Life in the United States

This section was created with the intention of helping those not from the United States understand and feel comfortable in American culture. Special attention is given to life in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and will prove useful to anyone interested in the Milwaukee area.

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  American Culture

As with all countries, the culture of the United States may appear to be quite unique and difficult to comprehend. One example is the American view on privacy. They value time time away from others, whether to sort out their thoughts before making an important decision or to be alone after a major crisis. Another example is the American perspective about time which is encapsulated in the phrase "time is money." In other words, time shouldn't be wasted.

The resources listed below discuss the communication style of Americans, differences in customs, and everything from politics to personal hygiene. Keep in mind that these are generalizations of the American way and that not every person has the same view about the American culture.

NPA's International Postdoc Survival Guide


  Money Matters

Transferring Funds to the United States

You should learn as soon as possible whether your country has restrictions on sending money abroad. Once you know the rules, you should plan to bring enough money to meet the initial costs of getting to campus and at least one month's expenses. Traveler's checks are the safest way to carry money; do not carry large amounts of cash.

You will need to transfer larger amounts of money for your expenses for the year. Several options exist, and you should check with your institution and your bank to discuss the solution that best suits you. The best ways to transfer money are:

  • A bank check (also called a cashier's check) drawn on a U.S. bank in U.S. dollars.
  • A "wire transfer" from your bank at home to your new institution (if you are paying a bill) or to a U.S. bank.

Opening a U.S. Bank Account

You should open a bank account as soon as possible. You will need two forms of identification (example: your passport and a United States driver's license). This process could take two or three weeks if done from overseas. The kinds of accounts and fees vary from bank to bank, so you should check with several different banks to find out which one best suits your needs. Find out:

  • How long you will have to wait before you can write your first check (some banks require a waiting period of up to three weeks).
  • How long it will take for funds deposited to "clear" (making the money available for withdrawal).
  • Whether you need to maintain a minimum balance.
  • If there is a monthly service charge.

Tips on Selecting a Bank and Using Your Account

  • Opening a checking account will allow you to pay bills easily (for example: rent, telephone, and car insurance).
  • A popular option in the U.S. is getting an ATM (automated teller machine) card. With an ATM card you can withdraw and deposit money 24 hours a day. There are several ATM machines available in the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center. Please note that some banks have a waiting period before issuing an ATM card. There may also be charges for using ATM machines maintained by a different bank than the one you have your account with. Be sure to ask about this option when opening your account.
  • Make sure that the number of your first check does not start with number 1. It may happen that nobody wants to accept your first check because of the low number.
  • Most banks are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday (some have hours one or two evenings a week or on Saturdays). Many banks also have branches inside of Pick 'N Save and Sentry Supermarkets. Therefore, it may be better to open a bank account at a bank near your work location instead of near your home. Be sure you can get to the bank when it is open. (If your work hours make this difficult, check to see if the bank has an ATM so that you have access to your money when the bank is closed.)
  • Unlike in other countries, you may not overdraw your checking account. Be sure to keep track of your checking account by entering every deposit and withdrawal in your checkbook. Otherwise, you may end up paying a penalty.
  • U.S. banks are organized on an individual statewide basis. Thus, you will find it difficult, if not impossible, to cash a check in a town or state other than where your account is located. When traveling you may want to carry travelers checks in small denominations for easy cashing. Also, cash your last paycheck at least a week before you leave, so that you can close your bank account and obtain travelers checks before leaving. You will not be able to do this in another city.

Banks in the Milwaukee Area

The list of banks below include toll-free numbers (beginning with 800, 877 or 888) with operators available 24-hours a day to assist you (except for Landmark Credit Union and Mitchell Bank), websites, addresses and local telephone numbers. They can help determine which bank branch would be closest to your work or home location and answer any questions you have about their fees and benefits. Consult the Milwaukee Yellow Pages Telephone Book for information on additional banks.

Chase Bank
Toll Free: (877) 682-4273

7430 W. State St.
Wauwatosa, WI 53213
(414) 259-6608

(Requires two forms of ID but is willing to work with you overseas. Allow 2 to 3 weeks for processing the paperwork via mail if applying outside the U.S.)

