Carnegie Mellon University

Preparing to Come to Pittsburgh

Immigration and Visa Issues

Critical immigration procedures are discussed in the arrival and orientation brochure, which accompanies your Certificate of Eligibility document(s) (I-20/DS-2019). Read this information very carefully to know the correct procedures for your particular situation. For a list of US Embassies/Consulates, click here. For more information, check the OIE website.

When you are traveling to the US, make sure to carry your original documents (passport, valid visa, I-20/DS-2019, evidence of admission and financial resources) with you in your carry-on luggage.  Do not pack your immigration documents in checked luggage.

Weather and What to Bring

During summer (June through September), the weather is often hot and humid. Lightweight clothing is required. During winter (late November into April), expect sudden and extreme weather changes: several days of cold weather may be followed by days of moderate temperatures; days of snow and/or rain alternate within periods of clear and bright weather. Warm overcoats and boots are needed and may be purchased at nearby stores and shopping malls. All buildings are heated, so medium weight clothing is most comfortable indoors. Spring and fall seasons are moderate. Rain may unexpectedly occur throughout the year, so an umbrella is recommended. Below are some temperature averages:

Summer 70° to 90°+ 21° to 32°
Winter 20° to 45° (may drop to 0° or below) -6° to 7°
Spring/Fall 50° to 70°+ 0° to 20°+

In addition to clothes and other essentials, you should also consider bringing the following items for your stay in the US: extra eyeglasses or contact lenses, medications (in clearly labeled containers), photos, traditional clothing/dress, contact information for friends and family at home or in the US, and compact items that will help your residence feel like home. Check with your airline regarding luggage weight and security measures or consult the Transportation Security Administration. Remember: DO NOT pack your immigration documents in checked luggage.


You should have a small amount of US currency ($1, $5, $10, and $20 bills in the amount of $100 to $300 dollars) and coins available upon your arrival into the US. These funds will be used for your arrival expenses such as taxis, meals, books, supplies, and other personal needs. For your protection, it is best to not carry any large sums of money on your person or in your luggage.

If you bring a bank draft or a foreign check to open an account, you cannot draw-upon it for 2 to 3 weeks, so do not rely upon these funds for immediate cash. After you have established a US bank account, you may have money wired directly from your home bank to your US bank. Since wiring fees can be expensive, make sure to check with your home bank(s) in advance and consider wiring only large sums.

If you have major credit cards, you should bring them with you to the US. Since you have no credit history in the US,  it can be difficult or even impossible to obtain a US credit card even if you have credit cards from your home country.

Tuition Payments

Information on payment options and billing can be found on the HUB's website.

Airport Currency Exchange

While it may be more convenient to buy US dollars in your home country, limited buy/sell currency exchange is available at Travelex Worldwide Money located in the Pittsburgh International Airport on the Landside Transit Level (open from 6:00 am to 8:00 pm) and the International Arrivals Level (open from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm). They are open every day and offer additional services of faxing and international calling cards. Ask airport personnel for directions to their offices. 

Sending Packages to Carnegie Mellon

Until you know your new US address, you may have your letters and packages sent to:

Your Full Name
Carnegie Mellon University, International Student
SMC code (only needed for undergraduates, if known)
5032 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15289

You must pick up your mail as soon as possible after arriving on campus. Please inquire at the Carnegie Mellon Post Office, lower level in the University Center.

Social Security Number (SSN)

A Social Security Number is a type of national identification number that is required for employment in the US. An SSN is NOT required to live in the US and it is not a form of work authorization. An SSN is used by the US government to withhold taxes from pay.

NOTE: You may be asked for an SSN when applying for a US bank account, signing a lease agreement, or when buying a cell phone. If you do not have an SSN, then you will need to provide alternative documentation for these services. 


Students in F-1 status MUST have an offer of employment to be eligible to apply for an SSN (for example: an offer of on-campus employment or off-campus work permission such as OPT or CPT). For F-1 or J-1 students who have an on-campus job offer, your on-campus employer must complete an OIE Social Security Form (.pdf), which OIE must also sign to verify immigration status.

Students must then take the above form, their passport, I-20 or DS-2019, and I-94 electronic printout in person, to the local Social Security Administration office to begin the application process. 

J-1 students either need to have the employment noted on the DS-2019 form or, if the employment is not noted, J-1 students on Carnegie Mellon University’s documents will need a confirmation letter from OIE. J-1 students sponsored by another agency or government will need to get a confirmation from their visa sponsor.

You will also need to provide an address where your new card can be sent. The Social Security Administration (SSA) recommends that international applicants wait at least 10 business days after checking in with OIE before submitting an application for an SSN. Further directions on how to apply for an SSN can be found on the OIE SSN Handout (.pdf).


Scholars find it convenient to apply for an SSN when they arrive in Pittsburgh. You may be asked to provide an SSN when opening a US bank account, when signing a lease agreement, Carnegie Mellon University payroll office, etc. An SSN is not a national identification number or work authorization; it is a number that the US government uses for tax purposes. You are not required to have an SSN unless you will be paid in the US.

You can apply for an SSN at a nearby Social Security Administration (SSA) office, but you must wait 10 business days after you have attended the OIE J-1 scholar orientation. It takes approximately 10 business days for OIE to activate your SEVIS record, which the SSA must check before they can assign a number to you. You must take your passport, DS-2019, I-94 electronic printout and the SSN application to the SSA office when you apply.