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Ask HN: Moving to US from Argentina for college. Any advice for a newcomer?
33 points by tinntin22 12 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 68 comments
As the title says, I'll be going next week to the US since I'm taking college classes there.

I know that the US has a very unique culture (e.g tip everywhere!)

Any advice for a newcomer to the states like me?

* Get a credit card. Discover is easy for students. Pay the bill every month. Do not (even once) hold a balance. Do not do balance transfers. Do not churn. Too easy for a newbie to get wrong.

* Get a local bank account. Turn off the thing called 'overdraft protection'. It's a loan mechanism.

* Find the other foreign students in your class. They'll know where to pirate all the textbooks. Never pay for a US textbook. Extortionary and when you get your degree no one knows you used pirate texts.

* Choose a smart major. In the US, people will tell you to learn history and shit like that. Waste of money. In fact, in the US, beware of people who try to sell you a "mission" rather than pursuit of a good life. The US allows rapid individual growth. Mission easy to pursue afterwards.

* Do not work. Your F-1 will permit you to under some circumstances. If possible, the only work you should do should be TA/RA stuff or related to your major. Do not work otherwise. It will take away from studying.

* Get a cheap bicycle / skateboard. Cheapest form of transport. US transit is very bad. Even in most unis. Do not buy expensive bike + expensive lock. Get cheap used bike and cheap lock. Skateboard is better since you can carry it with you.

* Find all college events that involve recruiting, symposiums, etc. Attend all for food.

* Get cheapest mobile plan possible. Many MVNOs available. Get cheapest phone. Used preferable.

* Get internships if possible. Permissible on your F-1 / J-1. Very good experience. Live experience >>> in-school learning.

* Americans are almost universally wealthy. Beware of imitating them if you are not. It is possible to be social without keeping up with the joneses.

* Do not self-isolate. Social interaction is the biggest advantage of US college apart from the high quality education. Especially interact with Americans. They will likely spend the rest of their lives in America.

As someone that has finished college in the past 5 years I think this is solid advice.

I would add to this list:

* learn to cook for yourself. Not just frozen food. $50 on groceries can go a long way once you’ve figure out what you enjoy cooking and eating

* stay active. There should be a gym on campus. Use it, set some personal goals and track YOUR improvement, don’t compare yourself to others. Also, play a sport that you like (ex. soccer, basketball) it’s a good way to meet people outside your studies.

* keep yourself and your house clean. It will make for a distraction free environment and will help you stay organized.

* limit your alcohol intake. Don’t drink to excess or just because. It’s common for students to abuse alcohol and it can get in the way of your progress.

* set a bedtime. Develop good sleeping habits. Don’t stay up late watching tv. Put yourself to bed and let your body rest. Staying up late for assignments is also bad.

I guess overall I would say try to learn how to live in a way that helps you achieve your goals easier and sets up your day in the best way possible. Make good habits, be consistent and after a while it won’t be as effortful. But remind yourself what you are doing and why and refrain from backsliding.

Yeah, defo agree with this. A lot of this is just good life advice for anyone at this stage in their life, but it also is particularly true when you're in the US because:

* Cooking for yourself can be vastly cheaper since there will be steep discounts on food that is about to hit its sell-by date: this food is still usually good for a couple of days. This isn't something you see in every country.

* Gym facilities are really good even in US unis that are only top 50. Like exceptionally good. Squat racks, benches, lots of weights, indoor tracks, sports courts, cheap or free rental equipment. Uni healthcare is also pretty decent unlike general US healthcare.

* The US definitely has a binge drinking problem that is worse than any other country. Participating in many social events will require partaking but if you're smart you can ration the alcohol and still get almost all the social benefit. You definitely don't want to attempt to keep up with the Americans. They are very friendly and will offer you lots but if you've always got a non-empty cup you'll be okay

> Americans are almost universally wealthy.

I would beg to differ. Sure, the average standard of living and "lifestyle" in the US is above many countries, but to say that everyone is wealthy is a flat out lie.

"Lie" implies intent to deceive. Since it's hard to accurately read intent on the internet, it's better to find a different word to express disagreement.


Thank you! the usage of "lie" is becoming common while people actually mean "wrong"

I don't know where you are from, but for people in developing countries even a lower middle class American life is far better than being relatively rich and fighting the daily hassle of living in their home country.

