Pre-Arrival Information

We hope that you and your family will have a safe trip and productive stay in Ithaca. This page contains information that will be helpful to you as you plan your visit.

Cornell University is situated on a 470-acre campus in Ithaca, a city 250 miles (400 kilometers) northwest of New York City. Ithaca is in the Finger Lakes region of New York State and has a population of about 30,000. The surrounding hills, valleys, lakes and gorges make Ithaca and the Cornell campus places of stunning natural beauty.

On this page

The J1 Exchange Visitor Program

If you will be entering the United States as a J1 Exchange Visitor in a program sponsored by Cornell University, you will receive a Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status (Form DS-2019) from Cornell, which will enable you to apply for a J1 visa stamp at a United States Embassy or consulate. If you have requested that your dependent family members (spouse and children under age 21) join you for your stay, and have presented evidence of sufficient funds for their support and health insurance, a Form DS-2019 will be sent each dependent. This will allow your dependents to apply for a J2 (dependent of a J1) visa stamp.

The J1 visa may authorize you to work at Cornell in the position described on the DS-2019 Form; it does not permit you to work elsewhere. Occasional off-campus lecturing or consulting may be allowed if it contributes to your original purpose in coming to Cornell University, but an authorization letter must be obtained from the ISSO before such work can be undertaken. Substantial off-campus employment is not allowed, nor is employment on-campus in fields outside your area of specialization.

A spouse or child on a J2 visa may apply for a work authorization card through the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). Instructions on how to apply for this work permit can be obtained at the ISSO upon check-in. It is not possible to apply for the J2 work permit prior to arrival in the US.

The J1 Exchange Visitor visa also requires that you and your dependent family members have health and accident insurance that meets federally mandated guidelines - details about the requirement are given below. Please be sure to read the requirement carefully.

Before applying for your visa, please sign the DS-2019 form. Read the regulations described on the instructions page carefully, especially regarding the two-year home country physical presence requirement. Please also read the enclosed handouts entitled "Important Information" and "SEVIS Fee Requirement for J1 Exchange Visitors." You will need to show that you have paid the SEVIS Fee when you apply for your J-1 visa (Canadians must show proof of SEVIS fee payment at US border). 

H1B Temporary Works, O1 Aliens of Extraordinary Ability, TN and E3 Workers

For information about specific rules and procedures for each of these categories, please refer to the following:

Obtaining a Visa Stamp

All US visas (except the H1B and the L) require that the applicant have "non-immigrant intent"; This means that the consular officer who issues the visa stamp, and the officer at the US border, must be satisfied that you do not plan to immigrate permanently to the United States. The burden of proof will be on you to show that you have a residence in your home country, which you do not intend to abandon, and that you meet the qualifications for the visa category you are applying for. H1B's are an exception to this requirement and permitted to have immigrant intent.

When visiting the US Consular office in your home country, ask for a copy of the pamphlet "United States Customs Hints for Visitors," or visit the US Customs and Border Protection website for information about bringing materials into the US. Understanding the customs regulations may prevent unnecessary expense.

Bring the following documents with you to apply for the visa at a US Consulate:

  • Relevant immigration status document:
    • For J1 visitors and J2 dependents: Form DS-2019
    • For H1B Temporary Workers and O1 Aliens of Extraordinary Ability: I-797 Approval Notice
    • For E3 workers (Australians only): copy of ETA 9035
  • a valid passport
  • a copy of your financial support documents (if some or all of your funding is from sources other than Cornell),
  • the letter of invitation or appointment from Cornell
  • passport-type photographs
  • for J1 visitors only: a receipt for payment of the SEVIS fee
  • In addition, you may also prepare materials that will support your eligibility for a nonimmigrant visa, such as evidence of strong ties to your home country (not required for H1B workers).

An application fee and a short interview may be required. Please contact the US embassy or nearest consulate for further information regarding obtaining a US visa in your country. Please contact the US embassy or nearest consulate for further information regarding obtaining a US visa in your country.

Once your application for a visa is approved, the consular officer will place a visa sticker or stamp in your passport.

NOTE: Visa Stamp Not Required for Canadians
Canadian nationals and some Canadian "Landed Immigrants", generally those who are from British Commonwealth countries, are not required to obtain visa stamps. If you are a Canadian "Landed Immigrant", please check with the nearest US Consulate to learn whether you require a visa stamp. However, you must still have a valid passport, and must present specific documentation for your visa type to present at the US Border. If you are a J1, you must present your DS-2019 form. If you are an O1 or an H1B you must show your I-797 Approval Notice, and if you are applying for entry as a TN, please see specific information for TN's.

Entering the United States at a US Port of Entry

When entering the US, you must present your valid passport, visa stamp (Canadians exempt), and appropriate immigration form (DS-2019 for J, I-797 for H1B and O1 and ETA 9035 for E3) to an officer at a US Port of Entry.

