Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania

Biomedical Postdoctoral Council

Foreign Postdoc Resources

Before arriving in the U.S.

  • Foreign National Committee: This committee is a part of the Biomedical Postdoctoral Council and is a resource for all Foreign National Postdocs. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.
  • PostDoc "Buddy Trainer" program: The Postdoctoral Council has established a list of people who have volunteered as "buddies" to incoming foreign postdocs. These are current postdocs at the University and also fellow foreigners who are willing to answer questions (by email/phone) and help with relocation issues that a new postdoc might have. You can contact a buddy trainer by sending an email to pcouncil@mail.med.upenn.edu.
  • Cost of living expense: To try and estimate your future living expenses in the University/Philadelphia Area use this Cost of Living link. Since this is generalized information, contacting the BPP or the Foreign National Committee of the Postdoc Council can give you more up-to-date information on specific issues.
  • Understanding specific systems in the US: The systems in the US can be very different from many other countries. To understand some of the main systems here is some information:
    • Getting your paycheck: After filling out your paperwork at the University, it still takes anywhere from 2 weeks to one month for your name to be in the system to receive your first paycheck. Please plan for this when anticipating your initial financial costs. In most situations completing your paperwork before the 15th of the month should let you receive a paycheck at the end of that month.
    • Healthcare: The University offers certain healthcare plans. These plans and other definitions of the US Healthcare system are explained at the University Benefits website
    • Education/School systems for your children: Understand the education system, Find schools in Pennsylvania.

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After arriving at the University of Pennsylvania

  • Office of International Programs (OIP): OIP Staff assists with problems related to immigration and employment status, social and personal adjustments to a new culture and practical matters related to your stay in Philadelphia. They will provide you with an orientation to the University community and the city of Philadelphia, as well as give you informational material. You can meet with an OIP advisor from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. OIP is located on 3701 Chestnut Street, Suite 1W, Philadelphia, PA 19104. Tel: (215) 898-4661
  • Other useful information to get started: Please see New Postdoc Resources for more information. All the information given in that section applies to foreign postdocs also, however in some instances there maybe specific additional requirements for foreign national visa holders. Also INS rules for foreign visa holders are subject to change at any time so please be in regular contact with your department's business manager and OIP.

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Specific issues for foreigners

