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Pre-Arrival Information for Students

Report to Office of International Affairs upon Arrival

As soon as possible after your arrival at UT Health Science Center, you should make an appointment to come to the Office of International Affairs to check in by calling 448-8484; we are located inside the One Stop Shop, 910 Madison, Suite 105. Please bring your passport and I-20 or DS-2019 with you to our office. You must report to International Affairs before starting classes at UTHSC. You will also need a letter from International Affairs to apply for your Social Security number.

Visa Information

In order to enter the United States as an F-1 or J-1 student, you need to obtain a visa. If you are an F-1 student, please read carefully the restrictions and responsibilities on page 3 of your I-20 and then sign your I-20 ; if you are a J-1 student, read page 2 of the DS-2019 and sign the Exchange Visitor Certification at the bottom of page 1 in BLUE ink; then read this information carefully.

If you have been issued I-20s or DS-2019s for dependents accompanying you, you must also sign their forms.


You must pay the SEVIS fee and obtain a receipt to bring with you to your visa interview.

Before you make travel plans, check with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for application procedures and for how long it will take to receive a visa. You may not enter the U.S. earlier than 30 days before your I-20 or DS-2019 start date. Time and cost for the visa will vary from country to country. F visas can be issued up to 120 days before the I-20 start date; J visas can be issued any time before the DS-2019 start date.

Normally you must present the following documents to obtain a visa:

  • Passport
  • Form I-20 (for F-1 students) or Form DS-2019 (for J-1 students) from UT Health Science Center
  • SEVIS fee receipt (see above)
  • Documentation of financial support
  • Evidence of your intent to return to your home country upon completion of your studies in the U.S.

(Depending on the Consulate, you may be required to submit additional documents.)

Do not attempt to enter the U.S. on a visitor's/tourist visa (B-1 /B-2, WB or WT). On a visitor's/tourist visa you may not enroll in school and you may not work or be compensated by any U.S. source, and it is difficult, if not impossible, to obtain a change of status from B-1/B-2 to F-1 or J-1 (and WT/WB status cannot be changed in the U.S. at all).

Canadian Citizens

You do not have to get a visa, but make sure you stop at the border and present your I-20 or DS-2019 to the U.S. Immigration Authorities. Do not let the Immigration officer just wave you through. You MUST obtain a passport stamp indicating F-1 or J-1 status, as applicable. You must present your SEVIS fee receipt.

J-1 Home Residency Requirement
If you are a J-1 student, you may be subject to the 2-year home residence requirement in connection with your J-1 status if:

  • your field of study appears on your country's skills list, or, 
  • you have received funding from either the U.S. government or your own government to pay for your travel or stay in the U.S.

Memphis is in the southwest corner of the state of Tennessee and is easily accessible. You can take the bus or fly into Memphis from almost any city in the U.S.

A taxi from the airport to UT Health Science Center will cost approx. $25.

Plan your arrival date so you can rest for a few days, find housing, attend the Orientation program and meet with your academic adviser.  If you have not arranged for housing before you arrive, you may wish to search for a hotel close to UTHSC.

For more information on housing, see Off-Campus Housing.


Upon arrival at a U.S. port of entry, you will be asked to show your passport, visa, I-20 or DS-2019, and SEVIS fee receipt. You may also be requested to produce your financial documents for inspection. Make sure to carry all this information on your person, and not in your checked baggage, since you will not get your baggage until after the immigration inspection. Once you have been admitted to the U.S., your passport will be stamped with your immigration status (F-1 or J-1, as applicable). Come prepared and watch a video of the admission process. 

The immigration officer will also return your I-20 or DS-2019. These are very important documents. Please keep them with your passport at all times.

If this is your initial entry in F-1 or J-1 status, you MUST attend the school whose I-20/DS-2019 form you use to obtain your visa.

I-94 Record: Your I-94 Record documents your arrival date, port of entry, your visa status and the duration of your stay.  Some U.S. government agencies will want to see a printout of your I-94 Record, which you can locate and print here:

See more information here about how to locate your I-94 Record information.


Important Information

If, for some reason, your immigration documents are not in order when you arrive, the Immigration Inspector may give you a form called I-515 to defer your inspection until later. If this happens, it is VERY IMPORTANT that you come to International Affairs immediately upon arriving on campus!


Once you have gone through the immigration inspection at the U.S. port of entry, you must pass through Customs. You will be asked to declare what you have brought into the country. Usually you will have filled out a declaration form on the plane and will make a verbal statement to the official, who may or may not inspect your baggage. There may be dogs sniffing for illegal drugs or food as well. If you do arrive in the U.S. with drugs prescribed for you by a physician, have the prescription readily available.

