1. Traveling to Pittsburgh
1.1 Booking Tickets
1.2 Luggage
1.3 Packing
1.4 Clothing
1.5 Currency
1.6 Connecting Flights
2. On Arriving in Pittsburgh
2.1 At the Airport
2.2 Leaving the Airport
2.3 Settling In
3. Housing Guide
3.1 Popular Areas to Stay
3.2 Commuting to/from CMU
3.3 Looking for a House
3.4 Looking for Roommates
4. Temporary Accommodation
4.1 CMU Transistional Housing
4.2 IGSA Temporary Accomodation

Traveling to Pittsburgh

From Home

Booking Tickets – When to reach Pittsburgh

Try to land in Pittsburgh during the day so that you don’t have problems reaching your hosts/hotels. The buses from airport to CMU (bus number 28X-Airport Flyer) do not operate between 12:41am and 5:20am. So you might have to wait for long hours/take a cab to your destination (with extra night fare). Try landing on a weekday so that you can get your CMU ID as soon as possible. The CMU student ID gives you free access to all public transport in Pittsburgh, which is very useful in the first few days when you need to apartment hunt, go around shopping etc. You need CMU ID to open bank accounts, enter buildings and computer clusters at CMU after working hours and during weekends.

Luggage

Make sure you check the baggage allowance for ALL legs of your journey. Sometimes you may use multiple carriers and different airlines can have different allowances. Recently certain size restrictions have been enforced on suitcase sizes, and you will be charged if your bag is oversized. As long as you carry suitcases or bags which are of standard sizes, you need not worry about the exact dimensions. An inch or two more than the allowed dimensions is usually not an issue. If you are buying a suitcase, ask the shop keeper if the suitcase dimensions comply with US carrier specifications. In most cases, he/she will be able to tell you. Weight constraints should be strictly observed. Otherwise, you might have to take out stuff at the airport, or pay for the extra weight.

Since a lot of you would be traveling to US for the first time, company won't hurt! It will also be cheaper for you, if you share a taxi from the Airport to Campus (or wherever else in the city).

Packing

Carry an extra dress, all documents and any other thing that you cannot live without for 3-4 days in your cabin bag. It is possible that your luggage gets delayed (it might be coming on another flight!) and sometimes you may not get it while checking out. It is safely delivered to your home by most airlines, but you should be prepared to live a day or two without it. In case you luggage is misplaced, before you leave the airport contact the corresponding airlines counter at the airport. They will give you a receipt and you'll typically need to give them a way to contact you. You can use your temporary host's (in case you need temporary accommodation) contacts for this purpose. Do let your host know that he/she should expect a call from the airline about your luggage.

In general, a conventionally recommended list of items can be found at: IGSA - UIC . There are many items which you may or may not need. Use your own judgement! Special note: US also cultivates daal and rice!

For books, in case you know your text books in advance, you might want to buy them in India as some of them might be expensive here. But please don’t fill your luggage with books, you could use that real estate for more valuable items like Indian food! You can scout for some good deals online for textbooks once you get here.

On the Move

Clothing - Weather in Pittsburgh

The weather here is highly unpredictable. It should be quite pleasant when you arrive here in Fall, but you never know :). So bring an umbrella along, and keep it handy. Summers in Pittsburgh are pretty warm and sunny, like a typical Indian summer. And winters are very cold. Keep a sweater or light jacket handy. You can buy snow boots (if necessary) after you land at Pittsburgh. Having many layers of clothing on keeps you warmer than wearing just one thick layer of cloth. So plan your clothes accordingly. Plan to buy your winter coat and shoes in Pittsburgh, because they are tailored for harsher climate than what you might find in India.

Currency

Carry upto $300 (maximum) in cash and the remaining as Traveler's Cheques (carry at least $1500 in traveler's cheques). Carry change - about 10-15 $1 bills, about 5 dollars of 25cent coins and a few $20 bills are recommended. You will need them for miscellaneous things like phone calls from public phones, renting trolleys at airports, exact change to travel on the public buses.

