Philadelphia is the best city to be an international student—and the reason for that is simple: Philly is awesome.
Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, is a melting pot of cultures, has the perfect balance of the city and suburb life, and is iconic for tasty food, some of the most creative slang, and even legendary celebs!
Whether you are a current international student or an incoming international student, this guide can be used to expand your resources and knowledge, and enhance your Philly experience.
The first section of this blog will tackle the necessary stuff: legalities, getting around, and jobs and internship opportunities; while the last section of this blog will cover the exploratory stuff: food, fun, and local living.
By the end of this blog, you should feel even more confident about your stay in your new home—Philly!
Let’s Talk About Being On Campus
First things first: Regardless of which Philadelphia university you attend, each one will have an International Student and Scholars Services (ISSS) office. This international student affairs office is your go-to resource for all things government- and course-related.
If you have questions about Visas and travel, or inquiries about courses and credits, ask the ISSS before relying on word-of-mouth—the ISSS is especially useful because they have resources that are specific to each country’s regulations!
Making friends can be difficult for any college student, but joining clubs that unify members of the country you are from or pertain to interests you have is a great first step! A good platform to follow is @foreignoncampus on Instagram. On this page, international students unite, share experiences, and engage with one another!
If you will be living on campus, then sweet—your university will cover all of the ins and outs to help you with the process. But, if you want to live off-campus, be sure to take your time researching an apartment, and ask a knowledgeable source for assistance with looking over your leasing contract.
The ideal time to begin searching for off-campus living would be three months before you move in. Keep in mind that listings get filled quickly, and that leases are hard to break, so you should be positive that it is the place for you!
Getting Around Philly
One of the best aspects of Philly is that you do not need a car because of a magical system called SEPTA. SEPTA is Philadelphia’s transit system that consists of trains, buses, and trolleys. You can utilize a SEPTA Key Card on any SEPTA mode of transportation. Visit SEPTAKey.org to locate your nearest Key Card purchasing and loading station. Once purchased, you can digitally load money to the Key Card or do it in person!
Aside from SEPTA, you can get around and away from the city by:
- Riding Indego bikes
- Using the rideshare service, Lyft
- Renting a Zipcar
- Taking Amtrak to leave the city
Check out Campus Philly’s Getting Around page that provides an in-depth look at SEPTA and other methods of Philly transportation!
Additionally, if you are not going too far off campus, then most campuses have their own free modes of transportation for students. For example, Temple University’s main campus has Flight, the on-demand evening shuttle service for Temple students that picks up and drops off Temple students a few miles to and from campus. The same can be said about the University of Penn’s Penn Transit, and all of Drexel University’s campuses shuttle routes.
Jobs and Internships
International Students are only allowed to work park time on campus for up to 20 hours a week. Off campus employment is subject to Curricular Practical Training (CPT) authorization only. In order to secure employment in the U.S., you must have a Social Security Number (SSN) and be authorized to work in the U.S.
A SSN is a nine-digit identification number that is used to keep track of your lifetime earnings, but can also be used for other purposes when filling out applications for housing, loans, and more. Be sure to ask your International Student Office for more information regarding employment and work authorizations.
A good place to start looking for work is at that trustworthy ISSS office—they offer on-campus jobs to students as well as aid with securing a gig. If you are looking for internships while on your CPT, you can apply to the abundance of weekly, updated job postings on our Job Board, too!
Two helpful forms of ID to have when securing a job, but also in general, are a U.S. driver’s license and/or a U.S. state ID.
For banking in the States, you’ll notice that PNC, Citizens, Wells Fargo, TD, and Bank of America all have a significant representation in Philly. For easy access, find out which one is your college’s partner and visit their brand to open an account. Make sure to take along your passport, i20, and cash for your initial deposit. You do not need a social security number to open a bank account, but you should make sure the account is updated with your number once you receive it!
What Philly’s International Students Say
We connected with a few international students to hear their perspectives, advice, and helpful tips!
Xiyao Song (@songxiyao) and a peer at Penn State Abington are both from China. They gave us some insight into their international student experience in Philly.
They both appreciate Philly’s downtown museums and libraries—the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Parkway Central Library, and the Franklin Institute are all notable places to venture!
Xiyao’s peer is also a fan of Philly’s large Chinatown. Xiyao encourages students to attend the events that the Office of Global Programs at Penn State Abington host for international students—they say it’s a great opportunity to meet others!
Shreyas Ramesh (@rameshshreyas), an incoming international student from India, is excited about attending Philly’s University of Penn because of their exceptional robotics programs. Shreyas says he is looking forward to experiencing the beauty of Philly in person!
Food, Fun, and Local Living
By now, you must have heard that Philly is known for cheesesteaks! Of course, Geno’s and Pat’s are well-known because of their history in the city, but if you want to eat cheesesteaks like a local then these three spots are the place to go:
John’s Roast Pork
Where: 14 Snyder Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19148
Pro Tip: They use a seeded roll, which is not the norm for cheesesteaks, but boy does it make you wish that it was.
Angelo’s Pizzeria South Philly
Where: 736 S 9th St, Philadelphia, PA 19147
Pro Tip: It gets busy! A pick-up order is the way to go.
Where: 3653 Germantown Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19140
Pro Tip: Be prepared to wait in a line, because this is another busy one! There is no indoor or outdoor seating, and know that if you order a whole cheesesteak, you’re really ordering two cheesesteaks—seriously, order a half steak if you are going to be the only one eating it!
Want even more Philly food recs? Check out our Philly Foodie Guide!
International House Philadelphia
For more than a century, International House Philadelphia has served the Greater Philadelphia community by providing engaging residential services and compelling arts and humanities programming. What began here more than 100 years ago as a belief that international understanding, cooperation, and friendship can develop one person at a time, has emerged as a celebrated world-wide movement.
Although the physical location of IHP has changed over the years, from a Reverend’s home in West Philadelphia to an award-winning, purpose-built building in the heart of University City, the mission has remained fundamentally the same: to maintain a diverse and welcoming community and encourage understanding, respect, and cooperation among people from around the world.
Today, IHP supports the international students and scholars studying in the Greater Philadelphia region by providing programming, events, and resources that connect them to each other and the city of Philadelphia. Learn more about their upcoming events and programs, along with available resources, here!
Have No Fear, Campus Philly Is Here
Aside from the numerous on-campus resources that will be provided to you, Campus Philly is here to make your transition to university life in Philly smooth and fun.
If you are looking for activities and student deals, then look no further—we have an entire Things to Do section on our site! Some noteworthy Philly activities are laying in the hammocks under the lights at Spruce Street Harbor Park, exploring South Street, and vibing on the rooftops of Cira Green. BTW, those last three activities are all free!
In terms of keeping up with the Philly slang, know that it is not necessary! You do not have to force yourself to incorporate it into your daily conversations, and people will not expect you to either. Though, one helpful tip to know is that when a Philadelphian says the word “jawn,” they could be referring to a person, place, or thing!
Plus, with our free career fairs and Philly Night Out events, and our abundance of resources like the Campus Philly Job Board, career advice, neighborhood highlights, and student discounts, you will never run out of opportunities and things to do in Philly!
Connect with us on Instagram to stay up-to-date on all things Philly, and subscribe to our newsletter for the latest off-campus events, internship opportunities, helpful resources, and more.
Whether you are an incoming international student or a current one, this resource guide can be used to enhance your knowledge on the Philly experience. Have something to add? Just DM us Instagram—we’ll be updating this Guide regularly throughout the semester, and we can’t wait to hear from you.
Keep up with us this semester for even more exclusive guides!