Resources for International Students
The main point of contact for incoming students and scholars are the International offices at their respective universities. They provide information about a variety of topics including VISA information, travel guidelines and much more. Here are a few links to these offices:
Harvard – Harvard International Office (HIO).
MIT – International Students Office (ISO) and International Scholars Office (ISchO)
NEU – https://international.northeastern.edu/ogs/
BU – https://www.bu.edu/isso/
Tufts – https://icenter.tufts.edu/
Usually your VISA will be sponsored by the institution/company you will work for in the USA. However, an alternative exists. The Belgian Chamber of Commerce in the United States, Belcham, can help you achieve the American Dream by sponsoring your J1 VISA. If you want to learn more about this opportunity, visit their website or go to one of their bi-monthly info sessions.
Finding housing can be very tricky. The cost of living in Boston and surrounding areas is pretty high and scams are common.
If you are an international student or visiting scholar, you can usually find resources for housing through your university. You will have to browse housing options yourself, but they might have a housing webpage to facilitate roommate and housing searching. There are options on- and off-campus. It is more common for undergraduate students to stay on-campus and others to stay off-campus. It is important to note that on off-campus housing websites from universities, the listings are from private landlords and realtors and do NOT belong to the universities.
Craiglist is a good resource to find anything from furniture to housing. Beware of scams when browsing!
Many Facebook groups exist to find housing/roommates. These are a few interesting pages to start your search: Boston Housing, Rooms, Apartments, Sublets, Roommates, Roomster, Boston Housing, Boston Housing, Rooms, Apartments, Sublets, Harvard MIT Housing, etc.
- Scams are common! It is best to see the apartment and landlord in person before any money is wired. Sometimes pictures do not represent reality on websites.
- An option is to rent an Airbnb, sublet a room or stay at an acquaintance’s place for the first few days (or more) of your stay. This will permit you to visit places in person and to figure out commute times, store accessibility etc. before choosing a more permanent accommodation.
- Boston sees people come and go throughout the year, it is therefore easy to find housing at any point throughout the year. Many leases have a June 1st or September 1st start date.
- Second-hand furniture can be found on Facebook market place and groups as well as on Craigslist. During the days surrounding August 31st many people empty out their apartments and put unwanted furniture on the street, if you are on a budget it might be interesting to take a stroll around your neighbourhood on those days.
The MBTA is the public transportation system in the Boston area. It includes a system of subways/trolleys called the “T” as well as busses, ferries and trains.
You can find information about pricing, passes, schedules and maps on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) website.
Your workplace might offer transportation benefits, many universities can have preferential pricing.
Some universities and hospitals also have their own shuttle services separate from the MBTA.
Blue Bikes are a bike share service available in Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Everett and Somerville. Here too, some workplaces and universities offer preferential pricing.
How to go to the city center from the airport?
- Silver Line (free!) from the airport to South Station, where you can then hop different “T” lines or busses
- Massport shuttle busses (route 22, 33 or 55 to ‘MBTA Blue Line’) and then hop on the blue subway “T” line.
- Taxi ($45-60 + tip).
- Ride-sharing Apps Uber and Lyft these leave from designated areas in the airport. Look out for signs stating “ride share” in the airport and follow them to the designated areas in the parking zones. The pricing depends strongly on your destination and the demand at the time of arrival (an approximate price range is 20-50$).
Social Security Number (SSN)
The Social Security Administration issues SSNs to serve as taxpayer identification numbers. Obtaining a SSN does not grant you permission to work and it does not serve as proof of US citizenship or permanent residence. If you are paid in the US you are required to obtain a SSN. If your VISA type allows certain types of employment, it is advised to get a SSN. Once you have a SSN, it can serve for future visits in the US too.
SSN application form and instructions (ssa.gov) →
- Gather all the original documents printed out before your appointment. They do not accept copies or virtual versions.
- It is recommended to wait 10 days after your arrival in the US to apply for the SSN. This makes verifying some information online easier.
- This process is free.
- There might be a long waiting time at the Social Security Office, it is advised to go in the morning.
Banking and Money Matters
- Some banks require a SSN and offer letter/ work contract to open a bank account. A few do not require a SSN.
- Retrieving money from ATMs can cost money. It is usually recommended to retrieve money from an ATM from your bank to avoid extra fees. Retrieving money using credit cards can also incur a fee.
The legal drinking age in the US is 21 years of age. To enter some bars, ID’s are checked at the entrance. A passport is always proof enough, sometimes the Belgian ID is also accepted, but this is not always the case. If you prefer not to carry your passport around, you can apply for a liquor ID. This costs $25, you can apply for it here: Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV).
Apply for a Liquor ID card and required documents (mass.gov) →
Tips: The closest RMV center in Boston is the Haymarket RMV Service Center. Wait times can be long, you can verify it in real time here.
Belgian Consulate and Embassy
To facilitate procedures and contacts with the Consulate General in New York, we have a Honorary Consul in Boston:
Ms. Anne Deconinck, Honorary Consul of Belgium
Embassy in Washington
1430 K Street NW, Suite 101
Washington, D.C. 20005