Connecting Flights

Keep a gap of at least 4 hours between your port of entry flight and the next connecting flight to Pittsburgh. It takes about 2-3 hours for deplaning, immigration, luggage collection, check-in for the next flight, security check etc. If you miss a flight, it is the responsibility of the carrier that was late, to get you on the next flight and provide you a place to stay if you are required to wait overnight.

On Arriving in Pittsburgh

At the Airport

Documents*

You need to keep all your documents handy at your first port of entry into the US. This article is only meant to be a general guideline. For official documentation, please go through the website of the Office of International Education at CMU, and contact them if you have any queries.

Passport

The passport is the legal document issued by your country of citizenship. It must be kept valid at all times during your stay in the US and must be valid at least 6 months into the future to re-enter the US or apply for a visa. The passport can usually be renewed through your home country's Embassy or Consulate in the United States.

Certificate of Eligibility (I-20 or DS-2019)

The I-20 (for F-1 status) or DS-2019 (for J-1 status) is the document issued by your school or a sponsoring agency. It is specific to the institution and program of study you will attend in the US. It must be presented to the US Embassy or Consulate abroad to obtain an entry visa and to immigration officials to enter the US in student status. Extensions or updates may be made by contacting OIE or your sponsoring agency. After your initial entry, a travel signature less than 6 months old is required in order to re-enter the US in student status. Signatures can be obtained at OIE.

I-94 Arrival/Departure Record

The I-94 is the white card given to you when entering the US. It will be completed before passing US immigration officials upon entrance to the US. It will be stamped with your date and port of entry. Your immigration status and expiration date will also be noted on the card. For F-1 and J-1 students, the "expiration date" should be D/S, or duration of status, not an actual date. This means F-1 and J-1 students are permitted to remain in the US as long as they have a valid I-20 or DS-2019, are enrolled in the institution and academic program listed on the form, and have otherwise maintained their immigration status. Students who receive an I-94 card with an actual expiration date should contact OIE immediately. The number at the top of the I-94 card that you receive upon each entry, is called your Admission Number or I-94 Number.

Entry Visa

The US entry visa is a sticker on a page of your passport which permits you to enter the US. Students will have either an F-1 or a J-1 entry visa. The visa may expire while you are in the US. You cannot and need not renew it while you are here. A new entry visa will be required if the original expires and you travel outside and then wish to re-enter the US in legal student status.

*Source: Office of International Education at CMU.

Baggage Claim

Find your luggage in the baggage collection area. In case it has not arrived, find the baggage clerk and talk to him for further instructions. Trolleys to carry your luggage are available at the airport from an automatic machine. You need to pay $3 (exact change required i.e. 3 one dollar bills). You can use the trolley as long as you want in the airport and you will leave it at the airport when you take a bus or a cab. Using a trolley will make carrying your luggage around very convenient.

Leaving the Airport

Transportation

If you do not have a friend/relative picking you up from the airport, you’ll need to be aware of the public transportation options available to you.

Bus - 28X Airport Flyer

An inexpensive and convenient option is to take the 28X Airport Flyer from the airport to get to campus. To get to the bus stop, look around for Ground Transportation signs. It is a good idea to keep a copy of the 28X schedule when you leave home, you can access it here . The bus has sufficient space to keep your luggage and the luggage needs to be loaded on to the bus by you. Don't expect the driver to help. The fare is $3.25. You have to pay exact change (remember in the buses here, you don’t get back change). The last stop of the bus is CMU. You don't need to rush while boarding the bus or getting off. It’s ok to load/unload your bags one at a time and the bus drivers usually waits patiently - no one will run away with those 23 kg bags!

The stop till which the bus will take you is called 'Forbes at Morewood', and is right outside the CMU Health Services building. There is a small shelter to keep your stuff in case it is raining. There is one pay phone in Cyert Hall, right opposite the bus stop. (Make sure you wait for the ‘Walk’ signal to cross the road!) The payphone is next to a large vending machine, below the stair case. There are additional payphones in the University Center (UC), which is a large building across the Warner Hall (which is adjacent to Cyert hall).

