Choosing a visa
You sometimes may have a choice between a student (F) and a researcher/scholar (J) visa. The rules change every now and then, so make sure you check yourself, but in general, J visa may carry a 24-month repeat participation bar (which means that, after your J visa expires, you cannot return to the US on the same kind of visa for another 2 years; you cannot also go to work), but you should not worry about it too much, as it mainly applies to people who get US government funding (e.g. Fulbright; two other cases include specialized training meant for you to come back to your country, as well medical training). Check yourself at the governmental website, as well as in the Harvard J Guide. J visa has one important benefit over F visa: your spouse (on J2) is allowed to do some work. When applying for a visa, you need to pay a SEVIS fee.
You know you have to have an insurance, but you may want to waive the default Harvard insurance. Some of the options alternative to comprehensive HU coverage include (listed in, by subjective recommendation):
– Gateway Plans (Student Advantage plan seems to satisfy F1 requirements, while saving you roughly 1300$).
– Wallach company (looks really affordable, 5.75$ per day, but the maximum coverage seems to be 90 days – thus it may require renewals, which introduces a risk factor and also a nuissance),
– Compass Benefits Group (seems to satisfy F1 requirements, but also to be really expensive!),
– The Harbour Group (seems NOT to satisfy F1 requirements),
– HCC group (seems NOT to satisfy F1 requirements).
Those are US insurances. Consider that, in the US, no insurance will cover 100% of the medical fees, i.e. you’ll need to pay a (reduced) amount in each visit to the doctor/hospital. If you prefer to have 100% coverage, you may opt for EU-based insurance companies such as Europ Assistance, which offers good priced insurances which meet the F/J requirements and cover 100% of the fees.
Additional two pieces of advice:
– if you need to use your insurance, make sure that you do not go to the doctor with a “pre-existing condition” (something the insurance companies refuse to cover). An extremely absurd (but reported) example: if you have common cold or flu, you may be asked if you had it before and if confirmed, your condition may qualify as a preexisting condition.
– some students decide to have full health scans, tests, consultations, discounted massages, etc. and professional medical advice, since in many plans it is covered by the insurance, and helps you get something back.
Some students found participating in the host program at Harvard useful. Some JD hosts are more active than others, but it is worth participating and you might get lucky with your JD host who will be happy to show you around Harvard, give you advice on your program of study, interesting classes, etc.
Special customs for Europeans
If you stay abroad more than 12 months, you can bring lots of stuff without paying taxes/tariffs/etc. This is particularly important with cars, which with some models are more than twice cheaper here. Under the relocation regulation on reliefs from customs duty you can bring to EU whatever you have used here for at least 6 months. Shipping a car to Europe is slightly more than 1000 USD (you can fill it up with suitcases).
Social Security Number
In a country without IDs, the Social Security Number is very frequently used as such for bureaucratic purposes. If you are employed in the US you can get one, but also if you are a visiting researcher or fellow without getting any payments from US. The Harvard International Office (or equivalent for other universities) assists you with the process, which is pretty straight forward.
All Harvard students and employees have a Harvard ID, but not all visiting researchers will necessarily have one. If you have a Harvard ID, it should be easy to get your Harvard Key in order to use Harvard online resources, access courses, etc. If you don’t have one and will not, you can still get a Harvard Key to access courses online through XID as long as someone approves you (e.g. a professor or teaching assistant from a course you want to audit).