA. If you write a check or use a credit card, you will be asked for your driver's license. For this reason, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or similar state agency will make you a picture identification (ID) card for a fee. This ID is usually identical to a license, but it does not allow you to drive (to find out what you should expect to provide when you arrive at the license office, see step four.

To find your local licensing office, the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) is an online resource. Once you find the license authority for your state, you should either download the manual or go to your nearest office and pick one up so you can begin to study for the test.


  1. Get a Social Security Number.

    Before you get a license, you need to get a Social Security number. If you don't qualify for a Social Security number you should at least have a tax identification number. In some states, your Social Security Number is your driver's license number.

  2. Take Driving Lessons.

    Before getting a license in the USA it may be a good idea to take driving lessons so you can learn the habits, rules and signs of the American roads. This can give you a boost on the tests you must take to get a license. In some states you will need to take a written exam to attain a learner's permit in order to take driving lessons, if you do not have an international driver's license. You can find out the specific rules for your state pertaining to learner's permits by contacting your local driver's license bureau. Either way, in the long run lessons are worth the extra effort because they will increase your chances of passing your driver's test and will help you be a safer driver.

    Once you feel comfortable enough to try the driver's test you should move on to step three.

  3. Get Insurance.

    Every state in the USA and the District of Columbia requires a minimum amount of liability insurance in order to operate a motor vehicle. In many states, you must have insurance just to get your driver's license. Keep in mind most insurance covers a particular car and its driver.

    Therefore, if you don't already have a car, getting insurance can be problematic and can put a newcomer into an awkward situation. This is especially true if the person does not have an international driver's license or a learner's permit. Normally you need a license to buy a car, but you can't get a license without insurance, which is based on owning a car. For this reason, some insurance companies have begun to offer "non-owned" insurance policies, which insure a driver but not to a particular car.

    If you are buying a car, often the dealer will let you drive the paper work to the insurance company to prove you have a car so you can get it insured. Sometimes a dealer will even let you drive the car you are buying on their insurance as long as you go directly to the insurance company to get it insured.

  4. Get Your License.

    There are some things you will need when you arrive at the driver's license office:

    • Fee: You will need the money to pay the license fee (usually around $15) before you will be issued a driver's license.
    • Proof of Age: All states require an official form of identification which contains your birth date issued by a U.S. source (although in some states Canadian and Mexican driver's licenses are accepted as well). In most states valid identification includes a valid or recently expired driver's license or ID Card issued by a U.S. State or territory (including the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico). If you do not have this, two forms of ID verifying your age are often required. These can include your passport and official Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) documents (often excluding I-94).
    • A Social Security Card: In many states you will need your Social Security card, or official documents that contain your Social Security number. Such forms often include things like federal tax forms or bank statements.
    • Proof of Domicile: In some states you may be asked to provide proof that you are living in the state. Such documentation can include utility bills, vehicle registration or a lease agreement.
    • Insurance: In some states you will also be required to show proof of liability insurance.

The Written Test

Next you will need to take a test that usually consists of four major parts:

1. The written test
2. The sign test
3. The vision test
4. The driving test

The tests to get a license, both written and driving, can be tricky.

If the written test is offered in your native language, try to take it. The wording of the questions can sometimes be enough to throw off a nonnative English speaker.

Keep in mind that you are allowed to wear glasses, if you own a pair, during the vision test.

To speed the process along, it is a good idea to bring both your international driver's license and a driver's license from your home country, if you have them. This is because some states may make you wait between your written exam and the driving test if you cannot prove that you have been allowed to drive in your home country.

Finally, if there is a licensing office a little outside of town, it may be easier to do well on the driving section because the test may be given on roads that are less busy.

Apply for Admission Testing

What is an Admissions Test?

An admissions test is a standard test used to evaluate an applicant's potential academic success.

Why is an admissions test important?

Many colleges and universities require admission test scores for the admission process.


  1. Identify which test you need to take from the colleges you are applying to.
    If your native language is not English and you are planning to study in a North American college or university, you may be required to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language. Most colleges require either the SAT or ACT for undergraduate study. Graduate students may have to take the GRE or GMAT. Students interested in attending Law School will have to take the LSAT. Those who want to go to Medical School should take the MCAT.
  2. Contact the various test administrators and request registration material.
    Below you will find links to the administrators of TOEFL, GRE, GMAT, SAT, ACT, LSAT, or MCAT. Please note that the registration process for applicants outside the USA may take several weeks.
  3. Fill out the applications and mail with the appropriate fee to the test center.
P.O. Box 6151
Princeton, NJ 08541
(609) 771-7100
The TOEFL test is given at specified locations in 180 countries around the world. To register for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL®), and Test of Written English (TWE®), you must obtain a copy of the Information Bulletin for your country or area. You cannot register at the test center or by personal letter, telephone, fax, cable, or e-mail. You must complete the registration form in the Bulletin and mail it to the appropriate registration office. Be sure to register early because some test centers fill up very quickly.

Educational Testing Service
Rosedale Road
Princeton, NJ 08541
Telephone: (609) 921-9000
Fax: (609) 734-5410
The College Board SAT Program consists of the SAT I: Reasoning Test and SAT II: Subject Tests. The SAT I is a three-hour test, primarily multiple-choice, that measures verbal and mathematical reasoning abilities. The SAT II: Subject Tests are one-hour, mostly multiple-choice, tests in specific subjects. These tests measure knowledge of particular subjects and the ability to apply that knowledge. Many colleges require or recommend one or more of these tests for admission or placement purposes.

P.O. Box 4028
Iowa City, IA 52243-4028
(319) 337-1448
The ACT Assessment measures the knowledge, understanding, and skills that you have acquired up to now. Although the sum total of this knowledge cannot easily be changed, your performance in a specific subject matter area can be affected by adequate preparation, especially if it has been some time since you have taken a course in that area.

Distribution and Receiving Center
225 Phillips Blvd.
Ewing, NJ 08628-7435
Telephone: (609) 771-7330
Fax: (609) 883-4349
The Graduate Management Admission Test is available on computer, year-round, at test centers throughout the world. The GMAT measures verbal, mathematical, and writing skills.

P.O. Box 6000
Princeton, NJ 08541-6000
(609) 771-7670
The Graduate Record Examinations Program provides tests, publications, and services that assist graduate schools and departments in graduate admissions activities, guidance and placement, program evaluation, and selection of fellowship recipients. The GRE Program also assists students in their transition to graduate education through a variety of services and publications.

Box 2000
Newtown, PA 18940-0998
(215) 968-1001
The LSAT is a half-day standardized test required for admission to all 196 law schools that are members of the Law School Admission Council (LSAC or Law Services). It provides a standard measure of reading and verbal reasoning skills that law schools can use as one of several factors in assessing applicants. The test is administered four times a year at hundreds of locations around the world.

P.O. Box 4056
Iowa City, IA 52243
The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a standardized, multiple-choice examination designed to assist admission committees in predicting which of their applicants will perform adequately in the medical school curriculum. The test assesses problem solving, critical thinking, and writing skills in addition to the examinee's knowledge of science concepts and principles prerequisite to the study of medicine. The MCAT is scored in each of the following areas: Verbal Reasoning, Physical Sciences, Writing Sample, and Biological Sciences.

Apply to College

What is the College Application Process?

Each school sets its own admission requirements. The college admission process consists of application forms, admission tests and essays. Colleges make admission decisions, based on academic achievement, admission test scores and applications. The academic section is generally the most important but not the only deciding factor.

Why is the college application process important?

Every student must participate in the application process to be considered for admission. The application process is the only way to get admission to colleges or universities in the USA.