In case you take a wrong bus and you are lost, please ask the bus driver. Do not get off the bus in a lonely place. Try to go reach a crowded place like Oakland or Downtown. NEVER ask any stranger for routes and do not indicate that you are lost.

Super Shuttle

Super Shuttle is a shared cab service that clubs several passengers together. The advantage of using Super Shuttle is that it is cheaper than a taxi and you get dropped at your/temporary accommodation's door step. They can be booked in advance, or at the counter in the airport. Typically the fare for the first passenger is $30, and $8 for every additional passenger to the same address.

Taxi Cabs

Yellow cabs are usually parked outside the arrival terminal. To get to the cab stand, look for signs directing you to “Ground Transportation”. In the unlikely event of there being no cabs, you can call a cab. One popular cab operator in Pittsburgh is “Yellow Cabs”. You can reach them by calling 412-321- 8100. Be sure to know your destination before you enter the cab. If you are unsure of your destination, direct the cab driver to the “CMU UC Turn Around, 5032 Forbes Avenue”. This place on campus has some rain shelter and it is easy wait here to meet people. A cab from the Airport to campus costs around $50 and can easily transport 2 people with luggage. You are expected to load your luggage into the cab yourself. A minimum tip of 15% is expected. Be sure to have change for the tip. Make sure the driver starts the meter when you start moving.

Getting "Home"

If you have a friend or relative in the city, inform them of your flight’s timings so that they will be ready for your arrival. Co-ordinate your meeting with them beforehand to avoid delays, confusion and frustration. If you will be staying as a temporary guest through IGSA, you MUST inform your host about your arrival while at the airport. At the airport you can find pay phones near the baggage collection area. Make sure you have change and contact numbers handy.

Some handy tips: If you do not have 25 cent (quarter) coins, we recommend that you buy a calling card at the airport after immigration. Calling cards are usually sold by a vending machine or in small shops at the airport. You can buy a $5-$10 calling card. The calling card will provide you with a toll free number with which you can use a public phone to make calls. Some vending machines may need exact change. You can also buy calling cards online before boarding your flight (while at home). Online calling cards in general are cheaper than the ones you buy at the airport. Calling cards can also be purchased from service providers such as Vodafone, Airtel and Reliance at home. They may be used in the same fashion as calling cards bought here. Additionally, they can be used to contact family back home from local payphones, toll-free.  This way you don’t have to stock up on coins.

If you have time, you can get 25 cent coins (quarters) from $1 bills by using any working vending machine (like coke machine etc.). Put $1 bill in it and press the coins button. Most machines will give you four 25 cents coins. Some may return the $1 bill. If so, try another machine!

Settling In

Of course you want to go out and explore the city with your new friends. But wait! There are a couple of VITAL things you must do before you start having fun.

Get your CMU ID

Get this first. Go to the Warner Hall building basement. Warner Hall is that building next to ‘Walk to the Sky’ sculpture (there is no way you will miss this). You can start using your CMU ID as a bus pass- with your CMU ID, all buses in Pittsburgh are FREE! Anyways, you need it almost everywhere - to swipe at building entrances, for a bank account, a cell phone etc. You need to carry the I-20 and Passport for first day.

Open a Bank Account

PNC bank is usually the preferred choice, although others such as Citizen’s Bank are available. PNC has a small extension office located at the basement of University Center. Again, you will need documents and CMU ID here. You will be able to get a debit card which is very convenient for most transactions, instead of having to carry cash everywhere.

Get a Cell Phone Connection

We don’t need to tell you why you’ll need a cell phone, do we? To get a connection, you will need proof of ID (eg passport). Here are some pointers:

  • You get prepaid cards from ATT and other service providers which you can take for the first few days till you figure out the best plan for you.
  • Since you won’t have a Social Security Number (SSN), you will need to pay a deposit to get a sim-card. There is a student discount so make sure you have your CMU ID with you.
  • You can either get an individual plan for $40/month or get a family/group plan where you and your friends can share minutes. The latter might just work out cheaper.
  • Common companies are AT&T, Verizon, T-mobile and Sprint.

