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Some frequently asked questions that we believe might be helpful for incoming students and postdocs at Caltech.
Before coming to the US
- Keep a photocopy of all important documents at home.
- An Indian Driver's License is acceptable in California for driving purposes. Also, having an Indian Driving License will help you in availing most (though not all) of the places and offers where birth date proof is required and hence save you from carrying your passport every time.
- Do not forget to bring all the important medical, academic and professional documents in the US as they might be required for any of the health or academic formalities.
- Purchase a calling card. In order to call to your country, the cheapest option is to buy a calling card. You can buy a calling card from PhoneIndia (https://www.phoneindia.com/). After you buy it, you will get an account number which you will need to use any time you call India. Once you get here, you can use Google Voice or Google Hangouts from your Gmail account to call the local number provided for the calling card. For more information about the procedure, see https://www.phoneindia.com/. Other options are buying Skype credit, international calling plans from telecom companies in US (like Tmobile, AT&T, Verizon, etc.) (relatively expensive) or calling cards from telecom companies in India (like Reliance, Airtel, etc.).
Travel and Getting to Caltech
- A key issue during travel will be to communicate your travel status to your parents/pickup person. You can use coin operated phones (usually requires 25¢ or quarter dollar coins) at the airport, but you will need coins of the local currency to make a call. Alternatively, you can use free WiFi available in some airports to send an email. Remember that LAX airport has free WiFi and you should be able to use Google Voice/Google Hangouts/Viber/WhatsApp to contact once you reach here!
- If you'd like a ride to campus, please contact us in advance at firstname.lastname@example.org. We may be able to arrange a ride for you. Otherwise, the simplest option is to use the Super Shuttle which costs approximately $35 (super shuttle will not be reimbursed) which takes about an hour from the LAX airport to campus. Please book the supershuttle in advance to ensure availability.
Things about Caltech and nearby areas
- Weather in southern california is sunny most of the year with occasional winter rains. Temperature typically ranges from 10-30 C.
- There are numerous Indian restaurants in Old Town (downtown) Pasadena. The easiest accessible Indian grocery store is Bhanu's, located about 3 miles from Caltech and accessible by bus number 267 (the nearest bus stops close to campus for 267 are Del Mar/Wilson and Del Mar/Mentor). Another Indian Grocery Store is Punjab Indian Grocery Store located about 4.3 miles from campus.
- Lake Ave, located to the west of Caltech has several stores serving all your shopping needs. Grocery stores include Trader Joe's, Ralph's, Pavilions and Fresh&Easy. There are various department stores as well.
Things to do after arriving at Caltech
- Get in touch with OASIS (email@example.com) and arrange to meet with someone who will take you around campus and show you the ropes.
- Apply for SSN (Social Security Number). This is possible only if you have a job here which includes TA/RA. The procedure for applying is detailed here. Don't worry about the documents, you will have them all once you are here! The nearest social security office to campus is between Mentor/Colorado and Mentor/Union (http://socialsecurityhop.com/offices/social-security-office-pasadena-ca-91121-california).
- Apply for state ID card by visiting a licensing office. This is not mandatory but it is useful to have a state ID/CA Driver's License so that you don't have to carry your passport with you all the time when asked for proof of identification or proof of birth date as some places might not accept your native country ID like DL for birthdate proof. The University ID card does not suffice for this purpose as it does not have your birthdate on it.
- Attend various events organized by organizations OASIS and ISP. Such events are a good way to interact with more and more people and getting accustomed to the place.
Housing and Transportation
- Undergraduate and graduate students are guaranteed on campus housing for the first year at least, so housing is not an immediate concern when you arrive at Caltech.
- Postdocs can also get on campus housing subject to availability. Caltech Housing office also offers certain off campus housing opportunities. For other housing options, Craigslist and Places4Students are good resources. Also, sign up for the Caltech marketplace mailing list where former students/postdocs sell old furniture and also occasionally post listings for apartments/roommates etc. The Caltech postdoc association is also a good resource for incoming postdocs.
- It is possible (but not very easy) to travel around Pasadena and LA via public transport. Public transport consists of Pasadena ARTS buses, the LA Metro buses and the gold line metro serve the Pasadena area. The closest stops on the gold line are the Del Mar, Lake, Memorial Park and Filmore stations. Most places you may want to visit within Pasadena are bikeable. You can use Google Maps to check the route or the buses that you want to take to reach your destination.
- Zipcar is a short-term car rental service that offers discounts to Caltech students and employees. They have cars available at lots on campus.
- You can also use Uber which is a cheap taxi-like service good for distances which may not be walkable but are also not very far.
Campus safety notes
- The area around campus and Pasadena in general is pretty safe. If you want or need an escort at any time, Caltech Security will provide it.
How do I get a cellphone?
- Cellphone with a plan (kind of postpaid connections) require you to have a SSN number with credit history. Since, most of you would not have a SSN when you come to US, the option you have is to either go for a pre-paid or pay as you go kind of cellphone (which is a little on the expensive side) or to get a postpaid cellphone by paying some refundable deposit (which depends on the telecom service provider) from providers like AT&T, Tmobile and Verizon. All these providers have their stores close to campus. Make sure that you get some extra money if you plan to pay that deposit for the cellphone connection. It would be advisable to go for a family plan as they are a bit cheaper. Also, make sure that you check all the deals online before buying a cellphone or any cellphone plan. There are numerous student discounts available online and in shops which you don't want to miss.
How do I open a bank account?
- Opening a bank account here should not be a big problem. There are several banks used by the Caltech community with branches close to campus. Caltech federal credit union bank has an office on campus and offer good interest rates.