The Ultimate International Student Freshman Survival Guide

International Student Survival Guide

(Updated for 2023)

Congratulations! You have been accepted into college or university in the US.  That makes you one in around 1 million international students studying in the USA.

Moving to the US to study is a big decision. It takes courage to move to a new place where the language and culture can be very different from what you’re used to in your home country.

Americans refer to their first year of college as their freshman year, and your freshman year in the US is going to be a lot of fun – as long as you’re prepared.

There are plenty of challenges that you may face, especially in your first few weeks in the US… but not to worry, Sprintax are here to help make sure you start your first week of college prepared for just about anything.

Start planning before you leave your home country

Our first piece of advice is to prepare as much as possible before you leave your home country. This means getting your documents in order, working out your finances and finding a suitable place to live.

Bring the correct documents

The last thing you want is to get in trouble with Customs and Immigration when you arrive in the US. Make sure you have all the documents that you need to enter the country and start university. Be sure to bring the following items:

  • Passport and visa documents
  • Driver’s license
  • Health and travel insurance documents
  • Prescriptions for any medication you need
  • Prescriptions for glasses or contact lenses
  • Documents from the college or university where you will be studying i.e. confirmation of enrolment

Money management

Like many international students moving to the US, this may be the first time that you have to manage your own money. The last thing that you need is to be under financial stress while studying – avoid this stress by making a budget.

You might be surprised to find that food, books and tuition are more expensive than you expected. We recommend researching living costs in the town or city you’re moving to.

Track what you earn and what you spend

Create a spreadsheet, keep a notebook or download an app and use it to keep track of your incoming and outgoing finances. This will help you to avoid overspending.

How much money you will need depends on a) where you live and b) your lifestyle

Budget breakdown

Here’s a basic breakdown of what you can expect financially as an international student:

  • Income (this may be from work, from your parents or both)
  • Accommodation
  • Costs associated with accommodation (furniture, bed lined, electrical appliances, cleaning products)
  • Bills (phone, electricity, water, gas, internet, TV)
  • Transport (public transport, taxi fares, care expenses, fuel, insurance, tax, car maintenance)
  • Education costs (college tuition fees, textbooks, stationery, printing, photocopying)
  • Health costs (insurance, doctor, optician, glasses, physiotherapist, dentist)
  • Food (groceries, dining out, lunch from the cafeteria)
  • Recreation (travel, movies, nights out, nightclubs, gym, concerts)
  • Personal (clothing, sanitary products, cosmetics, haircuts, shoes)


If you are studying in the US, there’s a good chance you’re working there too. It’s common for international students to take up employment to earn some extra money while studying and if you’re working in the US you have to pay taxes.

You can take care of your US taxes by filing a tax return by the tax filing deadline which is usually 15 April (the tax filing deadline is 18 Apr in 2023).

Why pay taxes?

If you fail to file your US tax return it can affect your ability to re-enter the US at a later date. You may also have to pay fines and penalties.

Tax can be confusing

We understand that the US tax system can be confusing for international students.

That’s why Sprintax offers a 24/7 live chat service. Our chat team are on hand day and night to guide our customers and answer all of their questions throughout the tax preparation process.

When you’re a non-US citizen working in the US you have to figure out how to file your taxes correctly. There are a number of factors that affect how you file. For instance, your residency status. As a non-US citizen, you are most likely considered a ‘nonresident alien’ for tax purposes unless you meet the green card test or the substantial presence test. It is also possible to have a dual-status residency in some circumstances. You must then find out what forms you need to complete to file a fully compliant tax return.

If you need help preparing for tax season, read our blog post ‘5 Things Every International Student Can do to be Ready for Tax Season’.

If you’re still confused about filing your US taxes, Sprintax is here to help. We will review your circumstances and determine your residency status for you before helping you prepare your fully compliant US tax return.

Prepare your international student tax return with Sprintax

Get started here

 international students


Get to know American slang

Slang is a term for a very informal language that is most commonly used while speaking rather than writing. It’s the kind of language that you might use when you’re ‘hanging out’ with your friends.

It’s difficult learning a new language without having to make sense of different slang terms you hear. Our advice is always to ask if you’re unsure. Don’t be embarrassed to let people know that you don’t understand. Asking for help will allow you to pick up these phrases much faster. Many Americans will be impressed to find you can speak two languages and most will be happy to help you learn.

