Welcome! We are here to help your arrival to the United States and to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Exchange Visitors (EVs) are commonly referred to on the Rensselaer campus as 'scholars'. Exchange Visitors come to Rensselaer with a J-1 visa. EVs are approved to participate in Exchange Visitor programs in the U.S. by the Department of State (DOS).
At Rensselaer, we have several types of Exchange Visitors: short-term scholars, research scholars, intern and exchange students. Exchange students are managed by the Office of International Programs.
The most common type of EV at Rensselaer is short-term scholar or research scholar. There are also scholars on other visa types, such as B-1/B-2 and VWP. Please see the page on Other Visa Types for more information about non-Exchange Visitors.
Departments Requesting Scholars - Please see the page for RPI Departments for more assistance.
This page was last updated on: September 24, 2020.
This section contains information you need to know before arriving at Rensselaer!
- Pay SEVIS Fee
- Get your visa - see section in the Arrival Guide on 'Applying for your visa'
- Choose health insurance [see Health & Wellness section]
- Book your tickets
- What to carry when entering the U.S. [at the Port of Entry]
Here is a list of the required documentation to apply for your J-1 visa from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). ECA is a part of the Department of State, and they have a website with information for Exchange Visitors which holds useful information: https://j1visa.state.gov/.
- All international students in initial J-1 status are required to pay a $220 SEVIS I-901 fee before applying for their J-1 visa. Students should pay the fee at least 3 business days prior to the visa appointment and bring the receipt of payment to the visa interview. Students should keep this receipt of payment for their records and have it on-hand when initially entering the United States.
- For more information on the J-1 SEVIS fee, go to: https://www.ice.gov/sevis/i901/faq
- To pay the J-1 SEVIS fee online, go to: www.fmjfee.com
- The U.S. Department of State (DOS) maintains an area of their website dedicated to visa denials, Go here for more information: http://bit.ly/DOS-visadenial
- If you are denied during your visa application, please keep the paper they provide you with the reason for your denial and contact ISSS via email so we can try and provide additional guidance.
- Some visa applications are put under administrative processing. You will be advised of this requirement when you apply.
- For more details, go here: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/visa-information-resources/administrative-processing-information.html
This section contains information you need to know for your arrival at Rensselaer.
Immigration regulations require you to check-in with your Responsible or Alternate Responsible Official (RO/ARO) to maintain your immigration status. All new international students and scholars are required to complete an in-person check-in with ISSS after arrival to the U.S.
Within one week of arrival to U.S., you must email ISSS at ISSSoffice@rpi.edu with your:
- J-1 visa
- Proof of insurance coverage [in English]
- Most Recent I-94 Record [found online here: http://bit.ly/formI94]
Title IX, the 1972 Education Amendments to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, states "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance."
Rensselaer has a specific website dedicated to Title IX and Sexual Misconduct Awareness, and you can go here to get help, talk to someone or report sexual misconduct. "Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is committed to maintaining a safe and healthy learning, living, and working environment in which no member of the Rensselaer community is, on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or subjected to discrimination or harassment in any Institute program or activity. The Institute takes gender-based and sexual-based violence seriously, and provides support and information to all members of Rensselaer community."
To help clarify what is sexual assault, awareness of sexual assault and learn some cultural views on sexual assault, take a look at these videos courtesy of International Student Insurance:
- Sexual Assault Awareness for International Students: https://www.internationalstudentinsurance.com/explained/sexual-assault-awareness-video.php
- Cultural Views on Sexual Assault — Student Stories: https://www.internationalstudentinsurance.com/explained/cultural-views-sexual-assault-video.php
Website URL: https://sexualviolence.rpi.edu/
All Exchange Visitors are required to maintain health insurance meeting certain minimum levels. Current U.S. regulations require the following coverage:
- Medical benefits: at least $100,000 per accident or illness
- Repatriation: $25,000
- Medical Evacuation: $50,000
- Deductibles: not to exceed $500 per accident or illness
ISSS staff have worked with a number of insurance providers over the years and can recommend any of the following companies which are listed in alphabetical order:
Every student, faculty and staff member is issued a RIN that serves as their unique identifier on the RPI campus.
The process of issuing a RIN takes approximately 1-2 weeks after you have completed the required Check-In with ISSS, so please make sure to check in promptly upon your arrival to the U.S..
You will be able to set up your RPI email account after you have completed your Check-In with ISSS and we issue a RIN for you.
The Division of the Chief Information Officer (DotCIO) supports the RCS accounts: " Your RCS account allows you access to the campus network (including printers), the Internet, the RPI Learning Management System (Blackboard), software downloads, and email."
You are responsible for making all of your travel arrangements. Rensselaer does not provide any pickup services. We recommend you make your arrangements in advance to find the most affordable prices.
