ON THE PLANE
The flight attendants will distribute a customs form and the I-94 Arrival / Departure form to non-immigrants. You should complete the WHITE I-94 form, NOT the green form that is for tourists.
ONCE YOU LAND
It is to your advantage to know exactly what to expect at the passport control. Some Immigration inspectors may be less familiar with student documents than others and occasionally make mistakes. The immigration inspector has to check your passport, visa and the I-20 form (if you’re on F-1 visa) or DS-2019 form (if you’re on J-1 visa). The inspector should write a notation on the I-94 card that says admitted as “F-1 for D/S” or “J-1 for D/S”. D/S signifies “duration of status”. If all is in order, you should not be admitted until a specific date, but rather for D/S. It is important that the inspector stamps your I-20 or DS-2019 form as well as the I-94 card. Often, the immigration officer will staple the I-94 card into your passport.
If you are coming with your spouse and/or children, the same attentiveness to the processing of their admission applies.
Dependents of F-1 students should enter as “F-2 for D/S”; dependents of J-1 students should enter as “J-2 for D/S”.
WHEN LEAVING THE AIRPORT
Don’t let anyone offer you a cab — take a yellow cab ONLY. Other drivers may overcharge you, or are not insured. There is a $45 flat taxi fare from JFK to anywhere in Manhattan (excluding highway tolls – an additional $3-$4 – and tip, usually 15%).
Taxis from Newark Airport to Manhattan are usually more expensive since they run on meter (no flat fare). Alternatively, for $15 you can take a shuttle which will drive you to your door. You will share this ride with other passengers, so expect it to take at least an hour (details at the ground transportation desk in both airports).
WITHIN YOUR FIRST WEEK
Visit the ISSO (Columbia’s International Students and Scholars Office) at 524 Riverside Drive (open 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, except Wednesday, when the ISSO opens at 10:30 a.m.) Bring your passport, I-94 card (which was stapled to your passport) and your I-20 or DS-2019 form. The ISSO will make sure that your documents were processed properly when you entered the U.S, and will register your arrival at SEVIS. SEVIS is a data collection and monitoring system for international students in the US. American universities are required by law to make regular electronic updates in SEVIS on the records of their international students. The first essential update is that you have arrived to enroll at CBS.