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With a student heading to the U.S. for post-secondary school, you want to ensure they have everything they need so they can focus on their studies — and not worry about their status or their finances. This checklist can help you and your student prepare for the year ahead.

As you get ready to send your child off to school in the U.S., your family is surely very excited — and possibly a little anxious too.

To help prepare your student for a smooth transition to a new country, new school and new experiences, this checklist covers key documents, steps and considerations — so your student can focus on school … and you can sleep better at night.

1. Check their status for studying in the U.S.

Caribbean students attending college in the U.S. will need a visa plus an I-20 certificate from their university. Requirements may vary so ensure you plan in advance and check the website or contact centre of the local Foreign Embassy or Consulate for student requirements.

If your student has already been accepted, their school has likely already issued an I-20 form. When your student receives their I-20 form, they are registered with SEVIS, the U.S. student tracking system. They are assigned a SEVIS number and are required to pay a registration fee — these steps satisfy their eligibility requirements.

If your student has not yet received their I-20 form or SEVIS registration, be sure to contact the school. You’ll want your student to have all their documents in order well before they leave.

Whether entering on an I-20 certificate or a student visa, students will not be able to enter the U.S. more than 30 days before the start of their study or program.

2. U.S. border crossing paperwork

When crossing from the Caribbean to study in the U.S., your student will need to show a few things to the officer at the port of entry:

  • Their passport.
  • The original I-20 certificate received from their university
  • Proof that the SEVIS fee has been paid
  • Proof of ability to pay for school fees and living expenses while in the U.S., such as family bank statements, stock statements, financial aid letters, scholarship letters or proof of the employment status of the individual(s) supporting the student
  • Proof of ties to your home country, such as your family’s rent receipts, mortgage payments and/or utility bills, which serve as proof of residence.
  • Once admitted to the U.S., your student will receive an I-94 record, which outlines the terms of their admission and is used to document their legal status in the U.S. — including their length of stay and departure.
  • For a college-bound student entering the U.S. by air, their I-94 record will be entered into the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website. They will need to print it upon arrival to the U.S. as evidence of their legal status and keep it on hand for future border crossings.

3. U.S. health insurance for students

  • Given the high cost of health care in the U.S., it is important for Caribbean students across the border to be sufficiently insured. In fact, before they can begin their academic year, Caribbean students are generally required to enroll in their school’s international student health insurance program or otherwise demonstrate that they have insurance comparable to the plan offered. Typically, insurance that is compliant with the U.S. Affordable Care Act (ACA) will be required.
  • Keep in mind, health coverage provided by your student’s country of residence may not be sufficient, as it will not pay for the costs of U.S. health care (and may require them to return home for non-emergency care). Travel insurance is typically not accepted either as it’s designed for short trips — not for students living in the U.S. for an academic year or more.
  • Check with your student’s school to understand the health insurance requirements and coverage offered.

Learn more about I-94 records here.

4. Financial aid options for Caribbean students

It’s not often easy for international students to get financial aid from U.S. colleges and universities as much of it is reserved for U.S. students. Caribbean students aren’t eligible for U.S. student loans. However, it is possible, and worth exploring the opportunities through your student’s school and other grants and scholarships available for international students.

Keep in mind, financial aid received by international students (by a U.S. institution) is subject to U.S. income tax. If your student doesn’t have a U.S. Social Security Number (SSN), they will need to complete an application for a federal Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).

Learn how to apply for an ITN.

5. Understand the U.S. tax obligations

Every international student has to file a tax return in the U.S. — regardless of whether or not they’ve earned an income while in the U.S.

Compliance with the IRS is one of the conditions of the student visa (and if your student wants to get a job in the U.S. in the future, the handling of U.S. taxes can affect future Green Card applications). It’s worth working with an accountant or a tax filing service to help make filing U.S. taxes easy and worry-free.

  • As a non-resident in the U.S., they will need to file a Statement for Exempt Individuals — Form 8843 before the deadline. Typically, the deadline for filing Form 8843 is April 15th (recently this deadline was extended due to the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic).
  • If your student earned an income in the U.S., they must also file a tax return –— Form 1040NR or Form 1040 NR-EZ as well as Form 8843.

Attending college or university for the first time is exciting for any student. Going to school in another country adds an extra layer of adventure and perhaps a little bit of added anxiety. By getting your student’s paperwork and finances in order well in advance, you can help get them ready for what’s surely going to be a remarkable year ahead.

This article offers general information only and is not intended as legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. While information presented is believed to be factual and current, its accuracy is not guaranteed and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or its affiliates.