Guaranty Bank
Toll Free: (800) 235-4636

Inside Sentry
6700 W. State Street
Wauwatosa, WI 53213
(414) 443-2640

Inside Pick 'N Save
8151 W. Bluemound Rd.
Wauwatosa, WI 53213
(414) 302-6340

Landmark Credit Union
Toll Free: (800) 871-2110

3600 N. 124th St.
Milwaukee, WI 53222
(414) 535-1014

(Requires one form of ID and a Social Security Number. You need to stop in the bank in person to open the account.)

Mitchell Bank
1039 W. Mitchell St.
Milwaukee, WI 53204
(414) 645-0600

Bank Mutual
Toll Free: (800) 261-6888

Mayfair Mall
2600 N. Mayfair Rd.
Wauwatosa, WI 53226
(414) 771-0350

North Shore Bank
Toll Free: (877) 672-2265 

8706 W. North Ave.
Wauwatosa, WI 53226
(414) 259-0059

PNC Bank
Toll Free: (888) 762-2265

6055 W. Lisbon Ave.
Wauwatosa, WI 53210
(414) 744-8600

(Requires proof of residency in Wisconsin such as a utility or rent bill as well as one form of identification to set up an account.)

TCF Bank
Toll Free: (800) 823-2265

7617 W. Bluemound Rd.
Wauwatosa, WI 53213
(414) 471-8500

Tri-City National Bank
Toll Free: (888) 874-2489

10859 W. Bluemound Rd.
Wauwatosa, WI 53226
(414) 256-5380

(Requires one form of ID and a Social Security Number. You need to stop in the bank in person to open the account.)

U.S. Bank
Toll Free: (800) US-BANKS / (800) 872-2657

Inside Froedtert Hospital
9200 W. Wisconsin Ave.
Milwaukee, WI 53226
(414) 955-4600

Inside Pick ‘N Save
6950 W. State St.
Wauwatosa, WI 53213
(414) 302-2850

Mayfair Mall Area
2300 N. Mayfair Rd.
Wauwatosa, WI 53226
(414) 258-1440

WaterStone Bank
Toll Free: (888) 686-7272

7500 W. State St.
Wauwatosa, WI 53213
(414) 258-5880

Direct Deposit

If you are being paid by the Medical College of Wisconsin you may want to take advantage of the College's direct deposit program. This program automatically deposits your paycheck into your checking and/or savings account. This saves you the trip of having to take your check to the bank to deposit it. The program is administered by the Payroll Office and you will receive forms to sign up for the program during your New Employee Orientation. This is a popular option because it prevents delays in getting your pay. You can enroll in the program at any time during your employment. Note that you must have your checking/savings account set up at the time you enroll in the program.

Credit Cards

The use of credit cards is very common in the U.S. It may be possible for you to have money deposited in your credit card account in your home country, to be withdrawn in the United States. Contact your credit card company to verify the amount you can withdraw each month and any transaction fees that may apply.

M&I Bank guarantees a credit card with a $1000 credit limit to postdoctoral fellows who have their payroll checks direct deposited into an M&I account. Applications are available through the Office of Postdoctoral Education.


On a low budget, you would do best to eat in cafeteria-style or fast-food restaurants. However, for those occasions when you dine out, you should know that the service charge is most often not included in the bill. Check the bill carefully to see if it has in fact been included (often with large groups). Americans typically tip 15% of the price.

  • People you would typically tip:
    Waiter/waitress, porter, barber/hairdresser, taxi driver, room service at a hotel, or food delivery persons
  • People you would not typically tip:
    Bus drivers, theatre ushers, museum guides, salespeople, employees at fast food restaurants or hotel clerks
  • People you should never tip:
    Police officers, physicians, government employees, university employees (this may be interpreted as a bribe, which is illegal)

Overlooked Expenses

  • Traveling costs incurred while en route to the College, such as taxi fares to and from the airport, overnight lodging, and meals that are sometimes needed while awaiting a connecting flight.
  • Deposits on housing and utilities.
  • Health care costs. If you are being paid by the College, you are eligible for the College's medical insurance ($40 / month for single; $100 / month for family). Additional costs exist if you will be bringing family members or starting on a date other than the 1st of the month. If obtaining outside insurance, costs will be substantially higher.
  • Also be aware that the College payroll system pays employees on the 1st of every month for time spent working or in training for the previous month. For example, if you begin a College paid program on July 1st, you will receive your first payment on August 1st. Please plan ahead for anticipated expenses for that first month.