So what are some popular American slang terms?

Hanging out

You might have noticed that we used the term ‘hanging out’ with your friends. To hang out with someone means to spend time with them in a casual setting.

If someone invites you to their home to play video games they might ask;

“Do you want to hang out and play video games at my apartment later?”

You can also use hanging out to describe spending time at a certain place. So for instance;

“I am going to hang out at the park after class”


Cool is almost an internationally used term but if you’re not familiar with its meaning, cool means that something is ‘good’ or ‘ok’.

“The DJ at the party last night played some cool music”

“Your friend Dave is cool. We should hang out with him again next weekend.”

Screw up

To screw something up means to make a mistake.

“Oh no, I screwed up the last question on the exam paper”

My bad

This phrase is used to let someone know that you’ve made a small mistake.

“I bought you the wrong brand of potato chips at the store, my bad


The word ‘hit’ is usually an action verb but Americans sometimes use it differently. Let’s look at some examples:

“I’m going to hit the books later” (I’m going to study later)

“That guy hit on me last night” (meaning “that guy was flirting with me last night”)

“If you want help with your math homework you can hit up my friend Jessica” (meaning “if you want help with your math homework you can contact my friend Jessica)

Get in touch

To get in touch with someone means to contact them.

“You can get in touch with the Student International Office from 09:00-18:00”


Cramming generally happens when you have not given yourself enough time to study for an exam, so at the very last minute (usually the day or night before the exam) you study a lot.

“I haven’t studied all week for my exam tomorrow. I’m going to the library to cram all night.”


A hangover describes how you feel the day after drinking a lot of alcohol.

“I have a very bad hangover. I’m going to stay in bed and watch movies all day.”

Tip: Before you go to America watch popular TV shows from the US to get to know the language.

Making Friends

One of the best things about moving to the US is making new friends. The best way to make new friends in college is to take part in activities. Your college campus will have lots of events going on and there are endless opportunities to meet new people. Joining an on campus gym or club is always a good way to start.

A college club or society is a group of students that meet up and take part in activities based on shared interests. You might find that there is a film club, a drama club, a history club, a physics club etc.

If you enjoy sports then you’re in luck, joining a school’s sports teams is an excellent way to make friends.

Most universities dedicate the first few weeks of term to fun activities and parties that take place on campus. This is intended to freshmen make new friends and feel comfortable starting in a new school.

You will be part of a large student population and not it’s not just American citizens. In fact, the US has more international students than any other country. If you do find yourself making friends with people from your own country, be sure to speak in English as much as possible so that you get a lot of practice in.

Student accommodation

Living in student accommodation is a great way to meet new people. You will also mix with native English speakers on a daily basis, giving you more opportunities to get to know the language. Try to secure a place in a college dormitory or some form of student accommodation.

Tip: Put yourself out there and don’t be afraid to start a conversation with someone new.


Dealing with culture shock

You may be excited to start studying in the US but you should know that it will take some time to adjust to the cultural differences. Your surroundings will change and you might even change but don’t worry, that’s normal! Culture shock is used to refer to the experience of getting used to a new unfamiliar culture and it’s common for international students.

You may even experience being ‘homesick’ this is when you start to miss home. Most people who move away from home experience this feeling at some point so don’t worry. It’s normal to miss your friends, your family or your favorite foods from home. If you feel that this is affecting you and making you feel angry or very sad, make an appointment with an on-campus counselor or talk to your friends about it.

Be as open-minded as possible. Try new foods, listen to new types of music, and hang out with people you don’t usually hang out with. Your time in the US is all about trying new things.

Get advice from your peers

Do you have a relative, a neighbor or a friend who has studied in the US? Contact them or get in touch with them and ask them about their experience. They can give you great advice about what to expect.

Watch out for scams

You could end up being scammed especially when it comes to finding rented accommodation. Never exchange money until you have seen the accommodation. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there who like to take advantage of people from outside the US.

Have fun!

The most important advice that we can give you is to have fun. Studying in the US is something that many can only dream about. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and you should make the most of it.

Be confident in yourself and you will have a lot of wonderful experiences that you will remember for the rest of your life.


Sprintax can make things much easier for you. Check out my blog posts and feel free to ask me any questions.

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