Entering the United States
Once you have received your U.S. student visa, you can make your airline reservations and prepare for your arrival to the United States. You should plan to schedule a few days of rest before you leave home so that you can collect your thoughts, say good-bye to friends and family, and get ready for your transition to life in the U.S.
You can visit the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website for information about student and exchange visitor arrivals. Before you leave your home country, you also should to take the following into consideration when making your preparations to travel to the United States.
There are no direct flights from your country to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, so you will need to fly into a larger airport in the United States and take another flight to Baton Rouge. International Services recommends at least 3-4 hours between your initial U.S. arrival and your connecting flight to Baton Rouge to provide enough time to go through the U.S. Port of Entry and U.S. Customs.
Note: The LSU International Cultural Center (ICC) on campus offers a free transportation service from the Baton Rouge airport and Baton Rouge bus station for new international students.
U.S. Immigration rules allow you to enter the U.S. up to 30 days before the program start date listed on your I-20/DS-2019. However, International Services recommends that you arrive only a few days before the program start date on your I-20/DS-2019 due to limited temporary housing. Please be aware that the program start date on your I-20/DS-2019 is the day before the mandatory International Student Orientation program. If you anticipate delays and expect to arrive later than the program start date, please notify International Services by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
In order to comply with U.S. Immigration rules, you must be enrolled for classes. If you arrive in the U.S. after the last date to enroll (noted in the “Remarks” section of your I-20), you will not be able to register for classes at LSU and U.S. Immigration will expect you to return home immediately. If you cannot arrive before the last date to enroll, please contact the LSU admissions staff to request that your admission is updated to the next available semester. If your plans change and you will not be coming to LSU at all, please notify International Services by e-mail: email@example.com.
Should you fly to New Orleans?
You can choose to schedule a flight to Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, but you should be aware that there is no public transportation system that goes from the New Orleans airport to Baton Rouge. This means that the money that you may save by flying into New Orleans would be spent on a taxi ride to the nearest Greyhound bus station (20-30 minutes away from the airport at 1001 Loyola Avenue, downtown New Orleans) and the bus fare to Baton Rouge.
Depending on your flight’s arrival time and the remaining bus departure times to Baton Rouge, you may need to be prepared to stay in the city of New Orleans overnight and schedule a bus departure for the next day. For bus information, visit Greyhound.com. Also, you can review a list of New Orleans hostels by clicking here.
Note: The LSU International Cultural Center (ICC) on campus does not have the capability to pick up students from the New Orleans airport.
What to bring/pack
You should hand-carry all of your original documents in one folder so that you can easily access them during your travels. These original documents include:
- Your passport
- Your I-20 or DS-2019 Certificate of Eligibility
- Proof of funding
- SEVIS fee receipt
International Services recommends that you do not put your original documents in your checked luggage since you will need to show them to various U.S. officials upon your arrival to the United States. International Services also recommends that you make two sets of copies of these documents: one set of copies in your checked luggage and one set to leave with family in your home country.
A word of caution: Always watch your belongings during your travels, even on the airplane! In some rare cases, passports and money were stolen while students or faculty were on the airplane.
During your flight to the United States, flight attendants should distribute a Customs Declaration Form for you to complete. If your dependents are traveling with you, you only need to complete one declaration form for your family. You will be required to provide the Customs Declaration Form to a U.S. Customs official after you have collected your luggage.
U.S. Port of Entry and U.S. Customs
The first airport in the United States where you arrive is called your Port of Entry (POE), and you will have to go through U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) before you can go to your connecting flight to Baton Rouge. Don’t worry about getting lost: just follow the crowd and you will get to where you need to be.
You must present your passport and your I-20/DS-2019 Certificate of Eligibility to the border officer at your port of entry, and the officer may ask you a few questions while processing your papers.
Note: Please bring a lot of patience and do not forget to give yourself lots of time (at least 3-4 hours) between your arriving and connecting flights.
After going through CBP inspections, you can pick up your luggage and proceed to a U.S. Customs official who will take your Customs Declaration Form. Of course, it is only that easy if you have nothing to declare. After going through Customs, you are now officially in the United States! You will find ticket counters or kiosks where you can check-in for your connecting flight to Baton Rouge.