I am distinctly aware of the many differences between life in America and other countries, especially less developed ones. As an American myself, I'm greatful for the prosperity that many of my compatriots tend to take for granted, but I absolutely believe it's a mischaracterization to call Americans universally wealthy. There are definitely places in America where conditions mirror those in developing countries. (Native American reservations especially)

Americans pets are wealthier and better fed than 99% of the world’s people.

Ask me how I know.

> Americans pets are wealthier and better fed than 99% of the world’s people.

If so, that would, mathematically, also include a minimum of about 75% of the US population, and that assumes the entire global top 1% is American, which it isn’t.

328 million/7.9 billion ~= 4.15%

The poorest Americans are definitely much poorer than the poorest western europeans [1]. Western Europe has 196 million people (about 2.4% of the world population) [2].

I'd estimate that 10% of the world population (790 million people) has a comfortable modern middle class life. It's just an intuition. Northen Europe as 106 million people.

[1] https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/western-europ....

As a former international student wish someone gave me this advice before coming to the U.S.

As another foreign student, this is all excellent advice. OP, follow all of this.

Cheapest phone can equal devastation if you don't choose the right one.

Pixel 3 or higher with GrapheneOS.org installed will run you between $100-$150 today. Worth the stability and battery life.

The US is a big place, so your experience will vary on exactly where you're going to.

Take an inventory of things that you use in Argentina and how you plan on getting those in America (must-haves).

Avoid discussing religion/politics/race unless you are familiar with what would be offensive to certain people. Mask-wearing could also get political although I think most people would be fine if you choose to mask.

Otherwise, you should be fine. Good luck!

A few items:

- The US system of credit cards is really weird. If you do not happen to have an American Express (which does cross-border), you should try to open up a credit card as soon as possible. Most likely with the bank that you use for checking accounts. Do not pay off the balance before it is due. Wait until the bill is finalized, then pay it within a day or two. Look up “credit score” and “how to build credit”

- Rental agreements are on a 12 months basis (at least in NYC). You might need a guarantor to get an apartment or proof you have enough money to pay the bill for the 6 months or so since you don’t have a credit score

- health insurance is really funky. They are employment based (employers decide your plan provider). Nobody understands their health plans. There is health, vision and dental insurance as the main ones. Expect to pay a lot of money out of pocket and to never know what you will pay in advance

- as you said tipping is mandatory. 18% is the lower limit.

- drinking in public places is usually prohibited

- if you get caught drinking under 21, it is a misdemeanour and you can get arrested

- I hate to say this but: cops are not your friend. Know your rights

> as you said tipping is mandatory. 18% is the lower limit.

Just out of curiosity, where do you live? I've worked front of house at many different restaurants in an expensive city on the west coast, though this was 6 or 7 years ago. I was under the impression 10% was bare minimum, 15% was the next step up, and 20% was generous.

NYC - could very well be a New York thing. Lived in Vancouver before where it was 15% so I assumed it was roughly the same everywhere

Thanks for the response! It is interesting how it differs in different parts of the country. Personally when I'm at a sit down restaurant I usually do 20% as the math is easier.

Less than 20% is a soft slap in the face in many places. More so, if it's less than 15%. Some people use other "systems" though, so they might not even be paying based on the number on the check. If the bill is overpriced that's often a reason people use to skimp on the "percentage".

>"Less than 20% is a soft slap in the face in many places."

Wow, that's a bit sensational. Using LA/NYC as a point of reference, tipping is basically a spectrum. For drinks in a bar the minimum tip is a dollar and two is a good tip. For a taxi driver 15% is acceptable for average service and 20% would be for good service. For dining out 15% is perfectly adequate for just average service and 20% and above for good service. Counter tipping is it's own special thing but generally stuffing a dollar in the tip is jar is acceptable.

I didn’t know I was supposed to tip taxi drivers too. Why not just make the rates what they need to be and we stop this unspoken rule payment thing already?

Interesting. I know in some states servers are not guaranteed minimum wage. They can make as little as 4 or 5 bucks an hour, so if you don't tip them they make very very little money. If I was in a state like that I don't think I'd ever go below 20%.

