Banking, mobile plans, and other FAQs
By Prasanth Prahladan
This FAQ focuses on my experience as an international student, arriving at CU and the help I received from the current-students at that time.
Key areas of focus include
- Arriving in Boulder - Travel/Pickup/Coordinating with other students
- Temporary Stay until finding a House
- Mobile Phone Service - Acquiring a new SIM
Coordinating Arrival in Boulder:
We can prepare a list of current-students volunteers to pick up groups of incoming students from the DIA Airport, and welcome them to the university.
The earlier the students communicate with their peers, the easier it becomes for them to make friends and socialize with the students from different countries. Social-dynamics usually leads to formation of cliques within the first 2-3 weeks of arrival. It becomes harder for some students to find friends, if they haven’t had the opportunity to interact, meet new people in the first few days of their arrival.
The group-based meet-and-greet and pickup events would help formation of friends across areas of specialization.
Post your arrival in the #newgrads channel and we’ll work on making a coordinated pick up schedule.
Bus from the Airport
If you don’t have someone to pick you up, or if your pick up is arriving by public transportation, you will probably be taking the AB1 or AB2 buses to Boulder. The schedule is available here.
The bus picks up underneath the Westin Hotel at the Airport. From baggage claim, follow signs to the Transit Center or to the south exit (look for the large American flag), exit the terminal through the sliding glass doors and take the escalator located in the center of the plaza down to level 1.
It costs $9 from the airport to Boulder + $1-2 tip to the driver for handling the baggage. You need to have cash (and exact change) for this transaction. If you plan to transfer to another bus, ask the driver for a transfer when you pay for your ticket.
It was difficult for me to search for accommodation in Boulder, while I was in India. I’d decided to come to Boulder, stay somewhere temporarily, visit different real-estate agents and then take a decision.
One of the current-students let me crash at his place ( basically a Couch-Surfer style arrangement ) for about 2 weeks. He was generous enough to let me stay as a non-paying guest. I believe students from other countries would be facing similar challenges. We’ve already had current students express willingness to be hosts, so if you are looking for a place to stay, post on Slack, and again, we’ll work on finding you a connection.
We have a full post about finding housing in boulder. I wasn’t aware that I could have applied for family-housing before I reached Boulder. The waiting-queues for the Graduate Housing applications is really long and it takes about a year or more to get an apartment assigned to an individual. And hence, I would strongly advice all the incoming students to send in their applications ASAP.
Use the #housing channel within our Slack to search for other roommates and get your housing search started.
Mobile Phone Service:
If you’re looking for a mobile plan from a major provider, the cheapest service when I was shopping was the T-mobile Family plan, which amounted to about $23-25/month per person, with about 5 people in a plan. However, the AT&T service was more reliable.
A cheap alternative is Virtual Network Operators. These include plans like Lyca, Cricket, H2O wireless, and Mint Mobile. I currently have Mint Mobile ($15/month with 2gb of data) and before that I had H2O wireless (pay as you go $.05/minute including international). I haven’t priced out every VNO, so I encourage you to do your own research on current offers.
Often, a student really doesn’t need the data-plans, as one is often on University campus, where there’s free wifi. And at home, most folks would be paying for a broadband connection.
Virtual Network Operators often have data packages that can be purchased for the duration of a short trip around different states.
It would help to survey the current international students and determine what plans they were using. Many of them might not have opted for the Gold Insurance Plan. However, this plan helped me, as they cater to injuries/etc one might have while undertaking adventure-sports like skiing, etc. Further, if you’re on the Gold Plan, you can get all the vaccinations done at no extra cost at Wardenburg.
Wells Fargo :
Opens 3 accounts for each person, with as little as 10$ deposit. To keep the account free, one has to use the debit card about 10 times in each month, or have a monthly income being deposited into their account. Else, you are charged a maintenance fee of 35$.
Better to have this account, if you’ll be traveling around the country. They have a lot more ATMs across the North-East and North-West. The only requirement is that they need a fixed deposit of $1,500 in the checking account with one direct-deposit, to continue to have the account maintained with no fee.
Ally Bank, and other Online Banks:
There are banking services that do not have a physical footprint/office, but you can register with them online and create accounts. Their debit-cards can be used with at any-banks ATM, and they shall refund any charges that were applied to your account for these transactions.
International Money Transfer:
Transferwise, WesternUnion, Remitly, etc Compare and check these services for the rates they provide.
The banks often charge a fixed amount for any wire-transfer. Some banks might have a tie-up with some banks from your country-of-origin, and may provide the service at a lesser fee. But, you will have to inquire with them.