Living Essentials

Everything you need to simplify daily life at Duke.

You will find it almost essential to have a bank account in the USA, unless you are here for a short period of time. We (USA Americans) use debit cards for almost all our purchases these days. We usually carry very little cash on us.

Opening an account
All you need to open a bank account is your passport, a U.S. address and some money to deposit. The bank will ask for your social security number (SSN) but you DO NOT NEED this number to open a bank account. If you are eligible for a SSN, just tell the bank you will give the number to them after you receive it. If you are not eligible for an SSN, that is fine. If you open up an interest-bearing savings account, you are eligible to apply for an Individual Tax Payer Identification Number (ITIN)

Wiring Money
If you want funds transferred electronically from your home to your bank here in the United States, you will need (1) the name of your bank, (2) your bank account number, and (3) your bank's routing number. Each bank charges for wiring funds in and out of the country. Contact the individual banks for fees.

Fact Sheets

The information sheets below contain detailed description of how to access the resources and utilize them.

  • Cell Phones: Introduction of where and how to buy cell phones or SIM cards. You can get a cell phone immediately and without a social security number. 
  • Buying or Repairing a Computer: Where to get a new or used computer and where to repair them.

The Triangle area (Durham-Chapel Hill-Raleigh) is a great place to raise children. There are lots of family friendly things to do as well as many parks and green areas. Good Resources to check out include: Carolina ParentDurham Parks & Recreation and Chapel Hill Parks & Recreation. That said, one really must have a car if you are coming here with children. For more information on how to go about purchasing a second-hand car, take a look at

Purchasing a Pre-Owned Car or go to our Transportation section.

Fact Sheets

Adjusting to a new culture while maintaining your own can be difficult. DISC offers a variety of resources to help you successfully navigate the cultural maze.

Fact Sheets & Resources

  • Departure Checklist: List of things "to do" prior to your departure from Duke.
  • Donations: List of groups that accept donations of clothing, books, furniture, and other items.
  • Shipping & Storage: Companies which ship items overseas, where and how to store your stuff during breaks and recommended way to ship your books overseas.

Durham boasts some of North Carolina's most notable chefs and restaurants. Nearly 500 restaurants can be found in Durham, with food ranging from North Carolina barbecue (traditionally pulled pork) to fresh seafood. There are many diverse restaurants in Durham with a variety of cuisines. Check out or subscribe to Bites of Bull City.

Restaurants Close to Campus. There are some fun neighborhoods within walking distance to West and East Campuses. The non-profit, Downtown Durham, is a wonderful resource for eateries walking distance to campus, coffee shops and much more.

Tips on Tipping. In the United States a “tip” is NOT included in restaurant bills, haircuts, taxi rides or other services provided. Take a look at this Consumer Reports information to learn more about tipping in the United States.

If you are a student looking to work on campus, there are a number of student worker jobs on the Duke campus. However, you must find a job that does not require Work-Study. Exception to this is if you have been granted Duke University aid. As an international student you can work 19.9 hours maximum per week during the academic year.

If you are an international spouse on a J-2 visa and have been granted work permission, go to the spouses tab for some general tips on the job search. If you are on the F-2 visa there are many opportunities in the community to volunteer. Contact Duke International Student Center for more information about volunteering.

Finding Jobs on Campus — We developed this handout for the many students who asked us how to find a job on campus.  — Best place to look for non-work study jobs on campus

How to Obtain a Social Security Number (SSN) during COVID-19 Closings and Restrictions 

Whether you are here on an F or J visa, you must have a job offer before you can apply and then apply within 30 days of your start date.

If you have already begun working or are within 30 days of starting a job, please send the following information/documents and IHouse staff will forward your documents to a Social Security Administration agent. Once it is determined that you qualify for an SSN and your documents are sufficient, they will be required to attend an in-person appointment at the Social Security Agency at 3511 Shannon Road Suite 200, Durham, 27707. 

If you meet the above criteria, please submit the following to

  • Your phone number 
  • Copy of your Passport page - with your age, the expiration date of passport, etc 
  • Copy of the VISA in your Passport 
  • I-20 or DS2019 
  • I-94
  • Memorandum from the Duke Visa Office (also signed by your hiring department) 

Tax Payer Identification Number (otherwise known as ITIN).