  1. Complete the Application Form and include the application fee.

    Print in ink or type your answers. Make your check, money order, or draft payable the college you are applying to. Attach payment to the application before mailing. Never send cash. If you do not have a U.S. social security number, leave that question blank on the application form. Your college or university will assign you a student identification number. Review the list of fields of study (called majors) available in the college. Generally, there is a number that represents each major. Enter the code number for your intended major on the application. International students must declare a major and be matriculated (degree-seeking). Please remember to sign and date your completed application to certify the accuracy and completeness of the information provided by you.

    You can initiate the admission process by obtaining an application.

    1. Request an application by mail
    2. Download an application from the internet
    3. Apply online

    Graduate applicants will need to be admitted to the academic department as well as to the University. Each graduate department has its own set of admission requirements, and some may require additional documentation and test results. Please contact the Graduate Coordinator of your intended graduate .

  2. Send the required test results to colleges and universities.

    If your native language is not English and you are planning to study in a North American college or university, you may be required to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language. Most colleges require either the SAT or ACT for undergraduate study. Graduate students may have to take the GRE or GMAT. Students interested in attending Law School will have to take the LSAT. Those who want to go to Medical School should take the MCAT.

    For registration materials, worldwide locations and test dates to take the TOEFL, please write: Educational Testing Service Box 899 Princeton, NJ 08540 U.S.A.

    For registration materials, locations, and test dates to the GRE, please write: Educational Testing Service Box 955 Princeton, NJ 08540 U.S.A.

    For GMAT information, please write: Educational Testing Service Box 966 Princeton, NJ 08540 U.S.A.
    For overseas applicants, you may request information about TOEFL, GRE or GMAT from the Educational Attaché at your nearest U.S. Embassy.

    All international visa students who are athletes or are graduating from accredited U.S. secondary schools are required to submit the results of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or the American College Test (ACT).

  3. Send Required Educational Documents

    Before colleges can determine your eligibility for admission, you must send official transcripts, certificates, and diplomas. This means an original or a copy that is certified by an educational official of your government, your school, or the American Embassy. These documents must be sent directly from the school or testing agency to the college admissions office. They will not accept photocopies that are not certified. Official transcripts from secondary schools, colleges or universities you have attended should indicate the course titles, grades or examination marks, hours per week, and total number of hours spent in lecture or laboratory work for each course. Colleges also require transcripts showing course work in progress from the school in which you are currently enrolled. When final grades are available, forward them as well. If you have attended a school outside the United States, please send us a syllabus or catalog, which is the university's publication that describes course content. Transcripts in languages other than English must be accompanied by literal translations into English, and translations must be certified by an educational official of your government, your school or the American Embassy.

    Make arrangements to have these documents sent to the college as soon as possible, or submit the documents with your application when you mail it to the admissions office. Remember to keep all transcripts in sealed envelopes from the school.

  4. Send the Affidavit of Financial Support and Bank Statement/Letter

    Adequate financial support is a matter of great importance for all students. Since international students are not eligible for financial aid, you will be required to show evidence of sufficient private, government, or scholarship support to be considered for admission. Within the application form, you should find an Affidavit of Financial Support. It indicates the cost of education at your college. This form must be completed and signed by you and your sponsor. The form must be submitted along with a bank statement/letter showing sufficient financial resources to meet your educational and living costs while in the USA. Colleges must have the originals of these documents; they may not accept photocopies. Make sure you keep a photocopy of everything you send to any college or university in the USA.

  5. Mail All Forms

    To complete the admission process, mail all the forms to the admissions office of the college of your choice. Make sure you include all the paperwork. Send all items through registered mail.

Auto Insurance

What Is Automobile Insurance?

Automobile insurance is a service provided by private companies, where the insurance provider agrees to compensate those who hold a policy for damage, loss or injury to yourself or others in exchange for a premium, or payment, that is paid on a regular basis — this arrangement is called an indemnity. The amount and type of coverage you get with an insurance policy depend on the type of coverage you get and many other factors. For a guide on what types of automobile insurance are available and how to minimize your premiums.

Why Do You Need Automobile Insurance?

Insurance is important because it protects the driver and others on the road from the potentially devastating financial effects an auto accident can have on the parties involved. If you get a loan to buy a car, the financial institution that underwrites your loan will require you to get a form of auto insurance called collision insurance in order to protect the value of the vehicle. Also, all 50 states and the District of Columbia require some sort of minimum coverage for liability insurance or, where insurance is not compulsory, drivers must prove that they can meet minimum liability requirements. In many states, when you purchase a vehicle you must prove your ability to meet a these minimum levels of financial obligation and, in most states, you need such proof just to get your driver's license.

How To Get Automobile Insurance:

  1. Get a Social Security Number.

    Before you get insurance, you will need to own a car. And unless you have the cash to buy a car out right, you will need a car loan. When applying for such a loan, the lender will require a Social Security number. If for some reason you are unable to obtain a Social Security number in the USA, you may be allowed to provide a tax identification number instead.

  2. Get a Driver's License.

    In order to get insurance, you will need some sort of driver's license. If you have been in the country for more than 30 days, you will need a driver's license issued from the state in which you have taken up residency. For details on getting a driver's license, see How2 Get a Driver's License.

    If you have been in the USA for less than 30 days, you may use your international driver's license in some states, if you possess one.

  3. Get a Vehicle.

    Automobile insurance insures the car first, then the driver. This means that if you lend your car to someone, your insurance will be responsible in the event of an accident. It also means the vast majority of automobile insurance plans require you to own a car. In some states, you must have liability insurance just to get your driver's license, so insurance companies have started offering non-owned insurance policies that insure a driver but not to a particular car.

  4. Get Insurance.

    Once you have completed the above steps, you are ready to go to an insurance office and buy a policy for your vehicle. Before you actually travel to an insurance office, you should comparison shop to make sure you are getting a competitive rate.

    The insurance agent will need you to have several things to set up your policy.

    a. A state-issued driver's license or a valid international driver's license.
    b. The title or bill of sale for your vehicle.
    c. The vehicle identification number, or VIN, from your vehicle. This number should be on your bill of sale, but it is also at the base of the windshield of your vehicle on the driver's side.

    When you apply for an automobile insurance policy, remember that the insurance company will check your driving record in this country and, in some cases, your native country to determine your premium.

Bank Account

What are Checking and Savings Accounts?

Checking and savings accounts are the two most popular types of deposit accounts banks offer. Checking accounts allow you to write checks or use debit cards against the balance of your account. Merchants generally treat transactions paid for by debit card or check as if they were cash transactions. This means you will not owe interest on anything paid for by check or debit card. You will, however, be assessed a fee if your account is overdrawn - unless you have overdraft protection. Savings accounts allow you to keep an amount of money in the bank and earn a small interest rate. They are generally completely liquid, meaning you can withdraw money at any time without a fee. A savings account is not a place to invest, as interest rates on these accounts are extremely low compared to investments in stocks or bonds.

Why are they important?

Checking and savings accounts form the backbone of personal finance. Without a checking account, it is nearly impossible to pay bills, since most companies will not accept paper currency (i.e., dollar bills) as payment. Savings accounts are usually kept as overdraft protection for checking accounts, or as holding places for emergency cash.


  1. Research banks and credit unions in your area to find out which one best fits your needs.

  2. Gather the necessary documentation.

    The bank will want to see your Social Security card or Tax ID, passport or other photo ID, and name, location and routing number (if you are transferring funds electronically) of your old bank.

  3. Call or visit the financial institution you have chosen.

    When you call, ask to speak with the "new accounts" department. Tell the bank representative what kind of account you want, and ask about the bank's policies and procedures.

