Tips for Living in the U.S.

Getting a Driver's License

Pennsylvania Driver's Licence and State ID

Both documents are good alternatives to carrying your passport for identification purposes and the Driver's License will also allow you to drive in the U.S.

The state of Pennsylvania honors a valid foreign driver's license with an International Driving Permit for up to one year. When the foreign license or International Permit expires, you must apply to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportaton (PennDOT) for a Pennsylvania license in order to continue to drive. If you have moved from another state in the U.S, even if you hold a valid driver's license from that state, you must get a Pennsylvania driver's license within 60 days after moving to Pennsylvania. More information can be found at:

If you do not have a Social Security Number (SSN), you must bring the following documentation to the Driver License Center in order to obtain a Pennsylvania driver's license or state ID card:

  • Passport
  • I-94 card
  • Visa stamp
  • I-20 (for F-1) or DS-2019 (for J-1) with a program end date that is at least one year away
  • Letter of denial/indecision from the US Social Security Administration (SSA)
  • Driver's license letter verifying attendance at the school listed on the I-20/DS-2019 (obtain from ISSS)
  • 2 proofs of residency

Read this guide to getting a PA driver’s license!


All cars in Pennsylvania must be insured. Annual car insurance rates in the city are a minimum of $2,000 to $3,000. Car thefts and thefts from cars are not uncommon, so if you own a car, buy a steering wheel lock and never leave valuables in a parked car.

Bank Accounts and Credit Cards


Having a U.S. bank account can be very useful. Some may require a Social Security Number (SSN), but others will accept a passport and other forms of identification—check with the bank you have chosen. They all have different charges and fees for services, so ask around and be sure to read the small print before signing anything.

  • Checking account: This is a standard account that will allow you deposit foreign checks (although these take time to clear) and have money wired to you. You’ll also get checks, which you can use to pay rent and bills. Just make sure you have enough money in your account to cover the checks that you write, otherwise you’ll have large bank fees to pay.

  • Savings account: If you have money that you don't plan to use immediately, you can open a savings or investment account. Depending on how much you deposit, this account will pay you interest. You will receive a monthly statement showing your balance. Be sure to keep these statements as the interest earned on savings accounts may be taxable.

  • Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs): Basic banking—such as deposits, transfers and withdrawals—is available 24 hours a day at computerized banking machines (ATMs) at most banks. You may be charged a fee each time you use your ATM card. Check with your bank for details. These machines can be found throughout the city. Pay attention to your surroundings when using an ATM, and avoid using machines that are in isolated locations.

Open An Account

Read this article to learn what you need to open a checking/savings account.

Banks near PAFA

TD Bank at 130 N 18th St, Philadelphia, PA 19103

Asian Bank at 111 N. 9th St., Philadelphia, PA 19107

Citizens Bank in the Comcast Center at 1701 John F Kennedy Blvd, Philadelphia, PA 19103

Santander Bank at 1101 Market St, Philadelphia, PA 19107

Wells Fargo at 2005 Market St #150, Philadelphia, PA 19103

HBSC in Chinatown (most employees speak Mandarin)

PNC Bank at 1600 Market St, Philadelphia, PA 19103

Credit Cards

Credit cards are popular in the U.S., but are sometimes difficult to obtain for international students who don't have a credit history here. If you have one from your home country, you can just use that one, but it's a good idea to inform your credit card company. Otherwise, they may assume that your card has been stolen.

The main credit cards in the U.S. are Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover, but businesses may not accept all cards. Department store credit cards are usually easier to obtain and can be used to establish credit, which will make it easier to get a regular credit card in a few months.

Almost all credit cards charge interest, so pay attention to that when making purchases. If your credit card is lost or stolen, contact the police and the company that issued the card immediately.

Health Care

Things to Know

  • You are responsible for payment, with or without health insurance.
  • Payment is often expected at the time the care is given.
  • You are responsible for ensuring that bills are submitted and that claim forms (used to request payment from the insurance company) are properly completed.
  • The reimbursement process takes time.
  • You can seek an opinion from a second doctor before deciding on a course of treatment.
  • Tell the doctor which medications you have taken in the past.
  • Ask questions about your condition and your treatment. Take a friend to the doctor's office with you to translate or help with forms if you feel that will help.

Where to Go for Medical Care

If you are feeling sick, get help. The longer you wait, the greater risk you run for developing a serious problem from what may have been minor and easy to treat. Only go to a hospital emergency room for a life-threatening condition, as they are very expensive and, if your condition is not life-threatening, you may have to wait a long time for care. PAFA has a contract with Jefferson Family Medicine Associates, a nearby doctor’s office, which will cover your basic medical needs. For more details see our Health & Wellness resources or ask about this in the Student Services Office.


PAFA Health Insurance

PAFA’s university-sponsored Injury and Sickness Insurance Plan is administered by First Risk Advisors and is underwritten by the UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company. Health insurance allows students to take the greatest advantage of health and counseling services through PAFA's partner providers at Jefferson Family Medicine Associates and Penn Behavioral Health.

To enroll, submit a waiver, or get more information about the coverage including costs, benefits, exclusions, reductions, and limitations, and terms, visit

Useful health insurance vocabulary:

  • Co-payment (co-pay): When you visit a doctor’s office, you will have a co-pay to cover the initial cost of the visit. This is usually between $10 and $50 per visit. Your insurance card will state the cost, but you will be expected to pay it at the time of the visit.
  • Deductible: The amount that you must pay before the insurance starts paying.

For more helpful words see the Glossary of Health Coverage and Medical Terms.


Visiting a Doctor

When choosing a doctor, decide if you prefer to see a man or a woman, an older practitioner or a younger one, etc. You may not have a choice, but it’s worth asking if you can.

When you arrive at a clinic, you will usually be weighed and have your blood pressure taken by a nurse or nurse practitioner (registered nurses qualified to evaluate, diagnose and treat many common conditions). You will give a brief summary of why you are there, and then go back to the waiting room until the doctor is ready to see you. You may tell your symptoms to several people—this is normal! Answer all the questions and don’t be shy about asking questions.You can ask workers to talk more slowly, to repeat or to write something down. If you think you will need an interpreter, ask when you make your appointment if someone can assist you, or ask a friend to accompany you.


Mental Health

As an international student, you are far from home and your regular support network. If you feel sad or depressed, talking to someone can really help, and you shouldn’t feel ashamed about asking for this help. Many Americans (especially in big cities) freely and comfortably admit to "seeing" someone and will happily hand over contact information. We have information about free counseling sessions through Penn Behavioral Health in the Student Services Office, and it’s completely confidential.​

Traveling within Philly & Traveling outside of Philly

Getting around Philadelphia

Public Transportation Resources

Transit app (Android or iPhone)


Indego Bike Share Program

Ride-sharing apps

Uber (Android and iPhone)

Lyft (Android and iPhone)


Traveling outside Philadelphia

Click here for Info on using SEPTA to get to the Philadelphia International Airport

Bus + Train

Megabus — station is here, about a block west of 30th St. Station

BoltBus — same station as Megabus

Greyhound — bus station is here, about a 10-minute walk from PAFA

Amtrak — all trains leave from 30th St. Station