The best place to take English Language Classes is at Durham Technical Community College. Durham Tech offers classes at no charge in both Durham and Chapel Hill during the day and in the evenings. You must attend the mandatory registration session in order to be enrolled for classes that semester. DTCC also offers more academic English classes for a fee. Note: Durham Tech does not provide childcare.

ESL Resources.  — This handout includes information about where you can study and/or practice English language in the area.

Private Tutor List.  — Hiring a Private English Language Tutor may be a better option given your circumstances. Here is a list of local tutors and editors.

Finding an Optometrist. — If you need to find an eye doctor and/or get contact lens or glasses.

Finding a Dentist.  — There is a dental clinic at the Student Wellness Center that is open to all at Duke. However you can also go to a dentist in the community.

Finding a Doctor for Non-Students.  —mIf you are a Duke student, you can go to the Duke Student Health Center for medical treatment. This information is for everyone who is not a Duke student and needs to find a doctor or clinic.

Duke International Student Center at Duke is actually an office and not a place to live.

Housing on campus is primarily for Duke Undergraduate Students. All graduate and professional students as well as visiting scholars need to find off-campus housing.

When you think about looking for a place to live, questions to consider include...

  • How much can I afford to spend on rent?
  • Don't forget that you will have to pay a deposit and the first month’s rent. Typically management companies and landlords will ask for a deposit equivalent to a month’s rent. This incentivizes tenants to take good care of the property. If you damage the property or don’t properly clean up before leaving, some of your deposit will be withheld. One note about foreign nationals renting, some management companies may require that you find a guarantor or pay two months’ rent as a deposit to make up for the lack of a SSN (social security number) thus credit history. A guarantor is typically a family member or close friend who lives in the US and can sign the lease agreement promising to pay your monthly rent if you do not. The guarantor will have to have an SSN and good credit to qualify.
  • Do I want to share an apartment or house or do I want to live by myself?
  • Do I need to live within walking distance to campus or will I be driving to campus?*     
  • Do I want to purchase my own furniture?**

*If you don't have a car, then we STRONGLY urge you to find a place to live within the Duke Vans zone. However, you may choose to take public transportation to and from campus, check out this useful map for locating apartments near city bus stops.

**The majority of apartments in the U.S. are equipped with major appliances (stove/over, refrigerator, etc.). However, unless stated otherwise rentals to not come with any furniture. It is very easy to obtain furniture (new or second-hand). You can do it! Many people order items online and have it delivered straight to their apartment/house. Take a look at our shopping resources to see where you can purchase second-hand furniture, rent a small truck if you need to transport your furniture, as well as where to rent furniture.

If you need assistance with finding a suitable place to live, email


Finding Housing 

Fact Sheets

Price Lists Fact Sheets

Resources for finding a place to live include:

In case of emergency, dial 911 immediately

Duke University strives to be a safe place for students to learn, grow, and enjoy their college experience. Security is a shared responsibility and students, faculty, and staff are all valuable partners with Campus Security to help to maintain a safe campus community for all. If you are living off campus and within the Duke Vans zone, we suggest putting the Duke RideCell App on your phone.

Safety Tips from DISC

Duke Police Safety Information

Do not hesitate to contact Duke International Student Center  with any questions and/or concerns you have. No question is too small or too silly.

Fact Sheets

All international students, scholars and their family members who stayed in the U.S. for one day or more in 2021 must file Form 8843 individually and send it to Department of Treasury, Internal Revenue Service Center, Austin, TX 73301-0215 by April 18, 2022. This is true even if you did not have any income in 2021. In February 2022, you can find instructions and the latest form 8843 on the International House website.

Additional requirements for those who earned income in the U.S. during 2021? 

If you had any U.S. based income in 2021, you will need to file for a federal tax return and a state tax return by April 18, 2022. Your tax status will determine the correct tax forms to file. Your tax status is determined by your visa type and the amount of time that you have been in the U.S.