  4. Give the bank representative the needed information, and arrange to have your first deposit credited to the account.

    The first deposit can be made by check, electronic funds transfer, and occasionally by credit card.

Over the Counter Medication

What is over-the-counter medication?

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications are medicines you can buy at a drugstore without a doctor's prescription.

Why should I use OTC medications?

Over-the-counter medication allows you to treat many common minor illnesses without having to get a prescription from a doctor.


  1. Check the chart below to find the symptoms you want to treat.

    In the USA, many medications are known only by their brand names. Often, however, medications of different brand names contain identical ingredients. The only difference between a brand-name medication and a generic medicine (a medicine without a brand name) with identical ingredients is the price.

  2. Find a drugstore.

    In most neighborhoods, you can find a drugstore at the nearest corner. For a listing of drugstores in your area, check the "yellow pages" section of the telephone directory under "Drugs" or "Pharmacy." While pharmacies primarily dispense prescription medication, they also carry over-the-counter drugs.

  3. Find the medicine section of the drug store.

    Generally, drugs treating the same condition will be next to each other on the shelves, and sometimes the store will put up signs to help customers find medicine for their symptoms. Generic drugs are usually cheaper than brand names and should have the same effects.

  4. Read the medication label.

    Check whether this drug is for adults or children and make sure it does not interfere with any medication you already take. If in doubt, ask the pharmacist for advice. Drugstore employees stocking shelves or staffing cash registers generally do not have a background in pharmacy.

  5. Check the packaging on the medication you intend to buy.

    Make sure the package is not torn or otherwise damaged. Look at the expiration date on the package and make sure it has not passed.

  6. Take the medication to the cashier to pay.

    Prescription insurance does not pay for over-the-counter drugs, so you will have to pay the full price of the medicine. You should, however, keep the receipt. You may be able to deduct the cost of the medication from your taxes at year-end.

  7. Check the dosage instructions on the medication label or the paper inside the packaging before taking the medication.

    Make sure you know whether the medication should be taken with food. If the label says the medicine may make you drowsy, try taking it in the evening after work or school.

  8. Keep all medication out of children's reach.

    Many cold medications are made to taste good so children (and adults) will take them when they need to, and the coating on some pills is similar to candy. But the sweet taste often makes us forget that the medication is powerful and can be harmful in large doses. In the event of an overdose, call your local poison control center immediately or visit the emergency room. The front page of your telephone directory has a list of emergency numbers, which includes poison control. If you cannot find that number, dial "0" for the operator and ask for poison control.

  9. Call your doctor if your condition doesn't improve within five to seven days, or if you experience severe side effects.

    You may need a different medication — perhaps one that is only available by prescription.

Common Over-the-counter Medications
Condition Generic Ingredients or Name Common Brand Names
Pain acetaminophen, ibuprofen Tylenol, Advil
Fever Aspirin Aspirin
Cough decongestant, expectorant, antitussive Vick's, Robitussin
Hay Fever antihistamine such as diphenhydramine Benadryl
Diarrhea bismuth subsalicylate, kaolin Immodium-AD, Maalox, Pepto Bismol
Laxatives oat bran, mineral oil, magnesium Citrucel, Fiberall, Ex-Lax, Phillips Milk of Magnesia
Indigestion antacids (calcium carbonate) Alka Seltzer, Mylanta, Rolaids
Acne benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid Clearsil, Benoxyl, Oxy
diaper rash
cocoa butter, bacitracin, neomycin, polymyxin A&D Ointment, Aveeno, Neosporin Plus, Caladryl, Solarcaine
Eczema hydrocortisone, astringents Cortaid, Cortizone
Skin infections bacitracin, tetracycline, providone Betadine, Neosporin, Desenex, Lotrimin
Insect bites camphor, benzocaine After-Bite, Aveeno Anti-Itch
Skin itches/rashes calamine lotion, zinc oxide Benadryl, Gold Bond Medicated Powder

Credit Card

What is a Credit Card?

A credit card is a plastic card that allows the holder access to a line of credit from a financial institution. Using the line of credit is like getting a short-term, pre-approved loan from the bank, but the interest on the loan is much higher than a regular loan. Some cards offer perks like frequent-flier miles, cash back, warranties or rental car insurance with use, so in many cases paying with a credit card can be more beneficial than paying with cash.

Why is a credit card important?

Credit cards allow consumers to have access to more money than they can safely carry around, and they can provide an extra source of money to use for unexpected expenses. Additionally, goods such as airline tickets, rental cars and hotel rooms, can only be secured with credit cards since they offer protection for companies in case you don't pay the bill.


  1. Build a credit history in the United States.

    This is probably the toughest and most time-consuming part of the process. One way to do this is to request a secured credit card from your bank. You must secure the card with your own money, so you don not spend more than you can pay back. Be sure to make payments faithfully on your secured card. If you can't get a secured card, start small: ask if your landlord can vouch for your timeliness in paying your rent, or attempt to buy something you needed anyway on store credit. After a few months of staying current on your bills, your credit should look good to credit card companies.

  2. Shop around for a card that best fits your purchasing habits.

    Do you plan to fly home often? If so, you might want a card that gives you frequent-flier miles. Do you plan to carry a balance from month to month? If so, find a card with the lowest interest rates. Be sure to read and understand the fine print.

  3. Apply, once you have found the card(s) you like.

    You may apply over the phone, by mail or online. On the application, you must supply the following pieces of information:

    • Name: This is the name that you have on your credit report. If you put a different name, processing of your application may be delayed.
    • Social Security Number/Tax ID: You must provide this information, as it is a unique identifier. Companies use this information to access your credit report and other financial information.
    • Address: This is the address to which they will send your bills and card. The company will also ask how long you have lived at your current address and how much you pay for mortgage or rent. They may use this information to get a general figure of your debt load and disposable income.
    • Household income: This is your salary plus any other income you wish to be considered when the company figures your credit limit. Generally, the higher your reported income, the higher your credit limit will be.
    • Place of employment: Credit card companies want to know that you have a job and steady income.
    • Signature: Your signature on the application means you approve of the contract terms, which are printed somewhere on the application. It also signifies that the information you have provided is true. If you applied online or over the phone, the company will get your electronic or verbal confirmation, and they may send a contract in the mail for you to sign.

  4. If the card company approves your application, they will notify you by mail.

    The approval notice will list your credit limit and any fees the company charges. If the actual card isn't included with the approval notice, it will usually arrive within a few weeks. If the card company rejects your application, you are entitled by law to find out why. Call the toll-free (800) or (888) number on the card company's mailing and request an explanation.

Credit History

A good credit history makes life in the USA considerably easier. It can help you buy appliances, furniture, a car or a house. A good credit history is often a requirement to rent an apartment, initiate telephone or other utility services and get a loan or credit card. Without a credit history, you significantly decrease your chances of having an application for a loan or credit card approved.

A credit history is a record of the payments a person has made in the past and the amount of money that person still owes. If you consistently pay your bills on time, you increase your chances of being granted additional credit.

Credit reporting bureaus, such as Experian and Trans Union compile data on consumers' credit habits and sell the information to creditors. Whenever you apply for a bank loan or credit card, the lender checks with a credit bureau. Only if you have a good credit record — meaning your record shows that you pay your bills on time — will the additional credit be granted. Any negative financial information is reported for seven years, while information about bankruptcies is reported for 10 years.

Unfortunately, credit companies in the USA don't look at payment records from other countries. So, according to credit bureaus in the USA, newcomers have no credit history.

