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Living In The USA: Visa, Insurance, SSN, and Taxes

Everything one needs to know before applying for a visa in the US

🕒 9 min read

Category: Miscellaneous

Tags: usa, visa, insurance

In this article, I explain and sum up everything one needs to know to apply for a J-1 visa in the US, in order to do an internship. Everything below is based on my experience and on the instructions I received.


Getting a J-1 visa for the US is a quite long process. First and foremost, a sponsor is required. The most popular sponsor of J-1 visa programs is undoubtedly CIEE, a non-profit organization. But there are others.

CIEE has many partners throughout the world. A good one in France is Parenthèse. It is the one I decided to go with, since my internship company is used to working with them.

Parenthèse's staff is very professional and helpful. They guided me all along the entire process.

However, should you decide to deal with CIEE directly, with no intermediary, you will find everything you need at www.ciee.org/internship-usa.

If my memory serves, the procedure is as follows:


Getting a visa with CIEE as a sponsor is quite expensive, but there's a reason for that: they provide you with an insurance plan. Not the best for sure - not every expense is refunded and oftentimes you'll pay copays - but it's sufficient for most people. More information on their website.

Things to do upon arrival: SEVIS and Social Security Number

First, make sure to carry your insurance card and passport with visa with you at all times.

At the airport, you will be required to show the following documents:

Then, there are a few things to do in the next few days. In the correct order, these things include:

After you have applied, the Social Security office will provide you with a "Proof of Application" document. This receipt may enable you to receive paychecks and open a bank account. You should check the status of your application within seven to ten days of submission by visiting a social security office. In case of problem, call CIEE. Then the card will arrive by mail within a few weeks (3 tops, otherwise contact CIEE). This card will be valid for your entire life.

It is also advised to get a state ID card to avoid carrying your passport everywhere.

Likewise, opening a bank account could be useful and sometimes necessary to get paid.

You should notify CIEE of any change in US home address, phone number or email address within 10 days of the change.

During your internship, you'll get two online evaluations to complete, one at mid-point and one at the end of the program. Your supervisor will get online evaluations to complete too. Should there be a problem (you or your supervisor didn't get the emails about the evaluation, for example), email CIEE at evals@ciee.org.

Trips outside of the USA

If you intend to go out of the USA temporarily, call CIEE at least 3 weeks prior to your departure. You will have to do some paperwork and CIEE will need to countersign your DS-2019. Each trip cannot exceed 30 days.

Things to do upon departing

Nothing ("Aliens Not Required To Obtain Sailing or Departure Permits"), as far as I remember. Maybe change your personal details on your bank account, such as your home address.


First of all, this article from Parenthèse is quite useful for French expats.

Also, here are some resources as to how to file your tax return (form 1040NR-EZ for J1 visas) if you want to do it by yourself instead of using a third party online service such as TaxBack or TurboTax (TurboTax is not compatible with J1 visa holders):

As to me, well I used TaxBack.com. How did it go? Would I recommend their service? Everything you need to know right below.

TaxBack.com for J1 visa holders



EXPENSIVE: oh boy don't you expect them to be cheap. From the amount I was supposed to get back, they subtracted:

Also they applied a very disadventageous exchange rate (USD to EUR): between May 1 and May 11 (today), the official exchange rate fluctuated between 0.83 and 0.84. They used 0.79052 for my transfer, which occured some day between these two dates. You read it well.

Before using their service, you'd better read this page very carefully. As an example, I was supposed to get $1156.91 back from FICA. The processing fee was $231.38 and the handling fee was $46.28. They kept 24% of my refund. Plus a $35 bank transfer fee. Geez! Not sure my time is worth that much money, after all. Maybe I should have taken the time to fill the documents by myself...

Taxes on bank interest for nonresident aliens

This topic is still quite unclear to me, but apparently it's "nontaxable and nonreportable", as per Federal Income Tax Withholding and Reporting on Other Kinds of U.S. Source Income Paid to Nonresident Aliens. Even when you're no longer living in the US.

This other document says:

"My only income was some bank interest. Do I have to file a tax return?"

"A: If you are a nonresident alien, bank interest is excluded from your U.S. income under a special tax rule intended to encourage foreign investment in the United States. "

Good to know: banks and credit unions send every year in January a document (FORM 1099) that lists earned interest only if above $10.

Also bear in mind that some credit unions refer to interest as dividends:

Finally, a few additional links related to the topic:

That's it! Hope it was helpful.