Advice for Daily Living in the U.S.

Social Security Number (SSN)

A Social Security Number is a 9-digit number issued by the U.S. government for income and taxation purposes. While all J-1 Scholars are eligible for a SSN, if you are being paid as an employee of your Tennessee Consortium for International Studies (TnCIS) institution, you are required to have a SSN.

Applying For a SSN

First, wait at least 10 days after you enter the U.S. and after you checked in with International Student Affairs. If you apply before you check-in, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will not be able to verify with U.S. immigration that you have entered the U.S. and reported to your Program, and your SSN, application will be automatically denied.

After 10 days have passed and you have checked-in go to the SSA office to apply for the SSN in person. Bring the following documents:

While it is not required for all J Scholars, we recommend you see International Student Affairs to request a letter of enrollment confirmation to take with you for this application process.

To locate the nearest SSA visit the Social Security Office Locator (opens new window).

Tax Information

As an international scholar, it is important that you be aware of your U.S. income tax obligations. U.S. tax laws distinguish between residents and non-residents for U.S. tax purposes. Non-residents only pay taxes on U.S. source income, while residents follow the same tax rules as U.S. citizens and pay taxes on their worldwide income. Most incoming J-1 scholars are considered non-residents for the first two calendar years in the U.S..

The U.S. tax system is organized according to the calendar year and is a pay-as-you-go-system, which means that taxes may be deducted from salaries, stipends, and scholarships if these funds are from U.S. sources. In most cases, taxes are automatically withheld from your pay. The amount of taxes you will pay will depend on the type of income you receive and your tax status in the U.S.. Visit the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Foreign Students and Scholars (opens new window) website.

If you are an F-1, F-2, J-1, or J-2 visa holder, you are required to complete and file a U.S. tax form even if you don't work in the U.S.. Please contact International Student Affairs for assistance in acquiring assistance for your tax filing.

Tax Treaties

There are many tax treaties between the U.S. and other countries. Such treaties may exempt earnings, scholarships, and stipends from taxes.

Note: In order to claim a tax treaty benefit you must have either a SSN, or an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN). For more information about tax treaties visit the IRS United States Income Tax Treaties - A to Z (opens new window).

Filing Tax Returns

Many of you may not realize that you will have to complete U.S. tax forms. Federal and state income tax forms are completed annually in the U.S. and submitted to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) between January 1 and April 15 for the previous tax year (for example, 2015 tax forms will be due by April 15, 2016).

Driving in the U.S.

If you plan to drive while you are in the U.S., first make sure you have a valid driver's license. Remember that you are required by law to wear a seatbelt while driving or riding in a vehicle. You are also required to buy insurance, which can cost between $500 and $2000 per year, so be sure to factor that into your budget.

Tennessee (TN) Driver's License

Current TN Driver License policy will allow you to qualify for a TN Temporary Driver License until the expiration date specified in your immigration documents. If you apply for and receive an extension to stay beyond the original date, then you will need to present your extension papers to the Driver License Office for renewal of your license.

To apply for a Temporary Driver License, you should bring to the driver license testing station:

  • Passport
  • Original Form I-94, Request Travel History and Check Travel Compliance
  • DS-2019, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status
  • If you are in J status, at least two documents showing your residence in TN (such as a utility bill, rental contract, bank statement, health insurance policy, etc.) with your name and current addrress

If you have applied for a SSN, you should wait until you receive it and then apply for a Driver License.

If the driver license office requests other documents that you do not have, please contact the International Student Affairs.

Vehicle Registration

Once you obtain a TN driver license and decide to buy a vehicle, you will need to register that vehicle in the Shelby County Clerk's Office. For your TN license plates you will need to pay a fee every year you renew your registration.

If you purchase a car from a private person, you will also need to change the name the title and pay the sales tax on the purchase. You can register your car, obtain license plates, transfer the title, and pay sales tax all in one of the Shelby County Clerk's Office. It is advisable you have your TN driver license at the time of vehicle registration.

For more information visit the Shelby County Clerk's Office Title and Registration (opens new window) website.

Money and Banking

Opening a Bank Account

When you open an account, the bank will likely ask for identification documents (such as your passport, DS-2019, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status, and Form I-94, Request Travel History and Check Travel Compliance number). Some banks will also require you to have a SSN, but not all of them will.

If you have a spouse or other dependents, you may wish to open a joint account so multiple family members can use the same account. View a listing of banks (opens new window) in the area using Google Search.

Using a Debit Card

A debit card, also called a check card, is connected to your checking account and is used almost like a regular credit card, except the charges made are deducted from your checking account upon purchase. You do not get a separate bill at the end of the month as with a credit card.

Word of Caution: Be sure to keep track of your spending. If you spend more money than is in your account, you do not only risk ruining your credit record, but the bank also charges you with a fee every time the account is overdrawn.

Health and Safety

Illnesses or Injuries

For minor illnesses such as colds, flu, and indigestion, or minor injuries such as small cuts and burns, you can buy medications, disinfectants, bandages, and other supplies at drug stores (pharmacies) or discount department stores such as Wal-Mart or Target. These supplies are relatively inexpensive and although they are not covered by insurance, it is sometimes the easiest way to get through.

However, if you are feeling sick, do not hesitate to get help. Look up your health insurance company's website and find nearest affiliated clinics and make an appointment. Unless you have a real emergency, such as uncontrolled bleeding, extreme pain, or a broken bone, do not go to a hospital emergency room for treatment. Emergency rooms are very expensive and, if your condition is not life threatening, you may have to wait a long time for care. For medicine prescribed by your doctor, your insurance will likely require that you "co-pay" a portion of the cost.

Health Care and Medical Emergencies

In the event of a medical emergency involving any student, faculty, or staff member, immediately call 911.

You will receive an emergency contact card upon acceptance, which will include additional emergency contact numbers.

Drugs and Alcohol

Recreational drugs are illegal but common in the U.S. Many drugs are made in people's homes and cut, or mixed, with deadly substances. Never set your drink down at a party or bar! People can slip drugs into your drink this way. If you happen to set your cup down, get a new cup and drink.

Remember that you always have the right to say no to anything you encounter that makes you feel uncomfortable.

In Tennessee the legal age to purchase and/or drink alcohol is 21, and you must show your identification before buying any kind of alcohol. It is illegal to carry open containers of alcohol in public places like the street, or even transport them in a vehicle. In addition, the laws against drunk driving are very strict. Do not drink and drive. Not only is this dangerous to you and others, but you could lose your license and go to jail.