Welcome to my guide on preparing for your exchange experience in the US! If you are embarking on the University of California Education Abroad Program (UCEAP) at Berkeley, this detailed guide can help you plan ahead so you’ll be sure not to miss out any important steps.

This guide is divided into two to-do lists — pre-departure and post-arrival. I’ve also included resource websites that helped me in my preparation process. Amidst the myriad of information out there, I hope this guide can serve as a one-stop guide to your next steps, so you can focus on making the most of your exchange experience.

(Note: Costs shown below may change with time, please check.)

Pre-Departure To-Do

Be sure to start on this process early. The visa application process is quite long (around 1 month for me, from step 1 below until visa approval). Personally, I chose to play it safe and waited to collect my visa (end-November), before booking flight tickets for end-December.

Student Account Set-Up
  1. Wait for UC to send your student ID number via email (it’s a 10-digit sequence).
  2. Log in with your student ID on the CalNet Account Manager.
  3. Set up your CalNet ID & passphrase.
    • Note: CalNet ID is different from your student ID — CalNet ID acts as your system-wide username, and also your Berkeley email address. Student ID is just your student number.
  4. You can now access CalCentral using your CalNet ID & passphrase.
    • Note: CalCentral is the equivalent of SUTD MyPortal.
Preparing for Visa Application

References: Visa Resources (UCEAP)

  1. Ensure passport validity (at least 6 months beyond your period of stay).
  2. Prepare financial documentation (see: Sufficient Proof of Funding).
  3. On CalCentral, complete the Non-Immigrant Form & upload documents: 1) a scan of your passport photo page, and 2) your financial documentation.
  4. Wait for UC to mail your DS-2019 by post.
    • Note: Your program number (P-*-*****) and SEVIS ID (N***********) are printed on the DS-2019. You need them during visa application.
Visa Application

References: Apply for a US Visa in Singapore

Once you’ve received your DS-2019, apply for your visa at the Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC) at the US Department of State website.

  1. Complete your DS-160 form (Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application).
    • Note: Be sure to screenshot or note down your application ID (10-character sequence). The DS-160 form is a long one and the system will automatically log off after some time. You will need your application ID to log in and resume.
    • Note: You will be asked to provide a US point of contact. I provided the contact details of my UC Berkeley Architecture course lead.
  2. Upload a recent photo of yourself (see: Photo Requirements).
  3. Print the DS-160 confirmation page.
  4. Pay I-901 SEVIS fee at the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement website (US$220) and print the receipt.
  5. Pay visa processing fee (US$185) on your CEAC account and print the receipt
  6. Schedule your visa interview here.
Visa Interview

On the day of your visa interview at the US Embassy, bring the following:

  • Passport
  • Photo ID (citizenship card or drivers license)
  • Appointment confirmation (emailed to you by US Embassy)
  • DS-2019
  • I-901 SEVIS fee receipt
  • DS-160 confirmation page
  • Visa processing fee receipt

The following were not required during my interview, but you may consider bringing them to support your application:

  • UCEAP admission letter (emailed to you by UC)
  • Financial documentation: Proof of funding and/or scholarship award letters from SUTD/UC
  • $10 in cash for the on-site passport photo machine, if you did not previously submit a photo online
  • $2 in cash for lockers (new $1 coins accepted only, though there is a on-site coin changer machine)

The interview should last 1-2 hours. The embassy will collect your passport and process your visa. You can arrange to have your passport delivered to an address of your choice, or any Aramex location, once it is ready. Your visa will look like a sticker on one of your passport pages.

Now that you have your visa out of the way, you can book your flight tickets and start preparing for your actual exchange experience! The Arrival Guide by Berkeley International Office is a useful resource on how to proceed.


References: Finding Housing (Berkeley International Office)

Your options for housing include:

  • Off-Campus Housing: Most students (except freshmen) stay off-campus. This means renting from a private landlord or subletting from existing renters. The Facebook group linked has many listings you can go through, and is frequently updated with new listings. (Note: Be aware of who you are talking to and what information they require from you.) You can also search for more listings here.
  • On-Campus Housing and International House: More expensive, but includes utilities and meals.
  • Co-ops: Less expensive with a wide range of housing arrangements. Student-run, require renters to clock a certain number of hours doing shared kitchen/cleaning duties, have a reputation of being less clean/tidy/quiet, but a great way to immerse yourself in a new culture and make lots of friends.

When searching for housing, consider:

  • Budget: Different housing arrangements may include/exclude other costs of living, such as utilities like gas, electricity and internet. Some on-campus housing options also include meal plans, which make the cost seem much higher.
  • Location: If you have an idea of which buildings you’ll be frequently visiting on campus, it’s a good idea to find housing as close to those areas as possible.

For reference, I stayed off-campus and found the listing on the Off-Campus Housing Facebook group. My housing experience was as follows:

  • Budget: I rented a 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom with one friend, and we paid a total of $3145/month. This included internet and excluded gas/electricity, meals and laundry.
  • Location: I stayed on Southside (south of campus), near the Hillegass Ave/Derby St intersection. It was a 13-16min walk to my classes in Wurster Hall (architecture) and Barrows Hall (social sciences), as well as to the RSF (gym). Most people I knew also stayed on Southside, which means you can walk home together when it gets dark after evening classes or club activities.
Other Preparations
  • Complete course enrolment via CalCentral, during the enrolment period.
  • Submit health records to UC via eTang. Be sure to check early for any mandatory vaccinations you may be missing, as some vaccinations may have limited stock at clinics near you, or require multiple shots to be taken over a few weeks.
  • Complete Golden Bear Prep via CalCentral (see more information here).
  • Purchase SUTD Travel Insurance.
  • Register with MFA at least 3 days before travel date.
  • Update travel plans on MyPortal.
  • Have a safe flight!

Post-Arrival To-Do

Report arrival in the U.S.
Other Preparations
  • Get Cal 1 Card (ie. your student pass) & Class Pass (AC Transit Easy Pass Clipper Card, ie. your bus pass) after moving into dorm (or at orientation if staying off-campus).
  • Open a US bank account, if applicable. I chose to use Wise and did not open a US bank account.
  • Set up SIM/eSIM.
  • Pay miscellaneous fees on CalCentral.
  • Attend orientation (see: Golden Bear Orientation).

I hope this guide has provided you with a clear idea of your next steps to prepare for exchange at Berkeley. I hope you have a wonderful time at Berkeley!

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