Living in USA

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Check out some information that might be useful to you, concerning your staying in the states.

Working in the U.S.

The USA Work & Travel Program allows you to discover the U.S. in a unique and challenging way – by temporarily living and working among Americans on a daily basis. It is important that your expectations are realistic and practical. A sense of adventure should be mixed in with a sense of responsibility and respect. Remember: learning about another culture and meeting new people can be just as rewarding as earning a wage.


  1. You will be earning a modest wage. Your earnings in the U.S. will probably cover most basic living expenses. It is important to budget your money. Always have money set aside to pay for housing, meals, and other living expenses.
  2. You will be working in an entry-level position - meaning the tasks are limited to a specific function and are not necessarily highly technical. Entry-level workers receive a federally mandated minimum wage; sometimes the wage may be a little more.
  3. No job, or hours at a job, can be 100% guaranteed. Your job, whether through SIVUX Job Placement or a job found on your own, may change or cancel prior to your arrival or after arrival. If this should happen, you should try to find another job in the area or call SIVUX for advice.
  4. During your stay, living and working in a foreign culture can be difficult and frustrating. You will usually go through stages in adjusting to a new culture. This is absolutely normal. It is important for you to be as flexible, open-minded and positive as possible during your stay in the U.S.

Responsibilities as an Employee

Accepting any job means you are taking on a certain amount of responsibility as well as making a commitment.

  1. Follow through with your work commitment. Employers rely on their employees and their promise to work until the date that was agreed upon when hired.
  2. Have realistic expectations and a positive attitude. It is very important that you clearly understand what your job duties are before you begin in the workplace. U.S. employers are seeking flexible, motivated and enthusiastic workers. A positive attitude goes a long way to making your program a success. Remember that these are entry level, seasonal jobs and subject to change!
  3. Be punctual. It is imperative that you get to your job on time. Otherwise, your employer will think that you are not taking the job seriously or that you are not responsible.
  4. Dress appropriately. Whether you are assigned a company uniform or bring your own clothes, it is important that you have a clean and neat appearance.
  5. Drug testing. Many U.S. employers require their workers undergo testing for the use of drugs. This is completely legal and within the company’s rights. If you want to work for an employer who requires such testing, you must comply; otherwise, they will not hire you. If you test positive for drug use, the company may disqualify you and not hire you.
  6. Show confidence, not arrogance. A "can do" attitude demonstrates your willingness to do your best at the job. Try to interact and communicate as much as possible with your co-workers and supervisor.
  7. Be a "team player". U.S. employers like workers who help other employees. This spirit of teamwork is an effort to create an atmosphere of sharing a goal and completing the job together.
  8. If you leave your job without pre-agreement with CHI, your visa will be cancelled, you will be reported to the Department of State and you will be subject to deportation.

Tax Information

All the participants of the USA Work & Travel Program are required to pay taxes. However, because you are an exchange visitor and holder of a J-1 visa, you do not need to pay all of the taxes.

There are two key words to understand what you are obligated to pay in taxes and what you do not have to pay. "Exempt" means that you do not have to pay for a certain type of tax. "Non-Exempt" means you are obligated to pay a certain tax.

Non-Exempt taxes (you do pay):

  • Federal Income Tax
  • State Income Tax
  • City Income Tax

Exempt (you do not pay):

  • Social Security and Medicare Tax (FICA)
  • Federal Unemployment Tax (FUTA)

Your employer should not make the deduction of FICA and FUTA from your paycheck. If these deductions are made in error, they will appear on your pay stub under the category of "Social Security" or "FICA/FUTA". If you notice such a deduction on your paycheck, you should notify your employer immediately.


Many businesses assist with housing. If you choose SIVUX’s Job Placement you will also receive housing options. If your housing is not arranged, you will have the challenge of locating your own place to live. Keep in mind housing and living expenses may vary depending on locations.

During your housing hunt, consider these points:

  1. Roommates: Since many apartments are expensive to rent alone, you may want to consider sharing the expenses with a roommate.
  2. Furnishings: Most apartments come unfurnished unless you will be subletting or sharing the apartment with someone who already has existing furniture.
  3. Location: How close is your housing to your job? Can you walk? Do you have to use public transportation? How long is the commute? How accessible are stores, banks and entertainment? Is it a safe neighborhood?
  4. Availability: Ask the landlord how soon you can move into the rental. Sometimes you may need to wait until the end of the month or beginning of the month to move in.
  5. Rental Agreements: If you rent or sublet, make sure you sign a rental agreement and keep a copy for yourself. Before you sign any rental agreement, read the contract thoroughly and carefully. Question any terms that are unclear to you. Only written information on a rental agreement is legally binding; verbal agreements are not.