J1 Exchange Visitors may enter the US up to 30 days before the program start date on Form DS-2019, but no earlier. H1B's may enter the US up to 10 days prior to the H1B employment authorization start date.

After you have been admitted to the US, please check your I-94 Arrival/Departure Record. J1's should have Form I-94 annotated with "D/S" (Duration of Status). This means that your legal status in the US is effective for as long as you maintain legal conditions for J1 status. All others should receive a date-specific end date; please make sure that this end date corresponds with the end date of your H1B, O1 or E3 approval documents.

Important Note for J1 Exchange Visitors: You are REQUIRED enter the country and check in at the ISSO within 30 days after your program start date, or your J1 SEVIS status will be terminated. If you experience delays in obtaining a US visa, or if you will be unable to enter the US and report to our office within the 30 day period, contact the ISSO. If necessary, we will change your program start date in order to prevent your SEVIS record from expiring.

Health & Accident Insurance Requirement (J1's only)

US Government regulations and Cornell University policy mandate that all exchange visitors (J1 visa holders) and their dependents (J2) must have health and accident insurance in order to participate in Cornell’s Exchange Visitor Program. In addition, federal regulations prohibit an extension of your J1 status beyond the dates on the DS-2019 form without proof that you have maintained insurance for yourself and all family members during your entire length of stay in the US as an exchange visitor.

Minimum Level of Insurance Coverage Required (J1 Visa Holders)

  1. medical benefits of at least $100,000 per accident or illness
  2. repatriation of remains in the amount of $25,000
  3. expenses associated with the medical evacuation to home country in the amount of $50,000
  4. a deductible not to exceed $500 per accident or illness

For more information on the insurance requirement, please see our page on Health Insurance Requirements for J-1 Exchange Visitors, and the relevant section of the regulation (22 CFR 62.14).

General Health Insurance Information (all)

Cornell has a medical insurance plan that many international visitors with academic appointments may join. Eligibility depends on the conditions of your appointment. Please check with your university department’s human resources or hiring manager. Additional information can also be found at Cornell's Benefits website. If you do not qualify for Cornell insurance, you should make alternative plans to ensure coverage for your entire visit. While we cannot recommend specific providers or plans, you can compare plans from several insurance providers at www.insuremytrip.com. J1 visitors and their families may substitute a comparable external insurance plan for the Cornell plan, if it meets the minimum coverage requirements outlined above.

It is important to remember that in the United States certain kinds of elective medical care, such as eyeglasses or dentistry are ordinarily NOT covered by insurance and can be very expensive. Exchange Visitors may wish to consider taking care of those needs before leaving home.

Getting to Ithaca

To Ithaca by air: Ithaca is served by Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport, with flights available from many major cities in the Northeastern and Midwestern United States.

To Ithaca, via Syracuse, by air: It is possible to fly into Syracuse, New York from J.F.K. Airport in N Y City and other US cities. Syracuse is located approximately 60 miles (95 kilometers) north of Ithaca. Ground transportation (limousine service) from Syracuse to Ithaca is available at Hancock Airport (Syracuse, NY).

To Ithaca by bus: If you should arrive in New York City (J.F. Kennedy or LaGuardia Airports) or New Jersey (Newark Airport) and you wish to travel to Ithaca by bus, you will need transportation from the airport to the New York City Port Authority (Forty-first Street and Eighth Avenue). It will take approximately 6 hours to reach Ithaca by bus. Both "Greyhound" and "Short Line" BUS Companies have service to the Cornell campus and Ithaca. Cornell also operates an executive coach service linking the Ithaca campus with New York City.

Getting to Campus: To reach the Cornell campus or your place of residence, you may use either the Ithaca Airline Limousine (from Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport) or a taxicab (from bus station and airport).

Arrival On-Campus

Once you have arrived at Cornell, you must come to the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) with your immigration documents so that we can complete the records necessary for your appointment at Cornell. You will need to bring the following documents with you: your passport, I-94 Arrival/Departure card (small white card which should be stapled or placed in your passport when you enter the US), and the DS-2019 form, or Form I-797 (depending on your visa status). We will ask you to complete a brief check-in procedure. We are located in B-50 Caldwell Hall. Our hours of operation are: 9:00 am-12:00 pm, and 1:00-4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday (except on Wednesday, when we open at 1:00 pm).

Finances

Difficulties and delays often occur in the transfer of funds to the US. It is extremely important that you become thoroughly familiar with your government’s regulations for exchange of funds. To avoid delays, you may want to transfer funds to Ithaca before your arrival. The names, mailing addresses and telephone numbers of some of our local financial institutions are given below:

Some banks will charge you a fee for transferring funds. When initiating a transfer of money from overseas, be sure to request receipts, and allow a month for processing. Whenever possible, use correspondent banks in New York City for transferring funds.