This actually isn't true. Servers makr minimum wage, if all night they were tipped $0 then the resturant is required to pay them more hourly to hit minimum wage. Their combined pay from tips and the restaurant's pay must meet minimum wage. That is a federal law so it applies to all states. States can increase the minimum wage but cannot decrease it.

Have you ever worked in one of these positions? I worked in a few and my base rate was $2.13 an hour. If my tips for the day didn't put me over minimum wage ($7.25/hr at the time) on average, the place would pay me more. The people that had that happen more than once a month were fired.

I'm not suggesting to not tip, just correcting the misinformation. Servers are guaranteed minimum wage.

Ah good to know, thanks for sharing!

PS: Unless you have specific needs, probably skip on vision insurance, and just use Walmart or Costco.

It's "insurance" in the same way paying someone not to burn down your business is "insurance." Simpler and often cheaper to pay out of pocket.

> drinking in public places is usually prohibited

Unless you're in New Orleans.

Vision and dental insurance is typically not worth it. If you have a LOT of issues, you might break even.

Often schools will have a health plan / HMO style office to address common issues.

I would recommend paying into the school health plan if it is offered and it is reasonable.

Regarding health insurance, there's usually a university student plan he can sign up for.

If it's an exchange program, they usually include it by default.

Something to keep in mind is that the culture here is different per state, city and maybe even neighborhood depending on the city. It's a big place, especially out west, usually my foreign friends struggle to realize how far away things are (hours or days of driving). On that note unless you live in a huge city like NYC having a car is almost necessary, it's just the way the infrastructure was built in the 60's and very few places have updated it since then.

Probably the things you will enjoy the most will be the food. Try some ranch dressing, get a cheeseburger, have some regional specialties like BBQ(every state does it different), Cajun or even pizza (NY style is very different from Chicago).

All of that said, my favorite thing about the US is the national parks, especially out west they are incredible. Some of my favorites being: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Arches, Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon. Even people that live here not many have had the chance to see these places, but they can still get crowded depending on the time of year.

good luck, I hope you have a great time.

> get a cheeseburger, have some regional specialties like BBQ

OP said they were from Argentina.

My advice was literally going to be "Don't expect meat when you order it in the States, because it's going to be a sad comparison to what you're used to."

Yeah, it's like the average here in the U.S. is what you would feed your dog in Argentina, and our absolute best is on par with a typical Sunday asado.

I’m from Southern Brazil (very close to our hermanos in Argentina) and yes this is very true. I really look forward to eating steak when I go visit family and friends down there.

People who know Mexican Spanish may not be able to understand your Spanish, especially the ones who didn't learn Spanish as a first language.

Grocery stores often have international sections, you may be able to find some stuff you're familiar with in the Hispanic Foods section. There is dulce de leche, but it's not the same thing. You can find canned yerba mate tea from the Guaiaki brand. Again, it's not the one you drink, but it's at least something.

>People who know Mexican Spanish may not be able to understand your Spanish, especially the ones who didn't learn Spanish as a first language.

I think this is an exaggeration(Like saying a Brit can't understand an American or something). The meaning of some words may be different but to say they can't understand each other is a far stretch. Some countries still use the vosotros conjugation but I don't think that is going to be an issue.

I am using myself as the example. I can understand a lot of Mexican Spanish, but I can understand zero Argentinan and Chilean. I am not a native Spanish speaker.

It's definitely a problem for us non-native speakers, but not really for native speakers. Argentinians probably have an easier time understanding someone from Brasil speaking Portuguese or an Italian speaking Italian than I do a Puertorriqueño or Spaniard speaking Spanish.

Though it does remind me of the time a friend and I wandered into a Billy Connolly (the Scottish comedian) stand-up performance in Dublin, and we both spent the first 45 minutes not being able to understand a single word the guy said. Which was doubly frustrating since the Irish audience around us was laughing their asses off.

I have studied the language for years when I was younger and was conversational in it and had no such problem. Are you sure it's not the accent/pronunciation and the speed at which some people speak is what you have a problem with?

