Skip to main content

Arrival and Check-In

The Office of International Student and Scholar Services (OISS) is the central unit on Northwestern’s campus for providing international students with support regarding immigration procedures and other regulatory requirements. They also host informational and social events for international students throughout the year. Review the information below for some important tips about arrivals and immigration essentials.

Can I arrive early?

It is possible to arrive in the U.S. before orientation, but keep the following considerations in mind:

  • You cannot check into the residence halls before the day they officially open; if you arrive early, you must plan temporary housing arrangements for yourself.
  • Your Northwestern health insurance may not cover you if you arrive early. Plan to obtain your own health insurance coverage for dates outside of your official program dates.
  • You may not arrive to the U.S. more than 30 days before the start date on your DS-2019. If you decide to come earlier than this, you will enter as a tourist and will need to leave the United States so that you may enter in the correct J-1 status no more than 30 days before the start date listed on your document.

Arriving in the U.S. and in Evanston

Consult the OISS website for instructions regarding the following arrival steps:


Exchange students will be expected to participate in orientation programming prior to the start of classes. The duration and schedule of orientation programs will vary, depending on the term of arrival.

  • Fall arrivals
    Exchange students are invited to participate in orientation activities open to all new Northwestern and transfer students, including: International Student Orientation, hosted by the Office of International Student and Scholar Services, and Wildcat Welcome, hosted by Student Transition Experiences. These typically take place about 10 days prior to the start date of the fall quarter. GLO will also organize some customized programming for exchange students.
  • Winter and spring arrivals
    GLO will provide orientation a specialized orientation program for exchange students only, scheduled one day prior to the start date of classes.

Immigration check-in

U.S. immigration regulation states all J-1 students attending Northwestern are REQUIRED to "check-in" via the OISS Portal upon arriving on campus. Review the arrival checklist for new students.

Campus employment

Employment options for international students are limited but available. In most cases, J-1 students must obtain specific employment authorization from the OISS, particularly when pursuing off-campus work. You must obtain permission before beginning employment, even if it is for purposes of fulfilling an internship requirement. For more information about employment restrictions and applying for authorization, visit the OISS website or consult with an OISS adviser.

Social Security Numbers

A Social Security Number (SSN) is a unique 9-digit identification number issued by the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA). It is used primarily for U.S. tax and payroll purposes. Exchange students who secure a paid job in the U.S. are eligible for a SSN, but you must be registered full-time and be in the U.S. for at least 10 days before applying.

Only exchange students who have a paid job in the U.S. need an SSN. Otherwise, you do not need one. You can still open a bank account, have a mobile phone contract, or rent an apartment without an SSN. You can also apply for a Temporary Visitor Driver's License (TVDL) without an SSN. (Note: if you wish to apply for a State of Illinois Driver's License, you will need an SSN.)

For more information about how to obtain an SSN, read the social security page on the OISS website.