Other Helpful Information

Your safety and well-being is important to us.
Your safety and well-being is important to us.
Photo courtesy of InterExchange

Laws & the Drinking Age in the U.S.

Upon arrival in the U.S., make sure to familiarize yourself with local, state and federal laws. The legal drinking age in the U.S. is 21, and recreational drugs are illegal. You must respect and follow these laws. If you are under 21 years of age, do not drink, purchase or transport alcohol. If you do not follow these laws, you will be subject to local, state and federal prosecution and will probably be terminated from your job and the Exchange Visitor Program. Most bars require that you show photo identification (passport or driver’s license) before you can enter.  Even if you are 21, it is also illegal to drink alcohol on the street or have open drinks in an automobile. It is illegal to give alcohol to people under 21 or to purchase alcohol on their behalf. As an international student, you may be subject to more extreme penalties for underage drinking than your American peers. Never drink alcohol and drive.

Drug Use and Peer Pressure Guidance for Cultural Exchange Participants

While in the United States, it’s not uncommon to encounter people using marijuana (cannabis), often very openly.

Many states in the USA have recently decriminalized the sale and use of marijuana. Even though marijuana use is not actively penalized in certain states, it is still ILLEGAL under federal law. Exchange visitors should not consider that they are safe from law enforcement nor that they are exempt from workplace drug testing. Use of controlled substances, like marijuana, can lead to you being fired from your job or losing your housing. It could lead to your visa being revoked and you being permanently barred from the U.S.

Use of marijuana and other drugs—including any medications not prescribed to you by a medical professional—should be strictly avoided.

“Street drugs” in the USA are sometimes tainted with lethal doses of Fentanyl or other deadly substances.

International exchange visitors, like any other population group, can be susceptible to engaging in drug use. Various factors may influence their involvement with drugs, including cultural background, peer influence, social pressure, and accessibility to substances.

Some common reasons why international exchange visitors like yourself might be more vulnerable to drug use include:

  • Cultural Adjustment: Moving to a new country with different customs and norms can be challenging, and some people might turn to drugs as a coping mechanism to deal with homesickness or cultural isolation.
  • Peer Pressure: Exchange participants living in a foreign environment might encounter new social circles, and some of these circles might involve drug-using peers, making them more susceptible to trying substances.
  • Curiosity: Being in a new environment can lead some people to be curious about different experiences, including experimenting with drugs.
  • Perceived Tolerance: Some international visitors might believe that drug use is more acceptable or lenient than it is in their host country, leading to a higher likelihood of trying drugs.

It’s important to note that drug use among international exchange visitors, like any other demographic, varies widely, and not all international exchange visitors engage in such behavior. Additionally, cultural norms and attitudes toward drug use differ significantly across countries, which can also influence an individual’s likelihood of using drugs.

Dealing with Peer Pressure

  • Be true to yourself: Stay connected with your values and beliefs, and don’t compromise your principles to fit in with a group.
  • Build a support network: Seek out like-minded individuals or clubs aligned with your interests to resist negative peer pressure.
  • Learn to say no: Practice assertiveness and politely decline invitations or activities that make you uncomfortable.
  • Avoid risky environments: If you sense a situation involves peer pressure, consider avoiding it for your well-being.
  • Seek guidance: Talk to trusted family members, advisors, counselors, or mentors for support and advice when struggling with peer pressure.

You can always reach out to InterExchange at 1-800-621-1202 if you’d like us to help!

Remember, it’s normal to encounter peer pressure, but prioritizing your well-being and making choices aligned with your values is essential. You can read more about coping with peer pressure.

Dealing with Addiction

If you or someone you know is abusing drugs or alcohol, call 1-800-622-4357 for free and confidential treatment referral and information from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Find more information at:

Shoplifting and Stealing

Shoplifting is illegal, and many stores have hidden cameras or undercover security officers to prevent theft. If you are found guilty of shoplifting—or stealing anything—your program may be terminated and you may be deported and prevented from visiting the U.S. in the future.

