8 rules for a year abroad in the USA

School exchange, study, internship, or au pair: a year abroad in the USA can look very different depending on the stage of life. However, the following applies to all experiences abroad: preparation is everything! With our 10 rules, your time in the USA will be a success!

1. Turn to the professionals

When searching for a suitable study abroad program, the perfect US university, or an au pair host family, you must find your way through a jungle of information and offers.

The first step is to get an overview. Which agencies are reputable? Who is reliable and successful in placing students, interns, or au pairs in the USA? Who offers the best local support, and how much does it cost?

The independent education consulting service weltweiser has dealt with all these questions and provides comparisons for all types of stays abroad in the USA.

High school in the USA with scholarship

Top 5 providers for a student exchange in the USA

  • AFS Intercultural Encounters e.V.
  • Partnership International
  • YFU - Youth For Understanding
  • Experiment e.V.
  • Rotary International Youth Exchange

Top 5 language travel agents in USA

  • International Experience e.V.
  • EF Education First
  • Do it! Language travel
  • ESL
  • ASSE International

Top 5 providers for au pair experiences in the USA

  • AuPairCare
  • Cultural Care Au Pair
  • Go Au Pair
  • InterExchange
  • AIFS (American Institute For Foreign Study)

Top 5 providers for vacation programs in the USA

  • EF Education First
  • SPI Study Abroad
  • Greenheart Travel
  • Partnership International
  • iE - International Education

Top 5 universities for a semester abroad in the USA

Top 5 Internship Exchanges for the USA

  • Internships.com
  • Indeed.com
  • Glassdoor.com
  • WayUp.com
  • CareerBuilder.com

2. Familiarize yourself with the requirements

It is essential that before you apply for a year abroad in the US, you familiarize yourself with all the requirements and procedures that your organization, university, or host family will ask of applicants. Be sure to clarify the following questions:

  1. Am I in the right age group?
  2. Do I have the required previous education or academic achievements?
  3. Does the period of the program fit my plans?
  4. What applications do I need to fill out?
  5. What documents do I need to get?
  6. Who will take care of my visa to enter the USA?
  7. Who will take care of my health insurance in the USA?
  8. What are the labor laws, working hours, and wages?
  9. What equipment do I need (e.g., a uniform)?
  10. Do I need a separate work permit for the USA?

Some organizations require applicants for a year abroad in the USA to take an English test. But don't worry: If your language skills are insufficient, you can easily prepare yourself with practical learning apps.

3. Organize your paperwork

Before you apply for your year abroad in the US, make sure you have all the necessary paperwork together and up to date. Remember the following things:

  • Renew your passport if necessary.
  • Collect all relevant certificates and have them translated.
  • Get letters of recommendation (e.g., from teachers or former bosses).
  • Prepare a letter of motivation.
  • Take care of your visa (if not done by your exchange organization or agency).

Depending on the nature of your year abroad in the US, health certificates or a police clearance certificate may also be necessary. Make backup copies of all documents so that you always have access to them in an emergency.

Study in the USA

4. Get financial support

Before you go on an exchange, high school year, or study abroad program in the USA, you can apply for scholarships to help pay for part of your stay.

Here are some examples of popular USA scholarships:

Fulbright scholarships for the USA

The Fulbright Commission is among the best-known organizations for international educational exchange programs. It awards scholarships annually - among others for students.

The American Dream scholarships from Partnership International

The American Dream scholarships for a high school year in the USA are awarded each year to three students between the ages of 15 and 17. Total value: € 15,000.

DAAD Scholarships

The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) offers scholarships for people who want to study in the USA.

Scholarships of the German National Academic Foundation

The German National Academic Foundation awards scholarships for students of all disciplines. There are also special scholarship programs for stays abroad, including the USA.

American Association of University Women

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) awards scholarships to women who wish to study in the United States. There are also special scholarship programs here for female doctoral and postdoctoral students.

Besides a possible scholarship, planning your budget for your time in the US is also very important. Here are your "To Dos":

  1. List expected expenses and stick as closely as possible to your budget.
  2. Consider opening a US bank account to avoid additional fees for using your international bank account.
  3. Find out if and how you are allowed to work part-time during your time in the USA (this also depends on your visa category, for example).

5. Be sociable

Your American dream depends on the people you meet along the way. That's why you should be outgoing, open-minded, and curious - even before you arrive.

Take the time to call or chat with your host family. Introduce yourself to agency supervisors and future roommates. Look for groups in your future neighborhood to get involved with. Join a sports team.

These are just a few ideas to help you quickly become part of the American community. The most important thing is to embrace American culture. Don’t be afraid to dive in!

6. Keep in touch with family and friends

Despite all the euphoria about your new life in the US, you should keep in regular contact with your family and friends back home because, during a year abroad, you may also feel homesick.

Phone, write, or chat with your loved ones and make plans together for the time of your return. If you feel homesick, it can also help to write letters and send them home.

And why don't you just let them visit you? Show your loved ones how they can apply for ESTA. With electronic travel authorization, they can quickly and inexpensively come to the US visa-free for up to 90 days to join you for a bit.

7. Set priorities!

With typical American hospitality, you'll soon find yourself integrated into your new hometown and enjoying your new friends. But while you're having a great time in the land of your dreams, remember why you came to the USA in the first place.

If you are studying or attending high school in the US, always keep up with your study schedule. If you are doing an au pair year or internship in the US, be a reliable employee. Your current host family or company can be important to you in the future and help you with many things, for example, if you ever want to emigrate to the USA.

Prioritize your academic or professional commitments and enjoy your free time only after you have completed your daily tasks. This is the opportunity of a lifetime! Your year abroad will lay the foundation for your successful future!

8. Prepare for cultural differences

If you've been watching US movies and TV shows since you were a kid, you might think you know Americans well. But this is an illusion! The reality of everyday life is that you may encounter a faux pas or two.

If you want to minimize the number of awkward moments as you settle in, check out some articles or videos about typical cultural differences. We've collected some of the most common idiosyncrasies for you:


Tipping is an essential custom in the United States, especially in the service industry. In restaurants, hotels, and with tour guides, you should plan for generous tips, at least 15 % and ideally 20 %.

Smoking and drinking

Alcohol and smoking laws in the United States are strict, and public consumption is prohibited in most places.


Dating rules in the United States can be a real culture shock. Discreetly get an overview before you meet someone for the first time in the US for a date:

Traffic controls

Police officers in the United States can be stricter than in other countries, so you must follow all state traffic laws and regulations and behave correctly in the event of a traffic stop:

  • Do not leave the car until the officer tells you to.
  • Keep your hands on the steering wheel.
  • Turn off the engine and turn on the interior lights.
  • Open the window completely.
  • After stopping, wait for the officer to approach the car window.

Eating out

To avoid committing a faux pas in American restaurants, here are some rules you should follow:

  • Reserve a table in advance.
  • Upon arrival, wait in the reception area until you are assigned a table.
  • When it comes to fast food like burgers, fries, and pizza, people in the US usually eat with their hands.


In most parts of the United States, people value openness, friendliness, and respectful communication. Do not interrupt others when they are speaking. Show respect and tolerance for differences and idiosyncrasies, and avoid know-it-alls and overly critical conversations about money, politics, or sexuality.

Your new life in the USA

Before starting your year abroad in the US, try to get your expectations and beliefs to a realistic level. Find out about the healthcare system, the education system, the job market, the political system, and the preferences of the people in your new residence.

And once you land in the USA, enjoy this unique experience 100%! The USA is a great country full of breathtaking national parks, spectacular sporting events, culinary highlights, great places to visit, and fun things to do! We wish you a great year abroad!

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