Direct foreign currency exchange is available on a very limited basis through the Tompkins County Trust Company. The university and all local businesses accept only checks or drafts in US dollars. Foreign checks may require a month or more to be cleared through your Ithaca account.

Make sure that when you arrive in Ithaca, you have with you either US currency or US dollar traveler’s checks. If you need to exchange currency, please be sure to do so when you arrive at an international airport in the US. It may not be possible for you to exchange currency once you arrive in Ithaca. A single person should bring with them a minimum of $2,000 in traveler’s checks to cover initial expenses. Such expenses might include: a housing security deposit, first and last month’s rent, winter clothing, food, furniture, and other household expenses.

More information on banking in the US and Ithaca.

US Tax Obligations 

All visitors to the US are required to file annual tax returns, even if they are exempt from tax payments. Tax returns are due on April 15 of each year. The Taxes section of this site is devoted to helping international students and scholars deal with the issue of filing taxes.

If you already have a US Social Security Number (SSN), bring it with you to Ithaca. If you do not, you will most likely be required to apply for one once you arrive. An SSN (or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)) are required for completion of US tax forms. Instructions on how to apply for a US social security number will be provided to you when you check in to our office. You are not eligible to apply for a social security prior to arrival.

The End of Your Visa Status

J1 Visitors: You must fulfill the program purpose as specified on your Cornell DS-2019 form in order to maintain legal immigration status. Your J1 status will end on the end date listed on your Cornell DS-2019 form, or on the day that your program at the university terminates, whichever comes first. You will then have a 30-day grace period to depart the US. Please note: The J1 Exchange Visitor program at the US Department of State requires that we notify them if you leave Cornell before the end of the period noted on your DS-2019.

H1B, O1 and E3 Visitors: Your status in the US depends upon your maintaining the conditions of employment. If your job ends prior to the end date on your I-94 and approval documents, you legal status ends. In other words, the validity of your documents relies on your ongoing employment. The ISSO is required to notify USCIS if you end Cornell employment earlier than expected.

All: Please complete the Late Arrival/Early Departure Form, if you will be departing early.

Weather & Clothing

Ithaca summers can be quite warm, and Ithaca winters are long and cold.There are frequent and abundant snowfalls from November to mid-April, and considerable cloudiness and rain during the rest of the year. Temperatures in the winter (December to March) range from about 0°F to 38°F (-18°C to 3°C), and in the summer (June to September) from about 68°F to 85°F (20°C to 29°C). A heavy winter coat, a raincoat, and a pair of comfortable waterproof walking shoes may be necessary. More information on surviving Ithaca winters.

Driving in the US

Note: parking on campus is not readily available and is quite expensive. Walking or bicycling is easy, quick, and healthy, and the bus transit system is also a convenient and inexpensive option. More information is available on the Cornell parking and transportation services website.

New York State honors all valid foreign licenses. The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) recommends that you not apply for a New York State license unless you become a resident of New York.

If you plan to drive using your valid home country license, you MUST carry it with you when driving. If your license is not in English, you must also carry a certified English translation of your license when you drive. The ISSO can refer you to a certified translator for your language.

Despite the DMV’s recommendation against applying for a NYS license, many international students, scholars, and their family members decide to do so. For more information on applying for a NY State driver’s license, please visit the New York State DMV’s website.

Family Resources

Spouse Employment

Generally, spouses and children of those on visas are NOT eligible for US employment. J2’s (dependents of J1) are an exception. After arriving in the United States, those with J2 status may apply to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for permission to work. Information on the application procedures is available at the ISSO, but applications can only be made after the J2’s arrival in the US.

Child Care and Schooling

Public education is free of charge for children enrolled in Kindergarten through Grade 12. The school year starts in early September and ends in late June. Children must be five, or turn five no later than December 1, to be able to enroll at the start of the school year. Visit the ICSD website for information about enrolling your child in an Ithaca public school. If you will live outside of the Ithaca City School District, you can find contact information for other area schools here.

The law requires that young children not be left home alone or unattended. For child care options, including information about after school programs for children enrolled in public school, visit http://www.daycarecouncil.org.

The cost of full-day child care depends on the age of the child and on other factors, and can be quite expensive. Though parents are expected to pay for the costs of child care, some assistance may be available. Cornell University’s Child Care Grant Subsidy Program for students, faculty and staff is designed to assist with covering the costs of eligible child care, including infant and toddler day care, pre-school/pre-k programs, school holidays, summer camps and programs, and before/after school care. 

You can find a wealth of information for families on a variety of topics including child care, schooling and immunizations, child safety, counseling and support services, and much more, both on our site and the Human Resources site.