Immigration Check in at OIE

You’ll need to check-in with the Office of International Education within the first week of classes in order to maintain legal status within the US. In all likelihood, you’ll do this during your international student orientation. If you miss your orientation, make sure you go to the OIE personally to do this. Don’t wait to get into trouble with the Immigration Services before you check-in.

Housing Guide

CMU does not provide the option of on-campus housing to graduate students, so you will have to rent a house outside of campus and commute to the campus every day. Unless you are well prepared, house hunting in an unfamiliar city can easily turn out to be a very stressful experience. Please read this guide carefully before you arrive in Pittsburgh to make it as smooth as possible.

Popular Areas near CMU

Most graduate students live within 2 miles of campus unless they have cars to travel, since the CMU shuttle and escort system cover regions within 1.5 miles to campus. Squirrel Hill and Shadyside are the most popular areas since they are near to and well connected to campus.

Squirrel Hill

Squirrel hill is located around a mile east of CMU. Most graduate students live on or off Wightman, Murray and Shady avenues. There are many PAT bus routes connecting the area to CMU and there are also CMU shuttle and escort routes that run in the evenings. Most Squirrel hill houses are town houses (the sloping roof bungalow type houses you usually see in movies). Each town house has 2 or 3 floors. Each floor is a separate entity and is usually rented out separately. Each floor consists of 1-3 bedrooms, a kitchen, living room, bathroom(s) etc. The houses are older as compared to Shadyside, but are more spacious. Apartments are also available, which may be slightly more expensive. The area has many restaurants, a public library, grocery store, movie theatre, etc.

Shadyside

Shadyside covers a large area to the north and east of CMU. Most graduate students live between Fifth and Center Avenues. There are multiple CMU shuttle routes connecting Shadyside to the main campus through the day, and PAT bus routes which can bring you to within a block of CMU. Shadyside mainly consists of apartment complexes with 4 or more floors, and many units on each floor. The construction is new as compared to Squirrel Hill, but the rents are slightly higher too.

Other Areas

These include: Bloomfield, Greenfield, Friendship, East Liberty, Braddock & Point Breeze. Most of these areas are beyond the reach of the CMU shuttle & escort system, and hence not as popular with graduate students who do not own cars. However, they are well connected to campus by PAT buses and rents in these areas run generally much lower than Shadyside / Squirrel hill. However, some of these areas are not particularly safe, especially at night. If you are planning to live in these areas, make sure you do some background research or contact senior graduate students about it.

A map of CMU and its surroundings marked out is given here.

Commuting to/from CMU

Most graduate students commute by the CMU shuttle/escort system and the Pittsburgh port authority (PAT) bus system. Both these commuting options are free to CMU students. The CMU shuttles follow fixed routes and run through the day in Shadyside and evenings in Squirrel hill at regular times. They are generally convenient and dependable. CMU escorts are pretty convenient to travel at late night, run from 6 -30 pm till 6:00 am, and will drop you at any road intersection within 1.5 miles of campus. For more details on the CMU shuttle & escort routes, timings, etc., go here. The Pittsburgh Port Authority (PAT) bus system is an excellent and free mode of transportation for students. The buses run from around 5AM through 1AM, and can get you almost anywhere in and around Pittsburgh. Buses are usually not very crowded (except at peak hours on some routes), and quite safe. For more information on the bus system, go here.

Looking for a house

You will most likely use Craigslist and the CMU Community Housing website to find a house for yourself. There is a nice house listing aggregator called Padmapper which can be useful too. Quite often, just by walking down the streets of Shadyside and Squirrel hill, you can find “For Rent” signs in front of houses / buildings. Another good way to secure a house is to contact current students who may be moving out around the same time that you will be moving in (this method also has the advantage that you can get to know the house before moving in yourself).