Income Tax

Income tax is paid both to the federal government (federal taxes) and state government (state taxes) on a yearly basis. Most people have to file income tax forms for both federal and state taxes once per year by April 15. Note: if you have an NRSA fellowship from the NIH, you need to file taxes on a different schedule. Tax forms and information are available on the internet (see sites below). Tax forms are also available in libraries (including Todd Wehr) several months prior to April 15.

Tax rates are highly variable and are dependent on many factors. It is best to refer directly to tax publications put out by the federal and state governments when figuring your taxes. In addition, there are firms (such as H&R Block) that specialize in helping individuals figure and file their taxes. However, be cautioned that these firms often charge large fees for their service.

Sales Tax

Most states in the United States charge a sales tax on tangible personal property and services, such as clothing, restaurant and fast food meals, newspapers, books, toiletries, etc. Sales taxes vary from state to state, but average 5% or 6%. The tax rate in Wisconsin is 5%. There is an additional .6% sales tax charge in Milwaukee County. Remember that sales tax is always in addition to the marked price on the merchandise, so be prepared for your bill to be more than the price tag on an item.

Payroll Taxes

The Medical College of Wisconsin, Inc. Payroll Office is solely responsible for the analysis of Tax Treaty exemptions and the appropriate taxation of Foreign Nationals. While the Medical College of Wisconsin, Inc. is not required to honor Tax Treaties or tax exemptions we will make every effort to do so. We must be able to readily determine pertinent facts about your situation. You will be required to provide certain information, such as visa status and dates of prior visits to the U.S. before MCW will grant a Tax Treaty or other tax exemption.

There are two tax "categories" each governed by separate rules. Federal and State taxation is governed by rules of the Tax Treaty for each country. Some countries do not have a Tax Treaty! Social Security and Medicare taxation is governed by rules relating to visa type, length of stay, etc. You may be responsible for paying some or all of these taxes during your stay.

MCW Payroll Office Contact Information

(414) 955-8239 |

  Government Offices

Social Security Office

Obtaining a Social Security Number

In order to be paid in the United States you need to have a Social Security Number. The Medical College cannot add you as an employee or issue a pay check without a Social Security Number. If you are going to be receiving funds from the College you will want to get one as soon as possible.


Once you have arrived in the United States, go to the nearest Social Security Office. To apply, take your passport and I-94 card, your work authorization (i.e. your IAP-66, I-20, or H-1B approval) and your welcome letter confirming your employment. Please let your department administrator know your Social Security Number as soon as you have it.

Once you have applied it will take approximately one to two weeks for the card to be issued and mailed to you, however you may be able to get your new number within 3 working days by calling the office you applied at. Applications are available online via the Social Security Administration or from the MCW Employment Office.


The following are Social Security Offices in the Milwaukee area. Offices are open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.

  • Milwaukee Downtown
    310 W. Wisconsin Ave., Suite 260
    Milwaukee, WI 53203
    (414) 297-1790

  • Milwaukee West
    5020 W. North Ave.
    Milwaukee, WI 53208

  • Milwaukee South
    6251 W. Forest Home Ave.
    Milwaukee, WI 53220
    (414) 546-1402

  • Milwaukee North
    6300 W. Fond du Lac Ave.
    Milwaukee, WI 53218
    (414) 463-2621

  • Mitchell Street Area
    1763 S. 9th St., 5th Floor
    Milwaukee, WI 53204
    (414) 649-4760

  • Waukesha
    707 N. Grand Ave., Suite 100
    Waukesha, WI 53186
    (262) 542-7253

*Note that individuals with J-2 status are not eligible for a Social Security number until they have received their Employment Authorization Card from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

Wisconsin Department of Transportation

Find DMV locations on the Wisconsin Department of Transportation Website.

  • An out-of-state U.S. citizen must go to the DMV within 30 days of living in Wisconsin or else they will have to take their drivers test over again.
  • Non-U.S. Citizens should get a state ID if they are not getting a drivers license so that they don't have to carry their passport.

United States Postal Service (USPS)

Find US Post Office locations on the USPS Website.

For more information, all government agencies are listed in the phone book in the "blue section."


For information on visas for non-residents, please contact MCW Human Resources.

Jamie Nelson
Employment & Immigration Specialist
(414) 955-8385

NPA's Quick Guide to Visas for International Postdocs
National Postdoctoral Association

  Health Care

Primary Care Physicians

A Primary Care Physician (PCP) is an internal medicine or family practice physician that deals with general medical issues. It is recommended that you chose a PCP to see first for all medical problems. If you need to see a specialist, the PCP will recommend what kind of specialist you need to see.