You may bring anything for your personal use without paying duty, including clothing and jewelry. A total of $200 worth of gifts may be brought in duty-free every six months. Any value over $200 will be assessed duty. Any amount of money may be brought into or taken out of the U.S. You must, however, make an accurate determination of the amount you are carrying upon your arrival. If you are carrying over $10,000 in any form of currency or other negotiables on your person, you must declare it when you fill out the customs declaration form on the plane. No duty will be assessed.

Certain articles may not be brought into the U.S., including meats, vegetables, fruits, plants, drugs without a doctor's prescription, articles made of endangered species, pornographic materials and firearms. Food items that are canned or hermetically sealed are usually acceptable. For more information on U.S. Customs, visit U.S. Customs and Border Protection's website

What to Bring with You

Clothing: Because of the seasonal variation in the climate, it is important to bring a variety of lightweight, and also some heavyweight winter, clothing. Summer in Memphis is usually hot and humid and the temperature ranges from 90-100°F (32-38°C) in August to 20-30°F (-6 to -1°C) in February. Winters are usually mild, even though an occasional ice or snow storm may occur.

There is no official dress code at UT Health Science Center. Many men and women choose to wear jeans and T-shirts. You should bring at least one formal outfit for interviews and formal occasions.

If you wear glasses or contacts, you may wish to bring an extra pair in case they are lost or broken. IF YOU TAKE A SPECIAL MEDICATION, BRING EXTRA AS WELL AS THE PRESCRIPTION.

Also, since dental and vision care is not included in most health insurance plans in the U.S., it is a good idea to get a dental check-up and any new glasses prior to coming to the U.S.

What Not to Bring

Voltage in the U.S. is 110V which is different from other countries. Electrical items such as hair dryers, shavers, etc., brought from home will need an adapter. The items function best if you wait and buy them in the U.S.

Health and Insurance

UT Health Science Center requires that all students be covered by a health insurance policy. International students should also have medical evacuation coverage in the amount of $10,000 and repatriation of remains coverage in the amount of $7,500.  UTHSC has a policy available for students to purchase during orientation.  See health insurance information.

J-1 students are required by Department of State regulations to purchase health insurance for themselves and any J-2 dependents in the U.S. Information on the policy specifications is provided separately for J-1 students.

Health care in the U.S. is extremely expensive, and if your insurance plan requires you to pay the bill yourself and then get reimbursement, you may not be able to afford medical treatment. Medical providers in the U.S. often require proof that they will be paid by an insurance company before treatment is begun. Therefore, it is also important that your insurance company have a customer service telephone number in the U.S. for physicians and hospitals to inquire about your policy.


Please plan on purchasing insurance coverage right after your arrival if you do not already have insurance at that time.


UT Health Science Center requires that all students be immunized against various conditions. Please contact University Health Services for more information: 910 Madison #922, Memphis TN 38163, USA; phone: 901-448-5630.

Maintaining Student Status

In order to maintain legal student status you must:

  • be a full time student (speak with the International Student Adviser if you are thinking of dropping below full time)
  • not work without authorization
  • not remain in the U.S. beyond your authorized period of stay (indicated on your I-20 or DS-2019)

The Office of International Affairs (OIA) administers certain functions delegated by the Immigration Service to institutions enrolling international students. The IAO is NOT the Immigration Service; more accurately, we function as your liaison to Immigration to assist you in fulfilling your obligations as an international student in the U.S. We are here to assist and advise students.

Driving in the U.S.

If you plan on driving a car while in the U.S., you must have a driver license. You may legally drive in the U.S. with an International Driver License for no more than ninety (90) days. Thus, it is wise to obtain a Tennessee Temporary Driver License (issued to all non-citizens and non-permanent residents) as soon as possible. You need to bring your passport and I-94 Record printout to the Testing Center to apply for a license. It is against the law in Tennessee to drive a car without auto liability insurance. An insurance agent can tell you the minimum limits of coverage.

Money Matters

Living, studying and/or working in the U.S. is often more expensive than most foreign nationals think it is. Be sure that your finances are in order before departing for the U.S. and that you have sufficient funds to cover all your expenses for at least one year if you are coming to study and at least two months if you have a UTHSC stipend.

If you will be a graduate assistant at UTHSC, please be aware that you will not get your first check until the end of the first full month of school. It is important that you have sufficient funds to pay for insurance, rent, phone service, utilities, food, books, and other necessities for your first month here. We estimate that $5,000 would be sufficient, but this amount should be increased if you are bringing your spouse and/or children with you.