I spent a lot of time w/ latinos in college. Argentinian spanish does have some peculiarities that make it more difficult to understand than other countries' variants - most notoriously, 'y' sounds like throaty `j` (bordering on `sh`), and some vocabulary

In my experience, latinos in school often end up congregating with other latinos and they're usually able to get past the linguistic differences fairly quickly (and the linguistic idiosyncrasies becomes a recurring topic of conversation), so I think the concern about difficulty to communicate doesn't apply as much for the native spanish speaker (since they can just switch to english to speak to a non-native-spanish speaker)

Rioplatense Spanish has a few different sounds, sure, and Argentine slang can be fairly diffuclt, but it's absolutely ludricrous to think that an Argentine would have difficulties communicating in Spanish with another Spanish speaker, native or not.

Yeah, I wouldn't go as far as say that it impedes communication, but it's more common than one might expect for a random conversation to derail into a conversation about dialect differences.

Heh, have you (assuming english is your 1st language) ever been to Liverpool, Newcastle or Glasgow in the UK?

I get my Yerba from Amazon, big selection there. Same with cookies. No luck with baked goods, nothing compares.

Asian grocery stores are great. They often have foods from all over the world.

Every state, city and neighborhood has its own routines and rules for daily life: where to go, where not to go, etc. So take your cues from the school and the people you are closest to.

It is a big country—enjoy as much of it as you can. When you do, you will see what I am suggesting. For example, people from the state of Virginia can be just as out of place in Los Angeles as you might be.

In general, Americans are friendly and helpful when asked, but don’t be surprised to see people moving fast, with heads down, and minding their own business.

Productivity, competitiveness and independence are primary drivers in the US culture. You might see this at school, as well. But generally, college kids are having fun.

As adults, I wouldn’t characterize us as fun-loving people. We are pretty serious about everything, including playtime.

I will be curious to see how others might respond...

Argentinian here.

My biggest piece of advice is to not expect the US to be Arg. “I can’t believe these Americans do X, in Argentina is Y” is a useless thought unless used as a joke or just a comparison. Some people come to the US and never care to teach themselves to be a US resident/citizen, and they stay in their bubbles denying that THEY moved to a new country on their own.

People in the streets will think you speak Portuguese. Actually, those who are somewhat educated will know you’re near Brazil but for some reason won’t be able to figure out you are NOT Brazil.

Those less educated won’t even know where Argentina is.

I find it endearing, don’t get discouraged and use it as a conversation piece. I like to say “do you know where that is? Or just “let me show you on the map” after I say I’m from Argentina.

I know how this sounds, but I’ve travelled most of the country by car and I’ve been in very small towns of the Midwest and if you’re on the whiter side of Argentinian skin tone then you’ll be better received. Sad but true.

Learn to pronounce the letter “I”, and the Th. They are not found in Spanish so it’s weird. Scissors is not “seesors”, lift is not leeft. And Three is not tree, Thick is not tick. Etc

For the most part be yourself, our culture is not that far removed from the US.

Edit: not sure what your upbringing was like, but try not to fall into the consumerism that will make you take a loan or a credit for everything. You’ll see peers driving a $40k car in school and you’ll think that you can do it too, you can, but paying $600 a month in a car is NOT the way to do it. Argentinians are somewhat frugal, stay that way and you’ll find yourself not worrying about money very soon.

Money issues:

I agree get a Credit card. There are 4 primary choices:

1) American Express - charges an annual fee, but provides benefits, which are typically of value to travels. Accepted at most places.

2&3) Visa / MasterCard. Pretty much the same as each other. These are sponsored by various financial institutions. Benefits and cost vary radically, shop around. I typically use Visa as it seems everyone accepts it.

4) Discover - easiest of the 4 to get, but not as universally accepted.

Bank: There are 3 types of banks: Your standard traditional bank, insured by either the FDIC or a state agency (up 250K per account). These are for profit operations.

Credit unions - usually non profit. They are usually regional or concept regional (people who work for company XYZZY). You can often join the concept ones if you donate a trivial amount of money to 'Friends of XYZZY'. These are also insured (up 250K per account) by a variety of either US government or state agencies. Since they are non profit they often have your best interest at heart. Less services than a bank. Most schools have a credit union. If you can join it before you travel to the US all the better.

Non insured bank or credit union - just avoid. They offer the world and then go belly up.