In order to find a PCP, you can use the Physician and Provider Directory to learn about the physicians that are available through your health insurance benefits at MCW. Here you search by health concern, physician's name, medical specialty, and location or clinic name. By clicking on the physician's highlighted name, you will learn about their background, education, specialties, and languages spoken.

Please keep in mind many physicians may not be taking new patients, so it is a good idea to select several possible physicians before you call to make your first appointment. Also keep in mind that as a new patient, your first appointment may be scheduled several months from the time you are calling. To schedule an appointment for the clinics, call (414) 805-3666.

After Hours Clinic

If you are unable to get an appointment with a physician for several months and have a medical problem that you would like to discuss with a physician before your appointment, you can go to the After Hours Walk-In Clinic. Since this is a walk-in clinic, no appointment is necessary, and patients are treated on a first-come first-served basis.

Additional Information

  • When making an appointment keep in mind that your appointment may be 2 weeks to 3 months from the date that you make your appointment, depending on how busy the doctor's office is.
  • Always carry your health insurance card (and green card for Froedtert), especially when you have an appointment.
  • Second Opinions: If you see a doctor about a particular problem but you want another physician to also evaluate your problem and give you their opinions/recommendations, you have the right to do this. You can find another physician in the Physician and Provider Directory and tell the scheduling staff that you would like to see this physician for a second opinion.
  Housing in Milwaukee

The following will provide you with a general idea of common neighborhoods, as well as some renter guidelines, in Milwaukee county. There is also a binder in the waiting area of the Student Support Services Office (3rd floor in Academic Affairs) that has a list of apartments for rent, and the bulletin boards around campus always have postings of people looking for roommates.

  • Wauwatosa is a suburb of Milwaukee. It is located both east and west of MCW. The average driving time is about 10 minutes to MCW.
  • The East Side is located near the lake, about a 15-30 minute drive to MCW, depending on traffic. It is also very close to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and is only minutes from downtown Milwaukee.
  • West Allis is located to the southwest of MCW, it is a convenient location because of its proximity to many useful stores and freeways. Average drive time to MCW depends if you take the freeway or surface streets, but is hardly ever more than 10 minutes.
  • Milwaukee is about an 8-15 minute drive to MCW depending on where you live in the city.
  • Other Popular Places:
    • Waukesha: West of MCW – 30 minute drive
    • Brookfield: West of MCW – 10-30 minute drive
    • Downtown Milwaukee: East of MCW – 15 minute drive
  • Northern Suburbs:
    • Menomonee Falls: 15-30 minute drive
    • Germantown: 20-40 minute drive

Price Guidelines

Use these prices as a guideline; the prices reflect the areas above but will vary from city to city. The length of time to find an apartment varies from one week to one month, so leave plenty of time for searching.

$400 - $575

One Bedroom
$400 - $600 (Wauwatosa)
$500 (Milwaukee)
$520 (West Allis)
<$350 (subsidized in Waukesha)

Two Bedrooms
$600 - $1,000 (Wauwatosa)
$650 - $850 (East Side – beware of parking costs)
$600 - $800 (West Allis)
$500 - $700 (Milwaukee)
$900 and up (Brookfield)

Three Bedrooms
$700 - $1,200

Housing Hints

  • The best way to find an apartment is to personally visit the neighborhoods you are interested in. Many places only advertise by signs on the lawn.
  • Make sure to check out the place personally before signing any lease. If you are interested in an apartment, practice driving to and from MCW to see if you'll actually like living in that location.
  • Consider parking as well, because many places require an off-street permit. Also, there may be alternate side of street parking over winter that may affect you if you do not have off-street parking by your apartment. It is best to find a place that includes off-street parking as part of the rent.
  • If you have pets, start looking early because many places do not allow pets! If pets are allowed , many places will charge an additional fee per month for having a pet.
  • Make sure you clarify whether or not heat is included in your rent.
  • A lease is a binding legal contract between you and the property owner, or landlord. When you sign a lease, you are obligated to pay the landlord monthly rent for the duration of the lease. Most leases are for 12 months, and it is usually difficult to break or alter a lease. Therefore, before you sign you should be reasonably sure that you can live with your decision for the duration of the lease. If a landlord verbally agrees to make an improvement prior to you moving into the apartment, write it into the lease agreement before you agree to sign the lease.
  • When you sign a lease, you will typically be required to pay a security deposit which is usually equivalent to at least one month's rent, in addition to the first month's rent. The security deposit will be returned to you when you move out, provided you leave the apartment in good condition.
  • Look at the boards at MCW or the housing book outside of the Student Support Services Office for any upcoming vacancies! There are also housing magazines in the entrances/exits of many grocery stores that may be of help.
  • Tenant/Landlord Rights and Information

Housing Websites
This website is very comprehensive. Most of the apartment complexes that are listed in the books found at grocery stores can be found here as well. In addition, the website provided local apartment listings for the Journal Sentinel.
This site is very similar to the For Rent magazine.