Never keep large amounts of money on you while walking around Memphis. Plan on opening a bank account immediately upon arrival. There are several banks in the Memphis area. It is possible for you to open both checking and savings accounts at any of the banks in town. You can wire your money from your bank at home to an account in a Memphis bank. However, be aware that this procedure may take from three to five weeks to complete and costs extra.


With a metropolitan population of close to a million, it is the largest city in Tennessee, located on the Mississippi River, home of Elvis Presley, Federal Express, and the NBA Grizzlies. Memphis offers many cultural activities including theaters, art galleries, museums, music center and performing arts center, a symphony orchestra, opera, etc. It has seven institutions of higher education other than the University of Tennessee, including a community college, a technical institute and a religious seminary.

For more information on Memphis for newcomers, click here: Memphis Information

Employment Regulations

F-1 students may work on campus 20 hours per week while school is in session. During breaks and holidays, you may work full time on campus. Off-campus work is only permitted in limited circumstances. Ask the International Student Adviser.

J-1 students may engage in part-time employment if the employment is part of a scholarship, fellowship or assistantship -- the employment must be on campus and students can work for 20 hours per week, except during school breaks and vacations when full-time work may be allowed. See International Student Adviser for authorization letter and further details.

Social Security Number

All paid employment and the opening of some bank accounts require a Social Security number. You must apply for a Social Security number in person and bring with you your passport, I-94 Record printout, I-20 or DS-2019 form. You must also bring a letter from your Department and a Social Security letter from the Office of International Affairs.

Federal and State Taxes

Everyone, including foreign nationals who earn income in the United States, must file the appropriate Federal Income Tax forms. Tennessee does not have a state income tax.

Cultural Adjustment

Studying and living in a foreign culture can be a rewarding and an exciting experience. It can also be difficult at times. Preparing yourself for a new and challenging intercultural experience takes much strength and courage. With an open mind, sense of humor, patience and curiosity, you will come to understand why Americans behave the way they do, and you will gain new insight into your own culture and behavior as well. The willingness to experiment, the reluctance to condemn, and the ability to laugh at oneself and at what seems absurd will certainly make your time in the U.S. a rich and worthwhile experience.

Be prepared for the condition known as "culture shock" after your arrival in the U.S. It may occur soon after your stay begins or it may occur some months later, but realize that when you start feeling down and maybe criticizing everything and everyone American, it is very likely culture shock. It is a common condition when moving to a new culture, and it helps to realize almost everyone from abroad has gone through it at some time and that you will get over it as you adjust to life here.


Your spouse and children may be admitted to the U.S. on an F-2 or J-2 visa, depending on your visa status. To bring dependents to the U.S., you should contact the Office of International Affairs for information on required funding (currently the amount of personal funds, not counting stipend and/or tuition waiver, we require to support a spouse is $4,000; each child, $2,000). Once financial support is documented to the OIA, an I-20 or DS-2019 will be issued for your dependents, and they may then apply for a visa at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

F-2 dependents may NOT work under any circumstances, while J-2 dependents may work after applying for and receiving work authorization from the Immigration Service. Do be aware that Immigration processing times can be lengthy, and your spouse will not be able to apply until after you have both arrived in the U.S.

Other relatives (parents, siblings, etc.) may come to the U.S. on a tourist visa (WT or B-2) to visit you but will not be considered your dependents. B-2 visa status is usually valid for 6 months; WT status for 3 months.

Children entering kindergarten and those entering the first grade who are new to the Shelby County Schools must present the following documents in order to register:

  • birth certificate
  • proof of recent medical examination (within the last 12 months) in English
  • Tennessee Department of Health Immunization Certificate
  • 2 proofs of parent's/legal guardian's residence (utility bill, lease agreement, etc.)

For school registration information, please see the Shelby County Schools registration website.

Children are usually assigned to the school closest to their home, so you might want to consider this fact when choosing a place to live. Ask your department for advice.  In addition, there are several private schools in the Memphis area.


When you are traveling to the U.S., please carry the following documents on your person (not in your checked luggage):

  • Visa Document (I-20 or DS-2019)
  • SEVIS fee receipt
  • Passport with valid visa
  • Arrival Information (address, phone numbers, etc.)
  • Cash, travelers checks, credit cards

As soon as possible after your arrival at UT Health Science Center, please call to make an appointment to come to the OIA (901-448-8484). Bring with you your passport, I-20 or DS-2019 and verification of insurance coverage for yourself and any dependents if you are a J-1 visa holder.

We wish you a pleasant journey to Memphis and look forward to seeing you!

May 26, 2022