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Practical Tips

A cell phone

Cell phones

Students should start by investigating the potential cost of extending their current cell phone plan to an international plan. This can often be quite costly, so students should be certain to explore alternative options before choosing this one.

If students plan to utilize a local cell phone plan in the United States, they will need to confirm that their cell phone is unlocked. A locked phone will not be able to operate with a mobile phone plan in the United States.

For unlocked phones, students will be able to obtain monthly plans with all major cell phone service providers, including AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile. This process is relatively simple and should only require you to change out the SIM card in your unlocked cell phone.

The front of a Wells Fargo bank

Banking and Money

There are many banking options in the Chapel Hill area. When selecting a bank, an accessible location, availability of ATMs and bank fees are important considerations. Bank branches close to campus include Wells Fargo (read more on their partnership with UNC Chapel Hill here), Chase, Bank of America, BB&T, and First Horizon.

In most cases, creating a free, student checking account will be your best option. To create an account, a social security number (SSN) is not required for most banks. In place of a SSN, students should plan to bring the following documents to the bank:

  • Passport
  • Immigration paperwork (Form I-94 and Form I-20 or DS-2019, I-797 Approval notice)
  • Those without a Social Security number will be asked to complete a form W-8BEN for tax purposes.

When creating a bank account, you will likely receive a debit card, which is directly tied to your account. These are a good alternative to carrying cash. Different banks may have restrictions on the use of debit cards, so make sure to understand specific terms of use. It is important to keep track of account balances to avoid costly bank overdraft fees.

In order to wire money to a U.S. bank account, the following information is generally required. Check with your bank to confirm this information. Additional fees may apply.

  • Name of both banks, addresses and telephone numbers
  • Both bank account numbers
  • Accepting bank’s routing numbers

When it comes to credit cards, most US-based cards will require a SSN, and may therefore be unavailable to you. Prior to leaving your home country, it is recommended that students explore the ability to utilize cards that have no international transaction fees in the United States.