How to Get Credit :

Avoid companies that advertise "instant credit, no matter what your previous credit history." They may not be reputable. To start building your credit history, you need to obtain credit from a reputable company or bank that reports to the major credit bureaus.

You may need to start small. You are unlikely to be accepted by a major credit card company such as Visa or Mastercard without a previous history. A good place to start is by getting a charge card at a department store or a mail order catalog; check first to see if they report to credit bureaus. After a few months of paying at least the minimum payment, your credit rating will show a good credit rating.

Some banks also give secured credit cards to people with no credit history.

Another method to build a credit rating is to buy large-purchase goods such as furniture or televisions on a secured financial basis. This means that the store sells you the items on credit, knowing they can take them back if you do not maintain payments. You build up your credit rating as you pay for these items on a month-by-month basis.

There is a danger, however. Some stores con naive people into buying low-quality products at high prices by breaking the payments up into reasonable monthly costs. Don't neglect the bottom line figure of any purchase — it is a mistake to just look at the monthly payment. And don't buy a product just to get credit. This method should only be used if you need the product anyway, and feel confident that you are shopping at a reputable store.

If you belong to a credit union, you may be eligible to get a credit card in just two to three weeks. A foreign American Express card may help you get a U.S. card in about two weeks. Other credit cards may require a four-to six-week wait for approval.

Checking your Credit Rating

Once you have established credit, it's a good idea to check your own credit before you apply for loans or credit cards. You can get a credit card report online from one of the major credit bureaus: Equifax, Trans Union, and Experian.

Credit Card Terms

If you need help with credit card terms, take a look at this glossary.

How Credit Cards Work

Most credit cards operate as revolving credit. This means that you receive a line of credit that you can tap into at will and pay back as quickly or slowly as you want, as long as you pay the minimum required each month. If you pay on time each month, the lender may increase your credit line, giving you more borrowing power.

Credit cards are great for establishing credit history, making travel reservations, purchasing products or services over the telephone or over the Internet, and as a convenience so you don't have to carry a lot of cash.

Credit Cards from Home

Using your home country credit card in the USA offers some disadvantages. For one, the bill for a foreign card goes to your bank at home and, at a cost to you, is converted to the non-American currency. Secondly, you must keep a bank account in your home country to pay the bills.

But if your bank in your home country does have a corresponding relationship with a bank in the USA, you may be able to leverage this relationship to get a credit card in this country more easily

When to Use a Credit Card

Americans appreciate the convenience of credit cards and tend to use them liberally. But because credit cards allow consumers to buy now and pay later, and because they are so easy to use, too many people make the mistake of viewing their credit card as free money. As a general rule, the interest rate on credit cards is much higher than on bank loans, and it is easy to fall into credit card debt. Adopting an "if I can't afford it, I don't want it" mentality will help you avoid a great deal of stress and financial difficulty.

Credit Fraud

"Credit problems? We can erase your bad credit, 100% guaranteed. Create a new credit identity — legally."

All over the USA, unscrupulous companies appeal every day to people with bad credit histories. They claim they can fix credit reports, for a "small" fee. Unfortunately, after consumers pay them large sums of money in upfront fees, these companies often vanish with the money.

In reality, no one can legally remove negative information from a credit report. The law does, however, allow consumers to request a reinvestigation of information in a file that is disputed as inaccurate or incomplete at no charge. Everything a credit repair clinic can do for you legally, you can do for yourself at little or no cost.

If you do run into a crooked company, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by contacting the Consumer Response Center. Although it cannot resolve individual problems for consumers, it can act against a company if it sees a pattern of possible law violations.

Managing Debt

If creditors are calling you to pay up, and you sense that you may be heading into deep waters, consider calling a debt counselor. A good place to start is the Consumer Credit Counseling Service, or CCCS, a nonprofit organization that provides credit counseling. They can't make the bills go away, but they can help you carefully review all your financial information — including income, expenses and debts — to develop a plan that will help you achieve your financial goals.

At CCCS, you and your counselor develop a monthly budget for living expenses and creditor repayment. CCCS then negotiates with your creditors to attempt to defer past due amounts, and in many cases, lower or even waive interest rates. The goal is to enable you to live within your new budget and to get out of debt as quickly as possible.

Credit Glossary

The language of credit cards can be very confusing for those not steeped in financial argot. From A to Z, we're here to help.

