Getting Ready for Study in the U.S.

Now that you have your F-1 visa, it’s time to plan your trip and prepare for your time in the U.S.

Book your flight

We know you are excited for your upcoming trip and may want to arrive in the U.S. early to look for housing and explore the city and campus before classes begin. However, F-1 international students cannot enter the U.S. more than 30 days in advance of the program start date indicated on the BMCC I-20. (Fall semester: August 1; Spring semester: January 1). This does not apply to SEVIS Transfer students, who are currently in the U.S. studying at another institution.Airports in the NYC area:

Research housing accommodations

It’s a good idea to think about securing at least temporary housing accommodations before arriving in New York City. There are many housing options available in the city, which can make the search challenging. However, with some thought and research, once you arrive in the U.S., you will be ready to explore your options. Consider the following:

  • Your budget
  • Commuting time
  • Proximity to public transportation, shopping, basic amenities
  • Living with roommates: how many and preferences

Although BMCC does not offer on-campus housing, we have compiled information about housing options that can assist you with the housing search.


Have you submitted your immunization documents to BMCC Health Services? If you do not submit immunization documents, you will not be able to register for classes.If you are taking medication, make sure to bring a copy of your prescription. Check with your doctor about obtaining this medication in the U.S. You may need to bring your medication to the U.S. if it is not available here.

CUNY English as a Second Language Diagnostic Assessment (ESLD)

Th ESLD Assessment is an online exercise that measures your skill level at communicating in English, and your response will help determine the appropriate English or English as a Second Language course you should enroll in at BMCC.

All students who completed some or all of their education outside the United States, are required to submit an ESLD response. The sooner you complete the ESLD, the sooner you will be contacted by the college to register for classes.

After you accept your Offer of Admission, you will receive an email from the CUNY Office of Assessment with a personalized link to the online assessment exercise. You can prepare for the exercise using ESLD sample questions and other resources on the BMCC Testing Office’s website.

For more information about the ESLD, please visit the BMCC Testing web page.

Register online for International Student Orientation

Attending International Student Orientation is mandatory for all new BMCC F-1 students. We will be covering topics specifically for F-1 international students, including important immigration information. At International Student Orientation, your immigration documents will be collected in order for the ISSO to report your arrival in the SEVIS system.

Studying abroad is a rewarding experience, but throughout the course of your study here in the U.S., the experience can be challenging and overwhelming at times.

Different cultural values and practices outside the classroom affect your time inside the classroom. Before coming to the U.S., here are some ways you can learn more about American culture, inside and outside the classroom.

Attend a pre-departure orientation in your home country at an EducationUSA Advising Center: EducationUSA is a U.S. Department of State network of over 400 international student advising centers in more than 170 countries. If there is an advising center in your home country near you, the pre-departure orientation will help you prepare for your new experience abroad and learn the skills needed to adjust to the U.S. Advisers and students who have recently returned from their studies in the U.S. will be at these orientations.

Understand the U.S. Educational System: Learn more about what makes the U.S. academic system different, and get tips on how to succeed in the classroom. Here are some resources to consult for more information:

  • EducationUSA
  • Study in the USA: This site’s articles and blog posts provide helpful information about U.S. universities and colleges to international students. Learn about U.S. academic culture through real students’ experiences! Their magazines can be downloaded on their site. Magazines are also available at EducationUSA Advising Centers.
  • This online resource for international students provides great videos with advice on studying in the U.S. You can also check out their Google Hangout webinars, featuring BMCC’s International Student Specialist Jamie Battjes!
  • Find out more about daily life and getting around New York City: Consult New York City’s official guide.

Practice your English language skills.

Initial status F-1 students are not permitted to enter the U.S. earlier than 30 days prior to the program start date listed on the first page of your Form I-20. This is very important! While you may want to arrive sooner to visit relatives or friends already in the U.S., find an apartment, and prepare for classes at BMCC, you cannot do so. If your Form I-20 was issued in transfer pending status, noted on the first page of the Form I-20, you may travel within and enter the U.S. with no limitation prior to your program start date listed on your Form I-20.

You may have your face and/or fingerprints scanned in what is called a biometric screening. Biometric screening is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) security measure that uses computer software to compare your facial features to the photograph in your passport. Both John F. Kennedy (JFK) and Newark-Liberty (EWR) International Airports have recently begun using random-passenger biometric screening.

It is very important that you do not attempt to enter the U.S. under the ESTA visa waiver program, which is available to citizens of nearly 30 countries. The ESTA program is designed for tourists only; attending college under the waiver program is a clear violation of U.S. immigration law.

What to Expect at the Port of Entry

A CBP Officer will review your documents including your passport (valid for at least 6 months into the future), F-1 visa stamp, your BMCC Form I-20, copy of your BMCC admission letter, and SEVIS I-901 fee receipt before returning them to you. You should be prepared to answer the following questions:

  • What and where will you study?
  • Do you have family connections in the U.S.?
  • Where will you be staying while attending BMCC?

If the CBP Officer at the port of entry cannot verify your information, or if you do not have all required documentation, you may be directed to an interview area known as “secondary inspection.” Secondary inspection allows CBP Officers to conduct additional research in order to verify information without causing delays to other arriving passengers. The CBP Officer will attempt to verify your status by using the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS); if they still have questions, they are likely to contact a Designated School Official (DSO) at BMCC.

Under certain circumstances the CBP Officer may issue a Form I-515A “Notice to Student or Exchange Visitor,” which authorizes temporary admission to the U.S. for 30 days while you obtain and submit the necessary documentation to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). If you are admitted and issued a Form I-515A, please come to ISSO the next business day to review what you must submit.

An electronic record of your arrival will be created by the CBP Officer at the port of entry. A non-immigrant electronic I-94 arrival record is obtainable online. Once you access your I-94 electronic arrival record online, review all the information to ensure that it is correct: it should indicate the date you entered the U.S., the class of entry/visa type (which must be “F-1”), and approved duration of stay – which should be annotated as “D/S” (Duration of Status/Studies). If all information is correct, print two copies – one for your personal records and one for the ISSO check-in.

Getting to Your Destination

Before arriving in the U.S. you should have a plan for how you will travel from the airport to your final destination. There are several options for ground transportation, including taxi cabs, car services, shuttle services, and public transportation – trains and buses.

You should ignore offers of transportation from solicitors inside the terminal itself – soliciting of ground transportation is illegal, and many illegal solicitors are unlicensed and uninsured. You should also ignore non-uniformed people offering to assist you with baggage at the airport; if you need help with your luggage, seek out uniformed porters or airline employees only.

Taxi cabs are the easiest and most direct – and likely the most expensive – way to get from any of the New York City area airports to any location in New York City and New Jersey. Taxis cabs are supervised by the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) and are readily available at any airport terminal, day or night.

There are ride sharing options such as Uber and  Lyft.

There are also numerous car and shuttle van services available, and pre-booking a vehicle or seat is strongly recommended. Please visit the ground transportation websites for John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) or Newark-Liberty International Airport (EWR) for a listing of taxi, car, and van services options and tips.

Public transportation from the airports to New York City is typically the least expensive – but more time-consuming – way to get to your destination, and is recommended primarily for experienced students.