AT&T (Local Telephone Company)

WE Energies (Gas and Electric Company)

  Emergency Telephone Number 911

If this an immediate emergency, dial 9-1-1 on your phone right now.

Below are common questions about using 9-1-1 in emergency situations. If you need to speak with police, but the matter is not urgent, call the non-emergency lines listed for your specific city. If there is any doubt as to whether or not the situation is an emergency, call 9-1-1 and let the call taker assess the matter.

Milwaukee Police Department
(414) 933-4444

Wauwatosa Police Department
(414) 471-8430

West Allis Police Department
(414) 302-8070

What is 911?

9-1-1 is the number you call to get help in a police, fire, or medical emergency. A 9-1-1 call goes over dedicated phone lines to the 9-1-1 answering point closest to the caller, where trained personnel send the emergency help needed.

In some places, you may be able to be connected with Poison Control by calling 9-1-1, but you should check with local officials in your area to make sure.

Enhanced 9-1-1, or E9-1-1, is a system which automatically displays the caller's phone number and address. The 9-1-1 call taker will typically ask the caller to verify the information, which appears on his or her computer screen. In most areas, phone number and location information is not yet available for 9-1-1 calls made from a cellular/wireless phone.

When should I use 911?

9-1-1 is only to be used in emergency situations. An emergency is any situation that requires immediate assistance from the police/sheriff, the fire department, or an ambulance. If you are ever in doubt of whether a situation is an emergency you should call 9-1-1. It's better to be safe and let the 9-1-1 call taker determine if you need emergency assistance.

If you call 9-1-1 by mistake, do not hang up. Tell the call taker what happened so they know there really isn't an emergency.

Do not call 9-1-1:

  • for information
  • for directory assistance
  • when you're bored and just want to talk
  • for paying tickets
  • for your pet
  • as a prank/joke (in most states, this is illegal)

How do I make a 911 call?

  • Dial 9-1-1 on your phone in an emergency (the call is free). You can use any kind of phone: push button, rotary, cellular/wireless, cordless, or pay phone. (With some pay phones, you may need coins to get a dial tone; with many wireless phones, Enhanced 9-1-1 does not yet work.)
  • Stay calm and state your emergency.
  • Speak loudly and clearly. Give the 9-1-1 call taker your name, phone number, and the address where help is needed.
  • Answer the call taker's questions. Stay on the telephone if it's safe to do so, and don't hang up until the call taker tells you to.

What if I do not speak English?

When necessary, a 9-1-1 call taker can add an interpreter from an outside service to the line. You may hear a short conversation in English and some clicking sounds as the interpreter is added to the line.

What if I am deaf or hearing/speech impaired?

Communications centers that answer 9-1-1 calls have special text telephones for responding to 9-1-1 calls from deaf or hearing/speech impaired callers.

If a caller uses a TTY/TDD, the caller should:

  • Stay calm, place the phone receiver in the TTY, dial 9-1-1.
  • After the call is answered, press the TTY keys several times. This may help shorten the time necessary to respond to the call.
  • Give the call taker time to connect their TTY. If necessary, press the TTY keys again. The 9-1-1 call taker should answer and type "GA" for Go Ahead.
  • Tell what is needed-police, fire department, or ambulance. Give your name, phone number and the address where help is needed.
  • Stay on the telephone if it is safe. Answer the call taker's questions.

If a deaf or hearing/speech impaired caller doesn't have a TTY/TDD, the caller should call 9-1-1 and don't hang up. Not hanging up leaves the line open. With most 9-1-1 calls, the caller's address is displayed on the call taker's screen and help will be sent.

Nena 9-1-1 Q&A Information provided in part by the North Central Texas Council of Governments, Tarrant County 9-1-1 District and Denco Area 9-1-1 District.