You got your J1 internship visa. Congrats! You are so very close to coming to the United States and starting your internship. I remember how excited I was back in 2006 when I was in your shoes and am very jealous of your upcoming adventure.
Now let’s take a look at some things you need to take care of before arrival.
Booking a flight
If you haven’t booked your flight yet, I highly recommend checking out flights through Adioso and Vayama – I can’t stop raving about these as Adioso is ridiculously simple to use it makes you want to cry from joy (great deals, too!) and I just booked a round-trip ticket from Newark to Moscow for $560 through Vayama. As my friend quipped from jealousy:
Are you flying there and back on a hot air balloon, or something?
I don’t think these sites need more advertising than that. But hunting for a cheap flight is not just about finding the two perfect booking sites, it’s almost like science. So if you have time, I suggest reading through this incredibly informative travel hacking guide by Nomadic Matt. Can’t recommend it enough to fellow travelers.
When should you arrive?
It’s important that you arrive into the United States before your training start date. I’m sure your company has discussed your arrival already but you can find your internship start and end dates on your DS-2019 (Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status) and DS-7002 (Training/Internship Placement Plan).
In case of any delays in arrival, please contact us so that we get your DS-2019 and DS-7002 adjusted. It’s a very simple procedure, actually, and I used to do it all the time for my interns when I was working for the J-1 sponsor in New York.
Since housing will be your major expense during the program, it’s not a matter to take lightly. If your host company has housing lined up for you already, then you have nothing to worry about. If your host company does not provide you with housing, let me repeat the housing advice from my J1 internship post:
If I had to do the internship all over again and knew that housing wasn’t provided by my host, I would definitely try staying with locals through Couchsurfing, Airbnb and local Craigslist during the first few weeks.
Both Couchsurfing and Airbnb are very temporary in nature but they are a great way to meet locals and get lots of tips about good places to live in the area. And you never know, you may even find out that your local host’s friend is looking for a roommate and that roommate could end up being none other than you. Not to mention that Couchsurfing and Airbnb will help you quickly make friends in the area.
One word of caution though:
Be very, very careful about screening Couchsurfing and Airbnb hosts.
I have done a fair share of hosting and traveling through these sites and never had any issues but I have heard stories. So my advice is to read through host profiles thoroughly, look through their pictures, let them know why you liked their profile and why you would like to meet them. And please spend some time making your profile look nice and doing the necessary security verifications. The better your profile, the safer and happier hosts feel about sharing their home with you.
Craigslist is probably the most popular way to find apartments for long-term rent in the United States. But in your case, since you are not familiar with the area, I would suggest looking for short-term rent options in the Housing > Sublets & Temporary section of the local Craigslist. This will buy you a few months of extra time to figure out where you really want to live on a long-term basis.
Needless to say, if you find a nice deal on long-term rent and your local friends or host company approve of the location, go for it!
It may seem old-fashioned, but I advise all our interns to have a few hundred dollars in cash during their travels and around a thousand dollars in the bank account for emergency situations. You also have to account for “no money” time – the time when your internship begins and you get paid two or four weeks later. There may be further delays with your Social Security card processing, which could postpone your pay day even further. It happened to me and I’m glad I had a few thousand extra in my savings account to comfortably live through this transition.