On a short-term basis, some affordable accommodations options include: hostels, residence hotels, university/college housing and low-cost motel chains. Most of these short-term accommodations have a maximum stay limitation – usually 2 weeks.

Money Matters

While on the USA Work & Travel Program, it is important that you budget your money wisely. Always make sure you put money aside for essentials such as housing, meals and transportation. SIVUX is not in the business of loaning money.


Do not keep your money in your backpack or in your apartment. Opening a bank account is one way to ensure your money will be in a safe place. Services and fees vary from bank to bank. You will need to bring several forms of identification such as your passport and Social Security card. Banks offer different types and levels of accounts. Ask about your options.

Banks usually offer an Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) card when you open an account. This card is also known as a “debit card”, meaning that any time you use the card for withdrawing cash or making purchases, the amount is deducted from your account. Banks may also charge a user fee (USD$1.50-$2.50 per transaction) each time you withdraw money or make purchases with your ATM/debit card.

Sales tax

Sales tax varies from city to city and state to state. In some regions, there is no sales tax added to purchases on merchandise or a restaurant bill. However, in communities where sales tax is assessed, be prepared to pay between 3 to 10 percent in addition to the total bill.


In the U.S., it is customary to tip service-oriented workers – waiters/waitresses, taxi drivers, hair stylists – 15 to 20 percent of the amount owed for the services rendered.

Accessing money from your home country

There are a couple of ways to access money from your home country, but the most efficient one is Western Union. A friend, relative or parent can transfer money from your home country to a Western Union facility in the U.S. The process usually takes 15-30 minutes. There is a handling charge, which is based on the amount of money sent

Phone and the Internet

Pay phones differ across regions of the U.S. and dialing procedures depend on the local telephone company. In general, a telephone number in the U.S. looks like this:


Within USA: "1"
Area Code: "302"
Phone Number: "613-0770"
To make a long distance phone call, dial "1", the area code and then the number. To make a local call, dial the last 7 digits. However, recently some communities require you to dial the 10-digit phone number to make a local call. For example: 707-555-5555 (no "1" is necessary). If you have serious problems dialing a phone number, dial “O” for the operator for assistance.

The best way to make a phone call in the US or call your home country is to buy a pre-paid phone card. A phone card enables you to make calls at a lower rate.


Sending e-mail messages is a quick way to keep in touch with friends and family back home. As you know, internet has become an invaluable tool to research information such as housing, local entertainment activities, etc. Places where you can access the internet in the U.S. are internet cafes and libraries.

You and law

Although you are a visitor, U.S. laws DO apply to you. You are expected to obey and respect all U.S. federal, state and local laws. It is wise that you stay out of trouble during your stay in the U.S. Illegal behavior only complicates your stay.

If you do get in trouble with the law, you can call SIVUX for limited assistance. Please keep in mind that SIVUX cannot be held accountable for your actions if you break the law. You are ultimately obligated to take responsibility for any crimes or violations you commit. You are also responsible for any and all expenses involved with your illegal behavior. SIVUX can give you references for legal help such as attorneys or receiving help through your home country’s Embassy here in the U.S.

You should avoid problems and trouble such as: illegal drug possession, underage drinking of alcohol, disturbing the peace, destruction of property and shoplifting.


At some point during your USA Work & Travel Program, you will have a need to use a mode of transportation to get you around the U.S. Whether you need to travel from the U.S. gateway city to your employment community or want to take a quick weekend trip outside your employment community, there are various options open to you.


Perhaps the most time efficient way to travel around the U.S., especially long distances, is by air. Of course, depending how valuable your time is, there is a cost. Obtaining the best fare is not always easy. The Internet is a good resource for researching airfare deals.


Amtrak is the national railway system in the U.S. To obtain more information you can contact them at their toll free number 1-800-872-7245 or visit their web site


Bus travel is an inexpensive way to travel around the U.S. The major bus companies can help you connect to local bus transportation to reach remote towns, if necessary. The Greyhound Bus Company is the major bus transporter in the U.S. Greyhound offers "Ameripass", which is a bus pass valid for unlimited travel anywhere in the U.S. for specified periods of time. There are some restrictions, so contact Greyhound directly, toll free, at: 1-800-231-2222 or at

Car rentals

U.S. car rental agencies have a minimum age requirement for renting cars. Most agencies' minimum age requirement is 21 years of age. Other requirements include: a valid International Driver's License and at least one major credit card. If you are eligible and desire to rent a car, you do so at your own expense and risk. Also, remember that car insurance is required and is in addition to the car rental fee. If you are with a group of Work & Travel participants, you may want to consider sharing the expense of a car rental.


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