  • Temporary Housing: If you are looking for temporary accommodations while you look for housing, here are some options. In the university area there are numerous hotels and Inns. However, hotels can be expensive for an incoming foreign postdoc. Hostels like Chamounix mansion, provide more basic accommodation but can be a relatively more affordable option especially for single postdocs. Through Office of Off-Campus Living you may find some locations that are willing to rent for short periods, however it is difficult to find rentals for periods shorter than a month.
  • Obtaining Credit Cards :
    • In the US before you can get a credit card or make large purchases, you have to demonstrate that you are a good risk before they grant you credit. The proof is in your credit record. If you've financed a car loan or other purchase, you probably have a record at a credit-reporting bureau. This credit history shows how responsible you've been in paying your bills and helps the credit card issuer decide how much credit to extend. Unfortunately no matter how long you have had a major credit card in your country, from the point of view of American financial institutions you have no credit history!
    • If you just got your Social Security Number, like most new foreign post-docs, you have no credit history associated with it. People with no credit history or bad credit history find it hard to get a US credit card or a loan.
    • It is very important to start building credit to establish your credit history. If you find it difficult to obtain a traditional credit card, some options are:
      • Secured credit card: It requires that you open and maintain a bank account or other asset account at a financial institution as security for your line of credit. Your credit line will be a percentage of your deposit. Unfortunately, these cards may have high fees and carry higher interest rates.
      • Credit card issued by a local store: If these stores report to a credit bureau and if you pay your bills on time you'll establish a good credit history.
      • Usually a year after you got your first card you have enough credit history to apply for regular credit cards
  • Social Security: Opening bank accounts, paying taxes, getting a credit card or loan, driving license or ID, renting an apartment, getting your own phone number and most other official work in the US requires a social security number. Most important, all foreign nationals need this card to be paid. You can apply for your card at the Social Security office located on 2nd Floor, 3901 Market Street. Tel: (215) 596-4934
  • Deciding on Housing:
    • If you want to rent an apartment please see New Postdoc Resources for detailed information.
      • If you have a family it is important to remember that the location you choose to live in determines the school district for your children.
      • Apartments can be an efficiency or studio apartment (these have no bedroom just a bathroom, kitchen and a common area for bed/living/dining) or vary from 1 to 3 bedrooms.
      • Prices depend on number of bedrooms, facilities offered and the location of the apartment, for instance an efficiency can cost anywhere between $ 300- $650.
      • Apartments can be rented furnished or unfurnished - however furnished apartments are more expensive and secondhand furniture is easy to obtain.
      • When choosing an apartment remember to enquire what utilities costs are included in the rent (utilities usually include heating for the winter, electricitygas, water). If these are not included in the rent, you may have to arrange for them yourself and the apartment renters will not be responsible. Connecting a telephone line is usually your responsibility.
      • Also enquire about maintenance (i.e. who will take care of plumbing problems etc), whether laundry facilities are available within the complex, whether you are located near public transportation, if parking is available and safety of the neighborhood.
      • Remember that most apartment leases in the area are for at least one year and leaving before this period could result in a significant fine. If you do not want to sign a one-year lease, you could look for an apartment that offers month-to-month or other short-term leases.
      • Most rental companies require at least a month's rent in advance as well as another months rent as a deposit before you move in. When you sign a lease, it is good to be financially prepared to pay at least 2 months rent up front.
      • Make sure you pay attention to lease renewal terms. Some companies expect you to renew lease up to 6 months ahead of your end of lease.
    • If you would like to stay in a house, you can find houses to rent as a whole or share with others. Most of the above issues apply for renting houses too. Detailed information is available at Office of Off-Campus Living
  • Banks: Branches in the University area include
    • Citizens Bank, University City Branch, 1345 34th Street, Tel:215.387.1901. Hours: Monday - Friday, 9am - 5pm, Saturday, 10am - 2pm
    • Commerce Bank, University City Branch, 3731 Walnut Street, Tel:215.387.1000 Hours: Mon-Wed, 8am - 6pm, Thursday, 8am - 8pm, Saturday, 8:30am - 6pm, Sunday, 11am - 4pm
    • Sovereign Bank, University City Branch, 3131 Market Street, Tel: 215.382.8005 Hours: Monday - Wednesday, 8:30am - 3pm, Thursday, 8:30am - 4pm, Friday, 8:30am - 5pm
    • PNC Bank, CHOP (Children's Hospital), 34th & Civic Center Blvd., Tel: 215.823.2330 Hours: Monday - Friday, 9am - 3pm
    • PNC Bank, University City Branch, 36th & Market Streets, Tel: 215.823.2300 Hours: Monday - Thursday, 9am - 3pm, Friday, 9am - 5pm
    • University of Pennsylvania Federal Credit Union (Employees), 3900 Chestnut Street, Tel: 215.898.8539 Hours: Monday - Friday, 8:30am - 4:00pm
  • Understanding Visa issues: It is useful to know more about your Visa situation, how it can affect your spouse, job hunts, application to permanent residency etc.
    • The BPP and Postdoc Council organize a Visa seminar twice a year where lawyers from a Philadelphia law firm discuss current visa issues.
    • The Office of International Programs (OIP) is an excellent on campus resource for discussing personal visa issues.
    • General websites of interest are the U.S. Citizenship and Immigrations Services or USCIS (formerly the INS).
  • Understanding Tax issues: Tax returns should be filed by the deadline of April 15th each year. To answer all questions about filing tax returns, international tax treaties etc., you can contact the following
    • The Tax Office is the University designated expert for all tax related issues. Foreign Nationals are encouraged to contact them directly for questions related to tax laws and treaties. The office is located at 329 Franklin Building, 3451 Walnut Street. Tel: (215) 898-6573
    • The OIP offers appointments during tax time to first time filers to go through the returns on a one-on-one basis.
  • Help with Legal issues
  • Drivers license or Pennsylvania ID card: Driver license and/or ID card can be obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (DMV). The address of the nearest Penndot Photo & Exam Center is 801 Arch Street
    Philadelphia, PA 19107. Please call Penndot at 1-800-932-4600 to confirm the exact requirements for obtaining a license based on your visa status, as this can vary.
  • English as a Second Language (ESL): If you or your family is not familiar with the English language, here are some local resources that can help you
  • Groups and societies on campus: If you are looking to meet or interact with people in more cultural or support related context. You may find more information on several such cultural support organizations at The University Life Division of Penn and Office of Student Affairs
  • Research Funding opportunities for Foreigners: If you are looking to apply for postdoctoral fellowships while at the University. The BPP has put together a list of all the organizations that will fund non-US citizens.
  • Consulates/Embassies nearest to Philadelphia
  • Shopping:
    • For a list of stores and services in the University City area, UCnet.com has a great list.
    • Grocery: The nearest grocery store to the University is the Fresh Grocer. Other stores include Superfresh on Columbus Blvd
    • Furniture: Second hand furniture can be purchased at discount prices from the Salvation army thrift stores and thrift shops. New furniture can be purchased from many furniture stores in and near the city. Be sure to enquire about payment plans and delivery options.
    • Household Items: Good quality and reasonably priced items can be purchased from WalmartKmartTarget etc.
  • Please see New Postdoc Resources for more information

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Contact Us!

Contact the Foreign National Committee of the Postdoc Council at pcouncil@mail.med.upenn.edu to help you with any specific issues. We are here to help you adjust to your new life at the University as smoothly as possible. We also organize events for Foreign Postdocs and update this web page so any suggestions or ideas are always welcome!

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