When to look for a house

Last minute house hunting is a very bad idea. Keep in mind that in most cases you will be required to sign a year-long lease, so it’s important to find a good house, you can’t just move in a couple of months if you don’t like it.
In general, the Fall semester orientation is around the 15th of Aug. However, most of the apartments become available by 1st Aug, and the best apartments are taken soon after. We recommend arriving early by 4th week of July to grab the right deal for the right place. Other than housing there isn’t much to do, besides maybe get a phone connection and look around the city. So generally it’s a good idea to come at least 4-5 days before orientation. Also, it’s good if you come during the first week of the month because that way when you move into a house you can use it for that full month (usually you are required to pay the rent for the whole month).
If you have the option to finalize an apartment before coming to US, by asking a friend/senior who is already here to go take a look at it, it might make your first week in the US much less stressful. If you look for houses online, properly, you will be able to move into a place within 3-4 days after you reach Pittsburgh.

How to look for a house

The number one rule in looking for a house is: don’t be too picky. There is no limit on the number of parameters you can optimize. The main idea should be finding a house and finding it quickly. Typically you should look at the online resources given above to shortlist 3-4 apartments. It is recommended that you speak to the contact person about these places by calling them from India. (Time here is ~10hrs behind Indian Standard time) Make sure the place is still available and clarify issues like electricity, heating bills, Internet, furniture etc. Keep your queries brief on the phone. If you have decided your roommates, consult them and make sure you all agree. All houses come with a fridge, stove etc. But generally you have to purchase your own Internet connection and buy furniture (bed, sofa, table etc). Try and look for a place with laundry facilities within the building or pretty close by. Walking to the nearest Laundromat with a basket full of clothes in winter isn’t the easiest thing.
When you reach Pittsburgh, spend your first evening figuring out things like local grocery stores, how to get to CMU, what are the common student neighborhoods, etc. at your temporary accommodation (if you opted for it). The very next day, call the contact person for the houses in your list and fix appointments to see the house. Try to keep the appointments at least an hour apart if they are in the same neighborhood, and at least 1.5 hours apart, if you have to go between Squirrel Hill and Shadyside. Be present at each location on time, since people here are very punctual! Evaluate the pros and cons and decide on one as soon as you have seen all houses in your list. As you will be moving around, you will see a lot of for rent boards etc. If you want, you could look at a few of these houses too, but generally it requires a lot of time to do so. Be on the lookout for people who are graduating. They've been through this whole process and have been here for a while. Therefore the house they are living in will probably be better than one you can find in 2 days!
Ideally, it is possible to book a house even before you come here. However, unless you are really impressed by the pictures, you might want to look at the house once before you decide to move in (because the lease is typically for a year, and breaking the lease is a very costly affair).
While looking for a house, keep in mind your size requirement based on your roommates situation. Typically, 2 graduate students share a 1 bedroom house, 3 graduate students share a 2 bedroom house. Also, try to get feedback from current students about the different landlords & realty management companies, and avoid those which have bad reviews. Try to avoid basement apartments.
Each person should expect to pay around $350 - $400 per month (Usually). This estimate does not include your electricity and gas bill. Some apartments might include electricity and heating, and therefore the rent might be a little more. Electricity is usually a small amount around $30/month. While enquiring about house make sure who pays the heat. Heat costs less than $80/month normally, however, in peak winter it may go up to $400 p.m. (for 2 BHK or town house). In general, avoid large and old houses -they give you a high heating bill. Please note that these are conservative figures, it not uncommon to find people paying up to 650$/person/month rent.

A reference list of landlords can be found here.

Finding Roommates

Make sure you contact fellow incoming graduate students or current graduate students early and decide on roommates. By the time you come here, you will find that most other students have already decided on roommates, making your search tougher. You could join a group on a social networking website such as facebook to find other incoming graduate students.
Most graduate students live in groups of 2-4 students per house. Make agreements with people you will be staying with, for at least a year. Get to know your potential roommate(s) well; you should generally try to match your roommates to your temperament. Also, lifestyle choices can play an important role: find out whether they belong to the category of nocturnal or diurnal species, nature of work-schedule/ workload e.g. some PhD students’ advisors might want them to have a 9am-5pm job-like schedule and early morning one-to-one meetings whereas for masters students, it could be sleepless nights completing assignments.

In order to make your search a little more organized, we have prepared a simple "house-hunting checklist" that you might find useful.