- The nearest airport to Rensselaer is the Albany International Airport (ALB). It is approximately 15 minutes from campus by car. For more information about this airport, see their website: http://www.albanyairport.com/
- Other major airports in New York State are John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and LaGuardia Airport (LGA). If arriving at either of these airports, there is a transportation service you can pay to provide daily shuttle service between either JFK/LGA and Albany called Premiere Transportation. You can find more information about this service here: https://www.premierelimo.com/transportation-services/airport-shuttle/
- Other majors airports within 1-2 states of New York include Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) in New Jersey, Bradley International Airport (BDL) in Connecticut and Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) in Massachusetts.
- Airport websites:
- There are a number of coach bus services from New York City and Boston to Albany, including Greyhound, Megabus, Trailways and Peter Pan bus lines.
- Bus websites:
- Amtrak is a national train service. The nearest station is the Albany-Rensselaer Train Station, which is approximately 15 minutes from campus by car. For more information about Amtrak, see their website: http://www.amtrak.com. Please be sure to review the baggage regulations before travelling.
Car Service - Taxi
- A taxi from the Albany International Airport or the Albany-Rensselaer Train Station to Rensselaer costs approximately $45. Carry a few extra dollars to tip the driver for your baggage. Always verify the total cost of your taxi before you go anywhere. If traveling in a group, make sure that you are not being overcharged for each additional person.
Car Service - Ride Share Apps
- There are two major services in upstate NY where you can use an app to hail a driver: Lyft and Uber. Both services require you to use your cell phone to request a driver and permit you to enter your final destination. There also may be surcharges if you are picked up at the airport or the train station.
The main address for the campus is 110 8th Street, Troy, NY -- but this might not be the best place to get dropped off because the campus is on a hill and this address places you and your luggage at the bottom of the hill. Find out where you need to go in advance so that you don't have to walk uphill and carry your luggage.
RPI Shuttle Service
- Rensselaer has a free shuttle service, for anyone with an RPI ID, that provides safe transportation around the campus grounds and to downtown Troy. In order to use the shuttle, you must present your RPI ID card. To find more information about the shuttle, including hours of operation, break schedules, and the schedule, please go here: https://info.rpi.edu/rensselaer-shuttle
State Identification/Driver's License
- You are able to apply for a New York State License, Permit or Non-Driver ID through the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (NYS DMV).
- However, for those who are at RPI for the first time, you must wait until 10 days after ISSS has completed your SEVIS validation, which is required reporting to the federal government that you have arrived and checked in with ISSS. This process will be completed within the first 30 days after the semester begins and you will get an email from ISSS when it is done. You should not go to the DMV before ISSS tells you because you will be turned away.
Owning a car
- For information on owning a vehicle, visit the Department of Motor Vehicles website at https://www.dmv.org/ny-new-york/
- RPI Parking: For information on on-campus parking, visit the RPI Parking and Transportation website at https://www.rpi.edu/dept/parking/
CDTA Bus Service [free for RPI students/scholars]
- All RPI students/scholars are able to use the Capital District Transportation Authority (CDTA) bus service for free using your RPI ID. Note that for new students/scholars, you need to wait at least two business days after receiving your RPI ID card to use it on the bus. For more details about the CDTA service around campus, please go here: https://info.rpi.edu/parking-and-transportation/cdta-bus-service
Taxis & Ride Share Services
- There are a number of taxi services you can call to request a car pick you up and take you to your final destination. In the area near Troy, some commonly seen companies are Black & White Taxi, Capitaland Taxi, and Fast Taxi. Make sure you are getting into a taxi which has a sign on it that says it is a taxi, rather than appearing to be a private car.
- Ride share services are also commonly used for transportation. Apps such as Lyft and Uber require you to use your cell phone to request a driver and permit you to enter your final destination to obtain a fare estimate in advance. There also may be surcharges if you are picked up at the airport or the train station. Make sure to check that the license plate of the driver listed on your app and picture match the person who picks you up, as in the New York City airports there are known scammers who pose as Lyft or Uber drivers.
The First-Year Experience Office at Rensselaer has compiled a list of banks in the area based on their distance to campus. To view this list, go here: https://studentlife.rpi.edu/fye/beyond-campus/banking
You may be asked to provide your Social Security Number (SSN) when trying to open a bank account. If you are not eligible to apply for a SSN, ask the bank what other documentation they need from you in order to open an account.
Exchange visitors who do not have housing arrangements prior to their arrival can choose to stay in a local hotel while they look for permanent housing. The following hotels are the closest to the Rensselaer campus. We recommend that you book a hotel room early as these hotels can get busy and may be sold out.
- Franklin Square Inn
- One 4th Street, Troy, NY 12180
- Phone: +1-518-274-8800
- Web: www.franklinsquareinn.com
- Hilton Garden Inn
- 235 Hoosick Street, Troy, NY 12180
- Phone: +1-518-272-1700
- Web: hiltongardeninn3.hilton.com/en/hotels/new-york/hilton-garden-inn-troy-ALBTYGI/index.html
The Arch has compiled a great list of international fare located in the Troy area. Please see this link for a downloadable list: https://rpi.box.com/v/troy-international-fare
Want to learn more about the Downtown Troy area? Go here for information on shopping, dining and exploring: http://www.downtowntroy.org
The Department of Public Safety works to maintain a safe and secure environment for all, and they are responsible for 24-hour campus patrols, the emergency call boxes (or commonly known as blue lights) and more. You can find more information on their website here: https://publicsafety.rpi.edu/
There are emergency call boxes or emergency telephones located in all residential and academic areas, so look around on campus to be aware of where they are located if you need one.
