Tips for Settling In

SJSU Tower Card

Each SJSU student is required to carry a student identification card which is known as a Tower Card.

You are required to use this card as student identification to obtain services on campus, such as at the Library, Event Center, Santa Clara County Valley Transit (VTA buses & light rail), Health Center, Student Services Center, Career Center, as well as to obtain parking permits. For more information, go to SJSU Tower Card.


Checking Accounts

A checking account at a bank is essential in the U.S. It is convenient and practical to write a check or use your ATM/debit card instead of paying cash when you do business. Many business transactions require payment by checks or debit/credit card. You may open a checking account at almost any bank in the San José area. Sometimes a small monthly charge and/or a minimum balance is required for a checking account. Do some research ahead of time in order to know what fees are charged and the amount of the minimum balances required to maintain your account. You should establish an account as soon as possible so that you may have easy access to your money for initial expenses in the U.S.

Savings Accounts

You may also wish to open a savings account if you have large amounts of money. A savings account allows you to save and earn interest on your money. There are several types of savings accounts, and you can research on your own which account best fits your financial needs.


If you have a checking or savings account, you may request an Automatic Teller Machine (ATM)/Debit card. This card will enable you to make deposits or withdrawals at banking machines located outside banks and at other locations. There are several ATM machines on campus at SJSU. Take precautions when using an ATM late at night.

Credit Cards

Credit cards (MasterCard, Visa, and American Express) are also available through banks or can be ordered separately. These cards are used to purchase items or services. At the end of every month, you will be billed for your monthly charges. You may pay the entire bill or only a portion. If you pay only a portion of the bill, an interest charge will be added to the remaining balance. Beware! Credit card companies charge high interest on unpaid balances and this can be very expensive! Try to pay-off in full your charges each month.


California Driver’s License

You need to get a California driver’s license if you wish to drive regularly. You do not need a social security card to obtain a driver’s license.

A driver’s license is also useful for identification when you cash a check or buy alcohol (in California you must be 21 years of age to buy alcohol).

If you have an international driver’s license, or a driver’s license from your country, you still need a California driver’s license if you want to drive. To obtain a license you will need to successfully pass a written traffic law test and a driving test.

If you have a valid license from another state, you will still need to get a California driver’s license. However, you will only need to take the written law test. You will not have to take the driving test. You can obtain more information at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

In San José:
Address: 111 West Alma Avenue, between Almaden Expressway and South 1st Street
Telephone #: (408) 341-1350, to obtain general information or appointment

It is best to make an appointment online with the DMV. If you don’t have an appointment, go early in the morning or plan for a long wait in line. ISSS recommends that you go to the 111 West Alma Avenue DMV Office as the staff there is more familiar with international students.

Steps to apply for a driver’s license:

  1. You do not need a Social Security number in order to apply for a California driver’s license.
  2. Before you apply for a California driver’s license: pick up a Driver’s Handbook from the DMV office. This handbook covers all the California traffic laws that will be covered on the driving test. The Driver’s Handbook is available in different languages. Study the handbook! You will probably not pass the test if you do not study.
  3. Make your appointment for the written test, or go on a day when you have time to wait in line.
  4. Bring with you the following documents on the day of your test:
    • Your passport, I-94 and I-20
    • A check payable to the DMV (check with DMV for fees)
    • Your driver’s license from your country or another state (if you have one)
  5. Take the written traffic law test. If you pass the test, you will take the eye test there. If you are required to take the driving test, you will also receive a permit that allows you to practice driving to prepare for the driving test.
  6. Make an appointment to take the driving test.
  7. When you take the driving test, take a car to the test. A driver’s license examiner will be in the car with you during the test.

If you do not know how to drive and want to learn, you can find local driving schools online.

California Identification Card

A California identification card can also be obtained at the DMV office. You must bring your passport, I-94 card, and your I-20 with you when applying. This is a useful identification if you do not drive.