I-94 Arrival/Departure Record
The I-94 is the arrival/departure record issued by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer to international visitors entering the United States. The I-94 determines your lawful status and the benefits that you can have while you are in the U.S. as an F-1/J-1 student. Other U.S. government agencies use the I-94 for various purposes.
Upon your arrival to Louisiana, you should be able to access your I-94 admission record information. International Services highly recommends that you retrieve your I-94 record, print it out and bring it with you to the International Student Orientation program.
Note: You will not have an I-94 record until after you have entered the U.S. and are processed by a CBP official at the U.S. port of entry.
If something in your paperwork is not clear to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials, they may ask you to proceed to secondary inspection. There is no reason to be alarmed if you are asked to go along for some additional questions. All legitimate students will make it through the process without difficulties, but it is very important to have all of your documents with you, that you answer all questions politely but briefly, and that you not tell the officer anything he/she did not ask for as this may lead to misunderstandings.
If there are problems with your documents, you may be allowed to enter the U.S. with a Form I-515A, which allows you to stay in the U.S. for 30 days. If you receive an I-515A, you must come to International Services as soon as possible upon your arrival to campus so that our office can assist you with necessary paperwork to extend your lawful stay in the U.S.
If you are denied admission to the U.S., try to contact International Services at LSU immediately at +1-225-578-3191 (or +1-225-252-0582 on weekends or between 4:30 p.m.-8:00 a.m. Monday-Friday). Be extremely cautious about arguing with CBP officials. The officials can decide to issue an expedited removal which entails a five-year ban on future admission to the U.S., and there is no appeals process if such a procedure is deemed necessary by CBP. You may be able to inform the CBP officers that you are willing to consider withdrawing your application for entering the United States rather than being subject to expedited removal.
Baton Rouge is in a subtropical climate and is hot and humid for most of the year. Temperatures can reach as high as 90 degrees Fahrenheit (33 degrees Celsius) or even higher during the summer. Winters are short and mild, but it does get cool in the winter and may even freeze on occasion. It rains a lot in Baton Rouge, so an umbrella and waterproof shoes are recommended.
It is a good idea to have a lightweight jacket or sweater even during the summer because University buildings are kept very cold using air conditioning. Linens, lightweight cottons and lightweight sweaters are some of the best items to pack. Students on campus typically dress casually for classes: blue jeans or shorts, Tshirts and sneakers. You may want to bring some nicer clothes for special occasions, and an outfit of your national dress is fun to have for some cultural events, particularly international functions.
The International Hospitality Foundation (IHF) at LSU runs a Loan Closet for LSU international students. The Loan Closet is a low-cost resource for items including small appliances, dishes, cookware, baby equipment, sheets, blankets, towels and other household items. The IHF also coordinates a shopping tour after International Student Orientation that will allow you to purchase items for your dorm or apartment that you may have been unable to find at the Loan Closet.
There are very few banks that exchange foreign money in Baton Rouge, so it is probably best if you exchange money to U.S. dollars in your home country. You may bring as much money as you wish into the U.S.; however, any amount of money exceeding the allowed $10,000 USD maximum must be declared in advance. For more information, click here.
You will need some money in cash on your journey (about $300), but it is not a good idea to bring all your money in cash. You may want to consider bringing a credit card or a pre-paid debit card. (Pre-paid debit cards are a type of prepaid card issued by financial institutions for use at retailers that accept debit or credit cards. Some may be used to obtain cash at ATMs and can be useful as substitutes for traveler’s checks.) We recommend that you research your “other than cash” options online and see what will suit your needs best.
Also, remember that you will have many things to pay for during your first few weeks, such as deposits for your apartment, utilities (electricity and gas), and telephone. You will need some furniture, and you will have to eat. Books and school supplies, which you will be required to buy, are expensive.
Be advised that even if you have a sponsor, it will take time until you receive your first check. If you were offered an assistantship, you will receive your first check from LSU a month or more after classes start.
According to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations, certain items brought into the United States from foreign countries are restricted. You should declare any food that you have brought to the U.S. in your checked luggage and carry-on items, or you could face fines and penalties anywhere from $1,000 USD and up to $10,000 USD. For more guidelines, click here.