Temporary Accomodation Guide

CMU Transitional Housing

CMU provides temporary accommodation in their dorms for incoming graduate students at a nominal price. Space is limited and hence requires a reservation. For more information regardins CMU's transitional housing facilities, please visit Summer Housing and Conference Accommodations .

Hotels Around CMU

In case you are travelling with family or a large non-CMU group, you might want to consider looking for hotel accommodation. Here is a list of hotels in and around the CMU campus.

IGSA Temporary Accommodation

Every year, IGSA makes an attempt to provide temporary accommodation to the new, incoming students. IGSA heavily depends on the goodwill of current graduate students to host the incoming students. With each passing year, the number of students coming in has been increasing, and not every existing graduate student will be willing or will be in a position to host someone. Therefore, it is not possible for us to provide accommodation to each and everyone. So prospective students are strongly encouraged to find a host through their own network of friends and relatives in Pittsburgh. They are also expected to check summer translational housing option and the sublet form before they approach IGSA for temporary accommodation. Note that temporary accommodation is for the first few days of your stay and is for a maximum of 3 days.

Contact us only if you have no other option for accommodation. We will try our best to arrange something for you. No guarantee. If you have another option of temporary accommodation, we suggest you use that, so that we can direct our resources to students who do not have other options.

Do NOT use IGSA temporary accommodation as a backup! It causes great inconvenience to the host, who could have potentially put in a lot of efforts and altered his schedules to accommodate you. Moreover, it blocks resources, which could have been allotted to other incoming students. Please act responsibly. Your cooperation in this regard is appreciated.

How Temp-Acco Works

The process for Fall starts sometime in July, when incoming students, with no other option of accommodation, are required to fill a form. The relevant information is posted on the IGSA website at that time. Temporary Accommodation is a community effort led by IGSA at CMU. Current students come forward to accommodate new students for a maximum of 3 days so that it aids new students in finding their permanent accommodation. The current- students sign up on a voluntary basis and are not forced to accommodate new students. It's a gesture of goodwill on their part, which is many times driven by the fact that they too used temporary accommodation when they arrived at CMU. The role of IGSA here is to create the channel for communication and ensure everything moves smoothly.

If an allotment is made, an emergency contact is established for the guest (new incoming student), and the details are sent in the allotment email. In case guest runs into problems during travel, he/she should first try to contact the host. If for some reason they are unable to contact the host, only then the guest is expected to contact the emergency contact.

In rare cases, the landlord of the student willing to accommodate a new student needs the guests to pay rent on a per night basis. We usually avoid such cases. But if it really comes down to it, we'll check with the student who is being offered the temporary accommodation to see if he is willing to pay the nightly rent. We must clarify that in this case the money goes to the landlord and not to IGSA or the student who is accommodating you.

We do not charge for Temporary Accommodation. Again, it’s done out of goodwill and not for monetary benefit. However, we suggest new students who stay with someone on arrival, to pay back the person they stayed with, in kind e.g. take him/her out for dinner when you can, and pay it forward to IGSA by hosting students in future.

Guidelines for Students

Though it might sound obvious, from past experiences, we at IGSA feel it necessary to make the following points explicit:

  • Food and other expenses are your own concern. The host is not expected to bear the food and other daily expenses of their guests. He/She is expected to provide only shelter for a maximum of 3 days.
  • Ask your host what to answer the landlord in case the landlord visits while the host is not around.
  • Try to be neat and tidy in whatever you do, especially cleaning the utensils, if you cook something.
  • Whoever has offered to be your host has done it out of goodwill, please don’t take your host for granted.
  • Respect your host's privacy and do not browse through their/their housemates belongings.
  • Make sure your activities do not disrupt their daily schedules and privacy. If you have any concerns about the food being cooked (veg./non-veg.) please make them explicit before arrival. We try our best to accommodate you with a host who has the same dietary preferences.
  • Buy a phone as soon as you come here. Use your own phone or calling cards to make calls.
  • Note the word temporary in temporary accommodation. Find your permanent housing and move in as soon as possible (less than 3 days). If you follow the guidelines in the Housing section, it should not take much time.

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