Life in the States
About U.S. Culture
Some 320 million people call the U.S. home, but in fact their origins span the globe. Cultural diversity is maintained in American society more than the traditional "melting pot" image might lead you to believe. You may find that larger U.S. cities are made up of ethnic neighborhoods and concentrations of immigrant populations such as "Little Italy" and "Chinatown". Many of these neighborhoods retain a certain level of their own customs and social traditions. However, almost everyone merges in some aspect of daily life - in schools, sports and business.
Wide geographical distances and differences also result in profound differences in attitudes and values across the country. For example, a traditional New Englander's point of view may be as different from a Southerners as a traditional British outlook is from the French.
Health & Safety
Unlike many countries, the United States does not have a National Health Care System. Only in extreme cases are some emergencies and prescription drugs covered by public funds, but it will not be the case for visitors. As the majority of Americans depend on private insurance companies for emergency and health care fees, the United States Information Agency also requires that all visitors be insured for illness, emergencies and third party liability. The insurance provided to you by Council Exchanges is specifically designed to cover all of the above requirements .
Health Insurance provided by CCUSA
Hospitals, Clinics, and Emergency Rooms
If you need to see a physician, it is best to make an appointment first, once
in the waiting room you'll have to fill out a form with your: name, address, social
security number and information regarding your health insurance. Unless you need
immediate treatment, it is best NOT to go to a hospital "Emergency Room" to see
a doctor. You should use these facilities for emergencies only as they tend to
be quite costly.
If a doctor treats you for a non-emergency, you may have to pay the bill first and then file a claim with the insurance company for reimbursement. Please see your insurance booklet for a claim form. It is therefore important to keep careful records and receipts of all medical services.
As in most countries, medical fees will vary depending on the doctor, the type of facility, and its location in the country. In certain areas of the country, especially large cities, medical care will be significantly more expensive. When you have established yourself in an area it is a good idea to find a private doctor. You can ask friends or colleagues or call your local hospital for recommendations. Your country's consulate may also be able to provide a list of approved physicians.
"Walk-in clinics" have sprung up all around the country in recent years. They offer an alternative to seeing a private physician or going to a hospital emergency room. They tend to be less costly, and for people who do not have a continuing relationship with a doctor they can be a good choice.
If you are hospitalized for an emergency it will usually be the hospital to contact
the insurance company. Please make sure to have the policy number and emergency
phone numbers easily accessible so others can find them if necessary.
Please also refer to the web-links below for specialized search-engines through which you can find physicians and hospitals in your area.
If you require medicines containing controlled drugs or narcotics (e.g., cough medicine, heart drugs, sleeping pills or stimulants), you should have all these products properly packaged and labeled before leaving your home country. You will not be able to have foreign prescriptions for controlled drugs filled in the U.S without seeing a U.S. registered doctor. You should also have a statement or prescription from your doctor translated into English indicating that the medicine is being used under a doctor's direction and is necessary for your physical well-being.
Once the doctor has examined you, you will be given a "Prescription" to get the appropriate medication, and an invoice and the forms you'll need to send to your insurance. To obtain your medicine you will have to go to a pharmacy such as: Walgreens, Eckerd, Publix, Wall-Mart, K-Mart, Winn Dixie...
Most of the time antibiotics can be bought in pill format, these are expensive and the price may vary from 40$ to 150$. Keep in mind, not all "over the counter" medicines and preparations are easily available in the United States. The dispensing of birth control is not a free service in the United States, and it is best to bring a supply of these prescriptions to cover your entire stay to avoid additional costs.
Dentists, like general practitioners and other specialists, usually have private
practices and are expensive. Many large hospitals, particularly those associated
with universities, have dental clinics that are open to the general public and
can be much less expensive than those charged for private treatment. Only emergency
dental treatment is covered by your CCUSA insurance policy, so if it is not an
emergency make sure to inquire about fees before going to a dentist.
Please also refer to the web-links below for specialized search-engines through which you can find dentists in your area.
Banking & Money
Opening a Bank Account
You will want to open a bank account as soon as possible after settling in the U.S. You will need several forms of identification:
1. Your passport
2. Driver's license or state identification card
3. Social Security card (link to SS section)
4. Proof of where you are living (e.g. phone, electricity bill, or lease)
5. Letter from your employer verifying employment
Social Security & Taxes
In order to work legally in the United States, you must apply for a Social Security
number as soon as possible after entering the country. This number is used by
the government to track tax payments, and is a crucial form of identification
- Americans are issued a social security number at birth!
When you attend Work Experience USA orientation in the U.S., social security staff will be present to process your application, or else you will be directed to your local Social Security office.
When applying for a Social Security number, you will need to provide an address so that your Social Security card can be mailed to you. Your social security card should be mailed to you within 15-30 days from your application.
To find out more about the social security application process, please refer to your participant handbook.
Taxes: What You Have to Pay
As a foreign student working in the U.S., you have to pay some, but not all,
of the taxes that an American has to pay:
You do pay:
1. Federal income taxes
2. State income taxes
3. City income taxes
U.S. Income Tax
You MUST pay U.S. income tax. Failure to pay any taxes you owe could cause problems for you in the future if you apply for any visas to return to the U.S. Please make sure that these taxes are being withheld from your paycheck.
In the U.S., income taxes are imposed by the federal, state and local governments. Your employer generally withholds income tax from your salary and pays it directly to the government. Approximately 10 to 15 percent of your salary will be withheld for federal income tax, a portion of which you may be able to claim back as a refund at the end of the year.
States and cities may charge extra income tax according to local laws. State income taxes are approximately 5 to 8 percent. If applicable, state and local income taxes will be withheld from your paycheck. Ask your employer about the local tax situation. You may be able to claim a refund for a portion of these taxes at the end of the year.
You do not pay:
1. Social Security & Medicare Tax (FICA)
2. Federal Unemployment Tax (FUTA)