The Day of your Travel

On the day of the Flight :
  • Since it is going to be a long flight wear something comfortable.
  • Wear your shoes, (easier to walk around a big airport and saves space in the bag).
  • Check all the documents once again and keep them at appropriate places.
  • Be at the airport  three to four hours before the departure.
  • Check-in your luggage at the counter. Make sure the label on the bag has the name of your port of entry, like BOM- IAH for a flight Mumbai to Houston. 
  • Collect your boarding passes. If you have a connecting flight, you might get two. 
  • You will go through an emigration check. Answer the officer any questions they might ask you. Most of the times, they will let you pass after taking a photograph. 
  • Find your boarding gate.

On Board

1. What should I keep in mind on the day I travel?
  • Check all the documents once again and keep them at appropriate places so that it is easy for you to take them.
  • Since it is going to be a long flight wear something comfortable (cotton dress + full sleeves shirt). Wear your shoes - in flight you can remove them (some airlines give in flight shoes - else relax in socks).
  • Be at the airport 3-4 hours before the departure.
  • If you were not able to get change for dollars, get them at the airport. All international airports have authorized money exchange counters.
  • Relax during flight, sleep as much as possible.
  • For vegetarians - watch out before you eat - you may get non-veg even if you had asked for Veg. It is always a good idea to state your meal preferences beforehand. You can do so online, on your airline's website or calling their customer service center upto 48 hours before your flight. Asian Vegetarian is a safe option to get food closest to what our Indian taste-buds are used to. If you're OK with eating eggs, you can try the Lacto-ovo Vegetarian option. If, for some reason, you haven't done this, make sure you mention your meal preference at the check in counter. If you miss out on that also, you can let the air hostesses know about your meal preferences on the flight and they will try to accommodate you as much as possible. However, it might not always be to the best of your preferences. So your best option is to have your meal preferences set up on the airline's website or by calling in ahead of time.
  • Once out of India, be very careful. Don't trust anyone. Keep your eyes on your baggage and documents all the time. Don't hire a taxi (unless emergency) till you reach your destination. If required don't hesitate to spend money.
  • If in doubt at any point, ALWAYS ASK QUESTIONS to the staff.
2. I have a connecting flight with a layover. What should I do when I get when we land for transit?
  • When you book a flight make sure you have a layover of a minimum of two hours.  
  • When your flight reaches your transit, listen carefully to any instructions given by your flight attendants before you disembark. You will hear information about departure time and gate number. All of this information can be acquired by attendants on the airport as well.   
  • Proceed to the terminal from where you will depart. All airports have well-marked sign boards and you should be able to find your way. You will only need to worry about your cabin luggage, the check-in will be transferred by the airlines.
  • Although you can move around in the airport, be at the designated gate within 1 hour of your flight's departure for the onward journey. 
  • Do not leave your baggage unattended even for a short while. If you need visit the restroom, carry your hand baggage with you.
3. Jet lag : what is the real deal?
  • When you're flying from India to the U.S., you will cross nearly ten time zones. This messes up your circadian rhythms, mainly your sleep cycles. 
  • The suggested way to counter is to sleep throughout or when it is night-time according to the Central Time Zone.
  • Jet lag is different for every individual, ranging from a few days to negligent. You should plan your trip such that when you reach College Station, you have a buffer of a few days to adjust to the cycles here. :
4. Which forms do I have to fill out during my flight in the USA?
  • In the final part of your trip, just before you land in the US, you will have to fill out Customs Declaration form.
  • Customs Declaration : It must be filled out and surrendered to the U.S. Customs inspector at the port of entry into the United States. It is a declaration of the items you are bringing into the country. Fill it out faithfully, there will be instructions displayed on screens nearby when you land or you could ask for help from a flight attendant if you are in flight.
5. I have finally reached the Port of Entry. What do I need to do first?
  • The first thing you need to go through at the port-of-entry ( international airport where you first land in the U.S.), is the immigration and customs clearance
  • Once you are out of the plane follow the signs for non-residents and head to the immigration desk. Try not to dawdle because the queue are long and it can take from one to three hours. 
  • Keep your I-20, passport and visa, admission & aid letters ready. Also make sure that you have filled out the Customs Declaration Forms.
  • The kind of questions you might encounter are :"Is this your first time in the US?", "Where are you going to reside in the U.S?" "Are you a student? Do you have an F! Visa?", "Is this your first time in the U.S?"
  • Answer in a concise and accurate manner. Do not be scared, you have a valid visa and documentation. 
  • If your port of entry is not Houston : Even if you have a domestic connecting flight as the last leg of the journey, your port of entry will be an internal airport. If this is far from the university, or in a different state, you might be questioned as to why that is so. If you are planning on meeting relatives or friends elsewhere before heading to college, give the correct reason. You might be asked to tell the address of the place you are planning on visiting. Talk with your relatives or friends, they will help you out to answer the questions. 
6. I have heard about an issue with some students not getting "D/S" written on their passport. What is this all about?
  • VERY IMPORTANT : This is the most important thing to do once the official okays your entry into the country is to see if they have stamped and signed your passport.
  • Near your visa, or on some page of the passport, there should be the seal of Department of Homeland Security, and the words "F-1 D/S". 
  • If this is not present, go back to your immigration official and tell them.
  • DO NOT leave the immigration counter if you don't have this written. Many students in the past had to make trips again to Houston because of this small mistake. Be aware!
7. I got the passport stamped. What do I do next?
  • Once you are done with the immigration, go to the baggage counter to fetch your luggage. 
  • Use a cart to carry the bags. (At some places the cart is free, at some places you may have to pay). 
  • Pick up your bags as they come out on the conveyor belt. Tie a rope or ribbon of a bright color to make it easy to spot. 
  • If you don't get your baggage, inform the inquiry section. You may have to wait an hour  or so here, it happens in rare cases though.
  • Cart your baggage to the nearby customs desk. 
  • If asked tell them that you are a student, F-1 visa, coming to US for the first time.
  • Normally they don't ask students to open their baggage, but if asked to open your baggage do so calmly. If asked about the "powders", give them an appropriate answer.
  • Note: Based on previous student's experiences, in most cases, you will not be asked to open your boxes at all & you will be simply waved through.
You are officially in the clear to enter the United states! If you have a domestic flight, follow the signs. If you wish to exit the airport, look for signs leading to ground transportation (shuttle) or parking (personal). Cross check with the people who are coming to pick you up, specify a terminal and door number. 
If nobody turns up, call the contact number given to you. You could use pay phones (quarters are useful here). Or you might ask someone on the airport. Never leave your baggage unattended. Don't go out of the airport until somebody comes and picks you up.

Once home, rejoice! A new phase of your life has begun. 

***The questions are answered subjectively, based on experiences of the members. You might have special circumstances, needs or issues. Please use this only as a guideline.***