Before You Arrive: Pre-Departure Checklist

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Read and Understand Your Fulbright Grant Documents

You should carefully read and understand the Fulbright Visiting Scholar Program General Terms and Conditions document, No matter the source of your stipend payments, this Terms and Conditions document provides important information related to your participation in the Fulbright Program. Among other things, this document defines your benefits and responsibilities as a Fulbright grantee, confirms your two-year home residency requirement, and details academic expectations.

If your stipend is paid by IIE, the Fulbright Terms and Conditions document also includes important information about your Fulbright grant benefits, your academic program, and your host institution.  If your stipend is paid through a Fulbright Commission in your home country, your separate Commission Grant Document/Grant Authorization outlines financial matters as well as any country-specific terms and conditions that apply to your exchange program.  If you have questions about these documents prior to arriving in the United States, consult the Fulbright Commission or United States Embassy from which you received notification of your grant.

 Obtain your J-1 Visa

As a recipient of a Fulbright grant you are required to apply for a J-1 (Exchange Visitor) visa under the sponsorship of the United States Department of State (Exchange Visitor Program Number G-1-00005). Under no circumstances should you apply for any other type of visa. Apply for your J-1 visa immediately upon receipt of your Form DS-2019. To obtain a J-1 visa, present the following documents along with the J-1 visa application form at the United States Consulate in your home country:

Original Form DS-2019

Fulbright Terms and Conditions and, if applicable, Fulbright Commission Grant Document

Host university letter of invitation

Passport with an expiration date at least 6 months beyond the DS-2019 expiration date

Your Fulbright contact in your home country will inform you of any additional details or requirements.

If you are unable to arrive in the United States on or before the start date indicated on your DS-2019, immediately inform your Fulbright contact in your home country of the delay and arrange to receive a new DS-2019. If you must resign from the Fulbright Visiting Scholar Program, immediately inform your Fulbright contact in your home country and return all unused DS-2019s to IIE. Failure to do so may affect future travel to the United States.

See Bringing your Family for information on how to obtain Forms DS-2019 for any dependents that will accompany you, if applicable.

Arrange Your Travel

Arrange your travel in advance to each destination (including to your pre-academic assignment if applicable). Organize your travel from the airport to your university in advance and make appropriate plans for weekend arrival if you are arriving during a holiday. It is highly recommended that you arrive on a weekday.

Research long- and short-term housing options in the United States. Arrange temporary housing prior to your arrival while you search for permanent housing. Always inspect accommodations prior to paying or signing a housing contract. Useful housing resources include university housing websites, international student offices and current Fulbright fellows or alumni.

Familiarize yourself with ASPE Health Benefits. Before traveling to the United States, visit your eye doctor and dentist and complete your immunizations (measles, mumps and rubella is required; diphtheria, tetanus and meningitis are recommended). While ASPE covers prescription medication, you should try to bring a supply of medications with you for the start of your program.

Familiarize yourself with the baggage specifications and security clearances for your particular airline and plan accordingly.

Arrange to have your mail forwarded to a trusted person in your home country.

Arrange your Finances

Review your Terms of Appointment/Commission Grant Document carefully to understand your Fulbright grant benefits and any non-Fulbright awards. Be aware that your Fulbright grant provides only the benefits stipulated in your Terms of Appointment/Commission Grant Document.

It is recommended that you bring funds with you to cover any initial unexpected expenses. For example, generally you will be required to submit a deposit in cash/cashier's check along with your initial month of rent which is often the cost of one month's rent. 

If your grant provides for maintenance payments through IIE, review your payment schedule and know when you will receive each payment. Your first payment will be sent to you once you have arrived and opened a US Bank account. Your allowance may be suspended if you are outside of the United States for more than 30 days.

Transferring Money From Home

If you require regular or emergency financial support from someone at home, there are a variety of services including Western Union, PayPal and others that can be used to transfer cash from many countries. Policies and instructions for use of these services can be found at the companies’ websites.

Medical Checkup

Since the accident and sickness benefits provided by your grant do not cover the cost of eye examinations, eye glasses, contact lenses or dental examinations, you are advised to receive eye and dental exams prior to coming to the United States. You should complete any necessary treatment before you leave home.

What to Bring with You

It is recommended that you make two photocopies of each important document (i.e., passport, visa, Form DS-2019). Leave one set of copies with a trusted person and bring one copy with you.

