If you have ever travelled to a country that uses a different currency from your own, you are probably familiar with all the fees that come with using your bank card for purchases in a store or online and withdrawing money from an ATM. As an international student, you have also probably been advised by others to take money in cash form with you, “just in case” your card does not work. Well, they do have a point.
I highly recommend that you open a bank account upon your arrival on campus. Not only is it super-easy to do, but it also helps a lot to make any kind of payment, whether you’re purchasing a piece of fruit at the Global Market or paying your bill for housing for the semester.
During Fall semester orientation, a few banks come to campus so you don’t even have to leave campus to open a bank account. There is also a full-service bank on campus, called “Advantage Federal Credit Union” (AFCU) which is located in the Global Village Plaza and has three different ATM locations throughout the campus. Because it is a credit union, you can do all the basic things you could do at a larger bank such as Bank of America but there are a few things that you might not be able to do. For example, wiring money to your account from certain countries might not be available.
I opened an account at AFCU for a few reasons: first, it’s on campus; second, it does not require any minimum balance; third, it costs $0 to open the bank account. All you need is your passport and $5 which will be returned to you when you decide to close the account. And fourth, the debit card you get has RIT colors and a cool tiger scratch on the front! If you have a job on campus, whether you get paid through direct deposit or check, having the bank on campus allows you to access that money right away. There are other banks that also have ATMs on campus such as Bank of America, First Niagara, and M&T Bank.
Please have in mind that the US has gone almost entirely cash-less, just like some dining places (some very, very important places like Ben & Jerry’s) do on campus after 5 p.m. Paying with your card remains your only option sometimes if you’re desperately hungry for cookie-dough ice cream after 5 p.m. And, most importantly, it’s much safer to carry a card than to carry cash everywhere you go.
Also important to remember, when required readings are not available in the library, you might have to rent or buy them through Barnes & Noble or Amazon. This might be a good occasion to use your card and not pay additional fees for your money conversion.
Additionally, since Uber and Lyft have now entered Rochester’s transportation scene, you can enter your card information in their respective apps on your phone, and never have to worry about whether you have any change in your pocket or not.
While wi-fi is available on campus 24/7, you might question my recommendation to buy a local cell phone number. But, hear me out: back in Kosovo, we mainly use Facebook if we want to contact or stay in touch with others. Here, however, Facebook is the last one on the list; phone numbers are exchanged instead, and, as such, texting replaces Facebook chatting. Texting, without internet access, will definitely cost you much more when you’re in roaming mode.
When getting a cell phone number, you can choose between an annual contract or a prepaid monthly option, and select the number of minutes and features (such as internet data) of your preference. You can purchase your phone number in any carrier store, and there are many of those outside campus. For example, plans at one of the carriers (AT&T) start at around $30 per month with 3 GB data. Having had data on my phone the first few days helped me a lot in staying in touch with all the people I met during orientation week. The internet data I have on my phone have most definitely helped me get around campus the first week by using Google Maps, and they still do each time I leave the campus and go to downtown Rochester. However, if you decide not to purchase a phone number while you’re here, it is always a good idea to check with your local carrier to see if they have an international plan that does not cost much.