Setting up basic services

Student ID

The University of Wisconsin-Madison requires all registered students to obtain a student photo ID service card; this official student identification is necessary for access to UW-Madison libraries, recreation facilities, and other services. You must be registered for your classes in order to validate your student ID.

All photo ID service cards remain the property of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and must be returned upon request. Only the most recently issued ID card is valid; previously issued ID service cards must be returned. A student may have only one photo ID service card in his or her possession.

A replacement card can be obtained free of charge if there is a name change, the picture needs updating, or the card is damaged. The old card must be returned at the time the replacement card is requested. If a new card is needed because a card has been confiscated, lost, stolen, or misplaced, or the old card cannot be returned, a nonrefundable fee must be paid.

Further information is available from the Photo ID Office in Room 4316 of the Memorial Union.

Financial services and banking

If you are in the United States for only a semester, you may be able to continue to use your home bank, using Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) in Madison. Depending on your bank, you may have to pay ATM fees for withdrawing funds. Similarly, you may continue to use your credit card from overseas, though credit cards typically charge additional fees for international use.

However, you may also open a bank account here if you prefer.

Most local banks in the United States will want you to come in personally to set up your account. When you do so, bring your student identification, your passport, and the funds you wish to deposit. You should not need a social security number when you open an account in person, and UW Credit Union routinely manages banking for students who do not have social security numbers.

However, it is sometimes possible to set up an account from abroad, and some international financial institutions allow you to write US$ checks on funds deposited abroad.

Banks offer a number of financial services. You may wish to compare the services and costs of several banks before choosing one at which to open an account.

A checking account will permit you to write checks to make purchases and pay bills. Most retailers and service providers will accept a personal check drawn on any U.S. bank as long as you can show appropriate identification.

Unlike most checking accounts, savings accounts earn interest on the balance in the account. If you plan to bring money for the entire academic year, this should be a good alternative in order to earn interest. You can withdraw money from an ordinary savings account, but you cannot do so by writing a check.

Many students open a saving account and a checking account at the same bank so they can transfer money from the saving account into their checking account, as they need it.

Other banking services

A "debit card" or "check card" allows you to withdraw or deposit money to your bank account using an automatic teller machine (ATM) and to make purchases at stores that accept the card (many stores accept these cards). Debit cards are not credit cards, so use of a debit card removes the funds directly from your bank account.

Credit cards will allow you to make purchases even when you have no money immediately available. You are billed every month and are required to pay at least a portion of your balance each month. However, interest rates on credit-card balances are very high and can leave you with substantial debt.

Money transfer

Bring enough money to meet the initial cost of arriving to the campus and at least one month's expenses. You can bring up to US$10,000 without needing to declare it to Customs. Travelers Checks are the safest way to carry money. Although Madison is safe, it is not recommended to carry large amounts of cash.

You will need to transfer larger amounts of money for your expenses for the year. Several options exist:

  • Travelers checks (in U.S. dollars)
  • 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 a U.S. bank.

Avoid checks in U.S. dollars drawn on a foreign bank. Such checks take much longer to "clear" and be deposited to your U.S. account than do checks drawn on a U.S. bank or even checks in your home currency drawn on a bank at home.

More information

If you want to know more about bank accounts, you can contact the University of Wisconsin Credit Union.

Campus-area banks

Driver's license

International students, including exchange students are generally allowed to drive on their home-country driver's license in the State of Wisconsin for up to one year. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation provides more detailed information on the rules for driving with a foreign license.