  • Legal documents: Passport, Form DS-2019, copy of your birth certificate, driver’s license
  • Medical documents: Immunization, medical, and dental records; prescriptions, copy of your Fulbright medical report. Prescriptions from abroad cannot be filled in the United States. It is recommended that you have your physician provide you with a written description of your prescription medication(s). You can then consult with a United States physician for a prescription.
  • Academic documents: Terms of Appointment/Commission Grant Document, university letter of invitation, official diplomas, official transcripts in a sealed envelope
  • A supply of United States currency or traveler’s checks for initial unexpected expenses
  • Banking information and credit cards
  • A supply of prescription medications and an extra pair of eyeglasses or contact lenses if applicable
  • Your Social Security Number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number if you were issued one on a previous trip to the United States
  • Clothing appropriate for the climate in your host community along with casual and formal attire
  • Gifts along with slides, photographs and maps of your home country
  • Photographs of family and friends
  • Medical and immunization records, dental records, birth certificate or other proof of age and academic records for any dependents that will be enrolling in school in the United States
  • Contact information: Telephone numbers and addresses for important contacts in your home country, your IIE Advisor and the Foreign Student Advisor at your host institution.
  • It is recommended that you do not bring household items (e.g., linens and bedding, towels, or cooking utensils) or study supplies, as these items can be purchased in the United States at a reasonable cost.
Review Pre-Departure Orientation Materials

IIE has developed this PowerPoint to address some common questions related to the Fulbright program. You may also have a pre-departure orientation with the Fulbright Commission or US Embassy in your home country prior to your program start.

Pre-Departure Orientation Slides for Scholars from countries with a Fulbright Commission

Pre-Departure Orientation Slides for Scholars from countries whose Fulbright Office is part of a U.S. Embassy Post.

Arrange Your Housing

IIE cannot assist with securing your short-term or long-term housing during your exchange.  The below is based on advice given by previous Fulbrighters, to give you a rough idea of what the house-hunting process is like in the United States. Always start with your university’s website, ask your faculty advisor for advice, reach out to local resources, start early, and do the research.  If your Fulbright Office supplied you with a detailed Institutional Reply Form (IRF) make sure to review any housing resources shared there.

Living on Campus: Housing on campus is always convenient, would provide more social options with faculty and students, and may have more flexible terms suited to the academic calendar or even be furnished.  It can typically be arranged in advance of your arrival, but it is not always available or economical.  Check with your university if they have any rental housing available for Visiting Scholars. Many universities do not offer on-campus housing for faculty or visitors, in which case you would have to look for off-campus housing. 

Living off Campus: Living away (always within a reasonable commuting distance) from your host institution can provide you with more options, and might be less expensive.  However, living outside of the university might be more complicated in terms of lease agreements, furnishings, setting up utilities, etc.  Many Fulbrighters choosing to live off campus secure temporary arrangements first, finalizing their longer term housing after arrival. Others make arrangements in advance.  Here are some considerations for either approach:

Secure Permanent Housing Before Arrival

Start with Temporary Housing

Generally less expensive.

More flexible: you can still do your research in advance, and you can make the comparison among different apartments yourself after your arrival


Help you save a spot before your departure (less stressful)

Temporary rentals can be more expensive as you would likely be dealing with nightly rates.


You have a wider pool of apartments to choose from, if you start early

You may not have as many apartments to choose from, especially if there is a huge demand for housing in your area/city


Less flexible: you cannot pay a personal visit to the apartment and check out the facilities before making the decision (Always be aware and mindful of scams)

Temporary housing options may include: vacation rentals by owners, extended-stay hotels, youth hostels, staying at a friend’s or colleagues place.


 Note: Even if you’ve decided to start with temporary housing, do your permanent housing research before departure (always start early).
Tips on Finding Permanent Housing
  • Consider your budget. 
  • Consider the type of housing you want: House, apartment, shared or private, for example.
  • Consider location/ proximity to university: According to previous Fulbrighters, if you are not going to buy a car, you should consider living in a place that is within walking distance from your university, because public transportation can be unreliable (except in a few cities such as New York City and Washington D.C.).
  • Consider desired lease length: 12-month lease is the most common.  Subletting may allow for greater flexibility on length. 
  • Check with Your university’s website/ international scholars' office: your host university may have information and advice and be able to provide you with contact information for local resources. You should always reach out to your university first because they understand the local housing situation and likely have more detailed information. Other scholars or alumni of your program: gather their advice; ask if someone can check out the apartment for you.
  • Sample Housing Resources* 

*Disclaimer: IIE does not endorse any of the companies that are mentioned here. These company websites are included here for your reference only.

Signing a Lease

The lease signing process differs by landlord, but:

  • Make sure that the lease includes information on when the deposit will be returned.
  • Do NOT make any payment before signing the lease (unless it is the application fee).
  • Do NOT sign the lease without reading and understanding it first.
  • Check the conditions of appliances and utilities in the room/apartment BEFORE you sign the lease.
  • If your landlord requires SSN and credit history to sign the lease, negotiate with him/her to see if that requirement can be waived. Proving your affiliation with your university and showing them your Fulbright grant documents may be useful.
  • Understand tenant rights:
    • Search for and read through your city or county’s tenant rights webpage
    • When problems arise between you and your landlord, refer to tenant rights, which will vary by city or by county

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