Money xfer - I assume you need to move money. I use transferwise as it only costs me 1% to change money. Most US banks are expensive to change money.

For tipping I recommend you get a book. The opinions on it are all over the place.

Side note: I think you might want to temper some of the advice from local Americans here with finding a group of folks from a similar background at your school ... and getting advice from them.

As a local I think our understanding of what you might find strange or confusing, is probably a bit off.

Other folks who have made that move might better understand where you're coming from.

As an immigrant to Sweden I totally agree, there are things that a local would never understand or even know exist. Opening a bank account for example could be a totally different experience as a newcomer

US taxes their citizens or residents on their worldwide income.

If you spend enough time in USA, build business and then decide to move to less tax abusive and freedom restricting environment - you still will be owing a big chunk of your income to US government, every year, forever. There are some miniscule deductions but they won't really work for 7 figure entrepreneurs.

And with the current administration mentality this situation is not going to get better.

Something to consider.

Before you sign a lease on an apartment make sure you understand exactly what the lease says and what you are responsible for, particularly in shared living situations - you don't want to be on the hook for 3k for a summer that you don't intend to live there. Plenty of shady landlords in college towns. If you're living in campus housing it shouldn't be a problem

Your overall experience will be impacted by where in the US you are. There are broad categories that track the culture (east coast, west coast, midwest, south), however even that is a bit too broad. Like in a lot of other countries, the size of the city/town/university also plays a large role in the experience/culture.

My advice is to look more into the city/state experience and culture.

Of immediate importance given the current state of the world: make sure you get your covid test within 3 days before boarding your flight (this is a CDC requirement for every inbound flight to the US and it may or may not have been brought up by your airline)

Other misc stuff:

- Look for international student groups/clubs in your campus; it's a great way to make friends, especially once things start opening up with the vaccination rollouts.

- Bring a stash of alfajors and other local goodies, you'll miss them soon enough.

- Be prepared to learn about the differences in spanish dialects from every country in south america :)

You can sometimes find yerba in Hispanic supermarkets, but the best place to get it is usually on Amazon. It costs about $10 (US) per kilo here. Relatively speaking, wine is very expensive, too.

People's notion of promptness as it pertains to social functions may be different than what you're used to. If you're going to a party, show up an hour or so after the indicated starting time, but if you're meeting with a few friends to hang out or for a drink, arrive more or less at the agreed time.

Public display of affection like that which Argentines are accustomed to is frowned upon here. Bienvenido a yanquilandia!

>"Public display of affection like that which Argentines are accustomed to is frowned upon here."

Are you referring to the single cheek kiss used as a greeting? This is generally reserved for friends, friends of friends and family. The term PDA is generally used in a romantic context.

I have travelled pretty extensively in Argentina - from BA to Mendoza and from Salta down to Ushuia and PDA is not a characteristic I would associate with Argentina which on the whole is pretty religious and conservative.

> Are you referring to single cheek kiss used as a greeting?

No. I'm referring to full-on making out with your significant other in a public setting. Like in a park during the day, in McDonald's next to the kids bouncy ball pen, on the bus, etc.

It's not any more or less than you might see in any American city.

I lived in BsAs in addition to a few American cities, and I beg to differ.

Then surely you understand that Porteños and B.A. are not at all representative of the average Argentine person or town in the same way that New York or New Yorkers are not at all representative of the average American or American city.


Please don't post gratuitous swipes, even when someone has distorted what you said or it feels that way. It only makes the thread even worse.


PDAs are frowned upon in the US? huh. This is news to me and I’m almost 30.

I don't recall about the specifics in Argentina, but in Brazil, it's customary to greet females by touching cheeks with them and making a kiss sound. It would most definitely be very awkward if you (as a male) attempted to do it to a female american friend.

Generally speaking, americans tend to be less touchy-feely. For example, it's common for close asian male friends to wrap arms around each other while standing side by side, whereas in US this act has a homosexual connotation.

That's not what I wrote.

30 is a great age. Take advantage of it and do some traveling.

Get laid as much as possible lol. Have fun.

Better study in EU for free and then come to the US (or not).

Argentines already have free university education in their own country. (Look up the "Reforma Universitaria"). The options in the EU - for a student speaking Spanish or English - aren't free, even if they may be more affordable than the US.

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