Adjusted balance A method used by some card issuers in which they subtract all payments made during the month, then add the finance charges.
Annual fee A bank charge for use of a credit card levied each year, which can range from $15 to $300, billed directly to the customer's monthly statement. Many credit cards come without an annual fee.
Annual Percentage Rate (APR) The interest rate reflecting the total yearly cost of the interest on a loan, expressed as a percentage rate. Under the federal Truth in Lending Act, it must be calculated in a standard way to allow consumers to make 'apples to apples' comparisons of lending terms.
Average daily balance This is the method by which most credit cards calculate your payment due. An average daily balance is determined by adding each day's balance and then dividing that total by the number of days in a billing cycle. The average daily balance is then multiplied by a card's monthly periodic rate, which is calculated by dividing the annual percentage rate by 12. A card with an annual rate of 18 percent would have a monthly periodic rate of 1.5 percent. If that card had a $500 average daily balance it would yield a monthly finance charge of $7.50.
Balance transfer The process of moving an unpaid credit card debt from one issuer to another. Card issuers sometimes offer teaser rates to encourage balance transfers coming in and balance transfer fees to discourage them from going out.
Balance transfer fee Fee charged customers for transferring an outstanding balance from one card to another.
Bankruptcy The last resort for a borrower. If the borrower has difficulty meeting rent or mortgage payments and is completely extended beyond the credit limit, and the collection agencies are uncooperative, the borrower may need to file for protection. There are two basic ways of filing for personal bankruptcy. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy declaration gets rid of all debts (except some taxes and maybe alimony payments); Chapter 13 allows a borrower with a steady income to pay off bills over a 36- to 60-month period. It's a serious step for a borrower because it severely limits access to credit for years to come.
Billing cycle The number of days between the last statement date and the current statement date.
Billing statement The monthly bill sent by a credit card issuer to the customer. It gives a summary of activity on an account, including balance, purchases, payments, credits and finance charges. Important changes to a credit card account are often included in small-print fliers that are sent with the statement.
Card holder agreement The written statement that gives the terms and conditions of a credit card account. The card holder agreement is required by Federal Reserve regulations. It must include the Annual Percentage Rate, the monthly minimum payment formula, annual fee, if applicable, and the card holder's rights in billing disputes. Changes in the card holder agreement may be made, with written advance notice, at any time by the issuer. Rules for imposing changes vary from state to state, but the rules that apply are those of the home state of the issuing bank, not the home state of the card holder.
Cash advance fee A charge by the bank for using credit cards to obtain cash. This fee can be stated in terms of a flat per-transaction fee or a percentage of the amount of the cash advance. For example, the fee may be expressed as follows: "2%/$10". This means that the cash advance fee will be the greater of 2% of the cash advance amount or $10. The banks may limit the amount that can be charged to a specific dollar amount. Depending on the bank issuing the card, the cash advance fee may be deducted directly from the cash advance at the time the money is received or it may be posted to your bill as of the day you received the advance. The cost of a cash advance is also higher because there generally is no grace period -- interest accrues from the moment the money is withdrawn.
Cash Cards Cash cards, similar to pre-paid phone cards, contain a set amount of value, which can be read by a special cash card reader. Participating retailers will use the reader to debit the card in increments until the value is gone. The cards are like cash -- they have no built-in security, so if lost or stolen, they can be used by anyone.
Charge card A card that requires a full payment of the charge by the due date. Unlike credit cards, which give borrowers a revolving line of credit and lets them borrow against it, carrying a balance with an agreed-to interest rate, charge cards do not allow carrying a balance and no interest is charged. American Express and Diner's Club are examples of charge cards.
Consumer Credit Counseling Service (CCCS) A service that offers debt counseling with the goal of ensuring that debts are paid back over time.
Credit bureau (credit reporting agency) A company that collects and sells information about how people handle credit. It issues credit reports that list how individuals manage their debts and make payments, how much untapped credit they have available and whether they have applied for any loans. The reports are made available to individuals and to creditors who profess to have a legitimate need for the information. The three major national credit bureaus are Equifax, Experian (formerly TRW) and Trans Union.
Credit card A plastic card that with a coded magnetic stripe that, when signed, entitles its bearer to a revolving line of credit, whose size and interest rate are determined by the borrower's income and credit report. Credit cards began in the late '40s when banks began giving out paper certificates that could be used like cash in local stores. The first real credit card was issued in 1951 by Franklin National Bank in New York.
Credit insurance A policy that pays off the card debt should the borrower lose his job, die or become disabled. The structure of protection for a revolving credit card debt is calculated each month to cover only the debt that existed at the last billing cycle.
Credit limit The maximum amount of charges a card holder may apply to the account. The Consumer Federation of America suggests people carry credit lines no greater than 20 percent of their gross household income. For example, people with a gross income of $50,000 would cap credit lines at $10,000.
Credit report The credit report often is a critical factor in credit scoring systems that lenders use to issue credit cards, mortgages or other loans. It is a good idea to check your credit report to know where you stand and correct any errors. If you've made mistakes in paying previous loans, bounced checks, made late payments or had other problems, you may be able to correct them -- or at least reduce the amount of damage they will do to your credit. If someone else has made a mistake that ended up on your credit, you want to get it removed. To make certain your credit reports are accurate, it is a good idea to check with the three major national credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian (formerly TRW) and Trans Union.
Debit card A bank card with direct access to a card holder's account, usually a checking or savings account. The card acts like a check with the money withdrawn from the existing account balance. The withdrawal of funds is immediate with online debit cards, delayed a day or two with offline debit cards. Cards that carry the logo of either MasterCard or VISA can be used at any location that displays the network's logo.
F (Fixed) If the letter "F" appears after the annual percentage rate (APR) the interest rate is fixed and not subject to adjustment.
Fair Credit Billing Act Passed by Congress in 1975 to help customers resolve billing disputes with card issuers. Disputes include everything from computational errors and incorrect charges to the crediting of payments. The act requires issuers to credit payments to a customer's account the day they are received. To be protected under the law, the consumer must write to the issuer within 60 days of the mailing date on the bill with the error. The issuer is then required to investigate and either correct the mistake or explain why the bill is correct within two billing cycles. The issuer also must acknowledge a customer's complaint in writing within 30 days. Each issuer is allowed to set specific payment guidelines. If any of the guidelines are not met, the issuer can take as many as five days to credit the payment.
Finance charge The charge for using a credit card, comprised of interest costs and other fees.
Foreign currency surcharge A new charge imposed by some credit card issuers that imposes a fee on purchases made in a foreign currency.
Grace period If the credit card user does not carry a balance, the grace period is the interest-free period of time a lender allows between the transaction date and the billing date.The standard grace period is usually between 20-30 days. If there is no grace period, finance charges will accrue the moment a purchase is made with the credit card. People who carry a balance on their credit cards have no grace period.
Household income The total income of all members of a household. An important yardstick used by credit card issuers evaluating applications for joint credit.
Interest rate The fee charged form money lent. Under the Truth in Lending Act, it must be disclosed as an APR to credit card users on the card application form.
Introductory (or intro) rate The low rate charged by a lender for an initial period to entice borrowers to accept the credit terms. After the introductory period is over, the rate charged increases to the indexed rate or the stated interest rate. Often called a teaser rate.
Joint credit Issued to a couple based on both of their assets, incomes and credit reports. It generally results in a higher credit limit, but makes both parties responsible for repaying the debt.
Late payment fee Charge to customer whose monthly payment has not been received as of the due date or stated deadline for payment as shown on the billing statement. This fee can be stated in terms of a flat per-transaction fee or a percentage of the amount of the cash advance.
Minimum payment The minimum amount a card holder can pay to keep the account from going into default. Some card issuers will set a high minimum if they are uncertain of the card holder's ability to pay. Most card issuers require a minimum payment of 2 percent of the outstanding balance.
Monthly periodic rate The interest rate factor used to calculate the interest charges on a monthly basis. The factor equals the yearly rate divided by 12. See periodic rate.
National Foundation for Consumer Credit (NFCC) A non-profit organization that educates consumers about using credit wisely. The NFCC is the parent group for Consumer Credit Counseling Service.
Offline debit card A new development in cards that share traits of both ATM and credit cards. Offline debit cards have the VISA or MasterCard logo on them and can be issued by a bank, either instead of or in addition to an ATM card. These cards can be used at any establishment which displays the VISA or MasterCard logo, but using them doesn't access a line of credit -- it debits a customer's checking account. It is "offline" because the account isn't directly accessed -- there's a delay of 24 to 72 hours before the debit is made in the account. If you sign a slip of paper to conclude the transaction, it was offline. In the U.S., no Personal Identification Number (PIN) is required to use an offline debit card.
Online debit card An online debit card deducts funds from the bank account immediately, as soon as the card is used. It may have the VISA or MasterCard logo, or only the issuing bank's logo, like an ATM card. There is no delay for processing the transaction -- the money is immediately deducted from your account. In the U.S., if you entered a Personal Identification Number (PIN)during the transaction, it was online.
Over-the-limit fee A fee charged for exceeding the credit limit on the card.
Penalty rate Several percentage points higher than a card's current annual percentage rate, which goes into effect after two late payments. On some cards, a single late payment triggers a penalty rate.
Periodic rate The interest rate described in relation to a specific amount of time. The monthly periodic rate, for example, is the cost of credit per month; the daily periodic rate is the cost of credit per day.
Personal Identification Number (PIN) As a security measure, some cards require a number to be punched into a keypad before a transaction can be completed. The number can usually be changed by the card holder.
Point of sale (POS) An increasingly popular way for consumers to avoid ATM surcharges is to get cash returned from their online debit card via a cash return at the point of sale -- such as a grocery store.
Pre-approved A credit card offer with "pre-approved" only means that a potential customer has passed a preliminary credit-information screening. A credit card company can reject the customers it invited with "pre-approved" junk mail if it doesn't like the applicant's credit rating.
Previous balance A method used by some card issuers where they base their finance charges on the amount owed at the end of the previous billing cycle.
Prime rate The interest rate a bank charges to its best or "prime" customers. Each bank will quote a prime lending rate. Many institutions quote prime rates established by large money center commercial banks such as Citibank or Chase Manhattan. There is also a prime rate average listed in the Wall Street Journal that is an average of the largest commercial banks. The rate given to consumers on their credit cards is often based as the prime rate plus a certain percentage, which represents the lender's assessment of the risk in lending, plus its profit margin.
Revolver A term credit card issuers use for card holders who roll over part of the bill to the next month, instead of paying off the balance in full each month. About seven out of 10 card holders revolve the debt.
Revolving line of credit An agreement to lend a specific amount to a borrower, and to allow that amount to be borrowed again once it has been repaid. Most credit cards offer revolving credit.
Secured card A credit card that a card holder secures with a savings deposit to ensure payment of the outstanding balance if the card holder defaults on payments. It is used by people new to credit, or people trying to rebuild their poor credit ratings.
Smart card Smart cards, sometimes called chip cards, contain a computer chip embedded in the plastic. Where a typical credit card's magnetic stripe can hold only a few dozen characters, smart cards are now available with 16K of memory. When read by a special terminals, the cards can perform a number of functions or access data stored in the chip. These cards can be used as cash cards or as credit cards with a preset credit limit, or used as ID cards with stored-in passwords. While fairly common in Europe, the United States has been slower to embrace them -- Americans are happy with their ATMs and POS terminals, so merchants haven't seen the need to make the expensive switch to smart card terminals.
T (tiered) If the letter T appears after the annual percentage rate (APR), the interest rate is based on tiered pricing, with different periodic rates applied to different levels of the outstanding balance. The rate shown applies to the lowest of the balance tiers.
Teaser rate Often called the introductory rate, it is the below-market interest rate offered to entice customers to switch credit cards
Truth in Lending Act A federal law that requires lenders to provide certain information so borrowers can compare one loan to another. The most important facts lenders must provide are: finance charges in dollars and as an annual percentage rate (APR); the credit issuer or company providing the credit line and the size of the credit line; length of grace period, if any, before payment must be made; minimum payment required; any annual fees; and fees for credit insurance, if any.
Two-cycle billing With the two-cycle method, the average daily balance is calculated from two billing cycles rather than one and finance charges are typically higher This method, in effect, wipes out the grace period for customers who carry a balance. If the bill is not paid in full at the first billing, interest becomes retroactive back to the purchase date. Most credit card issuers use the single-cycle average daily balance method to calculate finance charges.
Unsecured debt Debt that is not guaranteed by the pledge of any collateral. Most credit cards are unsecured debt, which is a main reason why their interest rate is higher than other forms of lending, such as mortgages, which employ property as collateral.
V (variable) If the letter V appears after the annual percentage rate (APR) the interest rate is variable and subject to change.
Zero balance What shows on a credit card customer's bill when the outstanding balance has been paid and no new charges have been incurred during the billing cycle.