Personal Safety

In general, the United States is a very safe place. You should feel comfortable in your host community. However, it is always a good idea to keep security and safety in mind, especially when traveling after your program has ended. Overall, you will find this country full of warm, friendly people who will enjoy meeting you, sharing their culture with you and learning about your culture. If you use common sense, you will be able to avoid most difficulties and have a wonderful, safe time in the United States. For your safety, follow these guidelines:

  • Do not hitchhike - it is illegal and dangerous.
  • Do not accept rides from strangers.
  • Do not walk across highways or jaywalk.
  • Do not jog or walk alone at night.
  • Do not carry more money than you will need for the day.
  • Do not accept any form of money from strangers.
  • Do not carry your passport with you if you don’t need it. Carry a different form of identification, such as your driver’s license or a copy of your passport.
  • Protect your personal ID and confidential information: your Social Security number is yours alone. Do not allow others to use your number. Record your number in a safe place in case your card is lost or stolen. Protect both your card and your number to prevent misuse.
  • During local emergencies, obey all warnings and advice from authorities and InterExchange.
  • Internet Safety: Don’t respond to emails from strangers or provide personal information over the Internet unless on a trusted website with appropriate security.
  • Avoid parks, woods and remote areas when you are alone, especially at night.
  • Be alert to your surroundings when using an ATM. Take extra caution at night.
  • Always let someone know where you are going and when you will return. Contact them if your plans change.
  • Always wear a bike helmet and obey all traffic laws when riding a bike. Use lights and reflective clothing at night.
  • If you feel you are being followed, cross the street and observe what the other person does. Put space between yourself and the person following you. Pretend to see a friend, even if it is a person you do not know and call out or wave to that person. You should try to attract attention and scare away the person following you. If a store, restaurant or business nearby is open, go inside and ask for help.
  • If you think you are being followed while driving, drive to the nearest police or fire station.
  • Remember that cars drive on the right side of the road in the USA.
  • Notify the authorities and InterExchange immediately if you are threatened by your employer, colleagues, landlord or anyone else.
  • Do not engage in threatening, immature, unlawful or anti-social behavior.
  • Be careful if drinking in a bar or restaurant. Watch your drink at all times, stay sober, and do not leave with anyone you don’t already know.
  • Do not drink alcohol and drive.
  • Do not get into a car with anyone who has been drinking.
  • Be aware of Wilberforce laws that protect you.
  • Know the signs of trafficking:

Temperatures in the United States

Temperatures in the U.S. are normally displayed in degrees Fahrenheit. Always check the average local temperatures in advance of your travels to be sure you are prepared for the weather.

To convert Fahrenheit into Celsius

Fahrenheit = 1.8(Celsius) + 32

  • Begin by subtracting 32 from the Fahrenheit number.
  • Divide the answer by 9.
  • Then multiply that answer by 5.

To convert Celsius into Fahrenheit

Celcius = (Fahrenheit - 32)/1.8

  • First multiply the Celsius number by 9
  • Divide the answer by 5
  • Then add 32


  • 32˚ F = 0˚ C
  • 61˚ F = 16˚ C
  • 95˚ F = 35˚ C

Metric Equivalents

1 mile1.6 kilometers
1 yard (3 feet)0.91 meters
1 foot (12 inches)30.48 cm
1 inch2.54 centimeters
1 pound (16 ounces)0.45 kg
1 ounce28.35 grams
1 gallon (4 quarts)3.79 liters
1 quart (4 cups)0.95 liters
1 cup0.4 liters


Tipping is a common practice across the U.S., and people generally give a tip to anyone in the service industry. This includes restaurants, hotels, hair salons, taxis and bars. Individuals who work in these areas receive low wages because tipping is the custom, and in fact they make most of their income from tips. Please respect this practice. A tip of 15-20% is standard in restaurants, and $2 to $3 is typical for food delivery, taxis and hotel service.

Sales Tax

Beware! The price you see on a price tag is not always what you will actually pay at the cash register. Most states have sales tax that is added to the price of the items. The amount of sales tax and which items are taxable differ from state to state. For example, some states place a tax on clothes, but others do not. In grocery stores, some food may also be taxed, while other foods are not. Sales tax varies from 4% to 10%.


This content contains portions generated by OpenAI’s ChatGPT, an AI language model, and readers should be aware of its AI-generated nature while interpreting the information provided. Consulting qualified human experts is recommended.

U.S. Department of State-Designated J-1 Visa Sponsor
Alliance for International Exchange
The International Coalition for Global Education and Exchange
European-American Chamber of Commerce New York
Global Ties U.S.
International Au Pair Association
WYSE Travel Confederation