To determine your tax status, check out the IRS website: 

Resident Alien or Nonresident Alien                                                                            

Determining your tax filing status 

  1. Were you and any family members in the U.S. for any part of 2021?
    1. If yes, you will need to file tax forms.  All international students, scholars, and their family members who stayed in the U.S. for one day or more in 2021 must file Form 8843 (one form per family member) and send it to the Department of Treasury, Internal Revenue Service Center, Austin, TX 73301-0215. This is true even if you did not have any income in 2021.
  2. Did you earn or receive money in the U.S. in 2021?
    1. If you had any U.S. based income (including scholarships, awards, or other compensation) in 2021, you will need to file a federal tax return and a state tax return by April 18, 2022.  If you did earn or receive money, you should have one or more of the following forms (the definition of each of these forms is below). 
    2. W2 
    3. 1042S 
    4. 1099 Misc. 
  3. Are you a non-resident alien (NRA) or resident alien (RA) for tax purposes?  
    1. Prior to filing your taxes, you need to determine your residency for tax purposes:
      1. F or J Student (and OPT) If you are in the U.S. in an F or J student status, you are exempt from the ‘substantial presence’ test for five calendar years. That means if you have been in the U.S. for less than 5 years, you are considered a nonresident alien (NRA) for tax purposes.  Here beyond five years, you are likely to be considered a resident alien (RA) for tax purposes and can file form 1040 like a U.S. citizen. 
      2. J Scholar or Researcher If you are in the U.S. in a J scholar status, you are exempt from the ‘substantial presence’ test for two calendar years. That means if you have been in the U.S. for less than 2 years, you are considered a nonresident alien (NRA) for tax purposes. Beyond two years, you are likely to be considered a resident alien (RA) for tax purposes and can file form 1040 like a U.S. citizen. 
  • H, TN, or O Status If you are in the U.S. in an H, TN, or O status, you must use the ‘substantial presence’ test to determine whether you are considered a Resident Alien or Non-Resident Alien for tax purposes. 
  1. Still not sure if you are an RA or NRA?
    1. Check out the IRS website to determine whether you are a resident alien or non-resident alien for tax purposes:


Definition of Terms and Tax forms 

  •   Complete tax forms and mail them to the IRS.
  • W2. Tax form shows the amount of taxes withheld from your paycheck for the year and is used to file your federal and state taxes. You can find this on Duke@work if you worked at Duke, or directly from the company you worked for. 
  • 1042-S. Foreign person’s U.S. source income (scholarships, fellowships) subject to withholding (taxes). You usually obtain this form from your payroll department or it is mailed to your home. If you need a copy, reach out to your department contact or for assistance. 
  • 1099 Misc. The IRS requires any person or company that makes certain types of payments to report them on a 1099-MISC to the recipient and the IRS. This informational form covers a wide range of payments you receive, such as rent, royalties, prizes and awards and substitute payments in lieu of dividends. However, the most common use of the form is to report your earnings when you work as an independent contractor, such as a freelance writer. 
  • 1040-NR. Federal Tax form you prepare and file if you are a nonresident alien for tax purposes and you have any form of U.S. income. 
  • 1040. Federal Tax form you prepare and file if you are a resident alien for tax purposes with or without dependents or a qualifying relative and you have any form of U.S. income 
  • NC Form D-NC State Tax form you are required to prepare and file if you have any form of U.S. income. 
  • 8843. All F-1/J-1 foreign nationals (and their F-2/J-2 dependents) who are non-residents for tax purposes are required to file Form 8843 (Statement for Exempt Individuals and Individuals with a Medical Condition) This is the case whether or not you received income or are filing a separate tax return. Residents for tax purposes are NOT required to file IRS Form8843. 

Local Tax Professionals

Margaret Hung

H&R Block

5322 NC Hwy 55, Suite 103

Phone 919.294.8598


Paul Scheible, CPA, PLLC

3400 Croasdaile Drive, Suite 203

Durham, NC 27705

Phone 919.382.2507


Learn More

Although your Duke Card serves as a Student ID in the United States, some students also want to obtain the International Student Identity Card otherwise known as ISIC. One may obtain the card by going to the ISIC website, The cost is $25.

There are a few bus and train options to visit other U.S. cities.

  • Greyhound — Depart from Durham Bus Station (515 W. Pettigrew Street)
  • MegaBus — 4 trips daily to Atlanta, Washington DC, Richmond, New York, Charlotte, and other locations. Depart from Durham Bus Station (515 W. Pettigrew Street)
  • GoToBus — Durham to NYC: $55 and up each way
  • Trains
    Durham Train Station
    601 W Main St, Suite 103
    Durham 27701

Duke Visa Services deals with visa & related legal services. Duke International Student Center does not do VISA work.