File US Taxes

What is a Federal Tax Return?

A federal tax return is a form taxpayers must file, under penalty of law.

Why is a tax return important?

It is the law that every taxpayer must complete and submit a tax return to the IRS. In the USA, estimated taxes are withheld from a taxpayer's pay check. Tax returns provide documentation and proof that a taxpayer has paid the correct amount of taxes. If your return shows that you have overpaid your taxes over the year, you will receive a refund from the U.S. government. If your return shows that you have underpaid, you must send payment with your return by the deadline date. If your tax return does not correspond to your true earnings and entitled deductions, you will be penalized.


  1. Figure out if you are a resident alien, nonresident alien or an exempt individual for tax purposes.

    Your tax status may not be the same as your immigration status.

  2. Determine which form(s) you should submit to the Internal Revenue Service.

    Most IRS forms and publications are available online, in Adobe Acrobat format. Consult Publication 519, a tax guide the IRS publishes especially for aliens, if you have any questions about your tax status. Resident aliens should file Form 1040, while nonresident aliens should file Form 1040NR. Exempt individuals should file Form 8843.

  3. Get a copy of the forms and instructions at a library, post office or online. If you choose to prepare and file your taxes online, find a reputable online tax preparer.

    Online filing is usually faster and cheaper than filing by hand, but only if you qualify as a resident alien for tax purposes. If you are a nonresident alien for tax purposes, you're better off sticking to the pencil-and-paper route.

  4. Gather the pertinent materials.

    You will need:

    • Your W-2 Forms. These forms should have arrived in the mail from your employer. The W-2 lists how much money you made at your job during the past tax year. If you had more than one job during the past year, you will get a W-2 for each job you held.
    • Forms stating interest/dividend earnings. Your bank, investment company, or employer will send you a form listing how much income you have earned through interest-bearing accounts or other investments.
    • Documentation of mortgage, student loan, or other qualifying debt payments. You may be allowed to deduct certain types of payments, such as interest on mortgage loans. Refer to Publication 519 to see which interest deductions, if any, you are allowed to take.
    • Your visa and passport number. You may be required to include your visa type and number with your passport identification on the form you file.
    • Your social security number/Tax ID (ITIN). These numbers are required, unless you qualify as an exempt individual.

  5. Read the instructions for the required forms, and fill them out accordingly

    This can be the most confusing part of the process. If you need help, call the IRS automated tax help line at (800) 829-4477 or your local tax office at (800) 829-1040 for live help. Alternatively, you may choose to have your tax forms submitted by a professional preparer, such as H&R Block or Jackson Hewitt. In the most complex situations, you should call an accountant. If you file online, you will have to answer several questions, and the program will fill the forms out for you.

  6. Re-read your tax forms.

    Check the math and make sure the form is legible. If you file online, the program will take care of this.

  7. Sign and date the form and make a photocopy for your records.

    Online filers should print a hard copy of the forms and follow the program's instructions for submitting a signature to the IRS.

  8. Make arrangements for payment or receipt of your refund.

    If you owe money, write a check to the "United States Treasury" or call (888) 272-9829 to pay by credit card. If you are expecting a return, enter your bank routing and account number on the appropriate blanks in the form. You can obtain these numbers by looking at the bottom of your personal checks or by calling your bank. The first nine-digit number at the bottom of the check is the routing number, and the second string of digits is your account number.

  9. Include appropriate required documentation when you send the forms.

    Remember to send originals of official papers, such as the W-2 or interest earnings form. Normally, the forms come in triplicate: one for you to send with federal, one for state, and one for your personal records.

Health Insurance Basics

Injury or illness can happen to anyone, anywhere. Unfortunately, in the USA, you will find yourself in deep financial trouble if you become injured or ill without insurance. Unlike many countries, the USA does not offer universal health insurance. Instead, workers are covered through private insurance companies that contract through employers. Your employer pays a certain amount of money, called a premium, each year for this insurance, and this is considered a benefit of working for that company. In some cases, people opt to purchase their own insurance, although that option is prohibitively expensive for most families.

Insurance policies

In exchange for the premiums, you will be issued a document called a policy. This policy is a contract that states what services the insurance company will pay for. Sometimes, the policy includes a list of specific health care providers from which you must choose. If you choose a provider who is not on the list, the insurance company may not pay the full amount for the services.

Insurance companies are regulated by state and federal laws, and these laws vary widely from state to state. This means that policies and coverage may be different from one state to another. If you plan on traveling, check your policy to make sure your coverage will follow you.

Suppose your policy states that the insurance company will pay for regular visits to a doctor, and you need your yearly physical exam. So, you go to your doctor and, instead of paying the doctor yourself, the insurance company pays for your physical. This involves filling out insurance forms at the doctor's office. If the doctor gives you a prescription, you will take it to your pharmacy to be filled. If your policy pays for prescription medicines, you will receive your medications at no charge.

Sounds easy, right?

Insurance language

Wrong. Most insurance policies are not that simple. They may require that you pay part of the fees for office visits and medications. This fee is called a co-payment, and is usually a minimal amount of money. In other words, if the physical exam costs $100, you might pay $10, and the insurance company pays the balance of $90. Sometimes, the patient is required to pay a set amount of money toward health care before the insurance begins to pay the bill. This set amount is called a deductible. For example, the policy might state that the first $100 of health costs must be paid by the patient, after which the additional expenses will be covered by the insurance company.

Sometimes, an insurance company won't cover particular services at all. These are called exclusions. Common exclusions are birth control pills, cosmetic surgery and other quality of life services. Some policies set a dollar limit for a particular service as well. For instance, the policy might cover two visits a year to a dentist, with an annual limit of $1,200 for treatment.