The Department of Public Safety offers personal safety guidance for all students, regardless of if you live on or off-campus. For more information, go here: https://publicsafety.rpi.edu/personal-safety
Cell phone & SIM Card
- ISSS partners with a cell phone provider called StudentSIMS to offer you a free SIM card and plans with low rates. You can find out more about this company and the plans they offer here: https://www.studentsims.com/
- A great benefit to this is that you can order the free SIM card and have it shipped to you directly -- wherever you are, free of charge -- so that when you land and step off the plane, you can already have the SIM card ready and activated.
- You will be able to set up your RPI email account after you have completed your Check-In with ISSS and we issue a RIN for you. The process of issuing a RIN takes approximately 1-2 weeks, so please make sure to check in promptly upon your arrival to the U.S..
This section is to help you understand your immigration documents.
What is it?
- The DS-2019 is technically called the "Form DS-2019, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status". This title is listed in capital letters at the top of your DS-2019. This is a document which is issued by International Services for Students and Scholars at Rensselaer, except when issued for Exchange Students by the Office of International Programs.
- The DS-2019 identifies you, your designated sponsor and provides information about your program and category as an exchange visitor. You should keep all of your DS-2019s forever. RPI only keeps immigration documents for three years after completion of your program.
- To see a detailed description of the DS-2019, see this link from the Department of State: https://j1visa.state.gov/participants/how-to-apply/about-ds-2019/detailed-description-of-the-ds-2019/
What if I lose my DS-2019?
- You should contact ISSS as soon as this happens to get guidance on what you should do. Please do not wait until the next time you need your DS-2019 to request a new one.
What is it?
- Your J-1 visa is a sticker put into your passport after you attend an interview at the U.S. Consulate/Embassy outside the U.S. and are approved to seek entry into the U.S. The sticker is what you will show the Custom and Border Protection (CBP) agent at the border when you enter, along with your DS-2019, to indicate you are here as a J-1 Exchange Visitor. You can only obtain a J-1 visa outside of the U.S.. The purpose of the J-1 visa is to permit you to enter the U.S.
What if it expires?
- If you are inside the U.S. and your J-1 visa has expired, that is okay. You can remain in the U.S. with an expired visa. The purpose of your J-1 visa is to let you enter the U.S., and if you are already here you do not need to be permitted to enter the U.S. If you travel outside of the U.S., you must have an unexpired J-1 visa to enter the U.S..
What it is?
- Your I-94 Record is formally known as the Form I-94, "Arrival/Departure Record". It shows the terms of your admission to the U.S. If you enter the U.S. via an air or sea port of entry, you will be issued an electronic document which you can access online. If you enter the U.S. via a land port of entry, you will be issued a paper I-94 in your passport (and do not remove it).
- The I-94 Record proves your legal J-1 status in the U.S., so it is important for you to check it every time after you enter the U.S., especially if you hold another visa in your passport, so that if something is wrong you can get it fixed immediately. Your I-94 record is only updated after you have entered the U.S.
- For more information about your I-94, see this link from Study in the States: https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/2014/08/what-is-the-form-i-94
How do I get it?
- If you entered via an air or sea port of entry, you can access your Most Recent I-94 Record online from the Customs and Border Protection website here: http://bit.ly/formI94 You will need your passport information to access the document. Please check to make sure that your Class of Admission lists J1 and the Admit Until Date lists D/S. If anything else is listed, contact ISSS immediately.
- If you entered via a land port of entry, you will be issued a paper I-94 in your passport (and do not remove it). Please check to make sure that your Class of Admission lists J1 and the Admit Until Date lists D/S. If anything else is listed, contact ISSS immediately.
- If there is incorrect information on your Most Recent I-94 Record or your Travel History, please save the document and email it to ISSS along with your RIN and explain what was incorrect for us to provide you with guidance.
What if I lose my passport?
- If you lose your passport, you need to immediately contact the Consulate/Embassy for your country of citizenship to report it is lost and to get instructions on how to apply for a new passport.
What if my passport is stolen?
- If your passport is stolen, please notify the local authorities and file a police report, then immediately contact the Consulate/Embassy for your country of citizenship to report it is lost and to get instructions on how to apply for a new passport.
What if it expires?
- Your passport needs to be valid for at least 6 months into the future at all times as a part of maintaining your J-1 status. You can renew your passport inside of the U.S. For guidance on how to do this, contact the Consulate/Embassy for your country of citizenship to get instructions on how to apply for a new passport.