If you obtain a service that is not covered by your health plan, you will have to pay for it yourself.

There are many types of health insurance policies, and deductibles, exclusions and co-payments vary considerably with each type of policy and between insurance companies. These policies can be difficult to understand, as they are often quite complicated and confusing. Therefore, it is extremely important to read your policy carefully and completely.

For more help with insurance language, check out our health insurance glossary. If you're still confused about your policy, or insurance in general, ask your employer's benefits department or the insurance company representative.

Employment and insurance

Employers usually offer a variety of plans. For example, a single person might choose a plan that does not cover extensive services. But a married person with children would likely choose a family plan with more extensive coverage. The premiums for a more-limited plan are, of course, less expensive. Since most employers pay part of the premiums and you pay part of the premiums, it is to everyone's advantage that the employee chooses the plan that best suits her needs.

If you leave your job, you are entitled to continue your health insurance coverage for up to 18 months under a federal law called COBRA. The catch, however, is that you must pay the full amount of the premiums yourself. Hopefully, within that time, you will have secured another job and coverage from your new employer. If you don't have a new job, or you work at a company that doesn't provide health insurance, you can buy a policy for yourself and your family, but it is expensive.

In the end, the best way to deal with insurance in the USA is to stay healthy so you don't have to go to the doctor in the first place.

Health Insurance Glossary

When shopping for an insurance policy, you will come across many terms specific to the insurance industry. Becoming familiar with these terms will help you evaluate your choices.

Benefit Something positive your employer provides that is not required by law, such as paid vacation, sick time, personal days and child care.
Co-payment The set amount that you pay each time you use a particular service. For example, if your insurance plan has a co-payment of $5 for each doctor visit, you will pay the doctor $5 at each visit and the insurance company pays the rest.
Deductible The amount of money you must pay in a fee-for-service plan before the insurance payments begin.
Exclusions Services not covered by the insurance plan.
Fee-for-service plan A "traditional" insurance plan, where the insurance company pays a certain fee for each service performed, after the patient pays a deductible. In a fee-for-service plan, the patient can usually go to any doctor, not just a doctor on a list.
Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) A company that offers health plans that provide medical care from an approved network of providers, at a set fee per visit. You must see a provider within the network, or the HMO may not pay for the service.
In-plan Provider Doctors who have a contract with your insurance company to provide services. Usually, you will be given a booklet listing the doctors in your health plan.
Managed Care A concept that addresses how health care is contracted, provided and paid for. HMOs are examples of managed care in action.
Out-of-plan provider Doctors who do not have a contract with your insurance company. If you are in an HMO, your plan may pay for services you obtain from the out-of-plan provider.
Out-of-pocket Payments you must make if you visit an out-of-plan provider or if you obtain a service not covered by your policy.
Payroll deduction Money taken out of your paycheck before it is given to you
Point-of-service (POS) Under this plan, you choose a primary-care physician. If you need a specialist, you may choose a doctor not working directly with your PCP. You may be required to pay for this specialist out-of-pocket, depending on your policy.
Policy A special type of managed care plan under which you don't usually need permission from your Primary Care Physician to see a specialist.
Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) A special type of managed care plan under which you don't usually need permission from your Primary Care Physician to see a specialist.
Premium The monthly payment paid to the insurance company for your coverage.
Primary Care Physician (PCP) The doctor you choose as your main health care provider. Under most HMOs, your PCP must give you permission to see a specialist.
Provider The doctor, nurse, dentist, pharmacist or other health care professional that serves you.

Health Insurance

What is Health Insurance?

Health insurance means just what it says: it's a way to insure yourself against health catastrophes such as illness and injury. In return for payment of a monthly fee, called a premium, the insurance company agrees to pay the price of a set amount of medical expenses, minus any deductible you may choose. This amount depends on the type of health plan you purchase. In the USA, health insurance falls into three categories: Health Maintenance Organizations, Preferred Provider Organizations and traditional "fee-for-service," or "indemnity" plans.

Why is health insurance important?

Unlike many other industrialized countries, the USA has no nationalized health care system. If you don't have health insurance and you fall ill, you are responsible for paying all medical fees, which are expensive in the USA. If the illness includes a hospitalization, costs can run into the five-figures. Health insurance helps to defray these huge and often unexpected costs.


  1. Determine if you are already covered.

    You may already have health insurance through your employer or university. Call your company's human resources office or your university's accounts office to find out if you have insurance through your affiliation with the organization. If so, request literature on your plan to find out what is covered under your current plan. You may find that you need more coverage than what is offered, especially if you have children or a chronic illness.

  2. Evaluate your current and future medical needs.

    If you aren't covered through your employer or university, or you need more coverage, you will have to shop around. Health plans vary widely. If you have a condition requiring regular monitoring and medication, like diabetes or heart disease, then you may opt for one of the more comprehensive plans. If you are in reasonably good health and don't anticipate problems in the near future, you might be able to get by with a more basic policy. In general, if you have a specific condition, make sure your plan covers the treatments you need.

  3. Consider your lifestyle.

    Do you travel often? Some plans have an extensive network of doctors and hospitals spread over one or two states, while others offer nationwide coverage with fewer doctors. If your job requires a lot of traveling throughout the country, or if you plan to visit other parts of the country during your stay, then the latter plan might suit you better. And if you want to be covered under your health plan when you visit your home country, you will have to ask for extended coverage.

  4. Figure out how much you can afford to pay in premiums and medical costs.

    Once your needs are identified, choose the plan that meets most of your health needs with the least out-of-pocket costs. Generally, plans with higher premiums charge a smaller fee for each doctor visit. This fee, known as a co-payment, is charged every time you visit a doctor's office. If you have small children, who often require frequent visits for routine complaints, you may prefer plans with low or no co-payments. If you only occasionally visit the doctor, you might be happy with a plan that may have a higher co-pay per visit but offers complete coverage in case you are hospitalized. Acquaint yourself with the claim reimbursal policy of each plan. Sometimes situations arise where you may be asked to pay for some tests or medication up front, but the plan offers to reimburse your expenses later. In such cases you will need to file a claim with your healthcare organization showing the need for the particular test or medication as well as the expense incurred.

  5. Shop around

    This is the most important part of the process. You can compare many U.S. insurance plans online using Insurance Web, a service for both consumers and insurance companies. Companies such as Europ Assistance, U.S. Health Plans, the International Medical Group and Global Health Asia advertise international coverage. Take note of premiums, deductibles and co-payments, as well as what is covered in each plan. When shopping for a plan, choose about three or four plans you like before you call the company to enroll. If you can compare one plan to another when talking to the insurance salesperson, you will be in a better situation because the salesperson will know you are doing your own research. Additionally, by comparing similar plans, you may be able to choose which one fits your needs better. To speak with a representative and ask questions, call the telephone number on the company's Web site or in the company's marketing literature. Usually, this number is an (800) or (888) number.

  6. Decide which plan is right for you.

    Call the company you have chosen and enroll in the plan. Generally, to purchase a health plan, you will need to provide personal information such as your age, previous medical conditions, and information about your dependents, if you have any.

"My friend has recently immigrated to the USA, he was just in a bad accident and he does not have health insurance". "My wife has just joined me here in America, she is pregnant and we do not have health insurance." These are the types of statements that are heard in our office every week! Their next question is usually, "What health insurance plan do you have that will cover this?" The answer is - "none". Had these people taken out health insurance prior to one of the above incidents occurring they would have had several choices. Without health insurance most people in these situations end up paying for services themselves and/or they don't get the same quality of care as those with insurance.

Expensive Health Care

Health care in America is very expensive and it is important to have coverage before something catastrophic happens. One of our clients was recently charged over $6,500.00 a day at UC Davis Hospital in Sacramento, CA! The cost of an organ transplant can easily exceed $200,000.00. CBS News reported in July of this year that an emergency room visit, plus ambulance, might cost $2,000.00 or $3,000.00. The National Center for Health Statistics reported that there 39.4 visits to emergency rooms for every 100 persons, 6.8 million visits for stomach and abdominal pain alone. Over 40 million injury-related visits annually and 33.7 million urgent care visits annually. Many times these charges will be higher for those who do not have insurance. The New York Times reported that a gynecologist in New York charges those with insurance $25 per exam and those without $175! One of the reasons for this is that major insurance companies can negotiate with hospitals and doctors to get large discounts that the individual patient cannot.

Quality of Care

It is a sad fact, but in America you will receive far better health care if you have insurance. Substandard care may mean waiting longer for care or it may mean not getting necessary preventative care. Some hospitals may not even admit an uninsured person or they may send them to a public hospital where the lines are even longer! Many uninsured immigrants feel like they have been placed in a lower category of society because of not having insurance.

When those without insurance forgo going to the doctor for preventative care they are more likely to be hospitalized. The Kaiser Foundation found that the uninsured are twice as likely to be hospitalized for conditions that could have been managed in a doctor's office. Families USA, in Washington, DC reports that uninsured cancer patients are more likely to be diagnosed with late stage cancer and mortality rates are significantly higher for uninsured women with breast cancer. Other studies have found that putting off getting care often times results in a more serious illness, extended hospital stays, and even a greater chance of death.

Senior Immigrants (Age 60+)

What about insurance for the senior immigrant? Since seniors generally require more health care (due to age, disease, health problems, etc.) health insurance in the past has been either very expensive or non-existent. Legal immigrants to the USA must wait 5 years before they are eligible to purchase Medicare coverage, so finding a plan that will fill that gap is imperative. If an individual sponsors a senior immigrant that individual might end up being the one who will be expected to pay the high costs mentioned above. Some states allow certain immigrants to be covered under Medicaid, but government bureaucracy can be a nightmare and often times the quality of care is substandard!

Great News

The great news is that there are good health plans available, which are specifically designed for immigrants up to age 65 as well as those over age 65! Short-term immigrant health plans, as well as long-term permanent resident plans, are available from private insurers. Eligibility is based on length of time in the US, age and health status. Short-term plans usually are guaranteed issue, meaning anyone can get coverage for new sicknesses and accidents regardless of health. While some plans for immigrants can be expensive (especially for seniors), there are ones available on the market for less than $150 per month, even for those over age 80!*

Getting Coverage

Where can I find information on this type of health insurance? Many times, the average insurance agent doesn't have a clue! Plans for non-US citizens are not found on every "street corner", however, there are certain agencies which specialize in this type of coverage. The Internet is a great place to find information, including benefits, exclusions, and rates.

Even though buying insurance can be a large expenditure, it is a necessary one here in America. The cost of medical care is climbing every year at an unprecedented rate - in fact in the last 6 years costs have nearly doubled. The cost of not having insurance can far exceed the cost of purchasing coverage before something happens - plus, having that "Medical ID" card, which tells the medical facility that you have health insurance, is a necessity not a luxury.

International Telephone Call

What Is An International Telephone Call?

An international call is a call placed to a different country than the one you are in.

Why Is Making a Telephone Call Important?

Calling family and friends in your home country can be an important way of staying connected with those you care about back home. It is also the quickest way to let them know you have arrived safely to your destination.


  1. Find an International Calling Plan.

    Shop around for the best international calling plan because placing international calls can be expensive. To save as much money as possible, you should compare a variety of calling plans before choosing one. If you make an international call without taking part in some sort of international calling plan, you will invariably pay more than you should for the call. The three main telephone companies are Sprint, MCI, and AT&T.

  2. Make the call.

    In the USA, you must first dial 011 to make an international call. Next you must dial the country code, then the telephone number.

Rent an Apartment

What Is an Apartment?

An apartment is a room or set of rooms used as a residence. It can be referred to as a studio (one room), a one-bedroom unit, or a two- to three-bedroom suite. Apartment units are usually grouped together in an apartment building, and these buildings can be grouped together in an apartment complex.

Many apartment homes are available fully-furnished. More commonly, however, units are semi-furnished with kitchen and laundry appliances. Depending on the location and architecture, apartments can have heating and air-conditioning, hot and cold water, fireplaces, patios, carpets, blinds, walk-in closets, and cable television connections.

Some of the more exclusive four-star apartment complexes provide various amenities, including clubhouses, pools, whirlpool baths, tennis/volleyball/basketball courts, fitness centers, playgrounds, picnic areas and car wash facilities.

What Are the Advantages of Renting an Apartment?

When you buy a house, aside from having to shell out a hefty initial outlay, you will be personally responsible for all the upkeep and sprucing up of your property. And no matter if you own or rent a house, you need to mow the lawn, prune the trees, wash the windows, and shampoo the carpet. When you rent or lease an apartment, the manager of the complex takes care of these chores for you, and the cost is covered by your monthly rent.

Attending to landscaping and structure maintenance, including plumbing, electrical and appliance repair or replacement, the apartment management makes sure that you are safe and comfortable as a resident of their complex.

Without having to worry about usage fees and maintenance, you can enjoy amenities like swimming pools, spas and sports facilities. Some complexes are gated for increased security. Some even provide free cable and Internet connections. Many sponsor community functions exclusively for their residents, like weekend lunches, holiday parties and poolside movies.


  1. Find the Apartment Unit You Like.

    One of the ways to avoid spending too much time, effort and gas on apartment hunting is by going over a copy of the local apartment guidebook. The guidebook is free, published per city, and can be found in convenience stores, supermarkets, restaurants and hotels. Various "apartment-for-rent" magazines are also locally distributed for free. If you want to search online, you can search Web sites like Apartment Guide,, Apartments for Rent or The newspaper classifieds are also a great place to look for apartments. If you're looking for a very small or very cheap apartment, you may have a tougher time if you are searching only the apartment guides. When looking you should compare the features, rates and locations of the many apartment complexes available so you can narrow your search down to a short list of apartment homes you want to inspect in person.

  2. Visit the Apartment Complex.

    Do a visual inspection of the most promising apartment on your list. Note how far it is from your place of work. Drive around the complex. Is it the environment and type of neighborhood you and your family will feel at home in? Ask the manager to give you a tour of the different units they have. Ask about the rental rates, amenities and occupancy terms and conditions. Don't decide until you've seen the other apartment communities you've listed.

  3. Submit an Application.

    When you've decided on which apartment you want to rent, fill out the application form. This is a formality that allows the manager of the apartment complex to check your identity and credit standing. You may be required to pay an application fee at this time.

  4. Pay the Security Deposit and Advance Rent.

    Most apartments require a security deposit (refundable subject to conditions) and a month's rent due before your move-in date. Some complexes charge for additional parking space, additional cable subscriptions, pool views and pets.

  5. Sign the Rental or Lease Agreement.

    Although most of the rental or lease terms will have been discussed by the manager, be sure to read all the fine print in the lease agreement. Take note of specific regulations on parking, recycling, garbage collection, security, use of facilities, alterations, maintenance, pet policies and move-out procedures.

  6. Move In

    On the date you had agreed on, move into your apartment with your belongings, and begin to enjoy your new home and community!

About The Author is a private company located in Cary, North Carolina, that provide informations about visas, green cards, medical issues, and taxes to all newcomers who wants to live in United States.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.

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